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Sermon Series: For a Time Such as This
by Mark Horne

The Stealth Candidate
Esther 2.5-3.1

Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

A few years ago, a movie came out which deeply offended people who identify themselves with the practice of homosexuality. This wasn’t a movie that I thought was suitable for me to go see, so I never did. What was interesting though, was how some of the movies objectors acted against it. Since the movie was a murder mystery, they lined up where the movie was showing and screamed to all the people buying tickets which character was actually the killer. By giving away the end of the movie, they spoiled its value for those who wanted to see it.

Now, a good mystery can be watched or read more than once, because in a good mystery every detail contributes to the conclusion of the story and the solution of the mystery. And even if you know “whodunit,” you can still enjoy the story a second time because you will appreciate things you didn’t notice the first time. In some ways, that’s what I’m trying to do with Esther. We probably all know the basic story line, but I’m trying to bring out the import of Spirit-given details to help you learn even more from this portion of the Word of God.

But, even though we all need to be familiar with all of Scripture, that familiarity can occasionally blind us to the meaning of the text. What if you didn’t know anything about Esther? What if I just read it to you and you did not even know how long the story was supposed to be? If you were simply following along, I suspect the content of chapter 3 verse 1 would utterly surprise and disappoint you.

Think about it. In chapter 1 we have a queen lose her crown because she defies the King. Then in chapter 2 we have a lady gain the crown because she submits to the king. This lady has an adopted father, who ends up sitting in the King’s gate. Now, we don’t know if he was already there, or if Esther got him that position. I suspect that he was already somewhat prominent.

Remember, sitting in the King’s gate does not mean he rested in a rocking chair all day, watching the world go by. Gates in the Bible are places where judgment is passed. The city elders sat at the gates of the city, as we find in Ruth and elsewhere. Sitting in the King’s gates means you’re one of the king’s designated elders, a judge in the empire.

Whether Mordecai gained this position through Esther or already had it, the text is quite clear that, because Esther was queen, he was able to save the life of the King. Two body guards who guarded the door were conspiring to kill the king. We’ll find out later that the king was enthroned in a palace within the palace where no one could enter. These two bodyguards apparently guarded that door to his presence. But Mordecai was able to get word to the king past those two bodyguards because of his relationship with Esther.

Now here we have a perfect vindication of the people of God. The king has chosen a submissive God-fearing woman, who belongs to God’s people, as his bride. And in so choosing, he saved his own life. God has blessed the king through his queen. And furthermore, Esther informed the king, “in the name of Mordecai.” So the king knew who had found the information and sought to warn him.

So what happens? What is Mordecai’s reward?

Frankly, what I think any naive reader would expect, is what doesn’t happen until chapters 8 & 9. Mordecai should have been promoted. Mordecai should have been exalted to high position with the king. Mordecai should have been given the same honors as Joseph and Daniel before him, in whose footsteps he was following.

But, inexplicably, the king gives Mordecai no reward whatsoever. Esther informs him of the plot on his life in Mordecai’s name. Mordecai’s name is inscribed in the royal chronicles right in the king’s presence. But the king does nothing for Mordecai. Nothing!

Instead Ahasuerus exalts Haman the Agagite to the highest position in the empire next to his throne. Now this is more than merely bad for Mordecai, in that he was passed over. Mordecai, according to verse 5, is a descendent of Jair, Shimai, and Kish of the tribe of Benjamin. That’s the family of King Saul. Haman is an Agagite-a descendent of King Agag. Now we read about King Agag in 1 Samuel 15. Agag was the king of the Amalekites, whom God had ordered the Israelites to destroy back in Deuteronomy 25 because they had attacked Israel. King Saul was told by the prophet Samuel to go and carry out this command.

But Saul didn’t do it. He was supposed to place all the Amalekites, all of them and their possessions “under the ban.” He was supposed to kill every living thing and then burn everything with fire from God’s altar. Instead, Saul looted the livestock, and spared King Agag. Now remember, back in the time of Joshua, Achan and his family died just because Achan took some gold and silver and a garment. When Saul spared a pagan king, God merely told him that he would lose his kingdom. Frankly, he got off easy, and would have if he had voluntarily abdicated.

Saul lost his kingdom because he spared Agag. Mordecai is the descendant of a defunct dynasty whom God deposed. And King Ahasuerus has exalted over him an enemy of God’s people, an Amalekite, and a royal descendant of the one for whom Saul lost his crown. This is a complete humiliation in every way.

What went wrong?

As we’ll see next week, Mordecai seems to have done some reading of the Ancient Near East’s equivalent of “Why bad things happen to good people,” but we need to ask ourselves if perhaps God is chastening Mordecai for some sin. Christians do suffer trials apart from any personal sin, as Job did, but sometimes there is a reason. God does chasten us. There is a reason why God has dashed Mordecai’s hopes of gaining influence through Esther. Look at verses 8 through 10:

So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to the citadel of Susa into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king’s palace into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king’s palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem. Esther did not make known her people or her kindred for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known.

Esther’s virtue is her submissiveness. That quality brings her to the throne. But her submissiveness also makes her vulnerable. She trusts Mordecai to give her wise and godly counsel.

But Mordecai tells her not to reveal her identity. She somehow evaded telling anyone who she really was, a member of God’s chosen people the priests to the nations. We’re not told how she managed to conceal her membership in God’s kingdom. Frankly, I don’t see how she could have pulled this off without coming up with an elaborate lie that kept the truth from being discovered. The fact that how she managed this deception isn’t revealed to us, tells us that the book of Esther really isn’t concerned so much with the lying, but simply with Esther’s failure to say who she was.

Esther was a Christian.

OK, she was a protochristian, a God-fearing Israelite. But she refused to tell anyone. God called Abraham in order to bless the nations, but she kept that blessing to herself. God gave the law to Israel, according to Deuteronomy 4.6 so that all the nations could be amazed at the nation’s wisdom and understanding and their closeness to God. All that wisdom and understanding and closeness of God stays hidden from view in Esther. True, she demonstrated all sorts of Christian character, but she allowed those around her to attribute her character to something other than God’s covenant and someone other than the true God.

In Daniel chapter 1 we learn that a faithful Israelite cannot simply eat whatever is set before him or her in Babylon. There’s no reason to think things are any different years later in Susa. We are told in verse 9 that Hegai the Eunuch provided Esther with food. Now, if she had revealed that she was a Jew, we could expect that Hegai catered to her dietary obligations according to the Law of God. But she didn’t tell anyone who she was and therefore what obligations she was under as far as what she ate was concerned. Apparently, Mordecai convinced her that what she was doing was so important that she didn’t need to worry about the palace food.

The reason why the Israelites were given food laws was to reinforce and proclaim their identity as God’s covenant people. In Deuteronomy 14, the food laws are listed with this introduction:

You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead. For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His special treasure out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. You shall not eat any detestable thing…

You see, Israel’s special diet was tied to Israel’s special status, their identity as God’s people. By not telling people who she is, and by not making an issue over what she ate, Esther is sinning. She is refusing to bear witness to the nations.

Why is she doing that?

It seems that Mordecai wanted Esther to be what we now call “a stealth candidate.” He wanted to be in a position to influence the movers and shakers in the world for the sake of Israel. So he decided, and convinced Esther, that it was all right for her to hide her identity as a member of God’s covenant people. He told her it was OK to eat things the law of God forbids. After all, she was doing this for the sake of God’s people, so it was all right.

But Mordecai had it completely backwards. He wanted to rule the nations for the sake of Israel, but God had chosen to rule Israel for the sake of the nations. God called Abraham not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him. God called Israel out of Egypt and made a covenant at Sinai with them, not to exclude the rest of the world from the covenant, but rather to include them. Israel was a kingdom of priests. Priests to whom? Why to the other nations, the Gentiles. David and Solomon witnessed to Gentiles, such as King Hiram of Tyre, and the Queen of Sheba. The prophets witnessed to the Gentiles. For one example, consider Isaiah 45.21-25:

Gather yourselves and come;
Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations;
They have no knowledge,
Who carry about their wooden idol
And pray to a god who cannot save.
Declare and set forth your case;
Indeed, let them consult together.
Who has announced this from of old?
Who has long since declared it?
Is it not I, the LORD?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a Savior;
There is none except Me.
Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth;
For I am God and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
They will say of Me, “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.”
Men will come to Him,
And all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame.
In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
Will be justified and will glory.

Now that text leaves Israel with its pride of place as God’s special priestly people, but it makes it clear that God is not simply concerned with the Jews, but is involved in the salvation of all men, for the basic reason that he is the God of all men. For the special covenant people of God, to hide their identity, and thereby hide the knowledge of the true God, is a serious perversion of God’s whole reason for choosing a covenant people in the first place.

Mordecai’s misunderstanding here is something that was shared by Jesus’ fellow Jews. Listen to these familiar words from the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

The Pauline scholar, N. T. Wright, describes the Israel of Jesus day as having profoundly misunderstood the nature of God’s covenant with them. They thought it meant that they alone were loved by God. Wright describes it like this: Israel was like a postman who thought all the mail in his bag was him alone. They forgot they were not called to condemn the nations, but to bring salvation to the nations as a kingdom of priests.

Mordecai seems to have made this same mistake. He convinced Esther to hide her lamp under a bushel. He, as the salt of the whole earth, lost his flavor and became no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by Haman the Agagite. He has not been given the same honors as Joseph and Daniel before him because he is not really following in their footsteps. Joseph and Daniel both were willing to witness before Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar and Darius to the true God. But Mordecai didn’t want his cousin and adopted daughter to even tell anyone who she was. When called upon, Joseph and Daniel acted as priests to the nations, but Esther’s priesthood is not revealed.

The particular sin, which Mordecai encourages Esther to commit, is to refuse to bear witness. By hiding her identity, Esther is defeating the whole point of God’s choosing a special people to bear His name. So God, in whose hand the heart of the king is a river, so that God turns it however he wills, causes King Ahasuerus to forget what Mordecai has done for him, and exalt Haman instead. Since God is getting no glory in what Mordecai has done, Mordecai is not given any praise either. Haman’s exaltation is not simply a mystery of God’s providence; it is God’s righteous judgment.


Brothers and sisters, in an age when the covenant people are under powers who seem not to care about the true God, it is very easy to fall into the trap of resorting to manipulation, rather than faithful witness-bearing. It is all too tempting to try to gain a conservative, family-oriented, consensus, rather than openly profess Jesus as Lord.

Mordecai probably had overall good motives for what he did. He wanted to help His people by gaining the ear of the King. But he didn’t want to fill that ear with the good news of the kingship of the LORD God. He probably thought that if Esther was open about her identity as a member of God’s people, that she would lose her chance to gain the crown. But if that would have really kept Esther from gaining the crown, then Mordecai should have known that God didn’t want her to have the crown.

We believe in dominion. We believe that God’s people need to subdue every area of life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. But unless we’re willing to publicly name Jesus as Lord, we are not subduing anything to His lordship or God’s glory, but only to ourselves for our own glory, however we might rationalize what we’re doing.

If we hide our identity, we can expect God to withhold dominion from us. God is not going to reward us for hiding our light under a bushel. God would prefer to give dominion to someone who doesn’t believe or profess the lordship of Christ, rather than someone who allegedly believes in his lordship but does not profess it.

And let’s remember, God did not call us out of darkness into His light so that we could enjoy that light for ourselves alone. We’re supposed to be the light of the world. We’re supposed to shine brightly before men so that they will glorify our Father in heaven.

God didn’t form Christ the Sovereign Covenant Church just for the benefit of those of us gathered here today. He formed the church for the benefit of our neighbors, and coworkers. All of us have been baptized into a corporate priesthood to the world. Let’s not act like a postman who thinks all the mail in his bag is for him.

As God’s priesthood to the world,we have a message to deliver.

Copyright © 1998, All rights reserved.

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