[ theologia ]
Theologia Cross Logo
Apologetics Bible Church History Miscellaneous Sacraments Soteriology Sermons Worship

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

Daring to Draw Near
Esther 4.1- 5.4

Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.

Think of a spike being hammered into someone’s head.

There are only two times in the Bible when a woman directly kills a man. Both, interestingly enough, happen in the book of Judges. The first time is recorded for us in Judges 4.21 during the reign of Deborah who ruled Israel as a Judge and prophetess from her seat under the palm tree between Ramah and Bethel. When she, assisted by her general Barak, defeated the army of God’s enemies, the enemy general Sisera fled the field of battle. He fled to the estate Heber the Kenite with whom he had an alliance. But Heber wasn’t home, so the responsibility for welcoming this enemy of God’s covenant people fell on Jael the wife of Heber. Jael welcomed Sisera as an ally and offered him protection and hospitality, hiding him in her tent and giving him milk to drink. Sisera, exhausted from his battle and feeling safe in the protection of Heber’s wife, fell asleep. And Jael, displayed that her true loyalty lay with God and His people, by picking up a hammer and tent peg and using it to fasten Sisera’s head to the ground.

Interestingly, the other incident in which a woman kills a man also involves a fatal wound to the head. Abimelech, the apostate son of Gideon, who slaughtered his seventy brothers on a single stone as a bloody human sacrifice, raided the city of Thebez. Trapping all the residents on the roof of a tower, he led the charge to set fire to the building. He should have been more careful. According to Judges 9.53, “a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull.”

So the only two times in the Bible in which a woman kills a man both involve a fatal head wound. The enemy’s head is crushed.

What’s going on here is the promise of Genesis 3.15 being worked out in history. God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the women, between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” That’s the first promise of the Gospel, prophesying Jesus who will destroy the works of the Devil. But it also prophesies war not just between the two seeds, but between the serpent and the bride.

So it makes sense that, in addition to the time when we see warriors destroying the enemies of God’s people (Joshua having his captains place their feet on the necks of the five kings of the Canaanites or David slaying Goliath by hitting him in the head with a stone) we also have stories of women destroying the enemies of God’s people.

And even though Esther is not involved in directly killing Haman with her own hands, we are obviously witnessing the same mortal combat between the woman and the enemy. Only this time the combat takes place through petitioning; through intercession.

Joshua and David are types of Christ. They in their work dimly foreshadow the work of Jesus. But what about Deborah or Jael or the woman who threw down the upper millstone from the tower and crushed Abimelech’s head? Do they function as types of Christ?

Yes, but not in the same way. What Christ does His body also does, and His body is the Church, His bride. Deborah and Jael and the women in the tower are types of Christ because they are types of the Church.

And so is Esther.

I have gone into all this background to try to give you a perspective which I think you need to correctly understand our passage this morning. If we see Esther’s daring to draw near the throne of King Ahasuerus as only an act of political intercession, we’re going to miss the big picture. Here we see the Church as the body of Christ destroying the enemy.

I have already argued that King Ahasuerus is not merely some random person who happens to rule the world and have control over God’s people. Rather, he is a king of the same sort as Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. He is a sort of new Adam, God’s anointed king and God’s shepherd. He represents God the king of kings.

And here we see evidence that the author of Esther views the king in this light. Within the book of Esther itself we have every reason to think that King Ahasuerus sits, in a sense, on the throne of God like Solomon did (according to 1 Chronicles 29.23).

I already mentioned last week how Mordecai was excluded from passing through the gate to the Palace because he wasn’t dressed right. Now in Esther 4.11 we learn that Esther herself has been excluded for the past month. And excluded from where? Let me read chapter 5, verse 1 again only with a more literalistic translation:

Now it came about on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace in front of the king’s house, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the royal house, opposite the entrance to the palace.

The architectural information given to us in Esther is very familiar. There is a Palace, and no one is permitted to enter the gate of that palace unless they are dressed properly. And within that Palace the king has His house in the inner court. And there he sits on his royal throne. And if anyone enters that interior throneroom they die.

No literate Hebrew could miss the implications of this description. The priests of Israel were not permitted into the Tabernacle or the Temple unless they were wearing their special linen garments. In fact, just as Mordecai banished himself from the palace by mourning in sackcloth and ashes, so the priests and especially the high priest were forbidden from mourning (even in the case of the death of some family members) because they served in God’s presence.

Furthermore, the Tabernacle and Temple both were divided into to sections: The Holy Place where the regular priests served, and the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was God’s throneroom and no one got to go in there on pain of immediate death. The only exception was made for the high priest once a year when he carried in blood with him on the Day of Atonement. Apart from that summons from God, no one was permitted in His throneroom.

It is interesting that the description of the King’s throneroom in relation to the Palace gives the impression that it might have been a separate structure. I don’t know if that was the case, but the author of Hebrews does exactly the same thing in describing the Tabernacle. In chapter 9, he treats the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as two separate tents.

What we see Esther doing here, fasting for three days and then assuming her royal garments and entering into the King’s presence to make petitions for her people, is what the Church is supposed to do for her members and for the world. Every Sunday we are summoned into God’s presence, released from the sins of the past week so that we appear appropriately before Him, and our petitions are received. Ultimately, Esther is going to eat and drink with King Ahasuerus and there at the Table her request will be heard and sentence will be passed.

When the King extends his scepter to Esther he is offering her rule. The same offer is made for us. Listen to the words of Jesus to the Church in Thyatira:

He who overcomes, and who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I have received from My Father.

As the Father extended the scepter, the rod of iron, to Jesus, so he extends the scepter to us.


But first Esther must overcome. Look at verses 7 & 8:

Mordecai told him [Hathach, the king’s eunuch attending Esther] all that had happened to him, and the exact amount of money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people.

Vashti lost her crown because she refused to go to the King when ordered to do so through the King’s eunuch’s. Esther has already shown that she is different than Vashti, but here we come to a much greater test. Mordecai who is himself responsible for Esther’s hiding her identity has now “ordered” her through the king’s eunuch to risk her life by going uninvited into the King’s presence.

Worse, the text says that he told the eunuch to tell Esther to plead with the king “for her people.” Not “for the Jews” as if she is doing Mordecai some sort of favor, but “for her people.” Mordecai seems to have here unilaterally blown Esther’s cover. She learns at the same time that the Jews are all condemned to death and that at least one of the king’s officials, the eunuch, now knows that she herself is a Jew.

Esther has to risk her life now because Mordecai had earlier convinced her not to reveal her identity. If Haman had known that Esther was a Jew none of this would have happened. In a sense she is now paying for the sin in which, though she participated, Mordecai bears the greater responsibility. Furthermore, it was Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman which brought about this situation.

We Protestants sometimes speak as if “the priesthood of all believers” is a New Testament distinctive because in the Old Testament the priesthood was restricted to the Levites. Nothing could be further from the truth. When it says in 1 Peter 2.9 that

you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,

it is simply quoting Exodus 19.6 where Moses tells all twelve tribes of Israel (not just the Levites) that they are a kingdom of priests. Peter is taking the doctrine of the priesthood of all Israelite believers and expanding it into the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers irrespective of whether one is Jew or Gentile.

Now Esther could never be a special priest, a servant priest who administered the sacrifices in the Temple, because she was a woman. And just as the kings of the earth used eunuchs rather than women to represent themselves to their wives, so God the bridegroom only ordained men to represent him and minister in His place to His bride. Paul says the same thing about those who minister in His place in the New Testament Church. Only men are to hold such authority.

Nevertheless, as a Jew Esther is a royal priest, and it is appropriate that she is presented here as one who, after three days of fasting, and presumably prayer, dares to draw near to the throne and intercede for her people. She is undergoing tribulations for Mordecai’s sin. She is, in the words of Galatians 6.2, bearing Mordecai’s burden and thus fulfilling the law of Christ.

So Esther is a type of Christ in that she is a type of the Church. And she is, by daring to draw near, risking great and immediate danger on herself because of what is primarily Mordecai’s sin. Obviously, this has great implications for us. It describes for us how the Church should intercede for the world. It describes for us also, how we must be willing to suffer for the sake of others, even for the sins of others.

I’ve preached on this before, but it is worth repeating. We can expect as Christians to suffer for the sins of others. Mordecai has sinned but there is not a thing he can do about it. It’s up to Esther to risk her life and make the situation right. Not only do her actions show us what the Church should be in corporate worship, they also show us what we need to be as priests to one another.

But there’s one other thing I think we need to see in this passage:

Esther is a priestly intercessor because she is forced to be one. If this situation had not arisen, Esther may have never shared her identity with anyone as long as she lived. Now she is going to have to say who she is, a member of God’s people. Furthermore, as we’ll see in chapter 8, verse 3, she is going to have to bow to the king as Mordecai refused to do to Haman. As long as she hides who she is, and as long as Mordecai disobeys the king’s command they cannot be priests to the nations. What God does is put the Jews at risk so that they are forced to intercede for the nations by interceding for themselves. All the nations are going to be blessed by the deliverance which God gives the Jews.

What’s going on here is a recurring theme in the Old Testament, especially during the decline of the monarchies. Jesus pointed out that there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elijah, but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian. And how did Naaman hear about the power of God? His army during one of their many raids on the Israelite countryside kidnapped a little girl and made her a slave for Naaman’s wife. And that little girl bore testimony to the power of the true God and how that power was displayed through the prophet Elisha. God used war and slavery to spread the Gospel.

The story of Jonah gives us the same basic dynamic. God has to force him to bear witness against his will. Not only did Jonah refuse to go to Ninevah until God sent a sea monster to swallow him and point him back in the right direction, but it was only after God caused a storm around Jonah’s ship that he witnessed to his fellow sailors.

Daniel and his three friends show us the same story. How did Daniel ever get in a position to bear witness to Nebuchadnezzar? He caused Daniel to be captured and taken against his will to Babylon.

God chose Israel to be a kingdom of priests. And when Israel didn’t act like priests to the world, he sent them out into the world. Israel kept their wine bottled up and God decided that it was preferable to burst the wineskins. The exile looked like the end of God’s kingdom, but it was actually the Great Commission.

Mordecai and Esther are being forced to act as priests to the nations. By being put in a corner where she has to act to defend her own people, we will see that Esther will bring about the spread of the Gospel throughout the 127 provinces of the empire from Ethiopia to India. Gentiles will convert to the ends of the earth.

This same dynamic has occurred in the Church. When Stephen was martyred and many Christians were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered abroad what happened? The Gospel spread to Samaria and to the Ethiopian eunuch and to Caesaria, and ultimately to Rome.

And even after the close of the New Testament we see this at work. After the Gospel had spread some in the Roman Empire, God brings a bunch of barbarian invaders all the way from central Asia. To the Romans this looked like the end of the world but in God’s mind it was a new beginning. Many of these people settled down and were Christianized. If there had been no invasions, the Church would have been tempted simply to be the religion of the Roman Empire, but God dissolved the Roman Empire so that the Church was forced to be truly Catholic, “universal.” God brought the mission field to their doorstep.

And perhaps American Christians are facing the same crisis and opportunity. Not only do we have immigrants coming here from all over the world, but there are foreign students in virtually every American college and university. Many of these people are from countries closed to the Gospel. God’s bringing the mission field to our doorstep.


Of course, I’m talking about missions as if it’s mostly a foreign affair. The fact is that each of us is in the mission field of late twentieth-century American culture (real late now that we’ve passed into 1999 last week).

Esther and Mordecai were forced to bear true testimony lest they die. Witness or perish. In a sense the exile forced all the Jews to face that fundamental choice. They were left without their land, without their Temple, without their kingdom. They were strangers in a strange land. How were they going to survive as the distinctive people of God with so much of their identity stripped from them?

When the first exiles were taken away to Babylon, false prophets comforted them by telling them they would be returned to Jerusalem within a couple of years. The prophet Jeremiah had to write the exiles a letter telling them the truth, that they would not get to go back for seventy years. Only the youngest of them could hope to live long enough to return to Jerusalem. Listen to what he wrote in Jeremiah 29.4-7:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.

Can you imagine how hard it must have been for the exiles to accept what Jeremiah was saying to them? They had been a holy nation to the Lord, with their own land given to them by God. Now they had to learn to be the people of God in the midst of a gentile city and had to, precisely because they were God’s distinctive people, work for the good of the gentiles. The people who sang psalms praying blessing for Jerusalem had to learn to pray for blessing for Babylon. There own survival was bound up in what happened to Babylon. They had to witness or perish.

God did not mean for them to seek the welfare of the city by hiding who they were as God’s distinctive people. Nor did he mean for them to rebel against the city in the name of the LORD. No, He meant for them to seek the welfare of the city by being his priestly people in its midst. They had to witness or perish.

What is true of Babylon, is still true of Susa where Mordecai and Esther dwell. They must seek the welfare of the city as God’s priestly people. And God is now forcing their hand, to make them do what they are supposed to do, and to make them be what they are supposed to be: God’s nation of priests to the nations of the world. They have to witness or perish.

What is true of Babylon and Susa is also true of North America. As this country declines into neopaganism, we feel more and more like exiles in an alien culture. We are tempted to hide our identity. We are also tempted to become rebellious, especially if we have been awakened to how much we have compromised our identity in the evangelical world. But we have to resist those temptations precisely because they will keep us from overcoming our present crisis. We have to witness or perish.

And of course, it is true of me. I want to see the Faith (as I understand it, most fully embodied in the Reformation Tradition); I want to see the Faith overcome all opposition in Auburn and Federal Way, and the whole area here between Seattle and Tacoma. You didn’t send me a call by an audiotape that self-destructed after it played, but that is the mission that I have accepted and on which my vocation now depends. In a real sense, I have to witness or perish.

There is a stream of thought which says that anything done from self-interest is somehow wrong and must be rejected. Don’t you fall for that idea. God uses self-interest to wake us up and make us reconsider what we’re doing. We all want to see Christ the Sovereign as a light to the world, a city on a hill. We want to be able to expect that our children’s children will have a stable place to worship and be discipled as they raise their children in godliness. In a real sense, we need to witness or perish.

So let us draw near now and pray that we will be given the grace to be true witnesses, and that others will be given the grace to respond for our own good as well as theirs, and for the glory of God’s grace.

Copyright © 1999, All rights reserved.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment