Esther Lesson 08 - The Original Pony Express

Esther Lesson 08 - The Original Pony Express

by Stephen Davey
Series: Esther
Ref: Esther 8; 9:1–16

Romans 10:15 says, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.' And in Esther 8 we see a set of these beautiful feet galloping throughout the provinces of Persia. They belong to the horses and riders who once terrified the Jewish people with messages of destruction. Now they are bringing news of hope and salvation. Stephen reveals the contents of this communiqué in today's broadcast.

Transcript

The Original Pony Express

Esther 8:1-9:16

In 1860, three businessmen organized what they called the Pony Express.  It would be a fast mail service, traveling between St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento, California.

They promised the unheard of possibility that mail could be delivered out west in only 10 days.

To prove their case, they used the 1860 presidential election – it was the perfect opportunity to publicize nationally just how fast they could deliver the news.

Relay riders and fresh horses were readied along the route and on November 7, 1860, the first Pony Express rider left the Nebraska Territory.  Only 7 days and 17 hours later, California newspapers received the mail – and were able to publish the news that Abraham Lincoln had been elected.

The Pony Express would involve 120 riders, 400 horses and several hundred personnel.  Each rider typically rode 175 miles a day.  Pony Express relay stations were built at 10 mile intervals, which was roughly the distance a horse could travel at a gallop before tiring. At each station the express rider would change to a fresh horse.

The riders were required to weigh no more than 140 pounds.  They never stopped to eat or drink.  One Pony Express advertisement spelled out the danger as the ad read, “Wanted [for the Pony Express]: young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18 years of age; must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily.”  If they were hired, they were given all the horses they needed to ride along with their own pistol and a Bible.

It was one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet, which often involved outrunning bandits and Indians.  One rider became famous for finishing his relay even after being shot with an arrow in jaw, which knocked three teeth loose . . . he survived.

Little wonder that Pony Express Riders earned $25 a week.  The comparable wage for unskilled labor at that time was only $1 a week.

The most famous rider of all was a 15 year old named Bill Cody, nicknamed – Buffalo Bill.  He held the record for the longest ride through Wyoming.   After discovering that his relief rider had been killed, he made the return trip with that rider’s mail pouch, traveling over one of the most dangerous sections of the entire trail – he traveled 322 miles nonstop on 21 different horses.

Eventually the telegraph caught up and lines were hung from Nevada to California, thus ending the Pony Express.

In 2006 the United States Postal system trademarked the original logo of the original Pony Express and uses it to this day. / Above facts taken from wikipedia.org/wiki/Pony_Express

The truth is, American businessmen and cowboys weren’t the first ones to think up the idea of a Pony Express.

Herodotus the historian who living during the days of the Persian Empire recorded that the Persian Empire was connected by Postal stations every 14 miles. / Anthony Tomasino, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Volume 3, Esther (Zondervan, 2009), p. 480

On one occasion, Herodotus marveled, “Nothing moral travels so fast as these Persian messengers.  The entire plan is a Persian invention.  Along the whole trail there are men stationed with horses, and will not be hindered from accomplishing at their best speed the distance which they have to travel.  / John Whitcomb, Esther: Triumph of God’s Sovereignty (Moody Press, 1979), p. 42

I discovered the interesting fact that it was the description by Herodotus of the Persian pony express that gave us the words, used to this day as the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service which reads, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these valiant couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” / Tomasino, p. 480

In Adventures in Odyssey, the funny character, Wooten Bassett said that his mailman’s motto is: “Rain or shine, snow or sleet, we deliver your mail! But sunny days are optional.”

Personally, I find the mail service remarkably consistent. 

And if you want to complain about mail delivery costs, I discovered that to use the Pony Express, it would have cost you $5 per half-ounce . . . it was a system primarily for the wealthy and the business class.

For the original Pony Express, it was more commonly used.  In fact, the government of Persia relied heavily upon it to communicate throughout their kingdom that stretched from modern day Pakistan to North Africa.

And the king has already used the Pony Express to deliver an edict of death.

In chapter 3 of the Book of Esther, Haman dispatched his edict that all the Jews can be killed at the hands of any citizen throughout the kingdom  . . . and the assassin could plunder the Jews.

The news literally galloped throughout the kingdom, which led to incredible grief and fear and despair for the Jews – and certainly for their Gentile friends and coworkers.

The Jews are completely defenseless – in fact, to take up arms to defend themselves would be a violation of the law.

But then, you remember, the tables were turned.  Esther had risked her life to get the King’s attention.  Within 24 hours, the threat of Haman’s edict was uncovered and in a matter of hours, Haman was dead.

Now most people also have the impression that the work of Esther is over . . . she can now kick back and enjoy the winter palace of Susa like never before.

The truth is, Haman may be dead, but his edict is still very much alive. / Charles R. Swindoll, Esther: A Woman of Strength & Dignity (Word Publishing, 1997), p. 143

Remember, the edict of death to the Jews was been sealed with the King’s royal insignia . . . it has become the law of the Medes and the Persians.

Esther is actually more needed than ever . . . the story isn’t over.

In fact, there’s going to be another urgent message delivered by the original Pony Express which Esther will dispatch in a matter of hours.

Let’s rejoin the drama where we left off in chapter 8 and verse 1.   On that day King Ahasuerus gave the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews, to Queen Esther; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had disclosed what he was to her.  2.  The king took off his signet ring which he had taken away from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai.  And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.

Promotion

Josephus, the first century Jewish historian informs us that in the late Kingdom of Persia, treason and felony resulted in the forfeiture of property and wealth to the crown. / Cyril J. Barber, Ezra and Esther (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007)

It would have included houses, property, possessions and even his bank accounts.

You remember, Ahasuerus had promised his wife, Esther, half of his kingdom – he now gives her undoubtedly the wealthiest estate in the Kingdom besides his own. / Adapted from Adele Berlin, The JPS Bible Commentary: Esther (The Jewish Publication Society, 2001), p. 73

And Esther immediately gave it all to Mordecai.

What a turn of events.

What you happen to have here is this ironic situation where these two Jewish cousins now occupy the two most powerful positions within the Persian Empire – beside the King.  The Queen and the Prime Minister are Jews.   / Adapted from A. Boyd Luter & Barry C. Davis, Expositions of the Books of Ruth & Esther (Baker, 1995), p. 304

This is God’s doing.

This looks like irony to us – but it happens to be sovereignty.  What looks like coincidence has been choreographed by the Creator!

But there’s still a serious issue at hand.  Even though Esther and Mordecai have every reason to believe they are safe, their people are not.

Passion

Notice what happens next in verse 3, Then Esther spoke again to the king, fell at his feet, wept and implored him to avert the evil scheme of Haman the Agagite and his plot which he had devised against the Jews.  4.  The king extended the golden scepter to Esther.  So Esther arose and stood before the king.

Some believe that this is a separate event – others, with me included, believe this is part of the same conversation they’ve been having where Mordecai has been promoted. 

The King’s scepter is another way of signifying that Esther continues to have a receptive audience – in fact, down at verse 7 he will respond to both Esther and Mordecai together.  They are both in the royal court here, which tells us that instead of going out and celebrating for a week or two, they are now interceding for the lives of their people.

What’s happening here is that Esther is once again risking the king’s displeasure by asking him to grant another request.

The heart of her request is in the middle of verse 5 where she asks, “let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman.”

And the king, true to form, isn’t all that concerned.  In fact, in verse 7 he basically tells them  and I’ll paraphrase the words of the King who says, “Look, I’ve given Haman’s estate to you and his job to your cousin – there’s really nothing more I can do because, as you know, that edict has been signed by me – it is now the law of the Medes and Persians . . . but I tell you what – you and Mordecai write up a new edict that seems good to you and I’ll sign that one too.”

Ahasuerus has found a loophole to his earlier decree. 

We know from history that the Persian kings prided themselves on their infallibility.  Why would they ever need to repeal a law, when whatever they signed was always right?  To repeal a law signed by the King was to admit that it was imperfect when it had been signed.

True to his character, Ahasuerus finds a loophole, passes the buck and wiggles out of his own responsibility in the matter.  But in the process he does something critically important for the Jews.

Permission

Notice verse 8.  [The King says] Now you write to the Jews as you see fit, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for a decree which is written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s signet ring may not be revoked.

In other words, I’m not gonna admit that my first edict was wrong – but you two can write a second edict to counteract the first edict – and I’ll sign that one too.

 So Mordecai draws up a letter – or letters – actually copies of the edict written in the many different languages spoken throughout the Persian Empire.

And the letter basically gives the Jewish people several legal rights – notice verse 11 – this is the heart of the new edict – In them [these letters] the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble – that Hebrew verb typically refers to organizing an army – notice further – and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. 

The Jews have just been given the legal right to mount an army and take up arms; to defend themselves even if it means killing their opponents.  In fact, they are actually given the right to plunder any Persian who dies in their attempt to kill the Jews.

What Mordecai is doing here is actually quoting the edict of Haman, word for word.

He’s counterbalancing everything the Persians are able to do with now the Jews ability to respond in like fashion.

Notice verse 14 – The couriers, hastened and impelled by the king’s command, went out, riding on the royal steeds.

The news is now galloping from Susa to the Sudan.

Two months earlier the pony express had delivered an edict of death to the Jews.

But now they deliver an edict of life to the Jews.

And what this edict effectively does is communicate to everyone that if they all restrain themselves – no one gets hurt.  If they keep their greed and animosity in check – no one dies.

This edict sent a warning to the Persians that they are no longer going after unarmed Jews anymore.  It won’t be a picnic of plundering.  They will be risking their own lives because now the Jews can retaliate in self defense and plunder.

If I could boil this new edict down to a sentence it would be this: the Persian citizens no longer have to attack the Jews – and if the Jews are not attacked, they do not need to retaliate.

This was a brilliant counterbalance to an unchangeable edict.

Man, what a turn of events here too.

Think for a moment; can you imagine what it must have been like to be a Jew during this time?  You have read that first edict some 2 months earlier – and life screeched to a halt.  You effectively had 11 months to live.  Your greatest fears would come to pass.

For 2 months now, since that first edict was delivered, you’ve worn sackcloth and ashes – you’ve mourned in grief – you’ve imagined with horror what the 13th day of Adar would be like for you and your family.

Your friends and coworkers and neighbors have been given the command from the Prime Minister to wipe you off the face of the earth and take your homes and your possessions and your wealth for themselves.

Suspicion mounted . . . tension grew greater every day.  No one dared eye contact with a Jew.  No one sympathized without fear of reprisals from the government. 

“They must have been a threat to our government and no one would have ever imagined . . . we’ll have nothing more to do wit them . . . you know, I think he doesn’t deserve that house and his fine carriage . . . they’re not even really Persians . . . they’re a foreign people form a foreign land . . . and they’ve never really fit in . . . we’ll be better off without them.  And I think I’d like his house!”

This was Germany and Austria and Poland 80 years ago.  This was the prelude to another holocaust.

And then out of nowhere, a royal stallion gallops into your village – he’s arrived with another edict from the Palace.

You read it – you can’t believe it.  The Prime Minister is Mordecai the Jew – you had heard rumors that he had been executed by Haman.  He – and Esther – are alive and well.

Furthermore, you discover in the edict that the King is on your side.  Even his government of princes and officials are siding with the second edict. 

No wonder as soon as the news leaks out around the Palace grounds, the Jews hold a celebration.  Verse 15 informs us that Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a large crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple (these were the royal colors of the palace in Susa); and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced  16. For the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor.

We’re even told in verse 17 that many of the people of the land became Jews – they literally aligned themselves in solidarity alongside the Jews.

Some commentators believe that many began following after the God of these Jews – the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob;

  • like Rahab the Gentile who abandoned her people in Jericho and became a proselyte Jew – she adopted the Jewish faith;
  • or like Ruth, who left her pagan idolatry and became a member of the Jewish family, even marrying a Jewish man – and even becoming the great grandmother of King David.

No wonder the city of Susa is celebrating that night. 

And especially for the Jewish people – we’re told here in verse 16 that for them everything was light – that’s a word that can be translated “hope” – hope was the reversal of darkness.   / Gary V. Smith, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther (Tyndale House Publishers, 2010), p. 278

Everything was now filled with hope and gladness and joy and honor – or respect.

Meanwhile, the Persian Pony express is at full speed. 

They are galloping across the Arabian Desert, along the banks of the Euphrates River, down into India and over into Africa. / J. Vernon McGee, Esther: The Romance of Providence (Thomas Nelson, 1982), p. 126

They are nothing less than messengers of hope – a people who were marked for death are now marked for life.

Listen, I’d love to gallop my own horse down a rabbit trail and make obvious connections between the gospel and this edict of life offered to a people condemned to die.

But I’m gonna hold up on that until next Lord’s day – I’ve been collecting a number of analogies and illustrations and I’ve already entitled that sermon in my mind, The Gospel According to Esther.

But I will say this much – can we be any less passionate about delivering to our world – which is under the divine edict of universal death because of sin – the second edict – which is an edict of life through a Jew who interceded for us – named Jesus Christ.

But I’m saving that for our next study.

But for now, you need to know that not everyone is excited about these turn of events!

Protection

The day of the massacre is about to dawn.  And the Jews were vastly outnumbered.

Napoleon had once remarked that God was on the side of the largest army.  / Barber, p. 167

Add to that the fact that there were evidently Persians waiting . . . planning . . . scheming to kill and plunder the Jews.

Verse one of chapter 9 opens, Now in the twelfth month  (that is, the month Adar), on the thirteenth day, when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the day when the enemies of the Jews – watch this – hoped to gain the mastery over them.

That verb translated here as “hoped” – is a rare verb that refers to someone waiting with great anticipation. / Luter & Davis, p. 323

In other words, they were licking their chops . . . the Jews are easy prey and their homes and fields and cattle and clothing are going to be ours before the sun sets.

But notice further in verse 1, but it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them.

So fighting breaks out in different places around the Persian kingdom. 

But since the Jews are able to defend themselves, after a day of fighting, we have not one record of any Jew being killed.

Most notable among the Persians who died in their attack against the Jews are the 10 sons of Haman –verses 6-10 inform us.

But then Esther does something surprising.  In verse 13 Esther goes back to the king and she begs for one more day for the Jews to defend themselves. 

She has evidently heard of a plot there in Susa – more than likely fomented by Persians loyal to Haman and his 10 sons who’d already been killed in the fighting. 

There were well connected Persians in and around the palace who weren’t happy with all these reversals.

This was their chance for revenge.

So Esther asks for one more day for the Jews to defend themselves against anyone who attacks them – and then she further asks the king in verse 13 to display the bodies of the 10 sons of Haman to further discourage any more killing;

Esther wanted them publicly displayed as a warning against any other palace plot.

Verse 16 summarizes these two days of fighting – Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces assembled, to defend their lives and rid themselves of their enemies, and they killed 75,000 of those who hated them but they did not lay their hands on the plunder. 

And you might think, as I did initially that 75,000 Persians means that there must have been fighting all over the kingdom – what a bloodbath!

Actually, I discovered in one historical document that the Persian kingdom during this time had been estimated at 50 million people. / Tomasino, p. 499

Only 75,000 out of 50 million took up arms against the Jews.

Frankly, God had obviously turned the hearts of the Persian citizens toward the Jews, and except for a small fraction, they all kept their peace.

By the way, you need to notice that one phrase keeps showing up – three different times in this account.

The Jews had been given the legal right, not only to fight back, but to plunder any Persian citizen they defeated.

Not once, but three times – in verse 10, verse 15 and verse 16, Ezra the author is careful to let us know – the Jews did not lay hands on their plunder.   / Karen H. Jobes, The NIV Application Commentary: Esther (Zondervan, 1999), p. 196

The Jews did not lay hands on their plunder; the Jews did not lay hands on their plunder.

They merely defended their lives, but left their enemies homes and families and possessions alone.

This is their chance to get back!

The tables have been turned – they’ve been through a year of mental torture and anguish . . . they had no support – and now these people are coming to try and kill them and rob them of everything.

So now it’s time to get them back.  To go beyond self-defense – they have the opportunity to bankrupt these families forever.

Strike back – take advantage of this!

Have you ever been ripped off by someone?  Have you ever been mistreated by one of the higher ups in your company?  Have you ever signed a contract only to find out the guy lied to you? 

What would you do if somehow you were able to get them back and still look good?

It would all be legal.

What would you do to an enemy if you had the chance?

You’ve probably heard the same funny story I have about the guy who was bitten by a dog and went to the hospital.  After all the tests, the doctor came in with the grim news that he indeed had rabies.  The man didn’t say a word in response – he just took out a pad of paper and began to write feverishly.  His doctor thinking he was writing out his last will and testament said to encourage him – listen, you’re not gonna die – there’s a cure for rabies.  The man said, “I know that . . . I’m just making a list of people I want to bite.”

This is the way of the world . . . you take every opportunity to get even. 

You bite back! 

One of mankind’s natural instincts is revenge.   

You may not use a gun, or a sword, but you might use a ballpoint pen and write a letter – or send an email.

You might use your tongue to lash back.

The enemy of your soul knows that you will remain a victim much longer if you retaliate – if you wallow in bitterness and anger and revenge.

That’s why he never fails to show up and, as one author put it, whisper in your ear, “You’ve held back long enough . . . you’ve gone the second and the third mile . . . why not get them back?” / Swindoll, p. 169

But they didn’t do it.  I can’t help but think that the Jews didn’t even have what we have in scripture to clarify for them the will of God. 

For instance where Paul writes, “Never pay back evil for evil.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men . . . leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord . . . do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

What has the mail delivered to your door recently – what galloped into your email inbox recently? 

  • Bad news? 
  • Was it some false accusation? 
  • An unkind word?
  • Did you open an envelope and read of some personal misfortune? 
  • Some sort of news that could easily make you resentful
  • Or perhaps even make you grow bitter?

Have you heard the whispering lately of the enemy saying, “You didn’t do anything wrong . . . you’ve taken it on the chin long enough . . . it’s time for a little revenge.”

Beloved, learn from these Jews here – they refused to do anything more than defend their lives. 

And don’t think for a moment that the Persians didn’t notice – the God of the Jews would have gained great honor that day – just as the Jews gained respect throughout the kingdom. 

They literally walked away from revenge and greed.  What an amazing day in their lives.

Listen, not only did the Jews gain mastery over their enemies, they gained mastery over themselves. / Swindoll, p. 163

What happens next in the Book of Esther is a national, empire-wide celebration for the Jewish people.

Don’t miss the progression . . . genuine celebration can only follow mistreatment when you respond biblically – leaving revenge and vindication up to God.

Which again, is so unlike the world!  That kind of reaction from you will blow their minds – and in the process give God greater honor . . . and your own testimony even greater credibility than ever before.

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