By Rick Elsey
Pastor, West End Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Esther 5:1-14
Proverb 16:18 warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Our culture has condensed the verse to simply say, “pride goes before a fall.” The point is well taken. Excessive pride sets us up for disappointment and possible disaster. Humility, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast to a prideful spirit. This contrast is evident in the attitudes of Esther and Haman. In today’s lesson, we find characteristics to emulate as well as avoid.
Characteristics of humility (Esther 5:1-8). At the end of chapter 4, Esther commits to going to the king on behalf of her people. She recognizes this decision may result in her death, so she requests that all of the Jews fast and pray for her for three days. In chapter 5, we see Esther follow through on her commitment. However, she only acts after the three days of prayer. One of the key qualities of humility is to recognize our need to completely trust in the dependence of God. She did not act until the people prayed. How often do we ask for specific prayer and then go forward in our own strength? A humble attitude recognizes our success is greatly enhanced when we fully trust in the Lord rather than allow our pride to take over.
Verses 2-3 show that God had answered everyone’s prayer. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and had her approach the throne. He was so pleased, that he was prepared to show great generosity to her. At that moment, she must have experienced a great amount of relief. With the king in such a gracious mood, now would be the time to ask for the deliverance of her people. Her response was quite different and subdued. Instead she invited the king and Haman to a banquet in their honor. Later that evening, the king once again desires to show Esther generosity. Once again she defers. She invites the king and Haman to another banquet the next night at which she will share her request.
Why would Esther delay making her request? Was she still gripped with fear? One answer may deal with the issue of her predecessor, Queen Vashti. Her show of pride and rebellion resulted in her removal from the royal palace. Esther’s actions would show the king her humble spirit towards him. Whatever the reason behind her decision, it illustrates a second characteristic of humility: A humble spirit trusts in God’s timing not our own.
Characteristics of pride (vv. 9-14). In verse 9, the focus switches to Haman. He had attended a banquet for the king and himself and was basking in the prospect of returning the next day. Haman’s attitude illustrates the problem of pride. His response highlights at least two negative characteristics:
(1) Pride cannot control itself. When Haman arrived home, he shares with his wife and friends all of his accomplishments and good fortune. I am sure they already knew this and most likely had heard it before. A man with pride has an overinflated opinion of himself and must share it with others.
(2) Pride lacks genuine satisfaction. As much as Haman celebrated his good fortune, the defiance of one man left him unsatisfied. The challenge to his pride by Mordecai must be dealt with. He must die, and it must be a humiliating death.