Day in the Life: “Haman”
June 19, 2016 – Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermons.net
“Let [the wicked] be caught in the schemes that they have devised” (Psalm 10:2).
Sometimes the good that would and should be done cannot be done until the evil that others have schemed is cleaned up. I wish that were not a principle I see at work in many places and on many levels.
When I was in college a buddy told of his grandfather who took a pastorate in a small town, but learned after he had been installed, that the previous preacher had run up debts all over town before disappearing. So, this new pastor went all over town spending his own limited money to clean up another man’s mess so that they gospel might go forth unhindered.
When I counsel young couples I often take the young man aside and admonish him that there may be debts written on the heart of the young woman whom he loves; debts that others have run up on her that she may not even yet realize are there … debts that have a compounding interest over time. Part of being a godly husband is a willingness to clean up another man’s mess.
Even this week I have been reminded of this principle of cleaning up someone else’s mess in the area of home repair. I have remodeled each of our bathrooms this year—and it is always this way—but when I pull back the baseboard molding, or rip out the carpet, or update the lighting I invariably find that the previous “contractor” has jimmy-rigged something, or cut a corner, or hidden a mistake, or fooled the home inspector with a tube of caulk. Now the thought process goes: “I am just going to cover that subfloor with new tile, so why go through the trouble of cleaning up someone else’s mess?” Because that is what an adult does. He makes it right as much as it is in his power to do so. It is an expression of worship to God.
Today is Father’s Day and I admit that, like with Mother’s Day, I did not select the most appropriate passage to fit the holiday. But there is at least this one piece of unintentional cross-over between our passage today and the ministry of fatherhood. But it applies to mothers, too. Let’s just widen it all the way out and say all adults end up cleaning other people’s messes sometimes. I’m not just talking about the stack of 10 dirty cups in my son’s bedroom, but systematic messes that others have made through years of selfish decisions, pushing off “payment” to other people and future generations. All adults clean up other people’s messes. (And just for the record not all grown-ups are adults—not by a long shot.)
What we have today in our passage is a godly woman, and her godly cousin (who acted as her adoptive father), who risks her very life to clean up someone else’s mess. We know her as Esther; her cousin is Mordecai … the setting is the ancient Persian empire at its zenith in the capital city of Susa (modern-day Iran) about 10 miles inland from the northernmost shore of the Persian Gulf. But even though the woman Esther was famously beautiful, and her cousin Mordecai was famously brave, and the gardens in which they lived were famously luxurious, there was a snake slithering around named Haman, a high-ranking official in the government of Xerxes (Ahasuerus).
It is a day in the life of Haman that warrants further observation and consideration. But the story did not merely start in 480 B.C. when Xerxes returned back to Susa from a historically unsuccessful attempt to invade Greece. And it did not simply start when Esther is crowned as queen in 478 B.C. And it did not only start when Mordecai and Esther uncovered Haman’s diabolical plot to trick Xerxes into issuing a command to commit genocide of the Jewish people in 473 B.C. Lots of drama!
But to understand this day in the life of Haman we have to draw the timeline all the way back to King Saul, 500 years before and 1000 miles to the West, when he refused to do what God commanded him to do as king. He refused to vanquish Israel’s enemy, Amalek. Do you remember 1 Samuel 15:9 when Saul spared Agag, the king of Amalek? It was the final straw that lost Saul the throne (1 Samuel 15:26).
Fast forward approximately 500 years—Saul’s mess still lingered like a cancer-cell, festering in the dark. Along some unexplained path a descendant of Agag migrated 1000 miles to the east. And, as was historically patterned, the people of Amalek once again harassed the people of promise outside the land of promise.
Haman, the very first time he appeared in the book of Esther, was identified as “the Agagite” (3:1). And he had, as so many Amalekites have over the years, an immediate and visceral hatred of the Jewish people. The moment Haman learned that Mordecai—who uncovered an assassination plot against King Ahasuerus (2:22)—was Jewish, Haman came unhinged with 1000 years of irrational hatred (3:5). Mordecai would not bow and scrap before Haman like everyone else did. So, being the snake that he was, Haman hatched a scheme instead of a direct confrontation with Mordecai because he wanted to protect himself with the thin veil of plausible deniability … as all snakes do still today.
Disproportionately more than just getting even with Mordecai’s slight against Haman, “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (3:6). What was their crime? They were Jewish—that is all. Why did Amalek first attack the Hebrews when they were coming through the desert (approximately 1450 B.C.)? It was an unprovoked attack. Haman’s plot was also unprovoked and as anti-Semitic as the “Final Solution” cooked up by the Third Reich. Why? Because they were Jewish. But why has this people group been singled out for destruction so many times in history? It is because Satan is bent on derailing God’s promises. God promised land, seed, and blessing to the descendants of Abraham through Isaac. In Esther’s day, the land portion had been removed for a time. The blessing portion had been removed for a season. All that was left was the seed portion of the promise—so Satan attempted through his pawn Haman to kill off the Jewish people. But God had another plan already in place.
Mordecai, when he learned of Haman’s conspiracy against the Jewish people, challenged Esther to use her access to the king to save her people—a feat that would gamble her life. To displease the king in any way could earn death, even for a queen to speak to the king unsolicited. All the same, Mordecai persuaded Esther to take the risk: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14).
So Esther bravely broke with Persian custom and walked into the throne room unbidden (5:2). Let that sink in—it is singularly heroic act. It turned out, because God caused it to be so, that the king was pleased with Esther’s bold gesture and asked her what was on her mind. She, not sure that she would even get that far, said that she wanted that evening to throw “a banquet” in the king’s honor, and she invited Haman as well (5:4). During this banquet, with the help of some wine, the king asked Esther what else she wanted (5:5). In a brilliant show of diplomacy she requested another banquet the following night (5:8) where she would make her request fully known. The additional night of expectation would help a nervous Esther and give time for God to work on a now curious king. This is where our consideration of a “day in the life” of Haman officially really gets interesting—between these two banquets.
After the first banquet, in a particularly good mood, Haman strolled past the king’s gate where Mordecai was. But Mordecai again refused to stand in honor of Haman’s presence—another departure in the Persian custom. Haman’s good mood vanished. He decided to build a hangman’s gallows in his own courtyard and hang Mordecai upon it in the morning (5:14) before going to Esther’s second banquet.
Meanwhile, the king was unable to sleep—despite the wine. So he asked for an attendant to read to him from the kingdom’s historical records—a surefire way to compel drowsiness to return. There he “happen-chanced” upon Mordecai’s recent heroism in foiling the assassination against the king’s life; a fact that the king never properly celebrated. So, conceivably in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, he decided to celebrate Mordecai officially although belatedly. At the same, albeit unusual, moment Haman “happen-chanced” into the king’s presence to request permission to hang Mordecai that the morning. But alas before he could make his deadly request the king commanded Haman to fetch Mordecai so that Mordecai might be properly celebrated. Haman’s anger was thus further compounded by embarrassment.
Before Haman could figure out what to do with Mordecai—who was no doubt laughing at Haman from across the city—Haman was summoned to Esther’s second banquet, having not connected the dots that Esther was kin to Mordecai (6:14), a fact that she had concealed from everyone at Mordecai’s insistence … but only for a few minutes longer.
Though the sermon is nearly over, let us begin in verse 1 of Esther chapter 7—“So the king and Haman went in to the feast with Queen Esther.” Knowing all that she knew, it must have been particularly hard to interact with the snake, Haman, as if he were a genuine nobleman and friend. But Esther proceeded with her plan with great dignity. “And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, ‘What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled’” (vs. 2). Even though Xerxes might fly into a rage as he did with Queen Vashti (2:1), “Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated” (vv. 3-4). Inviting Haman actually trapped him.
“Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, ‘Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?’ And Esther said, ‘A foe and an enemy! This wicked Haman.’ Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen” (vv. 5-6). The terrorist became the terrified just as the psalmist prayed, “Let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised” (Psalm 10:2).
It is a folly to insist upon a reality where there are no enemies. There are enemies to the gospel, to America, to democracy; to our cities, communities, families, children, and even our own selves. But God is our warrior-defender. And God’s people—the people of faith in the promises of God—are out there everywhere everyday consistently, often thanklessly, cleaning up other people’s messes at their own cost. People like Esther and Mordecai, like Amy quietly championing the struggle for our children’s education at the primary school, like Carol volunteering at the hospital, like Max and Evelyn praying for everyone from their barber shop, like Roger and Emily encouraging our missionaries without any fanfare; these—all of them, and so many others, “of whom the world is not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38)—are out there cleaning up other people’s messes so that the gospel might be advanced.
In a narrative that is full of twists and turns, just as the carpenters finished the gallows that Haman commissioned for the humiliating death of Mordecai the Jew, the king said, “Hang him on that” (7:10a). “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated” (7:10b).
So what do we do with this “day in the life” of Haman, the snake? Well, we can see that our scheming will eventually become our own snare. The righteous might not think it happens quickly enough, but “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). But Esther and Mordecai do not sink to vigilante justice. True, they faithfully and skillfully gave Haman enough rope to hang himself; but they did not take vengeance directly themselves. They committed their cause, even their lives, to the Lord in line with what Paul will say many years later, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). God worked through the system of government, corrupt though it was … it was wielded by God for God’s own good purposes.
Esther did not know if her life would be spared, but she risked it anyway in the attempt to rescue her people. God doesn’t guarantee our survival, but he does guarantee our life—which is so much more than a beating heart. Spend your strength, even your life, on the weak. This is what a godly adult does; even if it involves—and it likely will—cleaning up someone else’s mess. But notice, even though King Saul’s mess hung around for 500 years (and Mordecai and Esther were of the same tribe as he, Benjamin!), when God cleans up; it is done. Haman’s whole household was handed over to Esther, who set Mordecai as head (8:1-2). Agag’s line is finally finished. If Saul would have just obeyed—even without a full understanding—then how many additional lives might have been spared, how many schemes might have been circumvented, and how much joy claimed instead of forfeited? Esther and Mordecai, in a sense, got things back to even.
Are you a grown-up but not an adult this Father’s Day? Are you systematically creating messes that you happily shirk onto others to clean, even across generations? Don’t you ever wonder if there might be a better way? Don’t you ever ask yourself, what does God think of me; of this? Could it be that responsibility for your own actions is not the dead end that you have often imagined it to be, but the doorway to a life of maturity? There is the King Saul way; the Haman way. Or there is the Esther and Mordecai way—who started a new chapter in the story when they picked up the mop and cleaned someone else’s mess, not to fix the past, but to steer the present into the future that God has for them.
But the ultimate clean-up of other people’s messes is not Esther’s; it is Christ’s! And we are far more guilty than Haman ever way. But Jesus took all the mess of all the sinners—past, present, and future—and cleaned it up at the expense of his own blood.