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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s Temple || 11-2 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-2-1 Conditional Prophecy || 11-2-2 Human Response || 11-2-3 Tyre in Ezekiel 26 || 11-2-4 Delayed Prophecies || 11-2-5 Prophecies With Changed Fulfillment || 11-2-6 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-3 Command More Than Prediction || 11-4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple || 11-5 The Restoration: Potential Kingdom Of God || 11-6 The Potential And The Reality || 11-6-1 The Weakness Of Judah Under Nehemiah || 11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration || 11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-5 The Cherubim And The Restoration || 11-6-6 Zechariah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms || 11.7 “The prince" in Ezekiel || 11-7-1 " The prince" : Potential Messiah || 11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah? || 11.8 The Potential For The Surrounding World || 11-8-1 Haggai 2 || 11-8-2 Meshech And Tubal || 11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3 || 11-9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment || 11-10 Zechariah And Malachi: More Chances || 11-11 The Returned Exiles

11.6 The Potential And The Reality

11-6-1-1 Esther In Weakness

The Significance Of The History Of Esther

Context: The Paucity Of Judah’s Response

Separation from Babylon was made the harder by the Babylonian and especially later Persian policies of making subjugated people like the Jews become useful contributors to the empire. They didn't stay long weeping by the rivers of Babylon. Likewise it was Persian policy to allow each nation their own temple, and to even encourage them in this- hence the decree to rebuild Yahweh's temple in Jerusalem. Darius did similar things to areas of Egypt which he conquered. But all this had a price tage attached- people like the Jews were to come to see themselves as essentially Babylonian or Persian, and they were to give up all idea that their god or the culture was the absolute truth. And tragically, the Jews willfully became part of this policy. There were specific commands in Isaiah for the Jews in captivity to leave Babylon and return to the land. God confirmed those who wished to obey in their choice- for Cyrus made a decree commanding them to return! But so many still remained. Significantly, Artaxerxes gave Ezra authority to rule the entire “province Beyond  the River” (Ezra 7:25). The boundary of the land promised to Abraham reached to “the river”- and Ezra was being given power over all that area. And yet there is no evidence that Ezra actually did do what Artaxerxes enabled him to do- i.e. to establish rulership under his command over that area. But potentially, the full restoration of the Kingdom promised to Abraham was made possible. Despite the King’s decree that the Levites should accompany Ezra from Babylon, not one Levite came with Ezra (Ezra 8:15- the references to ‘Levites’ later in the record must refer therefore to Levites that had remained in the land after the deportation of the majority of Judah). Last minute recruiting efforts by Ezra in Casiphia produced only 38 Levites (Ezra 8:31)! They even delayed their departure from Babylon for 12 days in order to desperately try to persuade some Levites to come with them. This was how poor Judah’s response was. Indeed, it appears that only 1,700 men returned to Judah with Ezra(1). Even generous readings of the text would give only between four and five thousand(2). And even when some Levites did return under Nehemiah, they weren’t given their tithes and went off to live on farmsteads as subsistence farmers, resulting in the restored temple scarcely operating (Neh. 13:10,11). Despite the repentance for marriage out of the faith in Ezra’s time, Nehemiah closes with the same problem having recurred. Nehemiah had to close the gates of Zion on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:19) to stop Sabbath trading going on- a sad contrast with the command in Is. 60:11 that her gates should be open continually in order that the Gentiles may enter in with their tribute to Yahweh. But now, the Jews were buying from the Gentiles in those very gates, which now had to be closed.  

Not only were the Jews disobeying the specific commands of God to return to the land, but they were judging themselves as separated from God by voluntarily remaining in Babylon. They would’ve known the material of Dt. 28, which stated that Israel would only be separated from their land as a result of their being under judgment by God. By choosing to remain in captivity away from their land, they were in effect judging themselves as unworthy of being God’s covenant people dwelling in His land. And this is what condemnation is all about- people living out and choosing their condemnation by their behaviour in this life. 

It could be argued in fact that Mordecai was the Mordecai referred to in Ezra 2:2 and Neh. 7:7- one of the first of the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel. Are we to conclude from this that Mordecai lost his youthful zeal, and perhaps returned to Babylon and assumed a pagan name? According to non-Biblical tradition, Zerubbabel also returned to Babylon. Esther 2:5 mentions Mordecai as being descended from Shimei, the man who cursed David in 2 Sam. 16:5; and Kish- the father of apostate king Saul (1 Sam. 9:1,2). Perhaps these references are to suggest that Mordecai was from a poor spiritual background. Another window into the weak mindset of Mordecai is given by his lament: “An innocent people is condemned to death!” (Esther 4:1 LXX). Passages like Ezekiel 18 reason with the exiles that their insistence upon their innocence was so wrong, and that they were quite wrong to feel unfairly treated by God, being punished for their fathers’ sins. Passage after passage in Ezekiel reveal how the prophets sought to convict the exiles of their sin, and the weakness and guilt of Judah in captivity. But it seems Mordecai for one didn’t accept that. Note that when we read of Ezra and Nehemiah confessing that “we” have sinned (Ezra 9:7; Neh. 1:5-11) they are accepting the truth of Ez. 18- that they, the Jews in Babylon, had sinned along with their fathers and were not somehow separate from them in their guilt.

It would seem that the events of Esther were towards the end of the 70 year captivity period; for the Jews are described in Esther 3:8 as being “scattered” throughout Babylon. It’s also apparent that the Jews were no longer sitting weeping by the rivers of Babylon, but had become influential and wealthy throughout the empire- hence Haman’s desire to kill and plunder them. The vast sum he offered to the King for permission to do this was presumably on the basis that a percentage of the plunder would be given to the King; for Herodotus estimated Haman’s offer to approximate to two thirds of the annual income of the Persian empire. The only way he could realistically have offered this would’ve been on the basis that the Jews were wealthy and he would totally plunder them. Hence when the whole plan was reversed, the Jews were allowed to plunder their enemies (Esther 8:11). They certainly didn’t take any wealth with them into captivity; they must have experienced meteoric prosperity and success in all their business dealings. Hence their desire to materially support the exiles who wished to return, but most of them were too caught up in the good life to heed the call to come out from Babylon. And we, faced with that same call in these last days, must enquire whether we’re not the same.

The Jews In Babylon

The events of Esther, which appear to have happened some time between Ezra chapters 6 and 7, reflect how the Jews had so quickly assimilated into Babylon. ‘Esther’ in Persian means ‘star’ and appears a reference to Ishtar. The name ‘Esther’ is also possibly derived from the Persian stara, or ‘star’, the Babylonian goddess of love. Even her Hebrew name Hadassah means ‘myrtle’, a tree which is native to Babylon, not Israel [although the Jews apparently brought myrtle trees back to Palestine with them]. Likewise ‘Mordecai’ is a form of the Persian god Marduk. The complete absence of God’s Name in the book perhaps indicates how they had forgotten the Name of their God in Babylon. It’s also odd that there is no mention of prayer in the story- when prayer was the obvious recourse of God’s people. The omission is so obvious- as if to point out that the Jews were not the prayerful community which they should’ve been. When we read of Mordecai rending his clothes and putting on sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3), we expect to read of him praying – for prayer accompanies those two things in 2 Kings 19:1-4 and Joel 1:14. Even Esther appears to accept her possible destruction in a fatalistic way rather than in faith- “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). There’s a contrast with Daniel, who gathered his friends and gave himself to prayer before going in to the King; she gathered her friends and asked them to fast, but there’s no specific mention of prayer. What she did was brave, but it seems to be more human bravery than an act of spiritual faith. The omission of any mention of prayer seems intentional- to highlight that the Jewish community were simply not prayerful as they should’ve been. The book of Esther was surely to encourage the Jews that despite their weakness, God was prepared to work with them. Esther appears to have slept with [‘went in unto’] the King before he married her; ate unclean food (Esther 2:9; cp. Dan. 1:5, 8), and finally married a Gentile. Note that she 'went in' to the King in the evening and only came out of the Palace in the morning (Esther 2:14); and it seems that Esther is being contrasted with Vashti, who refused to 'go in' to the King publically (Esther 1:12); indeed, one function of Vashti in the narrative is to present her as far more principled as a Gentile than Esther was a Jewess. Esther didn’t tell her husband that she was Jewish for the first 5 years of their marriage (Esther 2:16; 3:7).  It’s almost certain that she would’ve acted like a Persian woman religiously in order for this to be the case; she certainly wasn’t an observant keeper of the Mosaic law. She’s almost set up in contrast with Daniel, who refused to defile himself in these ways and maintained his conscience in the same environment at whatever cost. But the point of Esther is to show that God was eager to work with such as Esther, He hadn’t quit on His people. And of course if Esther and Mordecai had done the right thing and returned to Judah as commanded, the whole situation would never have arisen, and there would’ve been no Jews left in Babylon to persecute. It seems that the history in the book of Esther is an example of how God sent ‘fishers and hunters’ to encourage the Jews to return as He commanded them (Jer. 16:16)- but even then, they didn’t.  

Esther 3:13 implies that Haman’s plan to confiscate all Jewish property was because they were wealthy; his offer to pay Ahasuerus 10,000 talents of silver would only have been credible if that sum was obtained by him from the seizure of Jewish property. Herodotus claims that the total annual income of the Persian empire was about 15,000 talents of silver(3). Haman personally surely wouldn’t have had this amount of wealth- rather was he assuming how much could be gained from seizing Jewish property. The simple conclusion is that the Jewish community had soon left their weeping by the rivers of Babylon, and gone on to become a very wealthy group. The reference to the horses, camels and servants of those Jews who returned surely reflects their wealth (Neh. 7:67,68). The way the Persians rejoiced at the effective annulment of the decree to kill the Jews (Esther 8:17) would indicate that quite quickly, the Jews became popular with the world in which they lived. And for me, the book of Esther has a sad ending- the Jews are even more popular, even richer. Our loving Father gives us as His children what we beg Him for materially- but so often, it’s not for our good spiritually. God must be so torn- between giving us what we want, what we whine for, what humanly we obviously need and would desperately like to have… and yet knowing that this is not for our spiritual good. We wonder what happened to Esther. Ahasuerus was slain soon after the events of the book of Esther- typically, the wife and supporters of the King would’ve been slain or persecuted. Was this not another prod from God for Esther and Mordecai to return to Judah? It’s simply breathtaking how we are in God’s grip. He doesn’t give up on us. He works, as Job perceived, visiting us every moment in providential touches and prods, in order to encourage us to walk towards His Kingdom and quit the fake Kingdoms of this world. 

Esther: Married To An AntiChrist

It's sometimes said that the book of Esther isn't quoted elsewhere in Scripture. There may not be explicit quotation, but there is certainly allusion(4). Ahasuerus sat on his throne, to tell others of "his glorious Kingdom" (Esther 1:4). The very same two Hebrew words occur again in Ps. 145:11,12, where we read [in a Psalm that may well have been written or used by the righteous remnant in Babylon] that it is Yahweh God of Israel who has a Kingdom of glory, and who ultimately hears the cry of His people in distress, as Ahasuerus did. The Kingdom of Media and Persia had books in which the good and bad deeds of the citizens were written (Esther 10:2); and so in the one true Kingdom, there are ‘books’ from which the ultimate King will judge His people. Clearly, the Kingdom of Ahasuerus is being set up as an anti-Kingdom of God, with an antichrist figure ruling it, faking the Kingdom of God. Note how the Assyrians described their Kingdom as a place where men sat happily under their own vine and fig tree- consciously applying the language of God’s Kingdom to their Kingdom (Is. 36:16 cp. Mic. 4:4). And sadly the majority of God's people preferred the fake Kingdom to the true and ultimate Kingdom of Yahweh, which they had the opportunity to work towards in His land.

Likewise, Ahasuerus is described as reigning over territory from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1:1)- the very land promised to Abraham, the territory of the intended Kingdom of God. The description of his court and the drinking "according to the law" from the Yahweh's own golden temple vessels is all replete with reference to the construction of the tabernacle and Solomon's temple: "There were hangings of white cloth, of green, and of blue, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the couches were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and white, and yellow, and black marble" (Esther 1:6,7). And they drunk there "the wine of the Kingdom" (Esther 1:7 Heb.). The seven elders who stood before the King's throne (Esther 1:14) may be reflective of the seven spirits before the throne of the true King (Rev. 1:4; 4:5). And of course the claim in Esther 1:19 that the words of the King could not be altered [s.w. transgressed] uses the same Hebrew words as found in the statements of fact that the words of King Yahweh cannot be altered / transgressed (Jer. 34:18). And the King's decrees had to be published in every language, to every nation (Esther 1:21)- just as the great commission spoke of the Lord's Gospel being likewise distributed. When the Lord spoke of how He as the true King would give the 'place' of the rejected to those better than they- i.e. those more humble (Lk. 14:9)- surely He had in mind how Ahaseureus gave Vashti's "royal estate unto another that is better than she" (Esther 1:19). This connection makes Ahaseuerus to be an anti-Christ figure. And the point is, Esther the heroine of the story, married the antiChrist and sat with him in his throne. Ahaeuerus ‘delighted’ in her, and she sought his delight (Esther 2:14). But at that very time, God had said that He would be ‘delighted’ in His people and in His forsaken land if they returned there (Is. 55:11; 62:4 s.w.). But Esther rather sought the ‘delighting’ of the anti-God, of the fake Kingdom of God, and didn’t return to the land. Indeed, very often this Hebrew word is used about God delighting in His people, and wishing that they would seek to delight Him. But Esther chose to delight an anti-God, the false God, rather than the true One. And we too face such a choice- advertisments and media kid us that if we buy this product or that service, then we’ll for ever have eternal youth and a smiling face. They’re offering us a false Kingdom of God which is in fact the Kingdoms of men, which are soon to be eternally ended.

Providence And Grace

So the history of the book of Esther reveals God’s grace- because providence is grace, in that we can’t do anything much about it. It is purely God’s initiative. Although Esther was weak spiritually, yet God worked through her to save His undeserving people. The story brings out a number of coincidences which on reflection could only have been from God. The way Haman collapses and it appears he’s tried to rape Esther is one such. Another is the way that Mordecai isn’t rewarded for revealing the plot to kill the King- the King seems to have forgotten about it, overlooked it, and therefore he was all the more inclined to do Esther and Mordecai a real favour when required. This is all especially remarkable when we note that Ahasuerus [or Xerxes] was noted for rewarding loyalty: “Xerxes was very concerned that loyalty to his throne be highly honored. In fact, Herodotus informs us that at one battle, ‘whenever he saw any of his own captains perform any worthy exploit he inquired concerning him; and the man’s name was taken down by the scribes, together with the names of his father and his city’ (8.90).”(5). It was surely no mere human co-incidence that the very morning the King has had a bad night and remembered Mordecai and decides to honour him, that Haman arrives to request Mordecai’s death. Esther 3:7 seems to be saying that Haman decided on his plan to kill the Jews in the first month, Nisan, but his roll of the dice dictated that he execute it in the 12th month: “In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar”. This gave the Jews and Esther / Mordecai nearly a whole year to try to get out of the situation. The fact this plan was made around Jewish Passover time [hence the mention of the month Nisan] perhaps suggested to the thoughtful that God would work a similar Passover deliverance as He had from Egypt. Truly  when ‘the lot is cast into the lap . . . its every decision is from the LORD’ (Prov. 16:33)- surely another allusion to the Esther story. And further, we note that the first month was considered by the Persians to be the best time to take decisive actions (6). Yet the ‘lot’ made Haman have to wait a whole year until the 12th month. Again, we see providence, a Divine hand intervening. And that Divine hand intervenes and works even through our own failure.

The way in which Esther ‘found favour’ with the King also reflects providence, in that she had earlier developed an artless way of ‘finding favour’ with others (Esther 2:15,17; 5:2). Yet she learnt that art in the unspiritual pursuit of seeking to become Queen of Persia, doubtless at the expense of many religious compromises; for a man like Daniel could never be so universally popular as Esther was (Esther 2:15), on account of his religious conscience. She would surely have been aware of, or at least heard, the condemnations of the Queen of Babylon as recorded in Isaiah. Only recently had Persia overthrown Babylon; and she sought to become the new Queen of Babylon / Persia, who was Divinely condemned for her beauty?

And again we see God’s providence working through human weakness in the way that Mordecai refused to bow before Haman. Jews bowed to superiors (Gen. 23:7; Gen. 27:29; Gen. 33:3; 1 Sam. 24:9; 2 Sam. 14:4; 1 Kings 1:16); to refuse to bow before Haman is hard for me to understand as a reflection of some hyper sensitive religious conscience in Mordecai, especially given his evident lack of commitment to his Jewish religion. It seems to me that he did this out of stubborn anger. But it was this very flush of weakness which was used by God to bring about the drama of the situation, in that Haman therefore wanted to destroy him… and that very night, by providence, the King couldn’t sleep, and decided that he wished to reward rather than destroy Mordecai… Carey Moore references an interesting possibility about Esther 6:1, “the king could not sleep”, or in the Hebrew, ‘the sleep of the king fled’. The suggestion is that “nadda, “fled”, should be read as containing the abbreviation for YHWH, “Lord”, that is, h, and thus should be read as a po’el, namely,  nodah h, “YHWH made to flee”” (1).  The Vulgate actually translates this verse as “God prevented the King from sleeping”. So we see the reference to God’s hand, to YHWH Himself, in the shadows as it were… providentially stopping a king from sleeping. And this same invisible God is just as passionately active in our lives; perceiving that seems to me to be one of the great art forms of the believing life.

When we read of the Jews fasting in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:3), we almost expect to hear that they also prayed; certainly a later Jewish audience would’ve expected this. For fasting, sackcloth and ashes are elsewhere associated with prayer (Jer. 14:12; Neh. 9:1; Ezra 8:21,23; 1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:8). That’s an impressive catena of passages. The lack of mention of prayer stands out in sharp relief. Surely the reason was to develop a theme- of how God works through the unstated, through the unwritten, through the silently implied... And this literary device makes us as readers and hearers imagine more deeply how much the Jews would’ve prayed to their God, the God they’d conveniently forgotten amidst their prosperity and nominal acceptance of the Marduk cult. Likewise we read that Esther fasted before going in to the King- which, it’s been observed, would’ve made her less attractive to the King but more attractive to God. She finally learnt that human advantage and beauty can’t save.

When Esther’s nerve failed [as it seems to me], and she cops out of making her request by asking the King and Haman to come to a banquet, she finds herself saying: “Let the King come with Haman today” (Esther 5:4). The Hebrew text reads: “Ybw’ Hmlk Whmn Hywm”- the first letter of those four Hebrew words spells YHWH, the Name of God which never occurs in the book of Esther. Truly God’s strength is made perfect in human weakness. In that very moment of failure, the cop out, God was revealed in His essence. And He proceeded to work through the element of suspense which her request created… to pique the King’s desire to help, and to raise Haman’s pride at having been invited, so that he would act even more foolishly, leading to his downfall. It could also be noted that Esther’s entire intercession could so easily have been spoilt if Haman had suspected her machinations against him. But he didn’t; he felt very honoured to have been invited by Esther to the banquet, and he boasted about it. In other words, Esther concealed her true feelings towards him. And where did she learn to do that? Surely in a lifetime of concealing her true Jewish identity and religious feelings, when actually she shouldn’t have done so.

In the final sealing of Haman’s fate, we again see providence. There are Esther, Haman and the King sitting at a meal. Esther reveals Haman’s evil. And then the King goes out, leaving the two of them alone. He’d been drinking- did he go out to the washroom? Haman approaches Esther’s couch to beg for mercy, perhaps touching her feet, in a typical Persian way of begging for mercy. And then, he faints. The King returns to the room. And there’s Esther lying on the couch with Haman collapsed almost all over her, leading the King to assume Haman was making an advance on the King. As if that wasn’t providential enough, there’s another point of language that might rather fit in here. In Esther 7:6 we read of Esther denouncing Haman to the King as “this wicked Haman”. There’s a very fine difference in Hebrew between hara [“wicked”] and harea [“the lover”- s.w. Jer. 3:1; Hos. 3:1]- so much so that Ehrlich’s commentary suggests that Esther actually accused Haman of being her would-be lover by the word she used. I’m not qualified to comment upon which language Esther would’ve spoken to the King in, and whether the same word play would’ve been possible. But if it was so- and there are to this day certain basic similarities between all the Semitic languages- then we can again see providence. For she’d have set up the thought in the King’s mind, that just possibly Haman was coming on at his wife. And then he goes out to the loo and comes back to the room to find the guy slumped over his wife.

(1) Carey Moore, Esther: A New Translation (New York: Doubleday, 1971) p. 63.


God Works Through Human Failure

Esther was a Jewess; she shouldn’t have married a Gentile, Mordecai should never have entered her for the beauty contest! Further, the King was supposed to only marry a Persian; Esther and Mordecai’s silence about her Jewishness is understandable if she wanted to win the competition: “If the king was required to take a wife from one of seven noble families of Persia, as Herodotus asserts (The Histories iii. 84), there was every good reason for silence on the subject of descent” (7). But again, God worked through this- the fact a spiritually weak Jewess was queen was the way to the Jews’ salvation. Note in passing that Esther’s intercession for her people would’ve effectively involved her admitting to the King that she had deceived him by acting like a Persian when actually she was a foreigner. Hence her great human bravery in doing what she did, quite apart from the fact she was asking the King to change an unchangeable law (Esther 1:19; 3:10-11; 8:8). Perhaps another example of God working through Esther’s weakness is to be found in the way she goes to beg the King a favour- but only invites him to a banquet. And then at the banquet she asks him to attend another banquet. This could be read as smart psychology. But my guess is that each time, her nerve failed her, and she bottled out of making her request. But the process of inviting the King to the various banquets only picqued his curiosity. It would’ve been evident from her nervousness that something was distressing her, and likely the whole exercise ended up in him feeling sorry for her and more likely to respond to her. My suggestion is that her nerve failing her each time, lamely ending up asking the King to come to another banquet, actually prepared the way psychologically for him to be far more open to doing her a favour than if she had just burst into his presence and asked for it. Again, our great God worked through human weakness. His way of working, however, was quiet and indirect. Perhaps this is why the Name of God doesn’t occur in the book directly, and yet there are four places where it does occur as an acrostic [a play on Hebrew letters]. God was there, and is there, but in a hidden way that has to be perceived. Significantly, the only other Bible book where the Name of God commonly occurs in acrostics is Lamentations- also written whilst Judah were in captivity (8).


The fact that all these things happened over and above any human ability to influence events, using Jews like Esther and Mordecai who had not been faithful to God’s calling, simply demonstrates how desperate He was and is to work with His people to save and restore them. And this was the lesson which the captives in Babylon needed to learn. And yet on the surface, it seemed that co-incidence was all against the Jews- for at the beginning of Ahasuerus’ reign, the Samaritans had written to him, complaining about the Jews and urging him to stop the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 4:6). And then, Haman arose, making the Jews out to be dissidents and worthy of destruction… and got an edict made which commanded the deaths of all Jews throughout the Persian empire. We must remember that this would’ve included the more faithful Jews who had returned to Judah! Everything looked the worst. But actually, what seemed the worst possible combination of events turned out to be the best. And so it happens month by month in our own lives, if we will perceive it.

Esther And Passover

The LXX, if it can be relied upon here, offers the following translation of Esther 8:9, concerning when the edict to reverse the Jews’ destruction was given: “the twenty third day of the first month, which is Nisan”. This would mean that the Esther / Haman drama and the destruction of the Jews’ persecutor occurred at Jewish Passover time. There are other evident similarities with Israel’s Passover deliverance:

-         Spoiling of their enemies

-         The fear of the Jews falling upon the Egyptians / Persians (Esther 8:17)

-         A memorial feast instituted

-         Esther 9:26 quotes Ex. 10:6

-         What was “seen” in Israel’s deliverance (Esther 9:26 Heb.) s.w. Ex. 10:6

-         “Every single” Jew to observe Purim (Esther 9:28) = the legislation about Passover

-         The 14th and 15th of Adar (Esther 9:27) cp. the 14th Nisan.

What all this means is that God set up the Jews to be able to experience a full Passover-style deliverance from Babylon / Persia. Isaiah’s prophecies of the restoration from Babylon are shot through with allusion to the Passover, the Exodus and the wilderness journey of Israel from Egypt to Zion. As Hosea fantasized about waltzing with his faithless wife once again in the wilderness, entering a new covenant with her, having a re-marriage, at which the whole natural creation would share in the joy… so God wished to romance Israel once again in the wilderness, and lead them back to Him and back to the temple in Zion. Is. 49:13 speaks of how the joy of Judah’s return to Zion would likewise find a response in all creation breaking out in praise. And so the Haman experience was to set up a situation in which the Jews could heed the prophets’ call to leave Babylon and return to Zion. But… they didn’t. It’s why the book of Esther has such a tragic ending, in spiritual terms- for the Jews are pictured wealthy, accepted in society, prosperous, self-satisfied, and remaining in Babylon / Persia. At best, Judah remained a province of the Persian empire, without the independence and ‘head over the nations’ status which the prophets had said could have been achieved by the exiles. Thus Nehemiah lamented, with allusion to those prophecies, that the Jews were still servants within their own land, and “its abundant produce goes to the kings whom you set over us” (Neh. 9:36,37). S.H. Horn analyzed the archives of the Murashu sons of Nippur and lists of bankers and brokers in the times of Artaxerxes I and Darius II- and found a quite disproportionate mention there of Jews in prominent positions (9). Even further, Esther’s request that the Jews be given even more time to slay their opponents and establish their power, and display the corpses publicly (Esther 9:13) could be read as plain vengeful, graceless, and simply trying to consolidate the temporal dominance of the Jews. Nehemiah being so senior in Babylon is another indicator of how quickly the Jews progressed in Babylon, and how popular they became after the Haman debacle. The lists of names of those who returned to the land (e.g. in Neh. 7) include many obviously Babylonian ones- e.g. Bigvai, Elam etc. Meshezabel (Neh. 3:4) even means ‘the god delivers’, with evident pagan overtones. Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar likewise were Jews with Babylonian names who were Persian governors. 'Zerubbabel' even means 'offspring of Babylon'. Contrast this with the way Daniel is usually referred to by his Jewish rather than his pagan Babylonian name, which he presumably disliked. When a minority of the Jews sought to return, they refer to Yahweh as “the god of the heavens” (Ezra 5:11)- the very title which the Babylonians used for their god. They speak of “the good hand of his God” (Ezra 7:9)- a phrase used in the Akkadian prayer to Marduk (10). Again, we see a contrast with how Daniel unashamedly spoke of his God, rather than seeking to make Yahweh out to be somehow in harmony with the pagan gods of Babylon. Perhaps this is why Isaiah rebukes the idea that Yahweh is somehow like the other gods- His total ‘otherness’ needed to be understood by the Jews in Babylon for whom Isaiah’s prophecies were directed [or, redirected, seeing they were initially relevant to Hezekiah’s time, but re-written for the exiles].

The "pangs" of the pain of the Babylonian invasion ought to have been birth pangs which would result in the "daughter of Zion" giving birth to new spiritual life and then going forth out of the city of Babylon and returning to her land (Mic. 4:9,10). But it didn't happen; they experienced the pain, but it was as if their spiritual rebirth was actually a stillbirth in the end. The idea was that in Babylon, Zion would be "delivered" of her new child, she would "arise and thresh" the surrounding nations (Mic. 4:13), then a Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and lead Judah in the destruction of her enemies (Mic. 5:2,5-8). All this never came to pass, because in fact Judah were not spiritually reformed and reborn in Babylon. Mic. 4:10 speaks of how they would be "rescued" in Babylon, or (RV) "redeemed". That seems to me to be a reference to the miraculous deliverance / redemption of Judah from the pogrom of Haman as recorded in Esther. Mic. 5:8,9,14 goes on to speak of how at that time "the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations [the various nations that comprised Babylon, where the Jews lived]... as a lion among the beasts of the forest... let your hand be lifted up upon your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off... I will destroy your enemies" (RVmg.). This would be a reference to how the Jews defended themselves against their enemies after the demise of Haman and slew so many of them. But this was only a fraction of what could've been; "seven shepherds and eight princes" (Mic. 5:7 RVmg.) could have been raised up, a Messiah could've been born in Bethlehem, and Judah would have become as Babylon then was, "a lion among the beasts" [the lion was asymbol of Babylon]. But they were content with having escaped Haman's pogrom, and Esther ends on the sad note of the Jews prosperous and self-contented in the world which was theirs to conquer- if they had walked in step with God's plans, rather than being such easily contented, materialistic satisficers. Micah 7:11-13 RV seems to comment upon this wasted potential: "A day for building thy walls! In that day shall the decree [of Cyrus, to return and build the temple] be far extended. In that day shall they [the returning Jews] come unto thee [Zion] from Assyria... even to the river [all the places where the Jews were in captivity]... yet shall the land be desolate". In other words, the Jews are prophesied as returning, and yet that was a potential prophecy; the prophet foresaw that despite his prophecy and all that it enabled, the possible future it declared for Judah- yet the land would be [relatively] desolate, for most would not return. It's rather like Ez. 36:35,38 prophesying how the Jews would return from captivity and rebuild the waste places of Jerusalem- and yet Hag. 1:4 laments that the temple lay "waste" [s.w.] because the returned exiles were too lazy to rebuild it. The prophecy of Ezekiel was there for the fulfilling- but they chose not to. And how many prophecies are there which we likewise are too preoccupied and self-centred to reach out and fulfil?

We have to enquire, and enquire deeply, of our own lives- how much potential deliverance has God set up for us, that we refuse to be part of? To what extent has self-satisfaction, comfortable living, the acceptance we have in human society… lead to us failing to grasp the call of God?


(1) See J. Carl Laney, Ezra and Nehemiah. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982) p. 126.

(2) See John A. Martin "Ezra" in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985) p. 667.

(3) A. D. Godley , Herodotus: An English Translation (London: Heinemann, 1963), Vol. 3 p. 95.

(4) Here are two examples:

-         The God who has given us His Son will, through His mediation, surely "freely give us all things" in response to our prayers (Rom. 8:32-34). And note how this passage is alluding to the LXX of Esther 8:7: "The King said to Esther, If I have freely granted thee all that was Haman's, and hanged him on a gallows [a cross]...what dost thou yet further seek?", and the King then gives Esther whatever she requests. Note the repetition of ideas: if death on a cross had been granted, then all other things would be freely granted to the mediator / intercessor, for the good of her / His people.

-         In Esther’s time, a decree was made to “destroy…and cause to perish” the Jews throughout the provinces of Persia / Babylon (Esther 3:13; 7:4). This phrase uses the two Hebrew words which we find together three times in the list of curses to be brought upon a disobedient Israel (Dt. 28:20,51,63). There evidently is a connection. And yet by her wonderful self-sacrificial mediation, Esther brought about the deferment and even annulment of those justifiable curses. God’s prophetic word was again changed- due to a mediator, who of course pointed both backwards to Moses, and forwards to the Lord Jesus.

(5) John C. Whitcomb, Esther: Triumph of God’s Sovereignty (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), p. 61.

(6) Carey A. Moore, Esther, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,1971) p. 38.

(7) Joyce C. Baldwin, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984) p. 70.

(8) All this said about God working through human weakness, Esther’s human bravery stands out. She’d not been called to the King for 30 days- “this is thirty days…” (Esther 4:11 Heb.), she says, as if she took this to mean that she was no longer the number one woman in the King’s life. Her approach into the inner court is described in such detail, as if to heighten for us the sense of suspense and risk. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, 11/205) claims that “round his throne stood men with axes to punish any who approached the throne without being summoned”. She identified totally with her people- the difficult to translate “My people’s as my petition” (Esther 7:3) reflects how totally her petition was theirs, and their petition was her personal petition. The intercession of the Lord Jesus was achieved on the cross, according to Isaiah 53 and other passages. There He identified with us in toto. The fear and risk of failure which He faced were not of course a function of coming before an angry God; but rather a result of the awesome power of human sin and weakness which we too face. His bravery, Esther’s bravery, are our inspirations in the endless battle against this. But she wasn’t merely brave, she was passionate. The hard to translate sentence “My people’s as my petition” (Esther 7:3) may reflect the nervous intensity of her words and thinking. When she begs for “your favour”, she’s using the more intimate second person form of address- whereas in Esther 7:4,8 she addresses the king in the third person, which apparently was the usual form of address to a king in such contexts, even from his queen. Note how in Esther 8:5 she addresses the king as “the king”, but the LXX has her addressing him as “you”. We are led by this to reflect upon the intimacy between two persons which is achieved by the very act of an inferior begging a superior for a favour; and the element of intimacy between the Father and Son which arises from the Lord’s intercession.

(9) S.H. Horn, Biblical Research Vol. 9 [1964] pp. 14,15.

(10) Jacob Myers, Ezra-Nehemiah (New York: Doubleday, 2004 ed.) p. 58.