#BehindTheScenes, Week 5 — The “The Worst Laid Plans” Sermon Rewind

I honestly don’t know how you can preach on Esther without being an English major.

Now: I know it’s done and done well.

But I also know that I couldn’t preach on this enigmatic little book without dwelling on the ironies, reversals, coincidences, and perfect timing.  It’s truly one of those occasions where the literary skill of the author is an indispensable part of the theological point he is making.

So in yesterday’s sermon adventure, we went through all the ironies, reversals, coincidences, and nicks of time in Esther 5 and 7 to land at this bottom line:

God turns Satan’s weapons of destruction into His tools for deliverance.



Of all people who’ve had bad luck, maybe the worst was a man named Wilmer McLean.  In 1861 he lived on a farm in a place called Manassas Junction, VA.  In April of that year, as a lot of you know, the CW broke out. And the first land battle of that war took place on McLean’s farm by a small stream known as Bull Run.  His own place, you might suspect for the aftermath of a real battle that started a real war, was decimated.  A couple of years later, after a SECOND Battle of Bull Run, McLean was tired of all the stress and relocated to a small town 120 miles SW of Manassas Junction.  Free at last from being the site of historic war activity!

            But you may have heard of the small town to which he moved … Appomattox Court House, VA. And … you guessed it … the surrender of Lee to Grant took place in Mr. McLean’s house!  Which soldiers stripped so they could have mementoes of the occasion. So the CW began in his front yard and ended in his front parlor 120 miles away. If it was a movie they’d reject for being not realistic.  Yet it was.  What a coincidence.  You’ve had them.  The funny ways things turn out, running into that person at that time in that place, meeting that special someone when looking for someone else.  In our case, it was being in Orlando 15 years ago & my sister from Austin comes walking into the same restaurant we were in.  Coincidences all around.

            And today as we wind up Behind The Scenes, we’re going to see a collection of the most amazing, incredible, time-sensitive coincidences in the library of Scripture. Enough to make you wonder if there is a great force coordinating them all.  And enough to make you appreciate the lengths to which God will go to reverse all the efforts that evil makes.  Now: here’s the deal.  By way of review, the year is 483 BC and the setting is Persia (modern day Iran).  In Persia, there is still a smattering of scattered Jews.  A large chunk of them had returned to Israel when King Cyrus let them return home (imagine the irony: Iran does Israel a NATIONAL FAVOR!).  This is really an IN BETWEEN time in Jewish history … after a series of defeats, following a terrible exile, and discovering what it means to be Jewish in a land that does not recognize your God.  In a land where, in spite of Darius’ favor, there are still a great many enemies to that ragtag group of people who dare to claim that a) there is only ONE GOD and b) that ONE GOD has chosen this ONE PEOPLE GROUP as his.  It’s a pagan, secular, vicious culture, which may well explain why the anonymous author of Esther keeps God’s name on the DL here. 

            Because the looming crisis in the story is that Haman, Israel’s #1 enemy, the embodiment of evil, the one who represents all the forces lined up against God, you could even say he is a stand in for Satan —  has manipulated King Xerxes into ordering the extermination of all Jews in the Kingdom.  All of them.  Haman has taken a personal grudge against a Jew named Mordecai and turned into genocide against the whole race and nation.  Yet we found a glimmer of hope last week in the gallon of courage that Esther herself has:  she will reveal her identity as a Jew in order to save her people.  She might die along the way, the plan may fail, but she steps up for such a time as this.  But look how diabolical Haman is in 5:11-14:

11 Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 12 “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. 13 But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

14 His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits,[a] and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.” This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the pole set up.

So: boastful, vengeful, genocidal.  I love how he is “delighted” to build a 75 foot pole upon which he will kill Mordecai.  Now: that is not a gallows pole for hanging; it is instead a sharply pointed pole for impaling. Eviscerating.  A ginormous pencil with a freshly sharpened point. The result is the same: a dead criminal / enemy elevated for all to see and jeer. His best laid plans.

            Now: we’re going to pick it up in Esther 7 but you have to know that in ch. 6 Xerxes miraculously recalls during a sleepless night that Mordecai had rescued him from an assassination plot and THEN he has Haman parade Mordecai through town as a hero.  That MIGHT have been Haman’s first clue that his best laid plans could be in trouble … and fixin’ to get a whole lot worse.  Look at 7:1-2 where Esther is hosting her SECOND banquet (the first one was just an appetizer) for Haman and her husband King Xerxes:

So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”

Notice he calls her “Queen” – that’s how she’s been referred to ever since she stopped pretending & started becoming.  And her answer in 7:3-4 is sheer genius:

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.[a]

Why genius?  Because she borrows / steals / hijacks the EXACT WORDING from the evil edict that condemned all the Jews to genocide.  She is using the devil’s words against him.  Even “if we’d just been slaves I wouldn’t bother you, but this I have to” is all designed to flatter her husband, butter the king up so he will do what she wants & will think it’s his idea! Sales 101!

            That all builds to the crucial moment in the whole book … all things, including the coincidences, have led to this question:

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

Who is he? Where is he?  Esther’s answer in 7:6a:

Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

What a coincidence!  He’s right here! Haman the banquet guest!  And in 7:6b, Haman has that creeping terror, the awful realization that makes the pit in his stomach grow more and more nauseous:

Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.

He realizes that he may well have accepted an invitation to his own execution.

In 7:7, Xerxes leaves the room while Haman decides to beg for his life … from the woman he himself had condemned to death: 

The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

Look now at 7:8a:

Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

Now:  only the king was allowed within seven steps of the queen by Persian law.  Haman’s done a lot of wicked things but this isn’t one of them!  Do you see the extra irony?  Haman hated Mordecai because he wouldn’t FALL in respect to him; now Haman signs his own death warrant by FALLING on to Esther.  And oh by the way, he does so while asking for mercy from his intended victim!  Irony, reversal, conincidence it’s all there.

            Then the timing of 7:8b is not by accident:

The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.

It’s like “We JUST HAPPEN to have a hood right here!”  (Who brings a hood to a banquet?) “As soon as” … everything has been arranged, everything is in perfect alignment.  And then 7:9, Harbona (who is he???) says,

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits[b] stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

“Oh, what a coinkidink!  We just HAPPEN to have a 75 foot pole set up right here.  This guy had it made for Mordecai … you know the one who rescued you from the assassins?  That’s all Xerxes needs who says this in his most decisive moment of the story in 7:9c:

The king said, “Impale him on it!”

 That’s how it, and Haman’s life, ends in 7:10:

10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

Esther executes his execution perfectly.  Our last image of him is grotesque, impaled, elevated, eviscerated, dead. On the very impaling tower he had built for someone else. The same wood.

            Wow.  All those coincidences.  All those reversals.  All that perfect timing.  All the we just happen to!s.  Perfect in every regard. But I want you to see something even deeper going on.  Esther hijacks the words of the evil edict and uses them to judge evil and deliver God’s people.  Then Harbona takes the very weaponry meant for destruction of Mordecai and uses it to deliver God’s people.  Because, no Haman, as the rest of the book shows, no edict.  It’s reversed. But the series of coincidences  reversals are complete and know this:  the enemy’s arsenal ends up being the Lord’s artillery. The same stuff!  Words! Wood!  Plans!  People!  All the raw material that God redeems so he might deliver! 

            And is this the last time? Is this the last time that what looked like sure victory for evil was claimed and restored and reversed by the Lord as his instrument of healing & salvation?  Wasn’t there another tall  wooden device that was designed to torture but now transforms?  Wasn’t it on Good Friday where defeat looked so thorough that Jesus’ closest followers were the quickest to abandon him?  And was it not on Easter Sunday when Jesus punched through death and emerged on the other side as the resurrected one that we saw in hindsight that cross was crucial to our salvation?  Indispensable to our eternity?  I love how the biblical library connects testaments!  And the inspiring God behind it all ensuring his story threads it all together!  What a Savior! What a story teller! Here it is: God turns Satan’s weapons of destruction into His tools for deliverance.  It seems to be his preferred method of working!  The same raw material designed for evil becomes the very instruments of God.

            So much reversing.  It’s almost like he allows Satan to have that brief moment of victory – he’s got the match lit and cigar in his mouth! – before yanking defeat from it.  I don’t know how it looks in the heavenly & hellish realm between those two but I just know how it plays out here.  God turns Satan’s weapons of destruction into His tools for deliverance.

            You know what this like?  It’s like D-Day in 1944 when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy (AV).  And many years later, a soldier who was on the ground that day reflected, “I was convinced there was no way we could win.”  Yet a pilot from that day also reflected many years later on his perspective from the air:  “I was convinced there was no way we could possibly lose.”  Same battle, different viewpoints! When you step back and attempt to see the world’s struggles, YOUR STRUGGLES, from God’s eye view, you’ll get God turns Satan’s weapons of destruction into His tools for deliverance.

            Because you know why this matters?  YOUR STRUGGLES.  Some of you are caught up now, in a snare, in a device or instrument of the evil one.  A substance.  A compulsion. A temper. A habit.  Know this: every flaw you have is really just a strength in disguise.  And God delights in reversing its hold on you and actually using it later in life to redeem not only YOU but others through you. It’s why I am so encouraged by our DBSA Group … because people in the midst of wrestling with what it means to be DBSA are on the front lines, ministering to each other, helping one another not only to cope but to thrive.  Taking a God’s eye view … there’s no way they can possibly lose. God turns Satan’s weapons of destruction into His tools for deliverance.

            Because coincidences keep happening. God is a master of them.  I have to believe he coordinates at least some of them.  I can’t tell you the # of times we go knocking on a door as part of BTH & people say either “I needed prayer” or “We were looking for a church” and we say, “Well, one came looking for you!”  It’s why some of you are here, today. 

            Know this, Good Shepherd: Esther shows us that he who gave us our first breath will have the last laugh.  Some of you will see it happen in this life.  Others will have to wait for the next one.  Years ago a group of Baptists were going through awful persecution in Europe and as they reflected back on it later realized that it was only their belief in the Second Coming that got them through.  They could endure TODAY because they had an unshakeable confidence that Jesus was coming back TOMORROW to right every wrong and heal every hurt.  People spend time making charts and graphs about when and how that will happen; we’ve decided not to waste time on that stuff.  Here’s what we know it will be like: 


 Yup.  That’s when we know that Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King. We know it by faith now. We’ll know it by sight then.  Why?  God turns Satan’s weapons of destruction into His tools for deliverance.