The Progress of Evil and the Providence of God
Topic: Providence Passage: Esther 2:19–3:15
For Such A Time As This
Grace Community Church
Feb. 21, 2016
The Progress of Evil and the Providence of God
We are continuing a study of the book of the book of Esther so let's turn together to Esther 2:19. Esther is in the OT, go to Psalms (center of your Bible) and turn left two books and you'll come to Esther.
Although Esther never mentions God or prayer or faith, I've been saying that it's the story of the providence of God at work in flawed people. When we talk about the providence of God and His sovereignty over all things, a very difficult question that comes up is, if God is all powerful and all good, why is there evil? The philosopher David Hume put it this way: Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?
It's not a pleasant subject but the fact is there's a lot of evil in the world and honestly sometimes it can seem like evil is winning. Like it's progressing more aggressively and more successfully than the kingdom of God. Esther chapter 3 is one of those times when it seems like evil is progressing unchecked. We are going to meet a man named Haman who is a very wicked man and as we come to the end of the chapter, rather than his murderous plans being blocked and frustrated by God, his plans have the full backing and blessing of the king and are going forward unchecked. The title of this message is The Progress of Evil and the Providence of God. Let's begin at the end of chapter 2:
At this point in the story Esther is the queen and her cousin. Mordecai, who now seems to have a position of some authority in the king's court, happens to overhear the plotting of two men who are planning to assassinate the king and informs his cousin Esther who passes that information on to the king, making sure to give Mordecai the credit for exposing the plot but without revealing to the king that she is related to him. The two men are found guilty and are publicly executed. Here's a gruesome piece of trivia, when we read about gallows we tend to think of hanging at the end of a rope, but the Persians didn't hang, they impaled. So these men were impaled on stakes in the public square.
We're talking about God's providence and this seems like a providential set up for Mordecai to get a major promotion. I mean, Mordecai "happened" to be the one who overheard this plot and was able to expose it. It's obvious what God is up to here, He has greased the skids for Mordecai to climb the ladder of success and exert his god-fearing influence in the Persian empire. Except it doesn't happen. Providence takes an unexpected fork in the road and Mordecai is completely overlooked. No honor, no thanks, no promotion. The case is recorded in the Persian history books and the case is closed. But promotion is just around the corner…not for Mordecai but for a creep named Haman. Mordecai slips back into obscurity. As we continue to chapter 3 I want us to see the progression of evil broken into four steps:
The promotion of evil
The plotting of evil
The permission for evil
The proclamation of evil
The promotion of evil 3:1-5
We don't know exactly why Haman gets such a huge promotion, but it's a sure bet it's not because of any great thing he had done. The king has already shown himself to have poor judgment and be easily influenced and probably Haman flattered and ingratiated himself into this position. For whatever reason the king decides to elevate Haman above everyone in the kingdom except himself and goes so far as to issue a command that everyone must bow down before Haman as he passes by.
Walter Savage Landor, an 18th century British essayist observed "When little men cast long shadows it is a sign that the sun is setting." Haman is a little man casting a long shadow in the Persian empire, and he loves it! He's the kind of guy that doesn't think it's awkward to have people bow down to him - he thinks it's right. Haman is a small man who thinks he is a great man.
But there's one man who refuses to bow down in homage to Haman. Mordecai stands when everyone else bows down and when that is brought to Haman's attention he has an emotional meltdown. Verse 5 says that he is filled with fury - he is consumed with rage! The sight of one man standing when everyone else is bowing completely unhinges Haman and I suspect it's because it touched an insecurity deep within him that whispered to his soul that he wasn't worthy of the homage everyone was paying to him. That's why one man standing screamed louder at him than a thousand men bowing.
There is something really pathetic about a man defending his own greatness. Those of you who are Kanye West fans (don't raise your hands) know that he recently had a major emotional meltdown on the backstage of Saturday Night Live. Feeling dissed by Taylor Swift and the staff at SNL he felt he needed to set the record straight about how great he is and one of the things he asserted (with generous portions of profanity laced throughout) was his own estimate that he was by 50 percent more influential than any other human being, dead or alive, 50 percent more influential than Stanley Kubrick, Picasso, and the Apostle Paul. It's like his need to be thought of as great caused him to become irrational but that kind of out of control self promotion doesn't come from a deep inner sense of confidence, it comes from a deep sense of inadequacy and insecurity. One man standing reminds Haman that there are some who don't think he's a great man, and that's not something he can live with.
But why did Mordecai refuse to bow down? At first we might think it's because as a Jew he would not worship or pay homage to anyone but God, but Jews regularly bowed down to kings and other great persons in homage. In 1 Sam. 24:8 for instance, reads, Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, "My lord the king!" And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. The great patriarch Abraham bowed down in homage to the Hittites as he sought to buy a burial site for his wife Sarah. Bowing down in homage to kings and honored people was not forbidden of the Jews because it is not meant as an act of worship. Mordecai seemed to have no problem bowing down to King Ahasuerus, it was specifically Haman that Mordecai refused to bow down to. Why?
The answer to that takes knowing a little of the Jewish history. Five times the author of Esther takes pains to note that Haman is an Agagite. Haman is from the lineage of Agag, king of the Amalekites. The enmity between the Amalakites and the Jews goes back to the Jews exodus from Egypt. As Israel was marching in the wilderness, weary and faint, Amalek attacked from behind and killed those who had lagged behind. Because of their treachery God promised Israel that they would blot the memory of Amalek off the face of the earth. The Amalekites were a continuous thorn in the side of Israel.
When King Saul was going up against the Amalekites, God promised him victory and then commanded him to kill all the Amalekites including all their cattle. But Saul didn't fully obey God, he spared the best of the livestock, and he spared the life of King Agag and because of his disobedience God rejected Saul as king and wrested the throne from his descendents and gave it to David and his lineage. There are centuries of bad blood between the Jews and the Agagites and so for Mordecai bowing down to a descendent of Agag would be like an American honoring one of the terrorists involved in 911. The thought revolts him. Haman's rage at Mordecai's refusal to bow down leads to the second stage of evil's progression in this chapter:
The plotting of evil 3:6-7
Haman determines that it's not enough to simply kill Mordecai for his insult. He is going to kill Mordecai's people, the Jews, to teach Mordecai a lesson. At this point we need to realize that Haman is a pawn of Satan. Satan is the author of all evil, he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning, and he has wanted to destroy the Jews ever since God made a covenant with Abraham. Satan inspired Pharaoh to kill all the male Jewish babies as they were born - though God miraculously preserved Moses life. Satan incited Herod to kill all the male children two years and younger when he heard about the birth of Jesus. More recently we see nothing less than a Satanic evil in the attempted genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany, and today the hatred, contempt, and prejudice that not only many Arab nations have for Israel, but many, if not most, of the nations of the world have as well. It is a Satanically inspired hatred.
And it's that Satanically inspired hatred that Haman feels towards Mordecai and his people and out of that evil hatred an evil plan is hatched. They would wipe the Jews off of the face of the earth. Genocide - the annihilation of an entire people. But being a very superstitious people, Haman and his men cast lots to discern what their gods judged to be the best time to commit this mass murder. They cast lots over each month and each day of each month, and finally the lot fell on the 13th day of the 12th month of the year.
And in this we see God's invisible providence at work. Prov. 16:33 says the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. God caused the delay of 12 months in order to give Mordecai and Esther time to act. But still the evil advances unchecked.
The permission for evil 3:8-11
Haman doesn't have the authority to wipe out the Jews on his own so he goes to King Ahasuerus to get his permission and he's diabolically clever about it: he never mentions the Jews by name, but rather he speaks in vague terms about a people scattered throughout the kingdom who are different, who have different laws, and who don't keep the king's laws. By keeping it vague, it stoked the king's fears that these people were out there somewhere and he didn't know who they were. Haman stokes the king's fears by exaggerating the problem. The reality is that the Jews were good, law abiding citizens. There was really only one "law" being broken: Mordecai wasn't bowing to pay homage to Haman. Keeping it vague also made it less emotionally difficult for the king to agree to their extermination - they were a
nameless and faceless bunch of troublemakers.
But Haman not only stokes the king's fears, he appeals to his greed by promising a sum of 10K talents to be paid to the king upon the looting of the Jews. Persia had been embroiled in some very expensive wars against Greece, and Haman knew that the sum of 10,000 talents - the equivalent to the tribute that the entire Persian empire paid to the king in a year - would be irresistible to the king.
King Ahasuerus is a man easily influenced by his advisors, and he exhibits an amazing degree of apathy here. He doesn't care enough to look into the matter. He doesn't care enough to ask for specifics. He doesn't care enough to question why Haman wants to annihilate an entire people off the face of the earth. King Ahasuerus asks no questions, presses for no details, and raises no red flags. He quickly gives Haman full authority to carry out his murderous plan.
The proclamation of evil 3:12-15
You might think that Haman would want the element of surprise when it came to killing every Jew on the designated day. But instead he immediately sends out a proclamation to the entire empire that all willing hands were being enlisted to kill every Jew, young, old, women, and children, on the 13th day of the 12th month, for which they would be richly rewarded.
ISIS has struck fear into the hearts of so many in Iraq and Syria because they openly proclaim that when they take over a city, every Christian, including children, will be beheaded. Their strategy isn't stealth, it's terror. So it is with Haman - he isn't trying to catch the Jews unaware, he wants them to live in the dread of being executed in a matter of months. He wants parents to look at their children, knowing that they will never grow up to live their lives, that they will be mercilessly cut down in their youth and there's nothing they can do and no where they can go to escape. Haman is enjoying their terror almost as much as he looks forward to the day when they will all be executed.
The last verse presents a fascinating contrast. The city is thrown into confusion and sadness over this bizarre proclamation, as Jew and non-Jew alike feel the evil weight of this murderous edict. But the king and Haman sit down to eat and drink. One of the things that has always amazed me about the evil in the world is how men (and women) can do horrible things to other people and then go on as if nothing happened. How Nazi soldiers could execute prisoners in cold blood all day long and then go home to play with their kids on the floor and enjoy a nice meal with their families like it was just another day at the office.
The king isn't an evil man, he's an apathetic man - which is its own kind of evil. Haman is a deeply wicked man literally filled with the heart of the devil. And so apathy and evil enjoy a nice meal together while the city is thrown into confusion and sadness.
In a book where God is hidden, where His name is never mentioned once, where prayer and faith are never directly talked about, He is even more hidden in this chapter. Evil progresses seemingly unchecked while good men, like Mordecai, are overlooked and persecuted.
The question of evil and why God permits it for a time is a massive question and not one the Bible completely answers, so we need to avoid speculating where the Bible does not venture. But here are three solidly biblical truths we can hold onto in a world where evil does sometimes seem to be advancing more successfully than the kingdom of God:
God is good - there is no evil in God
Evil is not a product of God, it's the product of the will and work of the devil. In all of God's infinite being there isn't so much as a molecule of evil or maliciousness. James 1:17 says: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
There is evil in the world, but there is no evil in God, and we can cling to Him with confidence no matter how dark the days get.
God in His providence is able to bring a better good out of evil than if He had not allowed any evil in the first place
For reasons that cannot be fully understood this side of eternity God has allowed evil to remain - and even seem to triumph - for a time in order to bring a better and more glorious good from it than if He had not allowed evil to poison His creation in the first place.
We will never fully understand it now, but we also can't accuse God of being insulated or uncaring about the harm and suffering that evil produces. God isn't callously eating and drinking while allowing people to suffer at the hands of evil. No one in all of human history has been a greater target of the wrath of Satan or the cruelty of evil men than God's Son, Jesus. Evil men nailed the Righteous One, the only innocent man who ever lived, the Son of God, to the cross out of jealousy and hatred. And on the cross Jesus bore not only the physical suffering of crucifixion but the spiritual suffering of bearing the sins of the world on his shoulders. That's a weight we cannot even imagine for a moment. There's a song we sing that says, And I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon the cross. The cross is the pinnacle of evil…and the pinnacle of God's redeeming love. Both at the same time. Out of His great love for us God faced the full fury of evil and suffered more deeply than any other in creation has ever suffered. All to bring a greater good forth than if He had not allowed evil to be in the first place.
God has chosen, in His providence, to use men and women - like you and me - to stop the progress of evil
When we talk about the providence of God, something we see in the Bible over and over again is that God chooses to use people to stop evil. God could have stopped Haman by hitting him with a lightning bolt. Or even less spectacular, He could have caused the king to not promote him, or not give him permission to kill the Jews. So many ways God could have providentially stopped Haman. He didn't need Mordecai or Esther to stop a little man like Haman from casting a long shadow of evil across the land. But He chose to use them.
We will see as the story continues that God's providential plan is inseparable from the actions and choices of people - Mordecai and even more importantly, Esther. If they hadn't done what they did, well, God would have delivered the Jews some other way but it probably would have been by His raising up someone else. Not because He had to, but because He chose to.
Christian, God hasn't called us to simply detest the evil all around us. He hasn't called us to question Him and cast dispersion on His goodness because evil seems to make progress. He has called us to action. He calls us to act! He calls us to stand between evil men and innocents. The day will come when all evil will be obliterated - it will be no more. God's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven - perfectly. But for now the cancer of evil - the free radicals of rebellion against God (of any size and nature) continues and God gives us the privilege and responsibility of doing something. It may not seem like much, but it adds up to a lot when we all do the part God has called us to.
The primary way that believers stand against evil is by proclaiming the good news of the gospel. The Lord has called us to be salt and light - salt to preserve society and light to help people see both their sin and the Savior who offers us the only way back to God.
As I thought about this, I see one way that I think God is building into our DNA as a church to stand against the tides of evil with the love of Christ and it has to do with children. There is a growing number of people in this church who are working with STPRC, Holly Snyder and Bree Wakefield being right on the frontlines, but others are volunteering their time and effort to stand with love between a young, confused mom and the terrible choice of abortion.
It's also beautiful to see adoption becoming more and more a part of our DNA as well - and I thank those of you who have led the way in this, because what more beautiful way could there be to stand against the evil of a young boy or girl not having parents in their life? God meant for every child to have loving parents and be a part of a loving home, where they are loved and treasured and protected and belong. Adoption is a biblical and beautiful way of standing in that gap.
And then we have a growing relationship with The Potter's Hands Foundation, with Cathlyn Cole being on their board and being a representative to churches for this ministry that seeks to rescue young girls who have been sold into the sex trade. Can there be a greater evil than that? A greater perversion of God's intent for how men are to treat young women? Every girl that is rescued from human trafficking is an eternal soul delivered from evil. Pray that God accelerates the building of the Potter's Hands Home in this area.
That's not to say that God has called everyone of us to be involved in those ministries. But God has called all of us to do something to stand against evil. When we think of church, we shouldn't just think of it as a place where we get blessed and go home, but where we get blessed and activated for service. And armed with the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ, we aren't overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:21)
More in Esther: For Such A Time As This
April 24, 2016Esther: The Great Reversal
April 17, 2016A Journey Down the Road of If Only's and What If's
April 10, 2016Stepping Out On The Promises of God