FRANCIS FONG’S TESTIMONY (5)
Sermon topic: Haman’s Plot - Let Go of Our Pride and Turn Our Eyes upon Jesus
Scripture: Esther 3:1-15
Hymn: Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus
Today’s message starts to reveal a very important but evil character called Haman. His story forms the core of the book of Esther. Chapters 1 and 2, which we have learned in previous weeks, are only the pre-amble of the story. The rest of the story will be covered in the coming weeks by other speakers. Usually, people won’t tell you the ending of the story until the very end. However, I have no choice but to tell you that Haman was eventually sent to be executed at the gallows by the king, for most of today’s message would be meaningless without knowing his fate.
Before I continue, I would just like to point out, that the king mentioned in this book has two different names, as translated in different bible versions. The New International Version and many other modern translations use the name Xerxes. However, many English bibles, including the Chinese Union Version bible, use the name Ahasuerus.
Chapter 3 paints a gloomy picture for the Jews living under King Xerxes. It seems that genocide was eminent. Racial genocide exists from ancient days to modern times. We know of the Holocaust - the term used to describe the genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II by Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler.
One might ask: “What makes these people hate another race so much that they want to carry out genocide against that race?” It’s a question so complicated that I wish to leave it to social psychologists to find out the answer. However, Haman’s case does shed some light on at least one possible reason, i.e. being hurt by one person of another race! Isn’t it pathetic that one can hate the whole race because one person of that race offended them?
In order to accomplish his goal Haman had to get the king on his side. He did it by selling hatred – a strategy that racists always use. He said in verse 8 that: 1. “These people’s customs are different from those of all other people”; and 2. They “do not obey the king’s laws”. The first reason might sound very weak to us. However, history tells us that this is often good enough reason why some people are being discriminated against by others! The second reason is actually saying that these people don’t respect YOU as their king! This strategy very often works because most people like other’s respect, and when they do not get the respect, they feel hurt. King Xerxes, being a king with great pride, fell into that trap.
II. The character of Mordecai
Let us first look at Mordecai. When we learn that Mordecai refused to bow, we might think it’s unbiblical to bow to people. However, there were a number of occasions in the bible when we see bowing was quite acceptable. For example, David bowed to King Saul and many people bowed to King David. The bible was not very clear why Mordecai refused to bow, but there is a high possibility that King Xerxes, being a proud person himself, considered himself deity, and wanted his representative, i.e. Haman, to be bowed to as deity, too. As a God-fearing person, this was too much for Mordecai to obey, even though we learned from Chapter 2, verse 21 to 23, that Mordecai was actually a loyal citizen. He reported an assassination plan and possibly saved King Xerxes’ life.
Mordecai set a very good example for us Christians, for he does not compromise his stand towards worshipping only God Almighty, even though he knew that it could cost him his life.
Put ourselves in Mordecai’s shoes, can we make a firm Christian stand even to the extent of risking our lives? Here in Australia, we probably won’t come across a similar scenario as Mordecai did. However, there are still a lot of temptations that make us compromise our Christian principles. Last time I have mentioned the issue of Christians wanting to marry non-Christians, and that is only one of the many challenges we Christians face. It does not cost us our lives, but can be stand firm?
III. Analysis of the psychological state of Haman
After knowing more about Mordecai, it would be interesting to do a bit of analysis of the state of mind of Haman.
1. Haman felt insecured
The Scripture tells us that Haman was the No.2 person in the Kingdom of Persia – only second to the king. One would think that he should be feeling content and secured, especially in those days when there was no democracy, power was everything. “In a democracy it's your vote that counts... in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.” In Haman’s case, he’s definitely got all the votes – well, except one. Ironically, often, the higher a person in the political hierarchy, the less secured they feel. That’s why, as we can see in earlier chapters, to King Xerxes, a simple ‘no’ said by the Queen was so threatening. That’s why King Saul wanted David’s life, despite the fact that David made it quite clear that he did not want to overthrow him. That’s why King Herod was so afraid of baby Jesus that he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.
Haman feared even the most modest challenge to his authority, even up to the extent that a simple gesture of an ordinary person like Mordecai posed a huge threat to him. So often, fear and hurt can make people imagine things and inflate the consequence. We saw in Chapter 1 that the King’s advisors inflated the consequence of the queen’s disobedience to the extent that all women in the kingdom would disobey their husbands. Similarly, Haman feared that once he let Mordecai ‘get away’, others might follow. Then no one would respect him. He would lose all his power. Haman did not know God. He did not know that only with God’s permission that he could keep his power. He thought only when people feared him, he had power.
2. Haman’s ego was deeply hurt
Haman saw himself almost equal to the king, or a deity. He took so much pride in himself that he believed that he was so important and powerful that people should bow down to him and worship him. Now, with Mordecai refusing to bow to him, his ego was hurt. He lost face. Do not underestimate the hurt felt by self-centred people when they feel that they have lost face. They would do anything to save that face.
In HK, there are many people who did not want to be looked down on by others. So, they put on Gucci jeans, Jimmy Choo shoes, and Chanel handbags, etc. so that they look rich. In the end, all that expenditure cost them the last bit of wealth that they have. Some of them even got into big credit card debts. The more they try to look rich, the further richness becomes beyond their reach.
The feeling of face and pride is very subjective and comparative. If I drove an old bomb and lived in an ordinary suburb in Perth, it probably didn’t mean much. If I lived in Beverley Hills, I’d probably feel quite shameful for having a cheap old bomb. However, if I lived in the impoverished so-called ‘African Village’非洲村 in Guangxi province, which is the place where the Love China Mission goes to; or, in most parts of Zimbabwe, I would be looked at as a super-rich person and probably felt very proud of the fact that I had a car, even though it’s an old bomb.
to be worshipped by everybody. He
wanted to be God. You know who is
the god that many
IV. Haman’s Reaction – Anger & revenge
What was Haman’s reaction to this seemingly disrespect? Haman was angry. Having one person not bowing to him was too much for him to take. He had to take revenge. He had to get even. Does this quote sound familiar?: “Uncle Ben would not like us to take revenge. It’s like a poison that can take us over. Before you know it, it can turn into something ugly.” It was said by Spiderman’s aunt in Spiderman III. We can substitute ‘Uncle Ben’ in that line with ‘Jesus’, for Jesus ask the Father to forgive the people who put him on the cross. Haman had certainly been taken over by ‘revenge’, and it had turned extremely ugly.
Usually, people cannot think rationally when they are angry. I don’t know about you, but there were times when I made stupid decisions when I was angry. Out of anger, Haman made three stupid mistakes:
1. He borrowed power from a dangerous person.
Lord Acton of England once said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 英國阿克頓男爵曾說：「權力使人腐敗，絕對的權力使人絕對的腐敗。」I think he’s said only half of the truth. The other half is: People who are corrupt seek absolute power. Haman sought power from King Xerxes. He was probably aware of the fact that he and his boss were of the same kind. Didn’t the king punish the queen for his own fault and pride? Therefore, it’s likely that the king would support him. In Chapter One, we learned that King Xerxes had a brash character, i.e. he acted faster than his brain. He borrowed power from the wrong person! A person like King Xerxes can be quite unpredictable. It is very dangerous to be close to an unpredictable person with absolute power.
2. He overreacted
His revenge was totally out of proportion. For the act of one person he wanted to eradicate the whole race!
things that happen in our lives we largely cannot control, e.g. unemployment,
sickness, dumped by girlfriend or boyfriend, etc. They may be quite big things to
us. The influence of these things
to us can be far less than what we think they will, depending on our
attitudes towards them. However,
when we let matters inflate, they will dominate our lives and lead us to
destruction. There were cases in
In business or in the stock market, people like to go all the way. That’s perhaps an acceptable behaviour in that environment. However, in human relationships, always leave some room for people to step back. If we do not leave any leeway for people to back down, and we drive them up to the wall, they will do anything to fight back. There is a Chinese saying that says, “If one chases a dog into a blind alley, the dog will bite back.” If Haman were to take revenge to one person only, and he did it legally, the scenario would be totally different. He could have thrown Mordecai into prison for not obeying the king’s command of bowing to him. In that case, Mordecai might or might not turn to Esther for help. Even if Mordecai did ask Esther for help and Esther wanted to help, it would be a totally different case before the king.
3. He did not do his homework
Any army general would tell you that before they go to war, they would find out all the information about their enemies. Haman thought he had the upper hand because of his power. He did not need to find out more information regarding his enemies. Here, I am not referring to intelligence information that discloses the racial identity of the queen, for I think it’s so secret that Haman probably would not be able to find out. What Haman did not do was to find out the history of the Jews, especially their historical relationship with God. The Israelites are God’s chosen people, as can be seen in Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”
God will never
let His chosen people down. If
Haman did some more research on the history of the Israelites, he would know
what God had done to the Egyptians in order to save the Israelites from
bondage. Pharaoh failed to
enslave the Israelites. Hitler
killed lots but God’s wrath was on him in the end. Egypt tried again in 1967, this time
with Jordan and Syria, and was totally defeated in what is now known as the ‘Six-day
War’. Muslim fundamentalists are
also destined to fail as well.
This concept is very important to us. There are times in our lives that we are being persecuted because of our faith, our race, or simply our being Christian in what we do. If we know that we are God’s children, we know that God is still in-charge, God will take care of the situation. If you are faced with distress or the sky seems to collapse on you, stay put, relax, for God says in Psalm 46:10, “ Be still, and know that I am God.”, because “….If God is for us, who can go against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Haman was stupid. He wanted to dominate others. The irony is that, on the contrary, he made himself living under people’s influence because his behaviour was being dominated by how people think of him. His life was now centred on how to get even. Without realising it, instead of just losing his power to dominate Mordecai, he was now dominated by Mordecai’s behaviour. If Haman did not expect people to bow down to him in the first place, i.e. if he did not see himself anything higher than others, it would not lead to his own destruction.
V. Haman’s pride and Christian service
What do we Christians learn from Haman’s pride? - Haman had forgotten that it’s the King that he served. In modern concept, it’s actually the people that he serves. If he had a servant’s heart, he should have bowed to his people instead! For, “11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
Haman’s story sends a strong message for those who serve. When we serve in the church, we should have a servant’s heart. If people doze off during my sermon, or do not respect me as a deacon, or think that my choir/orchestral conducting is not up to scratch, surely it hurts, but I should not get offended. I need to find out why they think like that and try my best to improve myself so that I can serve better. After all, I am only God’s servant.
Recently, I received an email about what God would and would not ask us when we see him face to face in Heaven. In the context of relating Christian ministries to ego, I have come up with two questions that God would and would not ask when we see Him in Heaven:
1. God would not ask what sort of key positions we held, but how humbly and faithfully we had served Him.
In an orchestra, the standard practice is that the better players sit at the front desks. God’s orchestral seating plan, however, is different from ours. In the orchestra in heaven, with God as the music director, only the humble and faithful servants deserve the front desks. Ask ourselves a question, in which orchestra would we like to have the privilege to sit at the front desks?
2. God would not just ask how many times we have forgiven our brothers and sisters; but also how often we ask our brothers and sisters for forgiveness
We may tell God that we have forgiven our brothers and sisters four hundred and ninety times, i.e. seventy times seven. Even though that it’s an excellent act to forgive, there may still be a high level of pride in it; that is: “I am always right and you are always wrong. I’m so great that I have forgiven you!” It takes a lot of humility to see our own faults and shortcomings, to admit it and to ask for forgiveness.
Haman focused on one man who did not bow to him and neglect all the other tens of thousands of people who did. This is simply stupidity. But isn’t that common and could happen to us as well? When we come across some people who do not appreciate our work in church, we get upset. We do not consider the fact that there are still so many people who treasure our work and input. We have forgotten that we should be earning the approval from God rather than from man.
VI. Antidote –
If pride is such an evil thing and we all have a bit of Haman in us, how do we confront it? I can think of three antidotes that can be used to prevent this poison of pride to take over us:
1. Be content
Does this sound familiar: “The more you gain the more you have to lose.”? It’s a TV ad. It refers to controlling our body weight. However, it’s also a spiritual law. The more power and grace we have, the more pride we need to lose.
So many Christians think that heaven starts after life. No, heaven starts here on earth. Whenever Jesus is with us, we’re in heaven! 耶穌同在就是天堂. Only when we choose not to be with Jesus, then we’re in hell. Haman did not realise that he was almost like in heaven. He was second only to the King. Yet, he chose to see himself in hell - only because one person did not bow down to him. A Chinese saying says that “Trouble is self sought.” (煩惱自尋.), and Haman is a classic example of this.
2. Be honest to ourselves
Pride in the dictionary is described as “unduly high opinion of oneself.” That means, we think that we are a lot better than we really are. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:3 reminds us that “ 3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
When we are being honest to ourselves, we will start to see our own short-comings. Being able to see our own short-comings is crucial in appreciating the strength of others. Our egos need to shrink in order to create space for Jesus to dwell in us.
3. Turn your eyes upon Jesus –
It’s not how much we hold, but how much we let go. Letting go is often easier said than done. Only when we turn our eyes upon Jesus then we can let go. There is no harm to lose face if we can gain Jesus. Earlier, we have sung the song ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’ and the chorus says:
Turn your eyes
“All the things of earth” include our pride. Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Haman did not look up to God. And, as a result, his face was covered with shame even though he held such a high position. When we see the wonderful face of Jesus, our own face is no longer important. May I ask you to sing with me just the chorus part 2 times?
Let us pray
Dear Heavenly Father,
Please help us to let go of our ego and turn our eyes upon Jesus. For those of us who are doing well, please teach us to be humble, and not to forget to honour you, and to give all glory to you. For those of us who are suffering, or in the midst of a crisis, strengthen us, O Lord, so that we do not feel despair, for we know that you are still in control, and you have your plans. We only need to wait for you to reveal your glory in us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.