Sleepless in Susa: God's Spectacular in the Ordinary

Categories: God › Sovereign Rule › Providence Life Christian › Attitudes › Influence Life Christian › Attitudes › Trust or Faith

Last week we looked at Esther's Mission Impossible and we applied chapter 5 to the mission impossibles God has placed in your life. And some of you have agreed with me that it sure seems as if God has been calling you to do the impossible. But I praise the Lord that you have been willing to say "Yes" to the mission. We do have the responsibility to at least accept the mission when God calls, and then to execute God's plan to the best of our ability. But the neat thing about our mission impossibles is that it isn't just up to us. Tom Cruze may be able to do things alone, but we need God's supernatural grace to aid us. And that was certainly true of Esther. We began to see in the end of chapter 5 that God is on the team, he directs the team, and His strategy is what makes our faltering efforts work out. Now she already recognized in chapter 4 that God would have to work a miracle. She was being asked to break a law which called for the death penalty, to admit that she was one of the people the king had condemned to death, to ask the king to reverse and irreversible law, to oppose Haman – an incredibly powerful man, and to do something that would strike a blow to the king's pride.

The cards were stacked against her. And though it looked sucidal, she was willing to risk her own life in the cause of God.

Seen in the book's structure

It is a Chiasm with chapter 6 being the heart of the book.

So that's the one side of the Mission Impossible. Today we will look at the flip side of the coin. The masterplan behind this Mission Impossible. In this chapter God's Sovereignty is seen as being the key which creates the great reversal of this book. This can be seen in many ways, but I think the chiasm in the book shows it rather remarkably. And I took the chiasm straight out of the NIV Application Commentary. I have added just a few details to make it easier to read, but otherwise it is Jobe's analysis.

This may take a bit of thinking on your part if you haven't studied literature, but I think you will find it worth while. You will find chiasms all over the bible, so this will help you to understand how they are to be interpreted.

Let me explain what a chiasm is. If you have taken poetry, you know how rhymes and thematic parallels are labeled with letters ABC or 123 or a combination of the two. And the labeling helps you to see where the parallels are. For example, in this hymn – To God Be the Glory you can see that there is an aabb pattern of rhymes. To God be the glory great things he has done! So loved he the world that he gave us his Son! [done and Son rhyme – and since they have the same sound, they are given the same letter a to show the similarity. The next two lines have a different sounding rhyme.] who yielded his life an atonement for sin, and opened the lifegate that we may go in. [sin and in rhyme so they are given a different letter to represent a different sound – we have labeled it as b simply because it's the next one in sequence]. So this is parallels by couplet. aa is a couplet and bb is a couplet. That's not a chiasm, but it is one kind of parallel. The next hymn has an abab pattern. The first line rhymes with the third line and the second with the fourth. Some poems use an abccba pattern and that is called a chiastic parallel.

Well, what is true of rhymes is also true of themes. In Hebrew poetry you have parallels or contrasts of thought (not of rhme) and these parallels of thought have an aabb or abab pattern. But the chiasm pattern is abccba. Let me illustrate this on the second chart on the page. If you look at the A at the beginning you see that the king gives Haman his ring. The A at the bottom says that the king gives Mordecai the same ring. So the two A's are a parallel of thought. B shows that Haman summons the king's scribes and the bottom B shows that Mordecai summons the king's scribes. It's like the second half mirrors the first half, but by way of reversal. Now if you trace these parallels all the way through you will see that the reversal doesn't happen until you get to K, which is the sleepless night.

Now here is the important thing about a chiasm in Hebrew prose. Chiasms put the most important thought, the theme or the central thought of what is being written about at the middle of the chiasm, not at the beginning. That's the opposite of the way we tend to write. We usually put the theme or the most important point at the beginning.

So look at the middle point of each of those charts. On the first chart, the heart of the chiasm would be chapter 6 – the sleepless night. The same is true on the second thematic analysis of the book. The very center of the book is the first nine verses of chapter 6 to be specific.

And you might think, "So what?" Jobes comments, "By making the pivot point of the peripety [and I should explain that a peripety is a sudden turn of events that reverses the expected or intended outcome. But the commentary says"By making the pivot point of the peripety"] an insignificant event rather than the point of highest dramatic tension, the author is taking the focus away from human action. Had the pviot point of the peripety been at the scene where Esther approaches the king uninvited or where Esther confronts Haman, the king and/or Esther would have been spotlighted as the actual cause of the reversal. By separating the pivot point of the peripety in Esther from the point of highest dramatic tension, the characters of the story are not spotlighted as the cause of the reversal. This reinforces the message that no one in the story, not even the most powerful person in the empire, is in control of what is about to happen. An unseen power is controlling the reversal of destiny. The Greek translation makes this implicit truth explicit with the statement, ‘The Lord took sleep from the king that night' (LXX of 6:1, per. Trans.)"

So, the author is showing that even when God appears silent in this book, God is at the center of this story. The author of this book sees God's hands in everything. His silent providence plays the crucial role, not men and kingdoms. If we were to write this Mission Impossible, we might be tempted to turn Esther and Mordecai into Tom Cruzes who dominate the plot. But the odd thing about the writer of this story is that he leaves out so many details we are dying to know about the actors, and is instead giving us focus upon God's control of mundane events. The heart of the book is God; God is at the center of this story even though He cannot be seen or heard and His name nowhwere appears. And the question that I have is, "Do you recognize God as being at the center of your story?" You need to.

And the best way of making God central is not by having His name constantly upon your lips or by seeking miracles in your life (though it is always appropriate to seek miracles). The very best way is by recognizing that God is woven through everything that you do, and to have everything that you do centered on Him. The same author said, "Any deity worth his salt can do a miracle now and then. Our God is so great, so powerful, that he can work without miracles through the ordinary events of billions of human lives through millennia of time to accomplish his eternal purposes and ancient promises." I think that is a cool thought. This chiasm shows that it is God's providence that is the central theme of this book.

Seen in the right touch (vv. 1-3)

Let's take a look at the amazing scope of God's providence in this chapter. While everyone but Haman and the king are sleeping, God is silently at work. Verses 1-3 show that God knows how to give just the right touch to accomplish His purposes.

Esther 6:1 "That night the king could not sleep."

Literally, it says "the king's sleep fled away." He was probably asleep, but was suddenly wide awake and unable to go back to sleep. One writer humorously supposed that it was all the sawing and hammering going on outside as Haman built the gallows. I doubt that, but we aren't told. Who knows? But ultimately, who is the giver of sleep and the taker away of sleep? God is. We have a tendency to ignore God's role in such mundane things as sleep and insomnia. And yet it is a part of God's providence. Certainly there are human responsibilities that we need to pursue, but we should always be prayerful even when we engage in our human responsibilities. When you cannot sleep at night, you should first of all explore whether God wants you awake for a reason. Perhaps He wants you to pray, or to notice something. Secondly, when you can see no good reason, ask God for sleep. It's OK to take calcium, hot showers and other things that can help with sleep, but pray to God. Scripture gives these kinds of statements, "He gives His beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2), "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon him (Gen. 2:21)" 1 Samuel 16 talks about David sneaking up on Saul's garrison and it says, "they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen on them." On the night before the big battle with Absolom, David said, "I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me."

[That explains why he could sleep and why he could wake refreshed.] If you have a hard time getting up, pray that God would wake you up. Certainly you have responsibilities such as making your alarm clock loud enough, putting it across the room and making it harder to climb back into bed. But you can also ask God to help you wake up. Isaiah 50:4 says, "He awakens Me morning by morning." The point of this rabbit trail is that we should see God in everything. Make use of your insomnia for prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. There was many a time when David could not sleep, and he gave himself to prayer at midnight.

Anyway, when king Ahasuerus becomes tired of tossing and turning and punching his pillow he finally decides to put himself to sleep with boring reading. I can't think of anything more boring to read than minutes. But God knows just how to move the human heart to do His bidding.

Esther 6:1 "So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king."

Think of the chances of this servant reading from the right account. They didn't have books like we do where you could pack years worth into one book. Every page was a fat clay tablet. I'm sure there are only so many tablets that could be brought up to be read. And God has just the right touch in where this servant should read. The king could have had this servant read minutes from any number of places over the past twelve years, but he just happens to pick up the tablets that relate to five years ago.

God's touch can also be seen in the king's curious question about what reward he had given to Mordecai. As the reader droned along, he finally came to an interesting part of the reading. After all, the king had almost lost his life. So it causes the king to wrack his brain on what had happened.

Esther 6:13 "Then the king said, 'What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?'"

And here is another perfect touch that comes from God's hands: the servants he is dealing with have a good memory of five years before. It could have been different servants who had been on duty, but God makes sure that the right servants are on duty. "And the king's servants who attended to him said, 'Nothing has been done for him.'"

Let's stop and think about that for a minute. Mordecai could easily have been frustrated that immediately after he rescues the king, Mordecai is ignored and Haman is advanced. Sometimes life does not appear to be just, does it? Perhaps you have been ignored and someone else less worthy has been advanced to a high position. It may appear as if God is not prospering the work of your hands and He's not noticing your work.

In fact, it may seem as if God is ignoring your prayers altogether. One of the themes of this book is the illusion that God is silent and is absent from life when in reality He is orchestrating the tiniest details. It was ultimately in Mordecai's best interests that he was overlooked five years before, so that he could be elevated at just the right time. And you need to have a confidence that God is using just the right touch when it comes to your own frustrations. Keith would probably not have chosen to quit his job and to start his own business. At the time it seemed hard to understand, but in hindsight Keith is very grateful for the Lord's proddings. Why has the Lord not yet provided elders, an associate pastor, money for the resource center, etc? We don't know, but we know that His touch is perfect.

Before we move on to point III, it is worth noting that Haman had insominia too. It's not just the king who is sleepless in Susa. Haman is so consumed with getting back at Mordecai that he probably can't sleep either. This is nighttime. The king is trying to sleep. What's Haman doing standing out there in the lobby of the palace? He probably has been tossing and turning as well, and finally decides that he needs to go ahead and get ready to talk to the king as soon as he gets up. So in verse 4 it isn't just the right timing that God controls, but the touch in Haman's life as well. Can God turn the hearts of pagans to suit His kingdom purposes? Absolutely yes. Three times in Exodus it says that the Lord God gave the Israelites favor in the sight of the Egyptians. God turned the hearts of an entire nation to give gold, silver and other articles to the Jews as they left Egypt. God hardened the heart of Pharoah. Proverbs says that the king's heart is like rivers of water and the Lord turns it whatever way He wants. We need to have confidence that God can have the right touch even with your adversaries. We serve an awesome God.

Seen in the perfect timing (vv. 4-6)

But God's strategy involves timing as well. The moment the king has finished saying these words, who does he hear coming into the foyer but Haman.

Esther 6:4 "So the king said, 'Who is in the court?' Now Haman had just enterd the outer court of the king's palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him."

Talk about incredible timing! Haman just happens to be present. And sometimes we can see this marvelous timing of God in our own lives in such an obvious ironic way. Several of you have told stories that make your mouth drop open. But the point of this timing is that it is dependent on a pile of other timing issues that are not so obvious. And in fact, it was dependent on the apparently bad timing of God in chapter 2 where Mordecai does his good deed at a time when the king is so preoccupied that he forgets to reward Mordecai. The king was noted for always rewarding people handsomely. This was too bizarre that the one who saved the king's life is forgotten?!? But in hindsight we realize that NO, chapter 2 was awesome timing. And confidence in this ought to make us not get frustrated at our detours but to say instead, "Cool Lord. You have stopped me here. I'm excited to see what neat thing you will eventually bring out of it."

Esther 6:5 "The king's servants said to him, 'Haman is there, standing in the court.' And the king said, 'Let him come in.'""

Even the invitation to come into his bedroom chamber is remarkable. He could have just waited until he had gotten up and had brushed his teeth. God could have had Mordecai rewarded without conferring with Haman at all. But no, Haman has to be a part of it to work.

Esther 6:6"So Haman came in, and the king asked him, 'What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?'"

What a set up!

Esther 6:6 "Now Haman thought in his heart, "Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?"

Why does the king leave the name out to make Haman misinterpret his words? We aren't told. It may have been accidental. Or the king may have been having fun with Haman's egotistical reactions. Maybe the king was pulling his chain. We aren't told, but it fits God's plan perfectly.

Seen in Haman's fatal flaw (7-9)

Point IV – God also takes advantage of Haman's fatal flaw. And of course, Haman's fatal flaw is his pride. God doesn't have to make Haman sin in order for Haman to say the right words. He knows that Haman's pride will automatically make Haman have the wrong assumptions. It will make Haman assume that the king likes him more than anyone else, and delights to honor him more than anyone else. Pride is a form of self-worship, and those who worship self can't understand why everyone else would not be similarly eneamored with him.

But then comes this speech in verses 7-11 that will set up Haman for everything that he hates.

Esther 6:7-8 "And Haman answered the king, 'For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on the head. Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor. Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!"'"

If you could ask Haman to make a list of everything he would hate to do, it would be the list of things that he wants other people to do for him. And if you are trying to analyze the pride of your own heart, you can take a cue from this. There are many ways to conquer pride, but one way is to serve the interests of others. Or another way of saying it is the Golden Rule – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you consistently praise others, seek others welfare, lift them up and seek their interests, you will systematically be destroying pride. You won't need those things to be done to you.

But anyway, that is why it is so easy for prideful people to cast down. Their own pride sets them up for a fall.

Seen in the king's ironic twist (vv. 10-11)

Verses 10-11 show this ironic twist. We aren't told that the king is deliberately twisting the knife. He just took Haman's advice and applied it to the wrong person. It is God who is giving this stab and this twist. "Then the king said to Haman, 'Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king's gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken.'" And he is thinking, "Why did I have to open my big fat mouth!" From this point on everything unravels in very quick succession for this ungodly man. It's hard enough for Haman's pride to realize that he isn't the man to be honored, but to see that this exquisite honor which he tailor made for himself be conferred on his mortal enemy; to be forced to give the honor himself, to do it immediately, and to do it so publicly must have been shameful and mortifying in the extreme. Verse 11-12.

Now we rejoice in this when we see it happen to Haman right? We realize that he deserved his comuppance. But let me give you a quick warning. If you are tempted to the path of pride, keep this picture in mind. Let this picture burn into your mind when you have the slightest temptation to have pride. This is guaranteed to happen to you. No, maybe not the same details. But the shame, the humiliation, the casting down. God promises that He resists and casts down the proud and exalts and gives more grace to the humble. We must see pride as being our mortal enemy. God knows just how to bring these ironic twists into life. And He will do it to you if you are not quick to bury pride, confess it and put it under the blood.

Seen in his friends unwitting prophecy (vv. 12-14)

Finally, God's strategy can be seen in the fact that his loyal friends who had only days before enthusiastically encouraged him to build the gallows and who had stroked his pride, are the first to turn on him.

Esther 6:13 "When Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him, his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, 'If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him.'"

Thanks a lot for telling me the obvious guys! Like I really needed to hear that! Thanks a lot for rubbing salt in the wound.

But you know, Haman doesn't really have time to respond or even to try to hide the fact that he had tried to hang Mordecai. He might have been tempted to take down the gallows, but before he can even respond to their statements of the obvious, he is taken away.

Esther 6:14 "While they were still talking with him, the king's eunuchs came, and hastened to bring Haman to the banquet which Esther had prepared."

What an incredible reversal. But it all came about because the king couldn't sleep. The destiny of the nation was determined by two men who were sleepless in Susa. I think it is a fun story all in its own right, but I do want to end with three more applications.

First, this chapter reflects the story of each of our lives. The blending of our own wills with God's will is often inscrutable. In other words, it can't be fully understood. How did you get your job? It may have seemed like a long chain of random events, but you will find that God was silently at the center of your story. How did you meet your spouse? For some of you it was a coincidental meeting, for others it was carefully planned out. But no matter how silent God may have appeared to be, He was in the middle of your story. Though Kathy and I grew up in the same country in Africa, we didn't know it until after we started courting. Our paths crossed only for a short time in college in Tennessee, and I came from Canada while she came from Omaha. How in the world did we get in the right place at the right time? For me it was because it took me years to save up the money. Actually, God delayed me by six years so that I could be there when she was there. It was kind of frustrating delay that it was taking so long to get through College. But it was worth the wait.

How were you converted? For some of you at may have seemed like the end of a long series of random events. Perhaps you were flipping through the radio channels and stumbled upon a preacher preaching right to the heart of what you were going through, and you "accidentally" got converted. Or it may have been that you grew up in a Christian home. But God's finger was on the pulse of every event to make sure it worked together for your good. We need to get used to seeing the apparently silent God as being the substance of the plot of our lives. Though silent, He is the center of our story.

Another lesson is that often God's path to joy leads through the swamps of difficulty and sorrow. Some of you are recognizing this. You are beginning to be able to thank God for those swamps. You may not like the position God has presently placed you in. Yet this very trial may be the vehicle by which God will usher you into greater joy and fulfillment. Don't despise the trials God brings or the frustrations God brings. Learn to change them when you are able, and to joyfully submit to them when you are not.

One last application is that history itself has a chiasm just like this book does. God has not chosen to reverse history at the end of our age like so many evangelicals believe. It's the cross of Jesus Christ which is the crucial event around which all of history revolves. God reverses His Story at the center of history. It's the cross that reverses the curse of sin. Now from a human perspective the cross was just a blip on the map. Prior to Christ and after Christ there were billions of others deaths. Many people may not have even realized that Jesus had died. But the event that so many have ignored, which did not come with parades and firecrackers; the event which highlighted Christ's weakness and obscurity, is the event that God has chosen to change world history. And at the end of time when we look back on life we will see a similar pattern to what is portrayed in this book.

I will have more to say about this at a future time. But the whole structure of the book coupled with the feast of Purim stands as a model of kingdom time Though Purim is the climax of the story and ushers the empire into a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity and influence of the Gospel, it was this sleepless night upon which it all hinges. And the same is true of history. Though the future salvation of the Jewish nation (which Purim foreshadows) and the subsequent period of unparalleled peace, prosperity and Gospel influence is going to be the most exciting point of world history, it was Gethsemene and Golgotha that reverses history. So there is a lot of cool stuff in this chapter to meditate upon.

I hope this chapter has become a little more meaningful for you today. Esther's plan was good, but God's strategy is superb and ought to cause our hearts to well with joy and love and faith and hope. I charge you to trust God even in the darkest hours.

Children of God, I charge you to see nothing as insignificant, but rather to be gripped by the truth of Romans 11:36 where Paul says, "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever. Amen."

Appendix A: Chiasm in the Book of Esther

(Summary of Jobe's Commentary)

##Banquets and Feasting in Esther

Xerxes' empire wide banquet (1:2-4)

Xerxes' banquet for city of Susa (1:5-8)

Esther's coronation banquet (2:18)

Esther's first banquet for the king and Haman (5:1-8)

Sleepless (chapter 6)

Esther's Second banquet for the king and Haman (7:1-9)

Mordecai's promotion banquet (8:17)

Purim feast throughout the empire (9:17,19)

Purim feast in city of Susa (9:18)

##Thematic reversal

A. The king gives Haman his ring (3:10)

B. Haman summons the king's scribe (3:12)

C. Letters written, sealed with ring (3:12)

D. The Jews, even women and children, to be killed on one day (3:13)

E. Haman's decree publically displayed as law (3:14)

F. Couriers go out in haste (3:15)

G. The city of Susa is bewildered (3:15)

H. Mordecai wears sackcloth and ashes (4:1)

I. Mordecai goes through city crying in sorrow (4:1)

J. Zeresh advises Mordecai's death (5:14)

K. King's insomnia leads to Mordecai's honor (6:1-3)

J. Zeresh predicts Haman's ruin (6:13)

I. Mordecai led through the city in honor (6:11)

H. Mordecai wears royal robes (8:15)

G. The city of Susa rejoices (8:15)

F. Couriers go out in haste (8:14)

E. Mordecai's decree publicly displayed as law (8:13)

D. The enemies, even women and children, to be killed on one day (8:11)

C.Letters written, sealed with the same ring (8:10)

B. Mordecai summons the king's scribes (8:9)

A. The king gives Mordecai the same ring (8:2)

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