Remember the Sunday school song that goes, “Oh be careful little hands what you do.”? The verses continue with eyes, feet, and ears, reminding us that what we see, where we go, and what we listen to makes a difference. My favorite part – both lyrically and musically – repeated in each verse, says, “For the Father up above is looking down in love.”
Oh. I missed a verse? Do we have to mention that one? I hate it when I get fingers pointed at me – even figuratively. “Oh be careful little mouth what you say…” Well, I can avert my eyes, run in the opposite direction, plug my ears and even sit on my hands, but for some reason I can’t seem to keep my mouth closed when I need to!
Remember the besetting sins and choosing the way of escape from last week? Restraining my tongue is yet another area with which I struggle.
How about this verse? “Oh be careful little face how you express.” Ouch. “Oh be careful little voice, watch your tone.” Oh, boy. “Oh be careful attitude, don’t you sigh.” OK, that’s enough. Do you get the picture? Choosing restraint is currently a project in rough progress in my life.
You, too? (sigh.)
Thankfully, God, in His extreme mercy and lovingkindness, has given us His word to not only show us where we need work, but to remind us that He is longing to do the work in us and for us. In Chapter 7 of Esther, we get pictures of restraint and lessons on what choosing unrestraint looks like.
A. Sometimes we say things we don’t really mean in order to achieve an effect of one sort or another. At the beginning of this chapter we see Ahasuerus coming with Haman to the second banquet prepared by Esther for just the three of them. And we find the king offering something to Esther that may be hard to fulfill if she takes him up on it.
1. Read Esther 7:1-2. Ahasuerus looks at his lovely wife across the table and says, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done.” This is the third time the king used this expression (see Esther 5:3, 6). It could be an idiomatic expression offering a “blank check” in order to assure Esther of Ahasuerus’ support in whatever news she had.1 Matthew Henry notes that this third offering actually binds him to fulfill what Esther wishes.2
a. In Mark 6:14-29 we see a similar expression used by King Herod when Herodias’ daughter danced for him and his guests. Verse 23 indicates Herod made a rash vow and then couldn’t go back on his word because of the oaths and his guests.
b. In Judges 11:29-35 we read about Jephthah, a warrior who made a rash vow before the Lord to assure victory over the Ammonites. Jephthah’s words cost his daughter a future marriage and family. So often we speak without thinking. My mouth gets me into more trouble than I’d care to admit.
c. How would choosing restraint keep you from rash or foolish vows?
B. Even when not in the form of some grandiose vow, assurances can go only so far in alleviating concerns. As she faced anxiety about the unknown, frustration in her helplessness, and a potential bleak outcome of the current situation, Esther was not looking to Ahasuerus for comfort and strength.
1. Comfort comes from God and He often uses fellow believers as His conduit. Read II Corinthians 1:3-7 and note how many times “comfort” is used.
2. According to the text, why do we experience affliction and sufferings? What has God placed in your life that allows you to offer comfort to others?
DAYS TWO AND THREE
Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” Ahasuerus is finally going to hear the other side of the story when it comes to Haman’s plan.
A. Esther is now ready to reveal her request and petition. Read Esther 7:3-6. Truth be told, if I had been Esther, I would have done everything the psychologists say not to do when confronting someone. Pointed fingers. Blamed the king for allowing this mess in the first place. Gotten hysterical, thus incoherent. In choosing restraint, Esther is very methodical while stressing the extreme seriousness of this situation.
1. First, look at Esther’s unassuming spirit. She begins with “if” in verse 3. Even after hearing his promise of half the kingdom, and his obvious pleasure in her appearance and the banquet, Esther makes no presumption on her position.
a. List some of the other ways Esther modeled choosing restraint in vv. 3-4. You could note things like “she called a spade a spade,” or “she simply stated fact.”
b. In a recent sermon, my pastor pointed out that in Daniel 2:26-45, when Daniel went to reveal and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel had two choices before him. First, Daniel had the chance to imply the source of the dream’s revelation was from himself. Second, once the dream was confirmed as being correct, Daniel was in a position to say anything he wanted as an interpretation. Both times he chose to simply act as God’s messenger. He stated truth, was not willing to elevate himself, and he didn’t exaggerate nor minimize the message in any way.
c. Read I Samuel 25:26-31 to see how Abigail used restraint in her speech before David – helping him to have restraint in his vengeance against Nabal. We’ve looked at Abigail before and have seen how insightful wisdom enhanced her beauty. What do you see in her diplomacy that is similar to that of Esther?
2. Now look at Esther’s deference to the king. She had no wish to trouble or needlessly annoy Ahasuerus. (vs. 4) Even the enslavement of her people would not have been enough for her to breach protocol and come before him. Instead of attacking Haman directly for her argument, Esther first appealed to the king and his position.
a. Read Matthew 4:1-11 to see Jesus’ example of choosing restraint. As He confronted Satan’s temptations, Jesus constantly deferred to God the Father. He quoted Scripture in every answer given. He appealed to the King and His Word.
b. Do you know enough of God’s word to effectively defer to Him? In what way could Scripture memory make you more effective in a current situation?
B. Can you see the buildup in Esther’s explanation? She’s peeling away more layers of the mystery and the king is sitting up straighter, leaning forward intensely. It’s amazing that he hasn’t already guessed. But, perhaps he’s beginning to have an inkling.
1. Thinking about Ahasuerus’ emerging revelation of what Haman has done, read Proverbs 25:4, 5; 26:12; and 29:4, 20.
2. List some thoughts that might be going on in the king’s head as he listens and then hears the name of the Queen’s enemy.
DAYS FOUR AND FIVE
The end of the banquet has finally come. Esther has rested in the courage she gained from fasting and prayer, and did what she needed to do. Will those around her show the same restraint she has?
A. Read Esther 7:7-10. First we have the king. Once again, we see him angry. Wrathful. In a rage. He heads for the palace garden after hearing the end result of Haman’s plan – which he readily agreed to without knowing anything about.
1. There is a code of trust and loyalty even among the ungodly. Haman had deceived Ahasuerus. In his own selfish desires he had used the king’s name. The king must have felt betrayed.
a. Have you ever felt betrayed by a friend? A spouse? A child? Yourself? How did you react?
2. Read Ephesians 4:17 -27. Within this passage lies the admonition, “Be angry and yet do not sin.” For me, I am most susceptible to losing any hope of self-restraint when I realize the one at whom I am most angry at is me.
a. Write down a situation when, through your lack of understanding or inaction, the end result was embarrassing, frustrating or even dangerous. Anger can sometimes linger for months, even years. Ask God to forgive your part in the scenario and to help you forgive yourself.
b. Those of us who are believers have opportunity to daily renew our minds and outlook. Read again Ephesians 4:23-24 along with Ephesians 6:10-18. We can pave the way to choosing restraint by daily cleansing and preparation against our worst enemy – our fleshly self.
B. Next we see Haman. He is terrified. Begging for his life, he seems to go into a self-preservation mode. Panic destroys his usual ability to convince and sway with his words.
1. Blinded by evil, Haman was now a man full of fear. The word “terrified” used here is an intense word meaning “to be frightened, to startle, to dismay, to be overtaken by sudden terror.”3 His lack of restraint is complete. Try to imagine Haman falling down next to Esther’s couch, grabbing her, clinging to her robe, panicking over his fatal mistake.
2. I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” The love – and restraint – provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit makes our hearts able to withstand anything, knowing we are protected and forgiven by the one true King.
3. Meditate on Psalm 23:4, 27:1, 3 and 46:1-3. How do these verses help you battle fear?
C. Harbonah is a eunuch mentioned at the beginning of the book (Esther 1:10) as one of those commanded to bring Vashti to the infamous, 180-day banquet.
1. Harbonah chose restraint in that he simply said, “Behold,” and then proceeded to point out the gallows in front of Haman’s villa. Word gets around fast in Susa. He knew the height of the gallows, he knew for whom it was intended, and he knew how to remind the king of Mordecai’s brave loyalty to the crown.
2. Skim Genesis 24. Here we read about another servant who spoke truth to and on behalf of his master.
3. How do you point out truth when it is up to you? Is it done with selfish motives? Is it done maliciously? How about regretfully? Ask God to give you restraint in explaining or presenting a matter in every situation.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is … self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23) Did you ever wonder why self-control is listed last? I’ve always thought of it as the top of a pyramid. The other parts of the fruit of the Spirit maintain a foundation for our self-control. (Besides, for me, it’s the hardest.) When we choose restraint it’s like the outward proof of self-control.
So, here’s another verse to our song. “Oh be careful little heart, please choose restraint.” I pray that what people see on the outside this week is proof of strong character and a deep abiding love for Christ on the inside.
1. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol. II (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982) pp. 566, 507.
2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Complete and Unabridged in 6 Volumes (Hendrickson Publisher, 1991) Esther 7.
3. Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for ba`ath (Strong’s 01204)” (www.blueletterbible.org, 1996-2008) 22 Sept. 2008.
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