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The God in Humanity

Sermon passage: (Esther 10:1-3) Spoken on: May 10, 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 10:1-3

We have finally come to the end of the sermon series on Esther. In the final chapter, we find 3 simple verses with the subtitle: The Greatness of Mordecai. Today, I wish to give my reflection on this passage in light of all that we have talked about in the entire series.

As a conclusion to the story of Esther, today’s passage is somewhat strange. It is strange because it speaks about the greatness of Mordecai, and not what most would expect: the greatness of God. How can a biblical story end without mentioning God? Instead, it is a human, Mordecai, who is exalted at the end of the story. This is very strange especially if you compare it to the LXX conclusion to Esther. After talking about the greatness of Mordecai, the LXX continues:

Chapter F

Then Mordecai said: "This is the work of God.
I recall the dream I had about these very things, and not a single detail has been left unfulfilled-
the tiny spring that grew into a river, the light of the sun, the many waters. The river is Esther, whom the king married and made queen.
The two dragons are myself and Haman.
The nations are those who assembled to destroy the name of the Jews,
but my people is Israel, who cried to God and was saved. "The LORD saved his people and delivered us from all these evils. God worked signs and great wonders, such as have not occurred among the nations.
1 For this purpose he arranged two lots: one for the people of God, the second for all the other nations.
These two lots were fulfilled in the hour, the time, and the day of judgment before God and among all the nations.
God remembered his people and rendered justice to his inheritance.
2 "Gathering together with joy and happiness before God, they shall celebrate these days on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the month Adar throughout all future generations of his people Israel."

The LXX conclusion would be a familiar ending to a biblical story. All that has happened is attributed to God. It is God who intervened and performed the miracles. It is God who brought justice and victory. This is the work of God. Yet, in our Hebrew version, we find no such declaration. Instead, we end with the greatness of Mordecai. He deserves the highest honor “because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.” This is the truth we are confronted with. Why the humanity? Why end with a human? I hope to answer this question today. I hope it is a fitting conclusion to the entire sermon series.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” I believe this is what the Hebrew author of Esther is doing. It would have been easy for author to write yet another biblical story stating God as the explicit deliverer of the Jews. But we already have that story told many times. That is the story of Moses in Exodus. That is the story of the Judges. That is the story of David and Goliath. If we have Esther in the form of LXX, where God is explicit in the deliverance, we would have the same old story. It may be different characters and different times, but it would be the same plot of God coming to the rescue. Hence, the author might be thinking to himself, why go where the path may lead? Why not go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

The author has before him a story of deliverance. The Jews have miraculously survived the evil plotting of their enemies. No doubt this is a great story. As a believer in God, there is also no doubt that God is the one who brought about this deliverance. The story could be told in such a way that it was God intervening in every moment to execute the perfect plan of deliverance. It was God who made Esther Queen. It was God who gave the king insomnia. That led to the exaltation of Mordecai. It was God who turned the heart of the king to accept Esther when she made her request. Yes, the story could be told in this way, and it would not be wrong. Yet the author deliberately did not go down that usual path.

The author instead told a story without mentioning God at all. It is a story with humanity at the forefront. We see humanity at its ugliest. We see the pride of Vashti. We see the erratic temperament of Xerxes. But worst of all, we see the cruelty of Haman. For personal revenge, he aimed to destroy the Jews in the name of peace. Humanity is ugliest not when we are ignorant or foolish. It is ugliest when a human willfully attacks another out of self interest. Yet, with humanity at the forefront, we also see humanity at its highest glory. We see the courage of Esther. We see the wisdom of Mordecai. They stood tall when they are called upon to sacrifice for their people. And the author makes this plain in our passage today.

Since this is a story with humanity at the forefront, is the author telling us that God is not present? Is the author telling us that God has nothing to do with all that has happened in the story? Absolutely not! In not mentioning God, the author is leaving a new trail for us to understand God. This is God that is inseparable from humanity. It is strange that because God is nowhere to be found, he is thus found everywhere. God is found in the series of coincidences throughout the book. God is found in the actions and deliberations of Esther and Mordecai. God did not force anybody against their will. Yet there can be no denial that when Esther was strong, and when Mordecai was loyal, they were doing it for God. Such is the brilliance of the author of Esther. In not mentioning God all together, we are compelled to see God in the humanity of the story.

But in doing this, the author took a risk as well. In not making God explicit, the author is leaving the readers to discover the hidden God for themselves. But are we imagining what is not there? Is it the case of Voltaire's famous aphorism that “if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”? By not making God explicit, we are forced to struggle between believing in the presence of God and dismissing him as a figment of our imagination. Many are uncomfortable with this struggle. We would rather leave the decision to a spiritual higher authority. Just tell us explicitly whether God is there or not there! Just tell us if it is human action or God’s intervention! We don’t want the struggle. We want the LXX version that makes the presence of God explicit. We don’t want to be forced to find God. Is God really in humanity? Or is he our invention? Many of us don’t want that ambiguity.

But I am thankful that the Hebrew author avoided the usual path and told the story of Esther in this new way. I am thankful because this is closer to my reality. I live in a world where God is not explicit. God may be intervening in many things, but he certainly never left his fingerprints. So I am forced to see his providence in the same way as the story of Esther is presented. I find God in coincidences. I find God in the goodness of people around me. I find God in faith. In all these moments, I am forced to struggle with the question: Is this God that I find merely my own invention? Yet I am thankful for this new path. Because the old path where God is only present when he is explicit is an unrealistic path for me. Like it or not, I do not hear voices like Abraham. I do not have the parting of the Red Sea or the miracles of Elijah in my daily life. God’s deliverance comes to me anonymously, just like the story of Esther.

In my personal reflection, I love this sermon series on Esther a lot. We often talk about God’s providence and deliverance from Exodus or the Gospels. But taken only in that light, we often expect Moses or Jesus. Whether it is the burning bush or the feeding of the five thousand, they often represent the God that is explicit. Yet in Esther, providence and deliverance came in the form of Esther and Mordecai. It even came in the form of Xerxes who could not sleep one night. They represent the God that is anonymous. God is not supernatural in Esther. God is there, but he has to be found and identified. It is God in humanity.

And this is why we presented our sermon series in this manner. Taken by itself, to say that “God provides” or “God delivers” is meaningless. Try telling that to a starving child or a persecuted Christian. God’s providence and deliverance is embedded in human history. And to understand these concepts, we must understand humanity. It is very clear that the overall theme of Esther is God’s providence and deliverance. But it did not happen in a vacuum. This is why we took pains to intersect the overall theme with topics of racism, persecution, war, feminism, wisdom and genocide. God provides through human means, for human needs, due to human failings. God delivers through human means, for human needs, due to human failings. The acts of God are made meaningful when we understand the acts of man clearly. When we say “God provides” and “God delivers”, we must ask, “What is he saving us from?” We must ask “Why does he need to save? And “How does he save?” In Esther, the salvation of God comes alive in the midst of racism and genocide. It is executed with wisdom and human virtues. It fought against persecution and war. God is alive in the midst of our daily human difficulties.

In doing so, we took a risk. We did not make God explicit. We showed you what is wisdom. We talked about what is true peace. We talked about the human issues of racial tensions and the horrors of this world when we do not treat one another humanely. In doing so, we hope that you find for yourself the God that provides and delivers us from all these. We did not present a God with a magical switch to make everything better instantly. We have to struggle hard to see the God who gives us his truth, and we as humans have the responsibility to make God’s vision happen. We have to right the wrongs. We have to do things right and do it well.

We not only made God’s providence and deliverance human, we also made the scripture very human. We taught you the concept of manuscripts. We taught you about translations and canonization. We did this to explain to you how the scriptures came to you as scripture. It is humans who put God's revelation into words. It is humans who chose the words that reveal God to them. We also learnt how to understand divine inspiration and the genre of a biblical text. Simply put, the bible didn’t just drop from heaven and immediately let you know God’s will. We introduced these concepts to you to let you know that scripture is also very human. And it is through human words that we derive divine truths.

In all these, we are confronted with the fundamental question. How can we trust the human means through which God provides and delivers? How can we trust the human way through which God reveals himself to us? Because we are humans, we know how fallible humans can be. How can we accept a concept of God that is intertwined with humanity? That is the witness of Esther, the message that is loud and clear at the end. I do not have any perfect answer to this fundamental question. I can only share my personal reflection. The honest truth is that I believe it is the better way. There is the danger of imperfections when God acts and reveals through humanity, when God saves through human decisions and speaks to us through human words. But in doing so, God brings himself close to us. I can experience God through my fellow humanity and I can understand God through human poetry, human story-telling and human wisdom. Not only that, you and I, mere humans, can become agents of God. We can be part of God's providence and deliverance. We can speak God's word to one another. We are not perfect. But because of God, we can now do and express what is perfect. The greatness of Mordecai is a reflection of how great humanity can be, when humanity is used by God.