June 30, 2013
When wicked Haman was promoted by King Ahasuerus, no amount of honor or influence felt enough for him. So when Mordecai the Jew refused to bow to him, Haman hatched a plot to decimate the Jews in Persia. Yet the means devised for their destruction would soon become the means of their deliverance. Alistair Begg discusses living as faithful Christian citizens when authorities abuse their power and reminds us that the providences of God are seldom self-evident in the moment.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We’re going to read from the Bible this morning in Esther and chapter 3. I encourage you to follow along as I read, and also to keep your Bible open, then, as we study, so that you might be able to make sure that everything is actually there. Esther 3:1:
“After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha”—I can’t make up my mind how to pronounce this in terms of the syllables, and so… A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. “Hammedatha.” That’ll do. “Hammedatha.” “… the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king’s command?’ And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.
“In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, they cast lots) before Haman day after day; and they cast it month after month till the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries.’ So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, ‘The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.’
“Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
A brief prayer together:
Gracious God, we desperately need your help as we study this chapter of the Bible, so that we might understand what it says, that we might say nothing that it doesn’t say, and that we might be brought to the kind of faith and obedience which gives indication of your transforming work within our lives. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, I hope you’ve kept your Bible open in front of you and that you can look at the tenth verse, because it’s there I want to begin: “So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite.” That was not simply a symbolic gesture. I think it was an abdication of responsibility. Ahasuerus is an interesting character, as we’re getting to know him. He seems to operate far more on the basis of his glands than he does on the strength of conviction or in terms of principle. And as a result of that, we see him here as something of a vacillator, somebody who is expansive in terms of his understanding of his greatness and yet at the same time is unwilling to make the decisions that are necessary.
And when we read the chapter, we’re left with the question “Who is actually in charge here?” if we think in terms of power and of authority as we read through this third chapter. Well, clearly it isn’t Ahasuerus, despite all of his proud boasts. And Mordecai, as we’ll see in a moment, appears to have been overlooked in the king’s honor list, as it were. Esther doesn’t even appear in this chapter, so she has nothing to say. The Jewish population is under the sentence of death. And the citizens of Susa are brought justifiably into such an experience of perplexity that the whole place is described as being confused.
So, are we then to assume that the people of God, upon whom he has set his affection, are now subject to the whims of a king who’s increasingly out of touch as he sits down to share a drink with his buddy Haman the Horrible? I call him Haman the Horrible. I just have been calling him that all week, or Horrible Haman, because I’ve had to spend a significant amount of time with him, and I’ve decided that he really is horrible. He fits the adjective almost to a tee.
Let’s notice, as we try and find a way through the chapter, first of all what we’re told concerning the promotion of Haman himself. The promotion of Haman.
It is very obvious that the king has made this decision. We’re not sure just why or how, on the basis of what—whether he has operated arbitrarily and advanced Haman to this position. But nevertheless, Haman is now advanced to have a throne of his own that is above all the officials who were with him, so that all the king’s servants and all those who are still within the framework of government circles are themselves subservient to him.
Now, this actually follows on from the way in which Mordecai, at the end of chapter 2, has received no promotion and no exaltation. Whether he himself anticipated that he might is a matter of conjecture. We the readers, having noted what he did, might have occasion to wonder just why it was that he didn’t do better than simply receive a few lines at the bottom of the book of the chronicles. Because that’s what we’re told at the end of chapter . We’re not told that he was now advanced to a particular position of authority in the kingdom, but simply—despite the fact that he had done the job of blowing the whistle on a couple of characters who were planning on assassinating the king, despite the fact that he has provided a very worthy service to the Persian Empire—all he gets are a few lines at the bottom of the book of the chronicles. I wonder, was he disappointed? I don’t know. We can find out one day, I hope. Disappointed at being passed over.
Have you ever been passed over for a promotion? What did you say when you came home to your wife or to your husband? Do you say, “Hey, what a great day I’ve had; I was passed over for a promotion”? Probably not. Probably said, “I can’t believe it. After I’d done so well, after my figures had come in so strong, after I’d gone on that business trip, after I had made my boss look so good, and all he did was he wrote a couple of sentences about me to be added to my résumé. I thought I at least would have got a different office, if nothing else.”
Well, maybe Mordecai felt a little bit that way: disappointed that all he got was a couple of lines at the bottom of the page. But if only he knew how significant the two lines at the bottom of the page were going to prove, not only in his life but in the lives of the entire population of Jews who were there, about to be on the receiving end of the brutality of this Horrible Haman. I mention it again simply that I might reinforce for myself and for you a principle that we’re trying to see throughout these studies—namely, that the providences of God are seldom self-interpreting, and it’s usually wrong for us to try and understand what’s going on in the immediacy of the moment.
You can figure that out for yourselves. “Now, I thought that I was going to live to be a 112, and I’ve just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. What in the world is God doing now?” It’s a justifiable question, but you’re probably not gonna get the right answer by trying to analyze it within the time frame of the now and the here. Because what God is doing with us and in us and through us and for us is something far more significant. That’s why it’s not really a good idea to be peculiarly disgruntled when you’re overlooked for a promotion. It’s usually not a good idea, when you’re exalted to a position of usefulness, to suggest to yourself that you have done all these things—because God is sovereign in all of those details. And most of our understanding will be seen by looking in the rearview mirror rather than looking through the windscreen. Certainly, that would be true, I think, for Mordecai.
Well, back to Haman, because it’s with the promotion of Haman that we’re concerned. He’s introduced to us here in verse 1 as “the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha,” and in verse 10, that is reinforced; he’s described in that way again. So, when you have repetition, you know that the writer wants us to understand these things. And in verse 10, if you allow your eye to scan it, you will see that there’s a little phrase that is added to the designation: “Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha”—and here we go—“the enemy of the Jews.” Now, that is very significant. There’s nothing in the Bible that is just extraneous. And that little piece of information is important, as I want to show you.
Let me give you a little bit of background. If you turn in your Bible all the way to Exodus for just a moment, let me point out to you… Chapter 17. Sorry, should have given you the reference. And in chapter 17, you have the people of God advancing towards Sinai. And in 17:8 we’re told, “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.” And so Moses said to Joshua, “You’d better get some men and go out and fight with Amalek.” Verse 10: “So Joshua did as Moses [had] told him, and fought with Amalek.” And then you have that wonderful scene where Aaron and Hur hold up the hands of Moses. That’s that scene when they hold up his hands, symbolic of his cry upon God in prayer; then the battle goes well for them down in the valley. When they let the hands go down, then the battle doesn’t go so well.
And in verse 13 we’re told that “Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” And “then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this as a memorial in a book.’” God likes to write things in books. He likes memorials. He likes diaries. He likes us to keep records of things. That’s why minutes are important, actually. “‘Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua.’” What? “‘That I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’” Okay. “And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, ‘A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’” Okay?
So, here you’ve got, right at the very outset of things, this battle that ensues. You turn forward to 1 Samuel and to chapter 15. Saul has now been made king. Having been made king, he’s given a charge by God, and the charge is to destroy the Amalekites. First Samuel 15:2: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.’” That’s Exodus chapter 17. God says, “That didn’t escape my notice. I understand what’s going on here. Now, this is what I want you to do”: “‘Go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.’” And God’s command is absolutely clear. And you go down to verse 9, and you read, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep.” So, they heard what God had said. God gave a very clear, comprehensive command: “Destroy the whole shooting match.” They get into the process, and they say, “That’s not such a good idea. Let’s keep Agag; he’s the king. And let’s keep some of the best stuff. The junk, we’ll destroy the junk, but we’ll keep the good stuff.”
You see, the wisdom of God is vaster than the wisdom of man. God is not arbitrarily giving this directive. It is purposeful. And failure to pay attention to it will have ramifications. Failure to obey God always has ramifications. When we listen to the suggestions of others rather than to the directions of God, then we will live with the implications of that. And that’s exactly what happens here.
And in verse 24, after Saul is made aware of the fact that he isn’t going to be the king any more, he says—this is 1 Samuel 15:24—he says to Samuel, “I have sinned,” notice, “for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words.” So he’s not trying to cover for himself. Earlier in the chapter, he does; he says, “Well, I really did obey,” and he’s trying to suggest that partial obedience is okay, and the servant of the Lord said, “No, partial obedience is not okay. When God asks for complete obedience, he means complete obedience.” And he says, “Well, I have transgressed, and I have disobeyed the commandment of the Lord and your words,” and then he tells us why: “because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” “I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” And as a result of him fearing the people and obeying their voice, here we have an old conflict simmering, simmering, bubbling up, boiling over, reproducing itself again and again and again.
The power now resides, from a human perspective, in the hands of Haman. He’s promoted to a place of significant usefulness, and the writer wants us to understand who he is. He is “the Agagite.” Now, if we don’t know our Bibles, we just pass over that. It’s like saying, “He’s from Columbus,” or, you know, “He’s from Wisconsin,” you know. Move on! It doesn’t really matter. No, it really, really matters. And it really matters when you realize in 2:5 the lineage of Mordecai, because Mordecai has been introduced not only as a Jew—“Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai”—but we’ve been given his background: “the son of Jair, [the] son of Shimei, [the] son of Kish, a Benjaminite.”
Now, if you know your Bible, you know who Kish was. If you don’t, you’re gonna find out, and there’ll be an “Aha!” moment. Kish was Saul’s dad. All right? So, here is Mordecai, a Jew whose lineage goes back to Saul. Saul, who is the king, is told, “Destroy the Amalekites.” Saul, his forefather, says, “No, I’m not gonna destroy the Amalekites. It doesn’t really matter.” God says, “Yes it matters.” And here we are now in fifth-century Persia, and this little Jewish man is confronted by the evil of an Agagite who shouldn’t even exist, but exists because of the disobedience of Saul.
Now, I say to you again: disobedience has implications. Don’t try and explain your disobedience in the immediacy either. Don’t think for a moment that your disobedience on a straightforward command of God is something that is an existential encounter. It has ramifications. It will have for you. It will have for those who love you. It will have for those who live under your influence. God is not mocked when he gives his commands, when he executes his warnings, when he says what he wants done. That’s what makes it so profoundly significant.
The promotion of Haman. Secondly, the reaction of Mordecai. The reaction of Mordecai. In a phrase: “Mordecai did not bow.” There’s nothing hard about that is there? Verse 5: “When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow…”
Now, he didn’t actually see this in the beginning. It was the rest of the company that noticed it. In verse 3, they are inquiring: “Why is it that you don’t bow down?” the king’s servants asked. In verse 4, they’re apparently quite exercised about this, because they speak to him “day after day.” He pretty well puts his fingers in his ears; he won’t listen to them. And presumably, that triggers their design to go to Haman, to tell Haman, basically to see whether this position, this stand that is taken by Mordecai, is going to be able to prevail. And his stand is directly related to the fact that he was a Jew.
Now, commentators spend a fair amount of time trying to explain to us all why it was that Mordecai did not bow down. And it’s all conjecture, because we’re not told anything other in the passage that would allow us to, by inference, draw a conclusion, other than the fact that he was a Jew. That’s all we need to know: “Now there was a Jew in [the citadel of Susa] whose name was Mordecai.” His lineage is from Saul. Haman is now elevated to a position of usefulness. His lineage is from Amalek. Now we got a huge conflict—a huge conflict that goes back down through a long period of time. So you don’t need to spend a lot of time in your home Bible study trying to work out why it is that he didn’t bow down. We can infer all kinds of things, but it ultimately is—not irrelevant, but it’s unimportant. Because in the balance of the story, all that we need to know is that his refusal to bow became the catalyst for the unbelievable fury of Haman, which was his response.
You see, Mordecai was dealing with a question that we’ve already noted—namely, how could he be a good Jew and a good citizen in Persia? He obviously was committed to being a good Jew. If he was an insurrectionist, then when he got in earshot of the fact that two fellows had decided to assassinate the king, if he was an insurrectionist, a revolutionary, then he would have said, “This is fantastic! Nothing I like better than a good assassination. Let me help you.” And he could have covered up for them or perhaps made it even easier for them. But no, he’s a citizen of Persia. He’s not gonna allow the king to be threatened and imposed upon in that way.
So, there’s no sense in which we can cast Mordecai in those sort of revolutionary terms—a kind of Jewish Che Guevara, as it were, somebody who is just opposed to the system, just opposed to regulation, just opposed to authority, and all that kind of stuff. No, no, no, no. No, it’s far more difficult than that. How can he be a loyal citizen and a loyal Jew? How could he do these things and not compromise his own core convictions? Because he did have core convictions, and presumably, this was one of them.
It’s a constant question, isn’t it? It’s a question for you and me today: How are we to live as Christian believers—as aliens, strangers—in a world where our citizenship, in the prospect of the Fourth of July, is ultimately of heavenly origin? That the thing that marks us out from every tribe, nation, people, language and tongue, color and intellect, size and status is the fact that we all share the same lineage, we all share the same heritage, that we all have a heavenly citizenship. We’ve been “born again to a living hope [by] the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We belong to a family that breaks down the barriers of race, that breaks down the barriers of gender relationships, and so on. We understand that. And we live in a society that increasingly refutes that.
It’s been hard for me to study Esther 3 this week without reckoning on the implications of this vis-à-vis the Supreme Court decision. I mean, it’s pretty impossible to think about the inroads of a state that is increasingly opposed to the law of God and ask the question “How do I, then, as a citizen of the land of the brave and the home of the free”—or the other way round, I could never remember, but of this great nation—“how do I uphold my Christian principles in an environment that has a structure of government that, although it guarantees my religious freedom, at the same time, it approves of practices that violate not only the natural law but violate the law of God, which actually is the foundation for natural law?” And that’s the question, isn’t it?
How do we live, then, recognizing that all human power is ultimately limited, that all human power is actually ordained by God? Romans 13 makes that clear. We can’t step back from that. But we also recognize that the power that is instituted by God is exercised by flawed and sinful human beings. And when that power is executed in violation of the authority of God in the truth of his Word, then it almost inevitably leads to the abuse of the power. So, it is surely a dramatic irony that the Supreme Court of the United States—if I understand properly their chambers—execute their decisions in a room around which the entire Ten Commandments are engraved into the structure of the room. Who are these people that believe that man’s ability to renegotiate the terms of engagement established by God, the creator of the universe, may exercise their jurisdiction in this way?
Yesterday in the Wall Street, in the review section, section C, you read the article, did you, “Our Rights, Not the Courts”? Tagline: “There’s no good reason to give the justices the last word on race, abortion and gay marriage.” “If the justices are deciding rather than interpreting [the Constitution], why should they be the ones to decide, substituting their decisions for ours?” It’s a legitimate question, isn’t it?
So, here we are. We gotta uphold the context in which we live, within the framework and jurisdiction of what God has provided. And yet for Mordecai, there came a tipping point. He said, “I’m not gonna do that.” Right now, the issue is what the state may determine to be allowable, with the freedom to live outside of it. If the day comes when that moves from merely being allowed to being demanded, then we for sure have entered into an Acts 4 moment, whereby we will have to obey God rather than obey man. We’re not there. But we may be there. And that’s why it’s good to allow the reaction of Mordecai to the promotion of Haman to at least get our minds working along these lines.
Don’t let’s miss the point, either, that when these things prevail, as they do, that low standards of morality provide a wonderful opportunity for the Christian church, provided the Christian church is not gonna do a Saul on the commandments of God. In other words, the Christian church has no legitimate strength with which to pronounce on homosexuality as long as the Christian church is riddled with premarital and extramarital heterosexual sex. The young person has no legitimate grounds to speak to the prevailing drift while they themselves have determined that God’s straightforward, mandatory expression of the nature of sexuality may be violated at will to fit their own pleasure. You can’t do it. You can’t have it both ways.
These are exciting days. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, [’cause] I have overcome the world.”
So, the reaction of Mordecai leads to the decision for the destruction of the Jews. The promotion of Haman; the reaction of Mordecai; thirdly, the destruction of the Jews.
Now, I’m gonna leave you to do most of this study on your own. But you will notice that it says very straightforwardly there in verse 6 that the fury of Haman was such—actually, his fury is described at the end of verse 5: he “was filled with fury.” He was so furious that the death of Mordecai would not be enough for him. He decided that he was gonna have to take out the entire people of Mordecai. One of the passages I read this week made the observation, “No proud man ever received the respect and regard which he thought was due him.” It wasn’t sufficient for Haman to have all of the servants of the king—everyone in the government structure—paying obeisance to him and treating him in an obsequious fashion and with homage as he went around, because there was a Jew named Mordecai in Susa the citadel.
And his fury was unleashed in a way that is so obviously over-the-top. I mean, you may have somebody that you don’t like or who has offended you. Let’s say, at a very trivial level, that somebody did something dreadful to you, and you decided that instead of seeking to pay them back or remove them, you would just remove the entire community. You know, you fell out with someone in Solon, so you decided you’ll obliterate the population of Solon. Now, your wife would say, “Well, that’s a little bit of an overreaction, isn’t it? I mean, I know you’re ticked off, but, I mean, what’s the deal here?” And that, when you read this, you say, “What is the deal here? What is this?” How do you account for the fact that one Jew saying no results in the prospect of the destruction of the entire Jewish community?
Let me tell you what the answer is: the answer is the Evil One. The answer is Satan. Satan understands that the deliverer, that the Messiah, will come from the line of the Jew. Therefore, he is committed to the destruction of the Jew so that no deliverer may come. That’s the explanation for Herod. Isn’t that another overreaction? “Let’s kill every male child two and under in the entire place.” “What? I know you’re upset, but isn’t that a bit much?” What is he trying to do? He’s trying to make sure that he obliterates the Messiah. This all goes back to Genesis 3:15, which I’ve said to you is important. The promised deliverer will come down this line, and the Evil One opposes it all the way.
And so, when you read this, you see that Haman uses all of his powers. He’s a conniving person, he’s malicious, he’s untruthful, he’s callous. He just represents the activities of his father. Remember Jesus, who said to the Jews on one occasion—I think it’s in John 8 or so—you know, they said, “Hey, don’t be telling us these things, Jesus. We have Abraham as our father.” You remember what Jesus said? He said, “You have Abraham as your father? If you had Abraham as your father, you would do what Abraham did. But as it is, you actually are doing what your father likes, because your father is the devil, and he’s the father of lies, and you tell lies too, and the reason you tell lies is because of the one to whom you belong.” Well, that’s a dramatic statement out of the most loving person that ever lived, isn’t it? No, we can’t get around this.
And so, in the twelfth year, we’re told—that is, five years after Esther had become queen—they cast lots. They are trying to find the lucky day—“Lucky day, lucky day!”—and if they can get the right day, then they’ll be able to execute this horrible decree. What they don’t realize is that the casting of the lot is in the lap of God, that God actually even overrules this strange procedure. And so, as they engage in this, he then goes to the king; he says, “You know, there’s a certain people scattered abroad. They’re not just here, they’re everywhere. They’re dispersed among the peoples.” He’s building his case. He doesn’t have a problem with the people. He’s got a problem with Mordecai. “Their laws are different from those of every other people; they don’t keep the king’s laws”—that’s not fair; it’s only Mordecai that has done this to him—“so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them.”
Now, remember, we’ve already seen the recurring phrase “And what was said pleased the king.” And the king liked to be pleased. So, he was displeased by Vashti: out! He was pleased by Esther: in! He is displeased with this: out! He likes the idea of Haman: in! He’s not an impressive character, this king, I suggest to you. This one’s not good. And so, Haman is able to play upon that. So, he’s able to manipulate him. And he says, “It’s not to the profit of the king. And by the way,” he says, “while we’re mentioning money, I realize there will be a loss of revenue if we obliterate all the Jews. But don’t worry about that. ’Cause I’m gonna chip in myself. I’m gonna put my money where my mouth is. I’ll make sure that you’re covered, king.” He probably had lost quite a bit of money in his unsuccessful campaign against Greece—three years and a lot of loss of life and a lot of loss of revenue.
So, Haman plays all his cards: “I don’t think it would be profitable. They’re a distrustful group of people. They’re all over the place. They don’t obey the laws. They have their own laws. It’s really… Just let’s get rid of them!” And so the king says, “Yeah, that’s fair enough. In fact,” he says, “you can take the money. I don’t care about the money. You can take the money, and you can take the people”—verse 11—“and do with them as it seems good to you.” What kind of leadership is that? “Just do what you want.” No. And you’ll notice in verse 12 that “the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s…” and so on and so on. And then they’ve got an elaborate procedure whereby they get it out to the kingdom.
Just one thing for you to notice and to chew on as we go to our last point: interestingly, significantly, this day, the thirteenth day of the first month, is the day before the celebration of the Passover, which you will note from Leviticus 23:5 when you go and look for it. So, they cast the lot. They decide that it’s on this day; this is the day to establish the edict. And so the people of God, now becoming aware of the horrible pogrom that is about to descend upon them, the annihilation of their entire population, and as that edict now begins to gain strength and influence and be distributed, on the very next day, the people of God gather to celebrate the Passover.
So now they’ve got a real issue on their hands, don’t they? Because the reason they gather to celebrate the Passover is to remember, in their history, that when they were in an impossible situation in the bondage of Egypt, that God miraculously intervened and set them free. So now the edict of Haman, established by the king, pronounces that their destruction is inevitable, so they are now left with the celebration of God’s dramatic intervention and the prospect of no dramatic intervention here. Is it going to be the basis of mistrust, or is it going to be the basis of fear, or is it going to be the basis of faith?
Of course, what we’re going to discover—you almost can’t wait to keep moving on—but the very means planned for their destruction was the means that God was going to use for their deliverance. The very means planned for destruction was the means for deliverance. If that doesn’t ring a big bell for you and send you to the cross of Jesus Christ, then you have actually fallen asleep. The very means that the Evil One sought to bring about the very destruction of the purposes of God was the means of God for the very victory that Christ achieved. It’s magnificent, isn’t it?
Finally, the confusion in the city. Confusion in the city. So, we have the promotion of Haman, the reaction of Mordecai, the destruction of the Jews, and we’re told that the city was just filled with confusion.
Actually, I think that the king was filled with confusion as well. He’s not playing to any kind of strength here at all. He’s an embodiment of Edmund Burke’s statement: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And here he just does nothing. I don’t know whether he was awake or what was going on with the fellow. Because there is an irony in the fact that his queen was a Jew. There’s an irony in the fact that the person who had saved him from assassination was a Jew. And he has now taken his signet ring off, and he’s given it to Haman. He says, “No, go ahead. Take care of these people, whoever they are.” Do you realize what you’re doing? You think you’re in control? You’re out of touch.
Some of you will remember that terminology from the Iran–Contra scandal, as it relates to one of my heroes—namely, Ronald Reagan. And Ronald Reagan is now in his second term, we have the Iran–Contra scandal, and he’s in front of the cameras and all the microphones. And there’s a humorous interchange where the journalist says to him, says, “Mr. Reagan, for five years you have been saying to us, ‘I’m in charge,’ and we’ve been saying to you, ‘You’re out of touch.’ And now here we are this morning, saying to you, ‘You’re in charge,’ and your response is, ‘I’m out of touch.’” Did you get that? No? The question was, did Reagan know what Ollie North was doing? Had he simply signed off on something he didn’t realize the implications of it? See, the best of men are men at best. And this king had signed off.
And so the people of God are there, held in the grip of the expectation that in twelve months’ time—because it was gonna take twelve months to put it into action—they were all going to be obliterated. And so the city was confused, perplexed. The word on the street would be “If they can do it to the Jews, they can do it to anybody.” Have you heard that language before? It runs as a vein throughout the entire history of the Western world: “If they can do it here, they can do it there.” Pol Pot can do it. Someone else can do it. It could happen in the early decade of the twentieth century in the Soviet Empire. It could happen in the forties in Hitler’s Germany.
Little did Haman know that God was in charge and that Haman, the villain, was going to become the victim of his own evil plan. The folly of Haman’s conduct is actually viewed from the perspective of the wisdom of God, which actually overrules even Haman’s vileness to achieve his own purpose—that the terror that was faced by the people of God was an occasion for them to look to him who had promised that he would keep them to the end.
We begin by noticing that Ahasuerus abdicates his responsibility. Haman’s treachery fills the vacuum. And when leadership in any place, at any time, vacillates between those two things (the abdication of responsibility and the invasion of treachery), then the people of God who are committed to justice—politically, economically, socially, ecclesiastically, spiritually—have a responsibility to speak out of a life transformed by the gospel in order to say to people, “Listen, the leadership that Jesus speaks about is not this kind of leadership. It’s not a leadership that takes the Fifth. It’s not a leadership that seeks to absolve itself of any responsibility. It is not a leadership that is marked, either, by treachery.” That is the leadership of the kings of the gentiles that Jesus had to speak to his people about: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, … their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. [Because] whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first … must be [the] slave of all. [Because remember,]” he said, “the Son of Man [did not come] to be served but to serve, and to give his life … a ransom for many.”
So, in other words, it brings us always back to the nature of the gospel. And it’s only as we live the gospel, it’s only as we then, on the strength of the gospel, critique the abuses of power that we learn to rest in the confidence that comes about from knowing that while heaven and earth may pass away, that God’s Word will never pass away, and that whatever the generations yet to come will experience in this fair land—a land that has been blessed, arguably, beyond any other place—what generations yet to come will experience is in part to be measured by our response to the abuses of power executed upon a people by those who have decided that God’s law is no longer his law, and it certainly is no longer relevant for our society.
I haven’t thought all of this out. I’m in the process of doing so. I think you are too. But here’s the thing: our fortress is God, our confidence is God, and in this we rest.
Father, thank you that when we try and process all of this stuff, that we eventually come back to the fact that the name of the Lord is a strong tower, that the righteous run into it and are safe. These are complex issues. They were complex in Mordecai’s day—all of the elements of his refusal that are so hard to fiddle around with. Lord, and help us, too, that we don’t go off wrong. But help us as well not simply to be cowed, to be beaten, to fail to stand up for the truth of your Word. For we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
 See James 1:8.
 Exodus 17:9 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Samuel 15:20–23.
 See 1 Samuel 9:1–2.
 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV).
 Mark Tushnet, “Our Rights, Not the Court’s,” Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2013, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323873904578571794152108404.
 John 16:33 (RSV).
 See Matthew 2:16.
 John 8:39, 41, 44 (paraphrased).
 See Proverbs 16:33.
 See Esther 1:21; 2:4.
 Mark 10:42–45 (ESV). See also Matthew 20:25–28; Luke 22:25–27.
 See Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33.
 See Proverbs 18:10.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.