Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Esther week 3 - Know the enemy

This is the summary of week 3 of our Esther series, looking at chapter 3
You can listen to the sermon here
And check out week 1 and week 2 notes to catch up on the story

The enemy appears
Esther has been queen for 5 years when the story teller chooses to pick up the action again to highlight the appearance of the final major character in the narrative, a man named Haman.  From the outset we see that Haman has been showered with the king's favour and promoted to the highest office in the land besides the king.  Along with his high office comes an edict from the king himself that all other officials were to bow down and pay homage in Haman's presence.  But one man refuses, Mordecai the Jew.  So as Haman burns with anger against Mordecai's refusal to honour him he devises a plan to wipe out the entire Jewish race... making him become the enemy of the people of God.

Now while Haman is clearly the enemy of the people of God in this story, he also stands as a pointer to the one who has been the enemy of the people of God forever... Satan.  In fact the parallels between Haman and Satan are quite stunning:
  • Haman is set high above all others by the King… Satan was given great importance and authority among the angels
  • But for Haman this prestige was not enough unless everyone bowed down to him… likewise Satan was not satisfied with his high station either and desired to have ultimate worship as well
  • Haman sought to gain this worship by destroying the people of God… and Satan sought to gain worship by attacking God’s precious newly created people
Haman is in this story not just because he is part of the historical happenings… but he is here to remind us of our real enemy.  And so as we get to know him this morning we will also get to know our enemy.

The enemy craves your worship
The trigger for Haman's journey into evil was his pride causing him to crave the worship of people.  Mordecai's refusal to pay homage to him enraged him to the point of scheming the genocide of the Jewish people.  So it should not surprise us that Satan also craves our worship... and like Haman he won't be satisfied until he gets it. While you think it might be easy to starve Satan of worship simply by avoiding Ouija boards, witchcraft or demonic incantations, the reality is that the enemy of God has a plethora of ways he can extract worship from you.  So whether it is overtly or subtly he works to receive our worship whether we know it or not: when we seek security in our possessions, when we seek identity in our status, when we seek significance in romantic relationships or when we seek to justify ourselves through our own moral goodness we are chasing after something other than Jesus the one true God; and so our worship defaults to the enemy of the one true God.

The enemy will bait you with pride
Unlike kid's movies where the bad guys are often portrayed as bumbling fools who formulate half baked plans and have terrible aim when trying to shoot the good guys, Haman is no bumbling fool.  In fact he is crafty and careful... he is an evil mastermind.  His plan to destroy God's people is well thought out and patient.  He waits for the right day, even casting lots to ensure the gods would be on his side and he seeks kingly approval for his plan to ensure its empire-wide success.  And when he goes in to entreat the king to carry out his scheme he does not mention specifics; discrediting the Jews before king even knows who they are.  Haman is well planned and methodical, but most importantly he knows the perfect bait with which to lure the king.

He paints this unnamed people as breakers of the king’s laws and enemies of his pride, he assures the king that his plan will remove this blight and elevate the king’s standing, and he promises the king financial gain out of the endeavour.  He basically says, "Follow my plan and your pride will be preserved, promoted and prospered… but if you fail to act your pride will suffer great injury."  And he knows how the king will respond because he remembers how he responded when Vashti injured his pride. He knows that if the king cut Vashti off he would also give Haman consent to cut the Jews off.  And so the king buys into his scheme… infatuated with his own pride he calls his scribes and issues an edict for the destruction of the Jews.  Haman’s hook baited with pride had enticed the king and he had been caught in the scheme against the people of God.

And when we remember that Haman is representative of the arch enemy of God you realise that pride is the bait of Satan as well.  It was pride that Satan tempted Adam & Eve with in the garden, “you will be like God…” It was pride that Satan tempted Jesus with in the wilderness, “I will give you [all the kingdoms of the world], if you will fall down and worship me.” And it is with pride that Satan will tempt you and me.
  • When he tempts us into envy is it not because he is presenting us with an image of how great we would be if we just had those possessions, these talents, this look or that relationship 
  • When he tempts us into lust is it not because he is offering us the pride boosting pleasure of sexual gratification 
  • When he tempts us into self-righteousness is it not because he is leading us to believe that we can attain holiness by our own strength and that we will be known as the holy man or the woman of God 
Self-promotion is at the root of every one of Satan’s temptations, he is crafty and he knows our weakness and our weakness is always pride. Pride is the crack in the door through which Satan can jam his foot and gain access to our entire life. And like the proud king it is so easy for us to be drawn into the enemy’s schemes through his tempting of our pride.

Know the real enemy
And so in this epic story that we are following the real enemy has shown his face; but it is not who we first thought it would be... it is not King Ahasuerus. When you read chapter 1 and see the pride, arrogance and cruelty of the king it is easy to assume that he will be the bad guy, but in actual fact he turns out not to be the orchestrator of evil.  It would have been easy for the people of God to read the edict carrying the king’s name and see the king as the enemy.  They could have risen up against him and they formulated their own assassination plot, but regardless of how successful they were they would not have stopped the evil that stood against them… they would merely have killed the fall guy.

And there is a need for us the people of God today to understand who our real enemy is. Because in certain sections of the church there seems to be a kind of militant aggression that is altogether misdirected. We need to realise that our enemy is not flesh and blood, it is not visible and it is certainly not going to be defeated by our protests. Our enemy is not: atheists, promiscuous popstars, abortion doctors, Muslims or pornstars.  These are not our enemies… like Ahasuerus they are merely hostages of the real enemy, lured in by his temptations of pride and conscripted into his plans to thwart the purposes of God and destroy the people of God. And it is so easy for us to fight the battle on the wrong front, to fix our aim on the hostages instead of the kidnapper.  But our prayers need to be for the people trapped in his plans not against them, our heart needs to be bent towards them in love not harden against them in hatred and we need to save our prayers, energy and righteous anger for the true enemy of God.

Confusion and peace
At the end of the chapter we find an almost surreal scene in verse 15, “...the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.” Inside the palace Haman and the king sit down to drink, while outside the city and the whole empire are thrown into confusion. It seems that Haman, the enemy of the people of God, was only able to rest at peace when the city was in chaos. He was only able to rejoice and celebrate with wine when the city was gripped by fear.

And this is the reality, Satan our enemy desires chaos. He is only happy when our lives are cast into fear and confusion. This is what brings him joy, this what satisfies his heart.  Like the end of chapter 1 the end of chapter 3 leaves us feeling fairly hollow: the people of God have their heads on the chopping block, the city has been cast into chaos and confusion and the enemy of the people of God is resting easy and celebrating his scheme.  Everything seems to be mounting up against the people of God; the situation seems hopeless.

But if we know anything about our God it is when everything seems to be at its worst that He does His best. See while the enemy of God craved joy and peace for himself by inflicting confusion and chaos on the city, Jesus appears as one who absorbed chaos and confusion into Himself in order that the city might have true joy and peace. The pain of betrayal, the shame of mockery and scorn and the sting of death mounted up the most horrid chaos against Jesus and yet He absorbed it all so that you and I might live free from confusion in ultimate peace and joy. Seeing the nature of our enemy can be daunting… but it is only when you see this Jesus who absorbs our confusion and chaos so that we can live in peace that we realise that our God is more than able to conquer even the worst the enemy can do.

  1. What do you think about the idea that there is an enemy of God?  How does it make you feel?
  2. Have you ever thought about the reality that worshiping anything other than God is by default the worship of Satan?  Do you agree?  
  3. Haman clearly baited the king with pride.  Be honest and think through the temptations you struggle most with.  How does Satan lure you towards them through your pride?
  4. Who have you previously thought of as enemies of God or enemies of the church?  Have you hardened your heart to these people?  How does viewing them as hostages of our real enemy change the way you respond to them?
  5. How does seeing Jesus as the one who absorbs the chaos of the enemy in order to shower us with peace and joy encourage us?

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