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Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Lesson From Esther

The little book of Esther is the last of the historical section of the Old Testament. It comes after Nehemiah and before Job, which is the first of the poetry section.  It is also the only book in the entire Bible where there is no mention of God. Of the four key characters on which the story is set, this blog focuses on Haman, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Persia, ruled by King Xerxes and his wife Queen Esther, a Jewess who was brought up by her uncle Mordecai.

Haman was the second greatest person in the whole empire, after the King himself, even to the extent that the King commanded that everybody must bow to him. He was fiercely proud, and considered himself worthy to receive the obeisance. There is an instance of his boasting as recorded in Esther 5:11-13:

Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honoured him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. "And that's not all," Haman added. "I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the King to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me with the king tomorrow..."

But Haman also festered a grief in his heart. For he continues:

But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate."

But what was it that made Haman so angry? It was Mordecai's refusal to bow to Haman in obeisance. Mordecai's refusal to bow was not out of spite, nor was it due to disrespect, or not accepting Haman's social superiority. Neither was it to do with social class either. It was to do with his own faith in God. God had instructed through Moses that worship, or even obeisance other than to God was forbidden. But added to this, according to Jewish thinking before the Crucifixion, Haman was a Persian, of the Agagite clan. An uncircumcised Gentile in other words, who was outside of the Covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants.

So because of just one Jewish man refusing to bow to Haman, the Prime Minister made an agreement with King Xerxes to have all Jews in his kingdom annihilated. Haman wanted all Jewish men, women and children killed and the whole nation wiped out.

We could call this the Holocaust. An ancient version of it.

Both Haman and Adolf Hitler had very similar characteristics. Both wanted all the Jews killed. And for the same reason - racial superiority. The only difference is that In Haman's case, all the Jews were spared, thanks to the intercession of Esther herself. With Adolf Hitler, some six million were slaughtered in the Holocaust, but this is most likely a fulfillment, or part-fulfillment of the pledge recorded in Matthew 27:25 where the Jews cried out to Pilate, "let (Jesus') blood be upon us and on our children." But happy to say, not all of Israel was destroyed at Hitler's Holocaust.  Only three years after the defeat of the Nazis by the Allies, Israel became a sovereign nation once again, after some 2,500 years under Gentile domain and without a homeland of their own.

The story of Esther has been dismissed by academics as just a moral tale without historical evidence. But Mordecai's return to Jerusalem is recorded by two witnesses, Ezra (2:2) and Nehemiah (7:7) and also his genealogical record is recorded in Esther (2:5) as being the son of  Jair, the son of  Shimei, the son of Kish, who was one of the captives taken to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. If the Bible assures us of  the existence of Mordecai, and  together with archaeology also confirming that King Xerxes also existed, then there is no reason to believe Esther and Haman to be fictitious characters. In addition, the Jewish festival of Purim, still celebrated today, marks the occasion of the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's hand. Such traditions don't come from fictitious events. Also worthy of consideration is the boastful conversation Haman had with his wife and friends after returning home from the banquet. How would the chronicler know about this unless the narration was inspired by God?

Haman was a proud, arrogant racist who was also too snobbish just to have Mordecai executed without harming anyone else. That was why he felt that every Jew must die with Mordecai. Anything less was beneath him. His end was what he deserved. When Esther exposed his plot to have even herself killed, Haman was terrified for his own life - as the King pierced his soul with his enraged look before walking out of the dining room to the palace garden. It is as if Mary, the mother of Jesus, was right when she declared that God would send the rich away (from his presence) empty. She was not merely referring to the rich ending up as a street beggar, but being sent to Hell. Just as the two rich men in Luke 12:13-21 and 16:19-31 both died suddenly, so was Haman hanged that same day. The embarrassment he must have felt as he passed Mordecai, sitting at the King's gate, gazing up at him as he was pushed through the streets, with a growing crowd of people following, who, not long before, were bowing to him in obeisance! How many in that crowd were gasping with utter astonishment at the fate of this great man who had somehow fallen out of favour with the King, whose fury was obvious for all to see? All is wealth, riches, his family and friends, his high status, his prestige, his high position, all coming to nothing. At the same time, the terror of death was eating him up.

It is really, a shocking story! It is a lesson all of us could learn from. The apostle James was fully aware of the snobbish arrogance amongst Christians in his day, who cossetted up to the rich and at the same time despising the poor. After his introduction, he got down to business and stated the purpose of writing his letter, which was to do with his attitude of the rich. He then wrote this, to push his point home:

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here is a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "sit on the floor at my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James explains his position by referring to the rich as the one who would take the poor to Court, the ones who slander the name of Christ and also the ones who exploit the labourer without paying him an adequate wage. In chapter 5, he continues:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths has eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter (or as in the day of feasting). You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.
Verses 1-6.

But why was James so harsh against rich people? Could it be because Jesus himself had said that it was very hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God? And having also declared that where a man's treasure is, that is where his heart is also.  Jesus also said that no one can worship both God and money, but will worship either one or the other. But having said this, is a man automatically condemned to Hell simply because he is rich? Paul the apostle has this to say about the rich in his letter to the Romans:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God's kindness leads you towards repentance?
Romans 2:4.

To be rich is an act of God's kindness I think, is twofold. First, the kindness of God is meant to lead one to repentance. Secondly I firmly believe that God does not have any issues with a rich man than any other sinner. Rather, after repentance, God is fully able to change his heart so he will become more compassionate to the worse off, which would lead to generosity. The case of Zacchaeus is a good point (Luke 19:1-10.) After inviting Jesus to his home, his life was changed beyond recognition. He resolved to repay everyone he had cheated four times over as well as give half of his riches to the poor. Jesus replied that today salvation has come to this man, also a son of Abraham.

The gift of eternal life through the indwelling Holy Spirit is fully able to cause a saved person to lose his hold on his riches, and fill his heart with compassion for the less well-off. A Christian with wealth can bring a lot of good to a community, if  he allows the Holy Spirit to dwell richly in his life, together with his assurance of salvation and the true riches stored up for him in Heaven. Such a wonderful grace of God! No wonder Jesus said that what was impossible with man is possible with God. God has the power to change hearts to this day, if we let him.

Jesus says that one either worships God or money. And I believe that wealth also include a high education, social status, a high-flying career as well a a large house or fast car. The person who worships either or all these things do so because he wants to show to every one else how successful, clever, well-educated he is. After all, Haman's wealth and position would mean nothing to him had his palace had been out in the desert, with not a single soul around for many miles, save his family. What had made all these things so important to him? Being seen by others that he spends his working hours with the King, and that his home is in the midst of a large city, Susa, the capital of the entire Empire. It is the same with all of us. You are only middle class if there is a class of people lower than you who mingle in your location, or even simply exist anywhere in the world. Alone and totally unknown in the desert, class would mean nothing. For example, a man may have thirty sheep. Is he rich or poor? Alone, no one can say. But if among a group of neighbours, all of them having just one or two sheep, then the man with thirty may be considered rich. But if his neighbours have several hundred each, then that person would be looked on as poor.

The Bible seem to be clear that those who worships money, social status and wealth are still in their sins and needs to repent, or else God will "send them away empty". My experience of being a "born again" Christian is that acquiring wealth is no longer my aim or long term goal. Sure enough, I panic if my window cleaning business goes through difficult times. But being concerned over inability to pay my creditors is one kettle of fish. Wallowing in wealth with self-satisfaction is something else all together. God can make a rich believer compassionately generous, as with the case of Zacchaeus.

Paul the apostle provides an attitude very much like that of Zacchaeus, having such a striking contrast to that of Haman, that it's worth mentioning here:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I compare everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I will gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness which comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain the resurrection of the dead (meaning to live as if already resurrected).
Philippians 3:7-11.

Wow! Now isn't that exciting???

If being so Christlike makes everything else on earth seem like faeces (the proper meaning of the Scripture) then let it be so. My riches and treasures are in Heaven. So let me be content with my humble social status as a labourer. Is Jesus Christ your be all and end all? Then rich or poor, you have something to be excited about!


  1. Excellent, post, Frank! Power, fame, money and prestige are the lures of this world and appeal to man's sense of pride, but none of these can compare to Him. Eternal life and fruit of the Spirit are His gifts of immeasurable, everlasting value.
    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    I have just been having a conversation with my husband before coming in to use my computer. I was saying to him what pleasure is got out of not having piles of money, being content with what you've got, but something coming along in time, affordable when you don't expect it. I said that if we were rich, there would be no real pleasure in being able to just buy everything you want.
    After reading your post I was reminded of a time several years ago when I was at a service in an elim church in Bridgend. One of the 'high ups' of the denomination had come down from London. He preached on 'love', and that very scripture from James about giving the best seat to a poorly dressed man. I had seen a man twice in the week who stood out. He was poorly dressed, a stranger in town ( I worked at a fruit and veg shop in town and knew many of the locals), but there was something about him that called the scripture 'thereby go angels in disguise' to my mind. After the service we went in to a room to have a cup of tea. Suddenly, this stranger that I had seen came in. I said to one of my friends 'This man is here for a purpose'. He sat down by us and started rolling a cigarette as he chatted to us. Then the 'high up from London' said something to one of the elders of the church, who came over and said, 'We are not insured for smokers' I did wonder whether that was actually true. We continued to chat, he was very interesting. A young boy came around with a box of biscuits, the man took a handful and smiled at us, winking. I went over then to speak to an elderly man in the congregation whose wife had been ill, my friend came too. We had only been talking to him for a short time when I heard a scuffle, and turned around to see the stranger being hustled out of the door by an elder and 'the high up'. There was a bang on the window followed by the loud voice of the stranger saying 'call yourselves christians!'. I had to say something to the 'high up', as I felt he had been tested on what he had been preaching. We shall all, as chrisians, go through trials to test us and change us. It is down to us to take note of these trials and to adjust to what God is trying to make us. The recordings and stories in the Bible can sometimes mirror what is happening in our lives. Just like John the baptist went in the spirit of Elijah, our actions will reflect our spiritual state.

    1. Dear Brenda,
      Thank you for sharing your story, of which I have found very interesting. Your testimony indicated that many churches still have a long way to go, especially in overcoming social class prejudice.
      God bless,

  3. This is one of the best posts I've ever read; it's well-written, clear and concise.

    I've just read 'Esther' myself so this post is highly topical for me. You said quite brilliantly if a man was wealthy in a desert it means nothing, it is only when we come into contact with other people, and then start unfairly comparing them, favourably or not, that class and wealth become issues, sad to say.

    You cannot love God and money; one will supersede the other. I also think that sometimes the church, or some churches, reflect the social world they are in; England's social system can be about class, and so there is certainly a 'kind of Christianity' that is more about social standing than where you and I stand with God; yet again rather sadly. You see, if high social status is all some people have, they may tend to cling to it; someone like you and me, have no real need to make ourselves important, we are in some senses grounded in family and God; class will never mean much to me as I tend to get on with all sorts of people anyway and try never to judge one way or the other.

    Great post Frank, absolutely spot on as usual. By the way, love the first pic you stuck to your post of ancient peoples!

  4. Too many have never realized earthly things are just temporary, and will be taken away sooner or later, whether by circumstance or by death.

    As James says, when we begin to judge others by their dress, we are corrupt judges ourselves.

    Great post.

  5. Hey Frank! What a totally awesome post! I LOVE the book of Esther. I totally agree with your comment on my blog as well. I also see the rising numbers of Christians getting divorced. My personal belief about this is because like everything else in this world, Christianity is being watered down. Too many people have the idea that as long as they "claim Jesus as their Savior, that they are going to be saved no matter whether they actually live for God or not, and preachers actually condone this way of thinking. Many preachers don't want to preach what I call the "nitty gritty" such as the judgment side of God, such as what happens to those who do not repent from their sins such as immorality, adultery, and so on. They are afraid they might offend someone enough that they would leave the church. Well, if the true way of living for God is not being preached then what good is church? I go to church to learn about God, what He expects from me to get me to heaven and how to do it. There is more to learning about God besides "love, love, love". We all need to remember that we will be judged according to the 66 books of the Bible and that is how we will get into heaven or not.

    People seem to have the same nonchalant attitude toward marriage as well, and that is truly sad. I used to have that same attitude until I learned differently. Now, I don't blame my hubby when we have problems. I look within myself and ask God to change me, and He does. He helps me to see things differently, be more understanding and so forth.

    God Bless,