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Sleeping in Peace

Sermon passage: (Esther 7:1-8:8) Spoken on: March 28, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Esther

Tags: Esther, 以斯帖记

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Sermon on Esther 7:1-8:8

There is an advantage in preaching slowly through a biblical book. We get to explore a theological issue through multiple points of view from different pastors. We also get to build on what was previously said. In this way, we can understand things more deeply and more profoundly. Two weeks ago, from chapter 5, Pastor Wilson shared about the wisdom of Esther and the folly of Haman. The consequences of events were manipulated by the choices made by Esther and Haman. Esther brought initial success by using her charm. Haman began his downfall with his own pride. Yet, last week, Pastor Daniel shared about the providence of God from chapter 6. The outcomes of events were turned by the will of God. Through a series of seeming coincidences, the death of Mordecai was miraculously thwarted. Having listened to the two different perspectives, which do you think is right? Is it God who dictates history? Or is it man who determines the future? I believe reality is a paradoxical combination of the two.

I like this quote from Victor Hugo. “Have courage for the great sorrows of life, and patience for the small ones. And when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” There is no denial that God is in control. That is the overarching theme of Esther even though God is not mentioned explicitly in the Hebrew version. Yet, that by no means implies that we are mere robots or puppets in the unfolding of history. Scripture continues to testify of the deliberate actions of the main characters. God may be lining up seeming coincidences. But every individual in the story must act as they should. They do what they choose to do. As Obama recently quoted Abraham Lincoln, “I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true.” We can affirm as Christians that salvation and victory belongs to the Lord. That is our assurance and our comfort. But that is not a crutch for us to bum around in obscurity. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. As a living person, we must labor and we must dare to live on. Yes, God is awake. But in order to sleep in peace, we must know that we have fulfilled our human part. Step up for the tough decisions and hang on when it is slow and painful. This is wisdom of the wise. We acknowledge God for who he is. But we must also recognize what it means to be human. We must do what we are bound to do.

Today’s chapter continues to show us what wisdom and folly are. Although Esther prayed and fasted to God, she did not carried out her actions blindly. She used her feminine charms and wit to her advantage. By the time she made her actual request at the second banquet, she knew her odds of success. When she said “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty”, she knew she had the favor of the king. That was the very reason for the king’s presence in the second banquet. She had said earlier that “If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them.” (5:8) By turning up for the second banquet, the king has regarded her with favor. He has implicitly agreed to grant any of her requests.

Secondly, she is clever to package her request in two layers. “Grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request.” This is known as foot-in-the-door. It involves getting a person to agree to a large request by having that person first agree to a modest request. The modest request is her own life and the large request is the lives of her people. How can the king refuse to grant Esther her life? She is the queen that is favored by the king! The modest request is irrefusable. Yet by agreeing to the first request, the king is compelled to agree to the second because it is packaged together. By rescuing the queen whom he cares about, he has to also rescue the Jews who he does not care about.

Third, she packaged her request to make it seem small and reasonable. This is known as door-in-the-face. Compliance is enhanced by first making an extremely large request that the respondent will obviously turn down. The respondent is then more likely to accede to a second, more reasonable request. “For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.” Can I disturb you every time we are in trouble? No! How about we are just begging not to be totally destroyed? Well, that sounds reasonable in comparison. Of course, I should interfere in this case. “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?"

Fourth, she is clever to pin on Haman as the only person at fault. As readers of the story, we know that both Haman and the king are at fault. Haman plotted everything, but he would not be able to execute the plan without the king’s permission. By laying the blame fully on Haman, she is now trying to pull the king to her side of the conflict. It’s no use getting the king defensive for helping Haman in the first place. More importantly, she now needs him as an ally against Haman. This is known as the “kill with a borrowed sword” in the 36 strategies. When you do not have the means to attack your enemy directly, then attack using the strength of another. Trick an ally into attacking him, or use the enemy's own strength against him. In this case, the king is the sword, borrowed from Haman to be used on him.

This is the moment that the king realized what the request is all about. He is now in a fix. He had unknowingly agreed to help Haman massacre the Jews including his beloved queen. However, he has now also agreed to save his queen. He stormed out in anger. He realized that the Jews had been framed by Haman. But his dilemma is soon resolved. When he returns to see Haman pleading at the couch of Esther, he frames Haman of molesting the queen. It is a ridiculous charge, but one can see clearly that he is reversing Haman’s scheme of framing upon himself. This is the folly of Haman. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword. (Matt 26:52) He schemed by framing the innocent Jews. Now he himself is framed by the King and killed.

After the king transfers Haman’s estate to Esther, Esther does the fifth wise thing. She reveals her relationship with Mordecai. In doing so, the king now transfers Haman’s power to Mordecai. Mordecai is given the signet ring. This ring allows him to make decrees in the name of the king. Esther is gaining power. As Christians we are rather uncomfortable with the notion of gaining power. While we should acknowledge that power corrupts, we should also be realistic about what power can achieve. We should be mindful of its danger, but wise in using power for good. Esther is strategic in gaining power quickly for Mordecai because she needs this power to save her people. In God’s timing, Mordecai was given honor in chapter 6. In Esther’s timing, Mordecai was given power in chapter 7.

Next, Esther does yet another remarkable thing. She begs for her people, weeping and pleading at the feet of the king. As modern people accustomed to gender equality, we feel uncomfortable. Esther is playing the role of a powerless woman fully dependent on a powerful man. You may look down on her. Where is your pride? Where is your dignity? But she has my utmost respect. Yes, in a way she is degrading herself, but she is not doing this for personal gain. She is sacrificing herself for her people. If feminine charms and emotional appeal can work to avert the massacre of her race, she will use them. For her people, she is willing to give up her pride and dignity. Some of us are willing to die for a noble cause. The braver ones may even be willing to suffer prolonged pain. But are we willing to be humiliated? Sometimes that is the hardest sacrifice, and Esther has done just that.

However, the king reminded her, “no document written in the king's name and sealed with his ring can be revoked”. The order to kill that was sent is irrevocable. Fortunately, the king also gave them a solution. Esther and Mordecai now have the ring. We now understand the value of the ring. It represents power. The old edict cannot be revoked. But they can issue a new one with the authority of the king that must also be obeyed. What new edict can help to defend against the old edict? This takes further wisdom. It will take the ingenuity of Esther and Mordecai to resolve the danger with their new found power. And we will talk about that next week.

Why did I run through the wisdom of Esther and the folly of Haman in today’s passage? I want to highlight that even with God’s providence; at the human level, things should be done right and done well. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” I think that the words of Jesus hold the messages from pastor Wilson and Daniel together. We are sent like sheep among wolves. The wolves refers to those who persecute Christians. It can also refer to false teachers who penetrate the church. They spread dubious teachings like prosperity gospel, or foreign ideologies like individualism. The world is a place laden with danger. But we confess that God is awake. Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:4) He is present in the midst of our daily lives. That should comfort us when we are troubled. It should also warn us when we are presumptuous of our own omnipotence. If we remember pastor Daniel’s message about the God in control, our intentions will remain as innocent as doves. We use our gifts and abilities for the good of the community.

But innocent as doves does not mean being naïve or simplistic. We are told to be shrewd as snakes. Pastor Wilson taught us to use wisdom like Esther and avoid folly like Haman. As a pastor, I can only wish that we have more members with the discernment and far-sightedness to match our enemies. Unfortunately, there is often an anti-intellectualism myth going on in the Christian circles. They substitute simple faith with blind faith. This is wrong. Instead, we need good doctors to detect false faith healings. We need good psychologists to defraud false exorcisms. We sometimes think that we can solve everything by being nice and polite. No, we need careful leaders with calculated plans. We need good accountants to handle church finance and good lawyers to interpret church constitutions. We need people with strong theology and people skills to deal with trouble-makers in the church. There will always be those that come within the flock to satisfy their needs of power and adoration. We need people who are familiar with the ways of the world but still remain innocent and untainted. Let those who are trained in sales and marketing protect our youth from consumerism. Let those who are trained in HR motivate the lazy and complacent among us. To be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves, we need to keep our hearts pure, and learn from others better than us. For every Haman in the world, may God provide the church with an Esther.

Our mission in the world is a long and difficult journey. As stewards entrusted with spiritual gifts of wisdom and discernment, things should be done right and done well. “Have courage for the great sorrows of life, and patience for the small ones. And when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”