That Escalated Quickly

Esther  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Why did Haman react so strongly to Mordecai? Traces the history of the relationship between the Israelites and Agagites.


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The movie, The Anchorman, features one of the craziest, most bizarre scenes in movie history when the rival news anchor organizations get into a major brawl designed to look like a parody of a gang fight
Later, when the main characters of the movie are recounting the story, the lead character says, “Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.”
It’s a funny line, but one that will prove useful to us as we return to the story of Esther this morning
Esther is a well told story where the narrator employs several literary devices to bring readers into the story
One of those literary devices is this super fast escalation of events that makes you stop and think, “What just happened here?”
For example, in chapter 1, King Xerxes calls for his queen, Vashti, to come so he can show her off at this party he is throwing. She declines. Now, it is one thing for the king to want to punish her, but what happens next is crazy. One of king’s advisors says to the king, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behavior will be made known to known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with content, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come” (1:16-17).
So not only is Vashti deposed for disobeying the king, but all men in the entire kingdom are at risk because if the queen can get away with disobeying her husband, every woman might get crazy ideas. So a decree is sent through the entire kingdom declaring that all women everywhere are to honor their husbands.
Talk about a massive overreaction. I read that and I think, “Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.”
This morning, we are going to another example of a situation that escalates quickly

Scripture Reading (Esther 3:1-9)

Esther 3:1–9 (ESV): 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. 2 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. 3 Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” 4 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. 5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. 6 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.
7 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. 8 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. 9 If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed

That Escalated Quickly

Alright, so follow me here
Haman is promoted to second in the kingdom by the king
The king gives a command that everyone was to honor Haman for his new position
So everyone at the king’s gate bows down and pays homage to Haman
Everyone, that is, except for Mordecai
Haman is, it says in vs 6, “filled with fury”
But instead of wanting to punish Mordecai or set Mordecai straight or prove his superiority over Mordecai, he decides that all of Mordecai’s people need to be destroyed for Mordecai’s insubordination
So he schemes - and we will look at the nature of this scheme in a future week of this series - but he schemes to convince the king to issue a decree that would lead to the destruction of not only Mordecai, but his entire people
And as you hear that, I would guess that many of you are immediately thinking what I am thinking, “Wow. Talk about a massive overreaction!”
Or, said another way, “That escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast!”
Hearing this, I think we are left with 2 questions
Q1: Why didn’t Mordecai bow?
Mordecai was not a bastion of personal holiness or conviction
This was not a guy who would say, “I bow only to God”
He was the guy who encouraged his niece / adopted daughter to enter harem of the king
So why draw the line here?
Q2: Why did Haman react so strongly?
He was unable to savor the moment of the homage being shown by everyone else
He became fixated on the one person who refused and, as we have seen, escalated the situation big time
Let me suggest that the answer to these 2 questions is exactly the same

Haman the Agagite

What we know - and Haman finds out in the middle of this passage (vs 6), is that Mordecai is a Jew
And what are we told in the first mention of Haman in verse 1?
He is “Haman the Agagite” (3:1)
Let me suggest that Mordecai being a Jew and Haman being an Agagite is the reason this situation escalates
And so escalate and get out of hand? Yes. Quickly? Not so much
In fact, it has been building to this moment for a thousand or more years
To understand, we are going to need to run some Israelite history in reverse here

1 Samuel 15 (Saul fails to obey)

First stop is back 1 Samuel 15, some 500 plus years before our story in Esther
And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 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 Sam 15:1-3).
Samuel the prophet is sent to Saul, the king of Israel, with a command from God
Saul is to go and attack the Amalekites
2 specific aspects of this command I just read
Kill everything: man, woman, child and cattle
Take no plunder
Jump down to verses 7-9
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 Sam 15:7-9).
Saul wins the battle, but fails on both points
Captured Agag, the king, alive
Took plunder of the best of the stuff
Here God subsequently rejects Saul as king because of his disobedience and David is anointed as the future king in the very next chapter
Do you hear the connection to our passage in Esther?
Instead of killing all of the Amalekites as God has commanded, Saul captured Agag alive and spared his life
And from king Agag comes the people to be known as the Agagites
And Haman was an Agagite!
If Saul obeys God, there is no more Agag
Thus no descendents of Agag - the Agagites
Thus no Haman!
Our story in Esther never should have happened!
As a quick note looking forward in Esther: a large part of the story of Esther and what is yet to come is fulfillment of that command originally given to Saul
But that is getting way ahead of ourselves
Aside: Ok, we need to pause for a moment and ask the moral question I’m sure many of you are thinking
Was it okay for God to command Saul and the Israelites to destroy an entire group of people (men, women and children)? Isn’t that genocide?
Here’s all I can say in short on that: *Shrug*
Q13 of kids catechism asks, “Can God do all things?”
Answer: “Yes; God can do all his holy will.”
I would suggest that is helpfully conditional
God can do anything - except that which he can’t do - which is violate his own character
That is, God cannot lie because he is truth
Likewise, God cannot sin because he is good
So what I can trust is that God can only do what is good and somehow, in a way that we may or may not be able to understand, God’s goodness was not compromised by this command to annihilate the Amalekites
Ok, with that aside, why the Amalekites? What did they do to earn this response from God?
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” (1 Sam 15:2).

Exodus 17:8-16 (Unprovoked attack by the Amalekites)

So our second stop is back in Exodus 17, some 500 plus years before Saul, to see God what is referring to here
Context: Israel has just crossed over the Red Sea, escaping their enslavement in Egypt and is on its way to Sinai where God gives Moses the 10 Commandments in chapter 20
Israelites are going along and then bam, “Then Amalek came out and fought with Israel at Rephidim (Ex 17:8).
This is the battle where as long as Moses held his hands in the air, the Israelites were winning and when his hands drooped, they were losing so Aaron and Hur held up his hands while Joshua led the troops in battle
Israel won that battle, but why did the Amalekites attack? It’s seemingly unprovoked!
Down to verses 14-16
Then the Lord said to Moses, “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.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord is my Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex 17:14-16).
As a quick note looking forward in Esther: a large part of the story of Esther and what is yet to come is fulfillment of this promise from the Lord to blot out the memory of the Amalekites
Saul failed to do so, but we will see this fulfilled in Esther
But that is getting way ahead of ourselves
So here we are, a thousand or more years before Haman is trying to destroy Mordecai - before the Agagite is trying to destroy the Israelites - and we already see them at war
And we already see a promise that the Lord will have war with the Amalekites from generation to generation

Genesis 36:9-12 (Who is Amalek?)

Back in Esther, we have Mordecai’s refusal to bow as a result of an ancient feud between their peoples
And we have Haman’s gross overreaction as a result of an ancient feud between their peoples
But why?
We have seen a thousand or more years of conflict between the Israelites and the Amalekites
But we need to go back even further and ask, “Who is Amalek?”
These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau… (Timna was a combine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz) (Gen 36:9-12).
One technique that is used throughout Genesis to draw emphasis is that of an editorial inclusion
That is, notice here the parenthesis in the verse I just read and you saw on the screen
This is an attempt from the editor to make sure we see something important by offsetting it visually
You can look at Genesis 36 later if you want to research further, but hear me on this: Amalek is the only grandson of Esau specifically mentioned to be the son of a concubine - rest are specifically mentioned as being of the wives of Esau
So here we have Amalek - a grandson of Esau - and, even more of a concubine, not a wife to one of Esau’s sons
Now, remember, that Esau was a twin
His twin brother was Jacob, whose name is later changed to Israel
So what we have here is the descendents of Esau - the Amalekites - and the descendents of Jacob - the Israelites - in conflict with one another
And we have, a few chapters early, while Rebekah was still pregnant with Jacob and Esau, this verse
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23).
The seemingly unprovoked battle in Exodus 17
The command of the Lord to annihilate the Amalekites to Saul in 1 Samuel 15
And then the escalating efforts of Haman the Agagite to wipe the Israelites off the face of the planet in Esther 3
They all go back here where we learn that the descendents of Esau would be in conflict with, and service to, the descendents of Jacob

Genesis 3:15 (Seed theology)

So while, yes, the situation in Esther escalated and got way out of hand, it was not quick
This conflict had been simmering for well over a thousand years - maybe 1500 years
But we need to go just a little further back in our Bibles still - back to Genesis 3
In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent and eat of the fruit they were commanded not to eat
In what follows, as he banishes them from the Garden of Eden, he speaks to Adam and Eve
But first he speaks to the serpent
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).
See, this is, ultimately, not about Haman or Mordecai… about Esau or Jacob
It is about two divergent groups of people
The seed, or descendants, of the serpent
And the seed, or descendants, of the woman
We find out all the way back there in Genesis 3 that these two groups are going to be at war with one another, in conflict with one another, striking and attacking one another
Haman - he was the seed of the serpent
And the seed of the serpent had one goal - to eliminate the seed of the woman
So Haman was just doing was all the seed of the serpent do
But why would the seed of the serpent want to eliminate the seed of the woman?
Because if you cut off the line of the seed of the woman, you cut off the possibility of Messiah
One was coming - the true and final seed of the woman - who would crush the head of serpent
Jesus, the Seed of the Woman, came to secure victory over all who would oppose him and his people
Haman doesn’t win
The seed of the serpent doesn’t win
The serpent doesn’t win
Because, as it says in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”.
This morning we ran back history to see the origins of the conflict between Haman and Mordecai
It really does go all the way back to Genesis 3
But it doesn’t just go back - it goes forward
It goes forward to Jesus, the Messiah - who crushes Satan under his foot and secures our safety and salvation forever.


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