Audio Lesson

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Just as as Jeremiah had prophesied, after 70 years of exile from the Land of Canaan, some of those exiles from the Kingdom of Judah are allowed to return and rebuild the temple. The destruction of the temple in 586 BC to the reconstruction of a new temple in 516 BC bookend this 70 year period.

However, the return to the Land is not the mass population return that we might expect. Instead this return to the Land is accomplished in waves.

Wave 1 is focused on rebuilding the temple and it was led by a man named Zerubabbel.

Wave 2 is led by a man named Ezra who encourages the people in a sort of religious revival and renewal of their commitment to God. They recommit to uphold the Law of God that he had given the nation many years earlier when he led them out of their Egyptian slavery.

Finally, Wave 3 is led by a man named Nehemiah, nearly a hundred years after the first wave led by Zerubabbel.

Now, Nehemiah’s return with Wave 3 is notable because of something that we discussed in our prior episode. His return is concurrent with a decree issued by the Persian king, Artaxerxes in the year 445 BC. This decree is to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

Remember in Step 6: Exile, we mentioned that a timeline was going to start when this decree went out. After the decree to rebuild Jerusalem was issued there would be 483 years, then the Messiah would be killed.

It’s here with Nehemiah in 444 BC that we can credibly start the timeline. In 483 lunar years, how the ancient Israelites counted time, we should expected to see the Messiah killed. Which lands us, not coincidentally at about 32 or 33 AD. The clock has started and the Messiah is coming. Many Jews have been allowed to return to the Land, and in the coming centuries we’ll see empires rise and fall, before the kingdom of God makes it’s advance on the world.

Things seem to be looking up for the Jews during this time, but in the midst of these waves of returners, a villain lurks in the background. A villain who attempts total annihilation of all the Jews in Persia.

This isn’t around the city of Jerusalem, however. No this is in one of the major cities of the Persian empire. The city of Susa, hundreds of miles east of Jerusalem. A city in which a huge party paves the way one of the greatest dramas in the Bible.

It all starts when the king of Persia throws a huge party. He and his friends are reveling in probable drunkenness and feasting, and the king Ahasuerus, commands that his wife come to the partiers to show off her beauty.

Well, simply put, his wife refuses and Ahasuerus is in a rage. So, he decides that he will pick a new queen in place of the old one and his advisors suggest a sort of Persia-wide beauty contest where all the most beautiful women in the empire come to present themselves before the king. The king likes this idea and commands for it to be done.

Next, we meet Esther, one of the beautiful exiles from the kingdom of Judah. She’s encouraged by her uncle, who was apparently her adopted father, to take part in the beauty-contest and yet commands her to hide her Jewish identity. Esther enters the palace, and eventually she meets king. Ahasuerus likes Esther more than all the other women, and he ends the search. Esther becomes his new queen.

After a while, Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, gains the favor of the king as well. Having made a practice of hanging out outside the palace, Mordecai overhears talk of a couple of palace guards who want to assassinate Ahasuerus. He quickly makes this known to Esther who tells Ahasuerus of this plot against him. The king, then sentences these wannabe revolutionaries to hanging, and he further ensures that Mordecai is remembered as the one who saved the king.

All seems to be going well for the Jews in Persia, until we meet the last major person in the account. The villain, Haman.

Haman is the most senior advisor to the king, and the king decides to honor Haman in this way. The king commands that all people in the palace should bow down to Haman when they see him in order to honor him. However, Haman is enraged when he sees that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, will not bow down to him. Mordecai has his reasons, but Haman will not let it go.

Bitter at Mordecai, Haman goes to the king and asks that the king issue an edict to annihilate all the Jews in Persia. The king issues an irrevocable decree and specifies that in about 11 months time, on a particular date, the Jews are allowed to be annihilated and plundered by the other people in Persia. The King, having no known connection to the Jews, sees them as simply expendable, especially upon learning that they haven’t assimilated into the culture. Haman takes advantage of his ignorance and launches this wicked plot. He’ll get Mordecai and he’ll get all Mordecai’s people too.

As you can imagine, when the news reaches the ears of the Jews, there is sadness and fear, including for Esther and Mordecai. However, Mordecai thinks that Esther may be able to aid the Jews given her position as queen, so he asks her to appeal to Ahasuerus the king.

Now, part of Persian law in those days stipulated that no one could come un-summoned into the kings presence, and to do so would risk death. But in order to not experience instant death, the king had to do a particular thing for the one who approached. He had to hold up his ruling scepter in approval of your presence in order for you to be spared death. So, Esther, knowing that she will have to enter the King’s presence un-summoned to plead for hear people begins praying, and after 3 days, she goes to into the king’s presence.

To her relief, upon Esther’s entrance, Ahasuerus, the king holds up the scepter, and rather than plead on behalf of the Jews, Esther gives the king an invitation to a special dinner. Which is kind of odd right? You’d think that she would tell the king exactly what she wants. But apparently she has a strategy here, and part of that strategy is inviting Haman to the same dinner as well.

So hours later at this dinner, out of apparent curiosity Ahasuerus makes quite an offer. He says to Esther: “Whatever you ask will be given to you. Whatever you want, even to half the kingdom, will be done.”

This is Esther’s opportunity! So she says this:

“This is my petition and my request: If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, may the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.” (Esther 5:7–8, BSB)

What? She doesn’t take the opportunity? She just invites them to dinner again? Her strategy is to apparently capitalize on the mountain of curiosity building in the king.

Once again the next evening, probably brimming with questions at this point the king says:

“Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given to you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be fulfilled.”” (Esther 7:2, BSB)

It’s this time she replies directly:

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, grant me my life as my petition, and the lives of my people as my request. For my people and I have been sold out to destruction, death, and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as menservants and maidservants, I would have remained silent, because no such distress would justify burdening the king.” (Esther 7:3–4, BSB)

Ahasuerus replies:

“Who is this, and where is the one who would devise such a scheme?”” (Esther 7:5, BSB)

And Esther deals a blow to the villain with these words:

“The adversary and enemy is this wicked man—Haman!” (Esther 7:6, BSB)

At this point, Haman is terrified before the most powerful people in the empire and quickly he’s sentenced to death by the king.

Esther and the king then invite Mordecai to join them as Esther reveals her jewish identity and her relationship to Mordecai. And they launch a plan. They decide to write another irrevocable decree, where on the same day that the Jews were to be slaughtered, they may also assemble and defend themselves against any who would attack them on that day. This was a great signal from the highest office in the land that the Jews were not to be attacked. Instead the Jews had been granted favor by the king.

It’s many months later that the day finally comes. A day in which all Jews overpower all those who attempted to annihilate them. It’s only by the courage of this young Jewess that the people were saved from destruction. The great holocaust of the Old Testament had been avoided and Haman, the aspiring Hitler of the Old Testament was hanged on the gallows.

It’s apparent through this story that God has had his hand in these events, and it’s because of God’s faithfulness to his promises. Despite the Israelite disobedience to God’s Law in the Land of Canaan. God still did not forget his promises, especially those promises made to Abraham that he would become a great nation with many offspring in the Land of Canaan, and that through one of his offspring, all the nations of the world would be blessed. It’s through Esther and the Jews saved by her actions that God preserves the people of Abraham so that his plan and promises continue. God remains faithful. And his plans endure.

And so, closing the Old Testament we find that many people from the southern kingdom of Judah have been allowed to return to the land, they’ve recently escaped annihilation, and they are rebuilding the city of Jerusalem with a clock ticking. Messiah is coming. Despite this time of distress and difficulty, hope remains.

The seed of Eve, the seed of Abraham, the seed of David. The one who they have been waiting for will be coming…and coming soon.

Join us next time as we meet the long-awaited Messiah. The king destined for death.