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Haman’s Plot

Sermon passage: (Esther 3:1-15) Spoken on: January 25, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Esther

Tags: Esther, 以斯帖记

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve as a cell leader in zone ministry and a teacher in children ministry.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Esther 3:1-15

Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who lived and died in the Netherlands during WWII. When her family was hiding in Amsterdam from German Nazis, she kept a diary which charts her life from 1942 to 1944. In June 1999, Time magazine selected Anne Frank as one of the most important "Heroes & Icons" of our century. Anne Frank's diary had raised more widespread awareness of the Holocaust because "people identified with this child.” Her famous diary, published posthumously, continues to be a great work of inspiration for many people.

John F. Kennedy discussed Anne Frank in a 1961 speech, and said, "Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank." In South Africa, after receiving a humanitarian award from the Anne Frank Foundation in 1994, Nelson Mandela addressed a crowd in Johannesburg, saying he had read Anne Frank's diary while in prison and "derived much encouragement from it." He likened her struggle against Nazism to his struggle against apartheid. Just as the Jews were oppressed by the Nazis, the blacks were also under oppression by white supremacy for a long time. The recent movie Invictus tells the story of how Mandela inspires the Springboks, the South African rugby team, to unite the country by winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which they did.

Many of us are deeply saddened by the horrors of war, especially the Holocaust during WWII. It is estimated that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. The word Holocaust comes from two Greek words: hólos, "whole" and kaustós, "burnt", when placed together would mean “a whole burnt sacrificial offering to a god.” The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages. Hitler calls it Shoah, or the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” What is the Jewish question? [Pause] Simply put, “What should we do about the Jews? They are not welcome here.

Today’s passage records the plot of Haman to destroy the Jews during the reign of King Xerxes. The oppression of Jews is also known as anti-Semiticism. Let’s first clarify who the Semitic people are. The Semitic people refer to those originating from and living in the Middle East who spoke Semitic languages, like the Arabs, Assyrians, Hebrews/Israelites. The word Semitic is derived from one of Noah’s three sons, Shem. But the word “anti-Semitic” is not the direct opposite of Semitic. Anti-Semitic does not mean an oppression or hatred of all Semitic people, but it almost always only refers to the oppression of Jews. The oppression of the Jews did not begin with the Holocaust. It goes much further back and it is well recorded in the Bible. The book of Esther is one such story.

1. Haman vs. Mordecai (The Agagites vs. the Benjamites)
The story in Esther 3 introduces us to two more characters: Haman and Mordecai. Who are they? Mordecai is the son of Jair, from the tribe of Benjamin. Haman is the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite. By drawing a genealogical comparison between Haman and Mordecai, the author alerts to us the age-long rivalry between the Agagites and the Benjamites, also between the Amalekites and the Israelites.

The Israelites have always been an eyesore wherever they chose to settle down. It started with the Conquest of Canaan. In the years between Moses and King Saul, God gave Israel the land as promised. Agag was the king of the Amalekites at the time Saul (also of the tribe of Benjamin) was the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 15). When Saul came to power, God instructed him through prophet Samuel to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them,” and to “put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Sam. 15:1-3). Saul attacked the Amalekites but spared the life of Agag their king, in disobedience to God’s command. Saul caused Agag to lose his kingship. Therefore, as their descendents, Haman and Mordecai are natural enemies.

Because of Saul’s disobedience, the rivalry between the Amalekites and the Israelites continues today. In Esther 3, the author tells us that Haman was an Agagite, a possible descendent of Agag, the ancient king of the Amalekites as the Rabbinic tradition has shown. However, this may not be so. Haman may not have been genetically descended from the Amalekites to have earned the name Agagite. The Agagites is a term used to describe Israel’s perennial (persistent) enemies. In the early first century of this era, Jewish writers referred to the Romans also as Agagites. Today, the Palestinians are sometimes referred to by the same ancient name. By using this name, the author is characterizing Haman as anti-Semitic, an enemy of the Jews.

Esther 2 ended with an account of Mordecai discovering a plot to assassinate King Xerxes. But strangely, in Esther 3, he was not honored for his service; King Xerxes honored Haman instead to the second in command, as prime minister of Persia. “All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor” (v. 2). Just as we do not know why Queen Vashti refused to appear before the king, similarly, Mordecai’s refusal was equally mysterious. Maybe Mordecai was reacting to the injustice of not being recognized for preventing an assassination? Or perhaps, his Jewish identity prevented him from kneeing before Haman?

Some have used v. 4, “for he had told them he was a Jew” to suggest that Mordecai as a Jew would not bow to anyone else other than YHWH. But this is historically incorrect as Jews in similar situations had bowed to their other superiors (like the sons of Jacob bowing before Joseph believing that he was Egyptian), and there is no (Jewish) law against it. Furthermore, Mordecai could not have function as a royal official had he made a general refusal to bow to anyone, even to King Xerxes. Therefore, we can only conclude that his refusal to bow was strictly to Haman alone. It was personal.

The LXX (The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) claims that Haman demanded divine honors from Mordecai, i.e. to acknowledge him as a descendent of the gods. The Targum (an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible) states that Haman wore an idol pinned on his breast; if Mordecai bowed to him, he would be guilty of idolatry. Sadly, we do not know his real reason for his refusal, but we know that his refusal sets in motion the impending extermination of his countrymen. “Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (v. 6).

2. Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews
Haman’s frustration was actually only against Mordecai who refused to bow to him, but when he found out he was Jewish, he decided to kill all the Jews in Persia instead of dealing just with Mordecai. It is possible that Mordecai knew of Haman’s anti-Semitic ideology and therefore refused to submit to his authority.

When Haman conveyed his plan to King Xerxes, he does not reveal specifically who this group of people was; he simply acknowledges them as “a certain group of people”. The first thing he wants to make known to Xerxes is that these people are “dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom”. In another word, Haman is telling Xerxes that they are everywhere, and they are difficult to contain. Secondly, Haman tells him that their customs and culture are different from the Persians, alluding that they are foreigners who are different and cannot be trusted. Thirdly, he accuses them of not obeying the king’s law. He does not specify which law they disobeyed. With these so-called “facts”, he proposes to exterminate them entirely.

The ten thousand talents of silver is equivalent to $5.6 million today. That is a huge amount even for a prime minister. But it is not known if he intends to use all his own money for this killing spree. It is possible that he intends to plunder this money from the people he plans to murder. King Xerxes, in his irrational self, gave approval for this mass-murder, even gave him his signet ring and told him to keep his money “and do with the people as you please.”

Just as how word was sent out to inform everyone of Queen Vashti’s disposal, another script was written with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and children – on a single day. The edict was written on the thirteenth of Nisan, so it began to be distributed on the fourteenth. The Jews celebrated Passover on the fourteen of Nisan. On the same day which the Jews celebrated the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians, their great enemy of the past, they were now learning of a new plot to destroy them from a new enemy. Will God deliver them again?

Contemporary Significance: Anti-Anti-Semitic?
At this point, Haman was triumphant, the king was indifferent; it seems like the Jews in Persia were dead men walking. The inhabitants of Susa were confused over the edict. They simply did not understand the reason for such a decree. Is there hope for the Jews, our neighbors?

As Anne Frank is the symbol of the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler is the symbol of Nazism. Anne Frank’s diary is widely known but few would know that Hitler also wrote a book before he came into power. It is ironically entitled “Mein Kampf”, or “My Struggle” in English. Hitler’s book is partly autobiographical with an exposition of his political theory based on anti-Semitic principles which he would later develop into a “state-sponsored genocide” of the Jews. He believed that the Jews were in conspiracy to gain world leadership. He believes that communism and Judaism to be the world’s twin evils.

There are tons of books, films and stories on the internet about the Holocaust. “In a way, the Holocaust began with one book and ended with another. Yet it was Anne's that finally prevailed — a beneficent and complicated work outlasting a simple and evil one — and that secured to the world's embrace the second most famous child in history” (Time, 1999). I will leave you to ponder who the first is.

Just like Haman, Hitler’s political ideology was anti-Semitic. He believes that the Jews were gaining world dominance. He was not against the idea of a super-power dominating the world affairs; after all, he wants to create the Aryan race, a master race that is far superior to all other races. He simply does not think that the Jews should be the one. The best race/people on the planet are the white Caucasian men with blond hair and blue eyes. Part of the Aryanization[1] process, experiments were conducted to inject blue dye into the eyes of the Jews to make them less “inferior”.

Semitic people were seen as foreigners in the land of white skins. It is also believed that the Semitic people were responsible for the destruction of social order in the society. The dark-skinned people brought their diseases and immorality to our society. They are the trouble-makers. They are the scum of the society, the low-life, aliens. They must be gotten rid of. They are not welcome here.

The oppression of people based on race, ethnic group or religion is evil. We must be anti-anti-Semitics! As Christians, but more importantly, as human beings, we share life on this planet earth. We must learn to co-exist in peace and harmony. I am not preaching about tolerance, for there is a limit to how much we can tolerate another person. I am talking about acceptance. As a church, we must accept people who are different from us: culturally, sociological, intellectually, and even biologically. The Bible does not preach conformity, but unity in diversity. Without even trying, it is easy to point out our differences, but it is way more difficult to discover our commonalities.

As a race, we speak proudly of our Chinese heritage, our glorious history and great heroes, like Confucius (孔子 Kongzi), Mencius (孟子 Mengzi), Master Q (Lao Fuzi), Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and a little more modern, Dr. Sun Yat-sen (孫中山). As a nation, we are proud that Singapore was transformed from a third world to the first in just 25 years.

And yet in all our pride, do not forget that we are all created in the image of God. We are all God’s children. No race is superior to another. Let us not forget that we belong to one race, the human race. Despite our differences, we are alike in more ways than we are different. Do we really think that we are anymore superior than our neighbors? How do we treat those who are different from us?

Before we end today’s sermon, I want us to reflect on our inter-human relationships. First question: How do we treat those who look, think, and act differently from us? Is our faith practiced in a community of conformity? Or do we celebrate unity in diversity? Can we learn from each other’s differences? Can we agree to disagree?

Second question: How do we relate to people who do not seem to submit to our authority? Do we inspire or demand obedience? How does one earn respect and submission? By a decree or by an act of sacrificial love?

I pray that we will continue to look upon Christ as our example in our understanding of relationships with people. Let us pray.

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[1] They worked to maintain the purity of this race through eugenics programs (including anti-miscegenation legislation, compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill and the mentally deficient, the execution of the institutionalized mentally ill as part of a euthanasia program).

Esther 3 (Listen)

3:1 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.

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.” 10 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. 11 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.”

12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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.

(ESV)