Sermon Text: Esther 2:19–3:15
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
Benjamin & The Agagite
This week, as we close out the last part of Esther 2 and then chapter 3, we will come face to face with the very embodiment of satanic opposition to the people of God. And even as we leave it off this morning, that satanic opposition is going to look cast iron. It’s going to look insurmountable.
But we will hopefully catch a glimpse before the end of our time together that the solidity of evil, the seeming solidity of evil’s triumph, is an illusion. Let’s pray, then we’ll get to work.
Mordecai’s Choice (19–23)
Look with me at Esther 2:19,
“Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate. Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai…”
So like we saw in chapter one, the king has a system where every year, they would seize a number of young men, and they would go and castrate those men, make them impotent, so that they could be slaves in the king’s court in places where having testosterone would be dangerous to the king’s power—think, counselors the king doesn’t want deciding they wanted power, or servants among the king’s women whom he didn’t want to sexually desire the king’s women.
And now two of those men have decided that they want to kill the king. On one level—and I’m not saying assassination is a good thing, or that they should do this—but just on a human level, that makes sense, right? If you enslave and castrate a young man and make it impossible for him to have a normal life or marry or have kids or have normal hormonal health, that man is likely to be a danger to you.
The thing about tyrants is that they are always making their own enemies. They literally manufacture their own downfall, often. Evil is ultimately self-destructive.
And this isn’t the point of this text, but it is a little implication worth noting, I think, that one of the things we ought to do in the face of evil in our culture is to laugh, and then to carry on being as fruitful in the Lord as we possibly can. Like, here’s ridiculous Ahasuerus, showing us that evil is unfruitful. It collapses in on itself. It’s unsustainable.
So out in our culture, one of the ways that we win is by being fruitful. By simply walking in faith, having kids, training them up, not fearing evil, for our Lord is with us, and if the world goes and self-destructs, we will be there with a witness of joyful fruitfulness.
So back to the point at hand: Mordecai learns of the plot. Now, think about this with me. Remember what we saw last week:
Ahasuerus has basically forced hundreds of women into sex slavery, including Mordecai’s adoptive daughter, Esther. She happened to win the competition, but she’s still been essentially made into a little china doll in the king’s closet, for his own pleasure.
So you’re Mordecai: How do you feel about this king? Mordecai clearly is trying, at least up to this point, to play it safe, keep his head, and fly under the radar, but it’s pretty likely that he is not a fan of the king. He has lots of reasons to even despise this man.
So the question is, when Mordecai hears about the plot—what will he do? He could just say, “Ha, the king is finally going to get what’s coming to him. One of his victims is finally going to do something about it.” Verse 22,
“And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.”
Mordecai likely saves the king’s life. Is there anything for us to learn from Mordecai, here?
I think he shows us that you don’t triumph over evil by multiplying evil. How do we win, Refuge? Do we win by going and assassinating all the evil rulers in the Senate? Should we go and make a list of the local and federal officials who are pursuing evil policies—and trust me, that list would be long; we are better at hiding our evil, I think, but we have rulers who hold good company with Ahasuerus—so should we go assassinate them?
No. Paul didn’t tell the first-century church to assassinate Nero. The Church doesn’t win like that. We win by obeying our Lord and trusting him to win.
Which is what Mordecai does. Maybe passively, yes. Maybe without much real Christlike love, yes. But he loves his enemy.
Now, God is doing something in the obedience of Mordecai, here, that Mordecai could have no possible way of seeing yet. If Mordecai had said, “Let the king get what’s coming to him. I hope he dies.” God is going to use this simple act of love on the part of Mordecai later in this story to save the people of God from genocide.
Here’s the point: You have no idea what the Lord intends to do with your simple act of obedience to him. Your simple obedience now might be a part of what God uses as a hinge that your whole life turns on. Or even a whole nation!
You might say, “That’s ridiculous.” No, that’s biblical. See Abraham’s simple obedience to God’s call to leave the land of his fathers and go to a place God would show him in Genesis 12. The result? The nation of Israel. The Seed of the Woman in whom ever nation is blessed, the Messiah.
How about Joseph? His simple act of obedience, his refusal to give in to the illicit sexual advances of a married woman, Potiphar’s wife, leads to millions of people not starving to death in Egypt, God incubating his people in Egypt for 400 years, and the book of Exodus.
We could go on and on through the whole Bible; that’s just a few highlights from the book of Genesis. There are 65 more books we could walk through.
The reality is this: You don’t know what God is doing. Listen to him. Cultivate the obedience of faith in small things. Cultivate the obedience of faith in not giving that second glance to the immodestly-dressed lady passing by.
Cultivate the obedience of faith in not wallowing in morning grumpiness towards your family. Cultivate the obedience of faith in forgiving those who wrong you. Cultivate the obedience of faith in being generous with your money.
You have no idea what God might do with some small, insignificant act of simple obedience.
I recently heard a story from a godly Christian lady that really helped men see this. Her dad, who is a pastor, was teaching at a conference out of town, and she had travelled to it with him. And they got there, and she was tired from traveling and kind of grumpy—I can relate; I hate planes.
And they got in the registration line, and she felt the Lord kind of just patiently correct her heart. “Stop being grumpy and be kind to your brothers and sisters at the conference.”
And she listened to that little Holy Spirit correction. Super tiny little act of obedience that nobody around could have even known was going on. So she put a smile on, turned around and greeted the family behind them.
And she struck up a conversation that ended up becoming a lifelong friendship, and that woman ended up moving to her hometown to attend the Christian college her dad worked with, and there that friend met her husband, and now, a decade and a half later, that family has a bunch of kids fruitfully following the Lord.
Ok, so a tiny act of repentance over a grumpy attitude changed the trajectory of an entire family. Think about the reverberations of that act of obedience over the next, I don’t know, five-hundred years. That could be a whole new legacy!
God is going to use this act of enemy-love from Mordecai to weave the trap that saves his people from genocide—saving literally millions of lives—and snaring the enemy of his people.
The Plot Against The People
Let’s step into chapter 3, where we meet the most evil character in the story of Esther, a man named Haman. Verse 1,
“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. 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.”
Mordecai has been flying under the radar. More on that next week. But something about this scene makes him stick his neck out a bit. Refuse to pay homage. What is that?
On the one hand, he’s probably pretty miffed that he saved the king’s life, and yet the king promotes the other guy. Maybe. But it’s deeper than that. And this isn’t probably a principled stand of Mordecai against paying homage to Persian governmental rulers, because he would have paid homage to the king many times to this point, considering his position at the gate.
So what is it? The answer is buried in a single word in that text we just read, a word that will make us look back over our shoulders from Esther to the 15th chapter of 1 Samuel.
I’m talking about the word Agagite. Haman is an Agagite. What does that mean? Especially once we understand the context, it is almost certainly a reference of the author of Esther to a man named Agag, a wicked king of a wicked nation and opponent of Israel.
See, as Israel made their way out of slavery in Egypt, the Amalekites came out and attacked them and opposed them and tried to destroy them. It was such an egregious evil in Israel’s history that God told them to remember it as they came into the land and to destroy the Amalekites. They became like an embodiment of the enemies of God. He said to them in Deuteronomy 25:17,
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies all around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.”
What is that? That’s God taking out a hit on the Amalekites. And here’s where it gets really personal for Mordecai. Mordecai, remember, is a Benjaminite; he’s from the tribe of Benjamin. Incidentally, the first king of Israel, King Saul, was also from the tribe of Benjamin. And if we go back in the history books, we find that Mordecai isn’t the only one from the tribe of Benjamin who gets into a tangle with an Amalekite.
In 1 Samuel 15, King Saul has been told by the prophet Samuel, basically, to go and finish the hit that God had taken out on the evil Amalekites. And here’s the really, really important part: Saul is supposed to totally destroy them. He’s not even to leave a single cow breathing in an Amalekite field.
God says, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.” God takes opposition to his people very, very seriously. “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.”
So Saul goes out against them, 200,000 troops with him, and he just annihilates them. Glory!
And then, the Benjaminite fails. “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. The word of the LORD came to Samuel. ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has three back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”
So Samuel shows up, rebukes Saul, takes up a sword and hacks Agag, King of the Amalekites, to pieces, and tells Saul that the Lord is tearing the kingdom from him. After that, a man from the tribe of Judah, David, becomes king instead.
So here’s the thing: Agag is the point where Benjamin was shamed and failed. And now, another son of Benjamin is being asked to bow down in homage to another son of Agag, another Amalekite. If Saul had done his duty, this Amalekite Haman wouldn’t be around to do what he does next in the story. Verse 3,
“Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king's command?’ 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.”
So Mordecai says, “Heck no!” And refuses. From this point in the text, the subtext is clear: The war between Benjamin and Agag is rekindled. The reason he apparently for not bowing down was, “are you kidding? I’m a Jew! I’m it going to bow down to some Amalekite.” Verse 5, we see Haman’s response:
“And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. 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.”
This is where we answer one of the nagging thoughts that’s maybe been tugging at your brain for the last few minutes: Why the total destruction of the Amalekites? That seems harsh.
Here’s what’s going on: The wicked inhabitants of the Promised Land, where God took Israel, are basically the embodiment, typologically, of sin. God gave them four centuries to repent, and he gave them opportunity to flee, but if they didn’t, they were to be utterly destroyed.
Here’s the point: If Israel makes peace with sin, with the evil inhabitants of the land, they will end up being infiltrated by them. It’s total war: Either Israel will conquer Amalek, or Amalek will conquer Israel. Either Amalek will bow to God and be devoted to God or Israel will bow to their gods.
Sin is like that: If you make peace with it, it kills you. Here’s the proof, right in Esther chapter three. Saul failed, and now a son of Agag is ready to wipe them off the map. Verse 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. 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. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king's business, that they may put it into the king's treasuries.’ So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, ‘The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.’
“Then the king's scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king's satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king's signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.”
So Haman’s solution, signed by the abdicating pushover, king Ahasuerus, is genocide. “One man won’t bow to me? I’ll wipe out his whole race, a couple million people.”
They determined the day the genocide would take place by rolling the dice. They rolled the dice here in the first month, and the dice determined that the massacre would happen on the twelfth month, giving at least 11 months of space before this would take place.
What we’ll find out by the end of the story is that God is utterly sovereign over ever molecule of creation, even down to the outcome of a king’s decision or the side of the dice that faces up when you roll it.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this if we’ve read the Proverbs, since Proverbs 21:1 tells us that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Or in Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”
The enemies of God may worship their own sovereignty and trust in the gods of fortune, but God is the master weaver, and history is his tapestry.
The Seed of the Serpent
Now hopefully you already see this, but this story in Esther is not just a story in Esther. It’s a scene, a chapter, a movement in a far larger story, and everything in it reaches backwards to the very beginning of the ancient story of Scripture and forward to its culmination in Christ.
What we’ve just seen in chapter 3, if we have eyes to see, is much, much bigger than just the story of a random Persian despot and one of the many, many times in history when such a ruler has plotted genocide.
Again, just as we saw last week in the peculiarly masculine sin of Ahasuerus—his sexual domination, subjugation of women, and abdicating passivity—sin like this is pretty pedestrian when you read the history books. Ahasuerus-esque sex slavery is historically common. So is Haman-esque genocide.
I mean, we’re all familiar with the Jewish genocide of WWII. But that’s not isolated, historically. How about the genocide of 2 million Sudanese natives in South Sudan by Arabic peoples? Or five-and-a-half million in the Congo? 300,000 in Uganda? Or the later Rwandan genocide? That’s just Africa over the last quarter of the 20th century!
Genocidal despots are historically pedestrian things.
But the Bible isn’t just one more record of human history. It’s certainly not less than that—it is real, authentic history—but it is also infinitely more than that; it is nothing less than the story of cosmic war, the story of the war of which all other wars are mere echoes.
What we’re seeing here in chapter 3 is an ancient battle that has been playing on repeat from Genesis 3 on: The war of the Seed of the Serpent against the Seed of the Woman.
From the moment God pronounced the curse of sin on the serpent, that the Seed of the Woman, the coming savior, Jesus Christ, would crush the head of the serpent, the cosmos have been at war.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God told the serpent, Satan, in Genesis 3:15, “and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
The Lord promised a savior, born of a virgin, from Eve’s line. And Satan set himself utterly against that line, seeking to destroy it at every turn. And so we see a story with a certain shape echo out from that moment: A story where an enemy of God’s people rises up, serpent-like, poised to strike and kill, only to have his head crushed—often even by a woman.
So in Judges 4, evil Sisera—an enemy bent on destroying Israel, whose very name means “serpent”—gets a tent stake driven through his head by the woman Jael.
So wicked Abimelech gets his head crushed as he comes in battle in Judges 9... how? By a woman, who throws a millstone off the battlements and crushes his head.
So the statue of Dagon, the Philistine god, is found with his head lopped off the morning after the Philistines put the captured Ark of the Covenant in the temple to the idol in 1 Samuel 5.
So in 1 Samuel 17, the evil Philistine Goliath, the giant of a man and mocking enemy of Israel is knocked unconscious by a stone from the shepherd-boy’s sling, the future King David, who then cuts his head off with his own sword.
And so here, this snakelike enemy of God’s people, Haman, sets himself up to destroy the people of God, the Benjaminite set against the Agagite once again, an opportunity for the redemption of Benjamin’s line.
Our Hope & Our Task
That’s where we leave the story this morning. I hope you see the glimmers of God’s answer to this assault in these other stories. It will be glorious.
And here’s the question hanging in the air at the end of Esther chapter three: What hope do the people of God have against such powers? What hope does weakness have against the arrayed and combined forces of satanic principalities and human empire? What hope do we have?
And what about us? At a time in our nation and culture where it seems like the task of discipling the nations—the task that the Lord Jesus gave to us, to disciple the nations, to teach them to obey all that he commanded—seems insurmountable. I mean, come on! We’re not even close to discipling Ogden yet, are we?
It’s like, “Hmmm, let’s see: 90,000 people living in Ogden city alone. 3% Protestant, so about 2,700 people—that leaves 87,300 people to reach.”
And that’s just Ogden. What hope do we have? Here’s the hope that we have: Our weakness plus God’s power equals certain victory.
As I told you in chapter 2 at the beginning of our time together this morning, by the end of the book one of the most instrumental means that God is going to use to save all of his people, millions of people, is Mordecai’s simple act of love towards his enemy. His simple obedience of faith, tipping off his enemy that there is a plot against him, will be the instrumental means which God employs to rescue his people.
So listen, here’s our hope and our marching orders, Romans 16:25–27,
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
Our hope, “…him who is able to strengthen [us] according to [the] gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” Not our strength. Not Mordecai’s ability to summon an army and overthrow Haman. No. Hope in the enemy-slaying, sin-overcoming, utterly sovereign God who saves his people through the judgment of their enemies.
Our marching orders: “… the obedience of faith,” out of that simple trust in Christ, walking in obedient trust. Not striving to take up arms and overthrow, but striving to believe God, bear fruit, and love our neighbors, even our enemies!
God is mighty in our weakness. The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a foolish enemy of God, we could say, who rolled the dice to decide when to crush God, only to find out that the dice had fixed his own end, not God’s. The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, hidden in three measures of flour—slow, small, difficult to detect at a glance, but inexorable and transformative.