Grades 3-6 Sunday School Lesson
Bible Heroines: Esther Part 2
Esther is Challenged
Author’s Notes: Last week, we met a new Bible heroine by the name of Esther. She became the Queen of Persia without anyone knowing that she was a Jew. But this week, we’re going to find a challenge raised against Esther and her people. We’ll learn about where the challenge came from; and how Esther was perfectly positioned by God to take the challenge head-on.
Last week we were introduced to a young Jewish girl named Hadassah. She was chosen to be brought to the Persian palace as a possible replacement for the banished Queen Vashti. She was then chosen by King Ahasuerus to be his queen. Do you remember what her Persian name was? She was better known as Queen Esther.
There were probably many wonderful and exciting things that happened to Esther while she lived in the palace as the Queen of Persia. But in today’s lesson, we’re going to learn that there was also something that came as a very great challenge for Esther.
The Jewish people still celebrate what we’re going to be learning. They have a special time each year called the Feast of Purim where the entire book of Esther is read in their synagogues. And as the Scripture is read, the listeners are often invited to participate in the reading by cheering loudly and using noisemakers to celebrate any time Queen Esther or her uncle, Mordecai’s name is read.
We’ll also be meeting the villain of the story, today. His name was Haman. And when his name is read, the listeners often boo, and hiss, and stamp their feet*.
So as we’re going through today’s lesson, feel free to follow the example of the Jewish children, and cheer and stomp as the names are mentioned. But before we get into today’s lesson, we’re going to look at today’s memory verse. It is the same as last week’s. And today we’ll learn more about the significance of the verse.
Let’s say it again, together…
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“…and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for Your Word, The Bible, where we can learn new truths about You, and Your plans for us. Help each one of us here, today, to be attentive to what You would have us learn. Give us open ears and hearts, ready to listen to Your words. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: Esther is Challenged (Esther 3 and 4)
Let’s start today’s lesson with a little review, in case there’s someone here who was not with us for our last lesson.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a king, named Ahasuerus, and his lovely queen, Vashti. They reigned over the kingdom of Media-Persia, which was the most powerful and influential kingdom in their part of the world! But Queen Vashti was stripped of her crown. Does anyone remember why? Vashti refused to come at the king’s command, when he wanted to show her off at his party.
So young women from throughout the kingdom were brought to the palace as possible replacements for the queen. Our heroine, Esther, was one of the girls brought in. Was she Persian? No. She was Jewish. And her Uncle Mordecai, who had raised her, told her that she must not reveal her Jewish heritage to those in the palace because the Jews had many enemies. And Mordecai did not want Esther to be in danger.
And before long, Mordecai’s suspicions proved to be true. There was a man who was close to King Ahasuerus who hated the Jews. His name was Haman. And he was an Agagite. The Agagites had been enemies of the Jews since the time that Israel’s first king, King Saul, was told to destroy them because of their wickedness. Some of the Agagites survived. And their hatred for the Jews did not go away over the years.
And to make matters worse, in Haman’s mind, there was one particular Jew in the palace who refused to show him the honor he felt he was due. And that made his hatred grow even deeper. Let’s look at our Scripture passage in Esther 3 to find out why Haman held such a grudge against the Jews.
1 After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.
2 And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.
3 Then the king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment?
4 Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.
The king had given a command about Haman. What was it? When Haman passed by, the servants at the king’s gate were supposed to bow, to show him reverence. But not everyone obeyed that command. Who did not bow? Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, did not bow in reverence to Haman.
Why do you think he didn’t bow? Do you think he felt like the king’s commands were not important? That’s probably not why, since the entire kingdom just got a new queen because the old one didn’t obey his command. So it’s not likely that Mordecai just took it lightly.
But Mordecai was a Jew. Who were the Jews supposed to bow down to and worship? They were only to worship God. So for a Jew to bow to this Persian nobleman would have meant they were breaking God’s law. And scripture tells us clearly that “we ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29b)
It sounds like Haman didn’t even notice, on his own, that someone wasn’t bowing as he went in and out of the palace. But there were other servants who did notice, and confronted Mordecai about his apparent disrespect. When they did, what did Mordecai give them as the reason he did not bow? He told them he was a Jew. So those servants went armed with that information, to see what Haman would do.
Do you suppose that Haman noticed Mordecai not bowing after that? Let’s find out.
5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.
6 And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.
Yes, Haman noticed Mordecai after that. In fact, it made him so angry that he not only wanted to see Mordecai punished. He wanted to wipe out all the Jewish people in the kingdom.
Now Haman was not the first or the last to try to get rid of the Jews. Satan has known since the time of Adam and Eve that God was going to send a Redeemer to earth. And that He would be born of the Jewish race. So Satan has worked in several hearts, persuading them that the Jews needed to be exterminated.
Can any of you think of other examples in the Bible where someone tried to destroy the Jews? An Egyptian Pharaoh tried twice. He ordered all the Jewish baby boys to be killed. But the Lord protected them. Then he tried to corner them at the Red Sea. But God miraculously made a way through.
After Jesus was born, it was King Herod who played into Satan’s hand by killing all of the babies in Bethlehem. But again, God was at work to thwart Satan’s plan. He had Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to safety before the soldiers could find Him.
So Haman may have been just another pawn that Satan tried to use to destroy the line of Christ. Let’s take a look, now, at just what Haman plotted to do to the Jewish people.
7 In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.
Haman wanted to pick just the right time to carry out his evil plan. So he cast lots, like throwing dice perhaps, to get a sign for when he should proceed. This was referred to as “casting Pur.” And that is where the Jews got the name for the feast they now celebrate to remember this story, the Feast of Purim.
Once Haman had settled on a plan, and a time to carry it out, he took his wicked plan to the king.
8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer [or tolerate] them.
9 If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.
10 And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy.
11 And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.
12 Then were the king's scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring.
13 And the letters were sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.
14 The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day.
That was quite a decree that Haman talked King Ahasuerus into making. What was to happen to the Jews on the day Haman had chosen? And who was to be included? ALL Jews were to be destroyed, killed or caused to perish. And that included young and old, even the women and children. Isn’t it awful what hatred can do?
And why did the king agree to such a thing? There are several possible reasons:
Whatever the reason, King Ahasuerus, perhaps without even knowing who Haman was after, gave Haman the authority to do what he wanted.
The decree went out all over the kingdom. And that included the city of Shushan, where unbeknownst to the king two Jews were living right under his own roof. Haman, of course, knew very well that his enemy, Mordecai, was a Jew. But the other one would be a big surprise to him. Had he known at the time that the Queen was also a Jew, he might not have been able to celebrate his victory quite as well. But he didn’t know. And he did celebrate…with the king. And that left the kingdom of Persia stunned at the king’s new stand against the Jewish people.
15 The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed.
The Persians in Shushan were confused by the king’s decree. What would make him do such a thing? And the Jews throughout the kingdom were devastated! Their death sentence had just been handed down with no sign of escape. So as was the Jewish custom, Mordecai displayed his grief loudly, and for all to see. His reaction was so intense that it caught the attention of those within the palace.
And that meant that word got back to the Queen, who had been completely unaware of what was happening outside the palace walls. Imagine Esther’s shock when the unimaginable news of the king’s decree reached her.
1 When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry;
2 And came even before the king's gate: for none might enter into the king's gate clothed with sackcloth.
3 And in every province, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 So Esther's maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him: but he received it not.
5 Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king's chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was.
6 So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king's gate.
7 And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king's treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.
8 Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.
9 And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
Do you remember what Mordecai had told Esther about keeping her secret? She was not supposed to tell anyone that she was a Jew. But Mordecai made it clear in his message that it was no longer a good idea to hide her true heritage. Now was the time for Esther to reveal her Jewish heritage, and stand up for her people.
But that was not a simple request by any means! Not only would Esther be taking a chance in revealing her true identity; she would also have to put her life on the line just to get an audience with the king. You see, no one was supposed to come in to talk to the king unless they were invited. If you came in uninvited, and the king was happy to see you, then all was well. But if the king happened to be in a bad mood, and didn’t want to see you, you would be killed! We’ll see that Esther hadn’t been invited to spend time with the king in some time. So there was a good possibility he had no desire to see her. So Esther sent a message to Mordecai, reminding him of the danger she would be facing just going to the king.
10 Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai;
11 All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or women, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.
12 And they told to Mordecai Esther's words.
Mordecai fully understood the dangers. But He also knew from Jewish history that the God they served was able to protect them from any enemy. He had also considered one other thing: that perhaps this was the very reason God had allowed Esther to be chosen as queen, so she would be in just the right position to save her people. Listen to the wise words of Mordecai.
13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews.
14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
We see from our memory verse that Mordecai believed that Esther was crowned queen for “such a time as this.” He believed that God had sovereignly placed Esther right where He needed her, to deliver the Jewish people.
But Mordecai’s faith went even further than that. What did he say would happen if Esther chose not to stand up for her people? Mordecai believed so strongly that God would protect His people that he said if Esther wouldn’t stand up for them, that deliverance would still come; but from someone else.
Mordecai was reminding Esther that God always protects His people. And that she had an awesome opportunity to step up to Haman’s challenge, and stand up for her people. She could be the instrument God would use to miraculously deliver the Jews. But would she have the courage it would take to make such a stand?
The first step would be putting her own life on the line to stand before the king… And this was Esther’s answer:
15 Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
God was at work in Esther’s heart, giving her the courage she would need to stand before the king. And He was also at work in the hearts of her fellow Jews, as they turned their hearts to Him in support of Esther. She was now ready to take her stand, putting her life not in the hands of a human king, but rather in the hands of Almighty God.
17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.
Mordecai was satisfied in knowing that everything that could be done was being done. He was, without a doubt, proud of Esther, and her willingness to put her own life in jeopardy rather than hiding away in the palace.
Next week, we’ll find out how the king reacted to the presence of his uninvited guest. And we’ll see Esther’s plan go into action.
Queen Esther was very brave, to stand up to the wicked Haman and defend her people. That courage must have come from God. Standing up to mean and hateful people can be pretty scary!
Have you ever had an enemy who hated you? Sometimes other people will be so hateful that they’ll say hurtful things. Sometimes they will even do things to us that can hurt us. What should we do when that happens to us? What did Mordecai and Esther do? They turned to God, fasting and praying for three days so Esther would have the courage she needed; and so God would be at work in the hearts of those involved.
We love and serve the very same God that Esther and Mordecai did. And we can still do what they did when others are treating us badly. We can come right to our Heavenly Father, and ask Him for the courage and wisdom we need to do the right thing.
Esther and Mordecai didn’t try to immediately fight back against Haman. They waited and trusted, and let God start working. It’s hard to not fight back when someone says or does something to hurt us. But God sees, He knows exactly what’s going on. And He tells us to let Him take care of it. Romans 12:19 says this, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Let’s try letting God be the one to take care of our enemies this week. He can, and He will if we let Him. He did it for Esther and Mordecai. And we’ll find out how next week.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Esther, and her willingness to accept the opportunity that You put before her. Help us, even this week, to trust You to stand up for us; and give us the wisdom and strength we need to face our enemies, too. For we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. Haman wanted to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed. (true)
2. King Ahasuerus told Haman that his plan was cruel, and refused him permission. (false – King Ahasuerus gave Haman the authority to carry out his plan)
3. The people of Shushan were shocked by the king’s decree concerning the Jews. (true)
4. Esther heard about the decree right away. (false – her servants and maids told her after getting the word from Mordecai)
5. Esther asked the other Jews in Shushan to fast for three days as she prepared to go before the king. (true)