“Your Work and God’s Work”        Esther 7          July 29, 2007


SI:  In this chapter Esther’s carefully laid plans to appeal to King Xerxes

   for the deliverance of the Jewish people reach a climax.

Haman, the enemy of the God’s people is brought down.

   What I want us to see is that behind and underneath all of the careful

   and brave work that Esther did, is the sovereign hand of God.

INTRO:  If you’ve ever read any of John Grisham’s novels you know

   they have the same basic plot.  There is an individual who is caught in the grip

   of powerful forces that want to use him and ruin him.

But he comes up with a daring plan—and turns the tables on them.


In “The Firm” there is a young attorney who finds out the law firm working for

   is in league with the Mob.  He’s in so deep, morally compromised, can’t get out.

   He can’t even go to the FBI because the FBI just wants to use him.

So he comes up with a plan to stick it to his corrupt law partners and

   to stick it to the Man—he escapes and those who tried to use him brought down. 


Esther 5, 6, and 7 are like a short John Grisham novel.

   Esther is caught in the machine, powerful forces of the empire are against her.

   But she comes up with a daring and complicated plan.

Let me show you, in a nutshell, how daring and brilliant her plan was.


First, she literally had to risk her life to get her plan started.

   She had to get an audience with the king, but it was a capital offense to approach

   the king without being summoned.  If he was in a good mood, extended scepter.

   He extended it to Esther. 

The king knew that Esther had something very important to ask—

   why else would she have risked her life.  So he says—remember

   “What is your request?  Even up to half the kingdom it will be given you.”


You can imagine the emotional relief—would have been so tempting to say:

   O King, please deliver the Jews from the edict for their destruction.

   After all, the king had promised to grant her request.

But Esther knew that to ask then would be a disaster.

   Haman, the man who wrote the edict, was in high favor.

   The king himself had given permission, even though he didn’t know details.

   Remember that Haman had promised enormous financial incentive.

So to make this request would embarrass the king, put him in awkward position.

   Plus, Esther would have to reveal that she herself had concealed her true identity.

   The king would probably depose her like he deposed Vashti.


So Esther did not let herself get carried away by the emotion of first success—

   If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come to a banquet I have prepared.

Now, the king cannot turn down this request—this is so reasonable.

   But also makes him more curious.   He knows she hasn’t risked life for a date.

So he agrees and he and Haman go to the banquet—he asks her again.

   What is your petition and request?  Even up to half the kingdom, will be granted.

Esther starts to answer:  My petition and request is this . . .

   Then she holds back:  If king regards me with favor,

   If it pleases the king to grant my request, come to banquet tomorrow—

   Then I will answer the king’s question.


Why did she hesitate?  Second time king promised to grant her request.

   Maybe Esther sensed something not right.  Interaction between King and Haman.

   Or maybe it was part of her plan all along.

Notice how she gets the king to implicitly agree with a number of things

   by promising to come to the second banquet—

   that he regards her with favor, that he is pleased with her,

   and that he will grant her request.


So, it’s the second banquet, they are drinking wine, the king is dying of curiosity.

   What is your request and petition?  Even up to half the kingdom will be granted.

Notice how carefully chosen Esther’s words are.

   If I have found favor with you.  Links herself with the king.  You chose me.

   When I am honored, you are honored.  When I am attacked, you are attacked.

   If it pleases you (knows his ego) grant me my life and life of my people.

   We’ve been sold to destruction (there is a plot to destroy me).

   If anything less than life or death, I would not bother you.

She has played her cards perfectly.  King enraged.  He’s suspicious.

   He senses treason.  Who did this?


When Esther says, this vile Haman—the king got up in rage, went into garden.

   Why did he go into the garden?  Not to cool down.  Already decided fate.

King knew that he had given Haman permission to write this edict.

   Trying to figure out how to kill Haman and save face.

But the king’s problems were solved for him. 

   While out, Haman fell on couch where Esther reclining—capital offense.

   King comes in and shouts—Will he even molest the queen while with me?

And that is the end of Haman—hung on gallows build for Mordecai.


What a brilliant plan.  It took knowing and manipulating customs of Persian court.

   It took understanding of the psychology of a proud, suspicious, violent man.

   It took nerves of steel to deliver precise words at exactly the right moment. 

So what’s the lesson?  Be like Esther.  Be as brave and clever as Esther. 

No, it’s much deeper than that.

There is a verse in Philippians where Paul is talking about the Christian life—

   “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you

   to will and to act according to his good purpose.”


You work and God works.

   When you look at this story more closely,

   you see that underneath Esther’s plan was God’s plan.

Esther worked, but God was already working out all things

   for the good of his chosen people. 


All of us have plans—

   plans for our children, our finances, our relationships, our spiritual growth.

   Working these out in our job, school, in our marriage, family, church.

But underneath your plans and your work are God’s plans and God’s work. 

   Knowing that, resting in it, gives Christians a unique perspective on life.


So let’s look at this story more carefully, see how God was at work.

   And let’s apply that to our own plans and work. 

   I have three points.  I’ll give them to notetakers as we go along.

MP#1  Plan and work, but know that the turning points are in God’s hands.

What made Esther’s plan work?

   It was a brilliant plan—she carried it out well.

But it worked because God was there, working things out at a crucial turning point.

   What was it that inclined King Xerxes to look at the Jews with favor

   and at Haman with disfavor at Esther’s second banquet?

Something that Esther had absolutely nothing to do with.  Let me show you.


Karen Jobes, who teaches at Westmont College,

   has written a fascinating analysis of the literary structure of Esther.

   She shows that Esther is written in a series of corresponding scenes that act as

   brackets around one central scene which is the turning point of the book.


I’ve printed a simplified version on the Meditations page of the bulletin.

   First line:  Esther starts with Xerxes giving banquet for all nobles in empire (1)

   Last line:  Esther ends with Jews throughout empire celebrating with a feast. (9)

Book of Esther bracketed with two empire-wide banquet feasts.


Second line:  Haman given signet ring, writes edict for Jews’ destruction (3)

Next to last:  Mordecai given signet ring, writes edict for Jew’s deliverance (8)

   Second bracket of corresponding scenes.


Third line:  Esther’s first banquet with the king and Haman, (5)

Third from last:  Esther’s second banquet with king and Haman, (7)

   Third bracket corresponding scenes.  Jobes lists about 10 more.


What scene is right in the middle of the book, that is so important?

   It’s the scene in chapter 6 that starts with these words:

   “That night the king could not sleep . . .”

What happened when the king couldn’t sleep?  Asked for record of reign read.

   Read there about an incident five years earlier where Mordecai the Jew

   and uncovered a plot against the king, but had not been rewarded.

   That led the king to call for Mordecai’s immediate honor and reward.


And because that was fresh on the king’s mind at the second banquet that evening,

   it turned his favor toward Esther, and toward the Jews and away from Haman

   at that crucial moment.

So the king’s insomnia was the turning point for the deliverance of the Jews—

   not Esther’s plan, not Esther’s actions.

Who kept the king awake?  The Lord did.

   Was Esther’s plan and her work important?  Of course it was. 

But who brought about the turning point in the deliverance of his people? 

   God did.  And he didn’t use a miracle, used something very ordinary—

   the insomnia of a king—something that Esther had absolutely nothing to do with. 

God’s providence, his sovereign working in ordinary circumstance of life,

   is what turned the tide.


God has placed various callings on your life.

   You carry out your callings by making plans,

   working those plans, taking risks.

Your plans and work are very important.  Just like Esther’s.

   But the real turning points of your life are God’s works of providence.


I think of the two churches I’ve had the privilege of serving in since seminary—

   and the incredible blessings that have come to me in serving these churches.

   The crucial events for getting to those churches, things I had nothing to do with.

First church, Marco Pres, happened to run into a girl I knew from college who

   happened to be passing through St. Louis and stopped to see some friends.

Second church, Christ Covenant, seminary buddy of mine called me out of the blue,

   said that I ought to contact the pulpit committee here. 

I had planned and worked.  Gone to seminary. 

   Pursuing calling thought I had.

   But real turning points work of God.


Proverbs says: 

   “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Reason this is important for Christians is simply because it fills us with gratitude

   and happiness when we look back at our lives and see significant things

   that have happened and know that they weren’t be chance—

   but were the work of our Father in heaven who loves.

Keep your eyes open for the work of God in your life.


MP#2  Plan and work, but know that the future is determined by God’s promises.

What made Esther’s plan work?

   It was a brilliant plan—she carried it out well.

But it worked because God was faithful to his promises.


Esther’s plan was to take Haman down. 

   Haman was a powerful man.  He had the king’s ear. 

   He had momentum.  He had the machine—law of the Medes and the Persians.

But Esther had something that Haman did not have.

   She had a promise, God’s covenant promise to Abraham.


Way back in Genesis 12, God promised that those who bless Abraham

   and his offspring will be blessed, but those who curse them will be cursed. 

   Haman had cursed Abraham’s offspring and he fell under the curse.

So Haman’s downfall was certain, even before Esther made her plan.

   The blessing and deliverance of God’s people was certain,

   even before Esther made her plan and started to work it.

Because the Lord is faithful to his promises. 

   His promises are our certain future.

   We don’t know how our plans will work out—but know God’s promises true.


Did Esther know this promise in Genesis 12?  Was she quoting it and praying it?

   Story doesn’t tell us.  Doesn’t tell us a lot of things.

   But it gives some interesting hints.


Remember at first Esther did not want to risk going to the king.

   When Mordecai told her about the edict, urged her to go she said, No way.

   For five years she had hidden her identity as a believer so she could

   enjoy a life of safety and comfort in the palace.

Esther was not a spiritual giant. 

   She had made lots of compromises and her faith was very weak.


But remember Mordecai said to her: 

   “If you remain silent you will perish,

   but relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.”

How could Mordecai say that?  That deliverance will arise?

   He must have been thinking about God’s promises to Abraham and Israel.


From that moment, holding on to those words, Esther moved forward.

   She was stalled before that, but it was the hope of God’s promise that moved her.

Many of the plans that you make in life are in response to crises.

   You are cruising along, life is fine, then there is a crisis.

   Emotional, relational, financial, physical, spiritual—usually a combination.

You start to plan—How am I going to deal with this crisis?

   How am I going to work this out?

   And there is nothing wrong with that.  You have to plan.


But your hope has to be in the promises of God.

   His promises are your certain future.  Bible is full of them.

   Find them, claim them, and move forward with them.


In my few years as a pastor I’ve seen Christians face crises in different ways.

   But the thing that always blows me away is when someone comes to see me

   in a crisis, not to ask for advice, not wondering what to do but jus to say:

   “Andrew, listen to this promise the Lord gave me.”

Read a passage of Scripture.

   “This present suffering is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us?”

   “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

   “All things work together for good for those who love God, called according to purpose.”


When that happens I have two thoughts.

If this keeps up, I’ll be out of a job—because there is nothing else for me to say.

   The real pastor of the Church—Jesus Christ—has spoken to this brother—

   he doesn’t need me.


Second thought—every time—I’m jealous.

Not for their crisis—but for their certainty.

   When I see the great and precious promises of God—

   giving clarity and hope for the future—I want that for myself.

MP#3  Plan and work, but know that success depends on God’s favor.

What made Esther’s plan work?

   It was a brilliant plan—she carried it out well.

But it worked because Esther found favor with God.


Humanly speaking, the success of Esther’s plan

   depended on the favor of King Xerxes.

Twice Esther says:

   “If the king regards me with favor . . .” and

   “If I have found favor with you, O king . . .”

Everything depended on how the king regarded her.


What she had to do was make herself appear before him as favorable as possible.

   Remember she took care of her appearance—

   even though she had been fasting, was worried, appeared in royal robes.

She prepared these two banquets.  Over and over she deferred to the him

   If it pleases you, I would not have bothered you.


She was trying to remind him in subtle ways why she had stood out

   from all the women when he had chosen her for his queen.

   She was the ideal Persian woman—beautiful and deferential—and a good cook.

And it was through those things that she sought to be the object of his favor.

   It must have been exhausting.


Let me draw a spiritual parallel.

We often approach God the way Esther approached Xerxes.

   We think that we have to find favor in his sight to be blessed.

So we make our lists—morality, religion, being good, keeping the law—

   and we hope that by doing these things, God will look at us with favor.


And here’s the proof: 

When things go wrong, when your plans fail—what’s your first thought?

   Why is God punishing me?  What can I do to make it up to him?

And when things go well, you puff up a little and think—

   I must be living right, God’s blessing me.

You think God is like King Xerxes.

   He’s looking at you with a suspicious eye, saying:

   “Convince me you deserve it.”


But this is the truth:

   You don’t deserve it.  You are a moral and spiritual disaster like Esther was.

Your favor in God’s sight does not depend on you, it depends on Jesus Christ.

   He found favor in God’s sight by his life of perfect obedience.

   So your destiny, and your success is bound up in Christ.


It’s exhausting to try to win God’s favor so that you will be successful.

   But when you know you have his favor through Christ,

   then you realize that it doesn’t matter how your own plans work out.

That gives you humility in success and peace in failure. 


In Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Keep a Quiet Heart”

   she talks the first time she held in her hands a copy of the New Testament 

   translated into the language of the Auca Indians.

Some of you know her story. 

   She and her husband Jim called to go to SA to be Bible translation missionaries.

   While contacting primitive tribe, Jim and three other missionary husbands speared

Elizabeth stayed for a few years, continued to do language work for Bible

   translation, but for various reasons, all of her language work came to nothing.

   Her plan was not a success—it was a failure.

Yet here in her hands, years later, a copy of the New Testament in language

   of that tribe, the fruit of someone else’s labor, not hers.  She wrote:


   “The complete futility, humanly speaking, of all the language work I did, which for various

   reasons all come to nothing, was a deep lesson in the supremacy of Christ.  Whom had I set

   out to serve?  May He not do as He will, then, with His servants and with that servant’s work? 

   Is anything offered to Christ ever wasted?”


Why was she able to say that—and to see her failure—not as God’s frown,

   but as a far greater success, part of his grand, sovereign plan for his glory—

   because she knew that it all rested on Jesus Christ—and not her performance.


Plan and work, but know the favor of God through Jesus Christ is most important.

   When that sinks in, no matter how your plans work out—will have peace.


What a brilliant and daring plan Esther had—and we admire her for it.

   But the real hero is the One who was working behind the scenes—

   through his providence, his promises, and his smiling favor.

The same Lord Jesus Christ is working behind the scenes in your life too—trust him