Our Invisible God.

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. – Esther 3:12-15 ESV

What began as one man’s act of civil disobedience has suddenly escalated into a royal edict officially sanctioning genocide. Through the casting of lots, a date had been selected on which the total annihilation of the Jewish people would take place. The fateful day was  less than a year away, on the 13th day of the month of Adar. Now it was just a matter of letting the rest of the kingdom know what Haman and the king had determined to do to the Mordecai and every other Jew who lived in the lands of the Persians – “all Jews—young and old, including women and children—must be killed, slaughtered, and annihilated on a single day” (Esther 3:13 NLT). This devastating news was to be disseminated via mail. Couriers carried the king’s decree to the far reaches of the kingdom, providing the cold-hearteds detail in clinical-like language. And as a somewhat sadistic form of incentive, the news was relayed that “The property of the Jews would be given to those who killed them” (Esther 3:13b NLT).

This was not going to be a case of the royal army waging war on the Jews. King Ahasuerus was not sending his troops to do this dirty deed. He was assigning the job to all the people in the land. This was going to be an empire-wide, community-based affair. Everyone was expected to do their part. And just so there was no confusion as to what the expected outcome was to be, the edict carried very precise terms. They were expected to “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate ” all the Jews. Isn’t it interesting to note that this was basically the same instructions that had been given to King Saul of Israel when God told him to wipe out the Amalakites.

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. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

Saul had been clear instructions as to what to do, but he failed to follow through on God’s command. Now, years later, the tables were turned and Haman, an Amalakite, was ordering the complete destruction of the Jews – every man, woman, and child. Saul’s failure to obey was going to come back and haunt the Israelites, in a major way. In a single day, the entire Hebrew population of Persia was to be wiped out and their goods plundered. It was to be an empire-wide, mass extinction of an entire people group. All because one man had his pride hurt.

And while the couriers carried this dark news throughout the realm, Haman and the king “sat down to drink.” They celebrated their joint accomplishment with a drink or two, and most likely toasted their lightning-like response to this threat to the kingdom. The amazing thing is that the date set for this slaughter to take place was nearly a year away. Why was it so necessary to get the news out so quickly? Why was Haman so driven to have this edict disseminated in record time? It would appear that he simply wanted to make Mordecai and the Jews discover the news as soon as possible in order to prolong their agony and force them to live with a sense of dread for as long as he could. We are told that as news of the king’s edict spread, it threw the city of Susa into a state of confusion. People couldn’t believe what they were hearing. The Jews had not been a problem. What was prompting the king to issue a decree of this magnitude and why were they being required to play a part in the murder of innocent men, women and children?

In verse 12, we read, “the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month (NIssan), and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written.” This is significant because the Jews were to begin their celebration of Passover on the 15th day of Nissan. So just two days prior to their annual festival of Passover, the Jews were to receive the devastating news that they were to be wiped out. The irony of this would not have gone unnoticed. Passover was a celebration of God’s miraculous protection of the people of Israel when the death angel passed over the homes of all those who had sprinkled the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their homes (Exodus 12:7). As part of the Passover celebration, they would have selected their own lamb on the 10th day of Nissan, the very same day that Haman had cast lots to determine a day for the mass slaughter of the Jews.

The timing of all of this is far from coincidental. There is something far greater going on behind the scenes. If you look carefully you can begin to see the puzzle pieces coming together and forming an increasingly clearer image. Esther’s rise to prominence. Haman’s promotion. Mordecai’s place at the gate of the king’s palace. His discovery of the plot to kill the king. And his refusal to bow down to Haman. The seemingly random alignment of the dates. And on top of all that, the fact that he was a Jew and Haman was an Amalakite. These are not mere cases of coincidence. They are subtle insights into God’s invisible, yet undeniable role in the affairs of men. While Haman and the king celebrated, the citizens of Susa wrestled with confusion and anxiety. And the Jews were left to wonder where their God had gone. Yet the hidden story is that God was far from absent. As in the days of Moses and the Exodus, God was about to rescue His people. Just when everything looked hopeless, God was going to show himself fully in control and completely worthy of His people’s trust.

Advertisements

The Danger of Disobedience.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, 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. – Esther 3:1-6 ESV

Mordecai has just foiled an assassination plot and helped save the life of the king. And while Mordecai’s efforts earned him a place in the official chronicles of the king, that was all the recognition he received. And yet, another individual, new to our story, was about to receive a huge promotion that would create a major conflict for Mordecai and Esther. The man’s name is Haman and the important, but often neglected part of the story is his heritage. He is an Agagite. Like Esther and Mordecai, he is not a native Persian. He is an outsider who has made his way to the Persian empire, most likely as the result of their conquest of his land. What is significant is that Haman is an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, the Amalakite. The Amalakites carried out an unprovoked attack on the Israelites during their days in the wilderness. Joshua and the people of Israel defeated them in battle and God pronounced a curse on the Amalakies. “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14 ESV).

Years later, long after Israel had settled in the land of Canaan and Saul had become their king, God sent word to King Saul through Samuel, the prophet. “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. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV). Saul did as the Lord had commanded him, but he did not obey fully.

And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:7-9 ESV

Saul had spared King Agag and kept the best of the spoil, disobeying the direct orders of God. And he would be removed as the king of Israel for his disobedience. What makes all of this so important to the story of Esther is that she and Mordecai are both descendants of Saul and Haman, the newly promoted, second-highest official in the land, is a direct descendant of Agag. This long-standing conflict was about to be relived, all because one man refused to do what God had called him to do. His one act of disobedience and compromise was going to have long-term implications.

And the story makes it clear that Mordecai was well aware of Haman’s heritage, because it tells us “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” (Esther 3:2 ESV). Mordecai could not bring himself to pay homage to an enemy of his people. And when the king’s servants asked him why he was taking such a huge risk by not bowing down to Haman as the king had commanded, he simply informed them that he was a Jew. This news is reported to the king. It is interesting to note that when two officials of the king had plotted to assassinate him, it was Mordecai who made the news known to the king. Now, two officials are reporting Mordecai’s insubordination to Haman, unknowingly placing him in a very dangerous situation.

When Haman finds out about Mordecai’s refusal to bow down before him, his reaction is swift and over-the-top. Rather than take out his anger on Mordecai, he determines to destroy each and every Jew in the kingdom of the Persians. The long-standing hatred between the Amalakites and the Hebrews rises to the surface once more. And King Saul’s refusal to obey the command of God would come back to haunt the Jewish people. Haman would use his newfound power to not only settle a personal score between himself and Mordecai, but to wipe out all memory of the Jews from the land of the Persians. What is hiding just under the surface of this story is the role that disobedience plays in our lives. The whole reason Mordecai and Esther are even living in Persia is because of the disobedience of the people of Judah. They had refused to listen to the prophets of God who had been sent by God to call them to repentance for their unfaithfulness and disobedience, and to warn them about their coming destruction. But they had refused to listen to God’ warnings and were ultimately defeated by the Babylonians and taken captive. Likewise, the whole reason Haman even existed was because King Saul had refused to obey the word of God and completely destroy the Amalakites from the face of the earth. Haman was nothing more than the residual effect of Saul’s disobedience. Failure to do the will of God always has ramifications. Disobedience to God always has dire consequences. And Mordecai and Esther were going to learn a first-hand lesson in just how how dangerous disobedience could be.