This morning, I am going to make a couple of general comments, and then focus in on one particular thing which strikes me. In many ways this morning’s message is breaking all the rules of preaching I learned at Bible college because rather than speaking and concentrating directly on what the text is saying, I am making a diversion and expanding on something which it implies but doesn’t specifically address. However, this is something which I sense God wants me to say.
Firstly, some general comments …
Once again Esther and Haman and Xerxes are feasting, and it is on the second day of the feast and while the wine is flowing that again Xerxes asks Esther what her wish is.
When we read that Xerxes offers up to “half my kingdom”, we have to understand he doesn’t mean it any more than a football supporter of a team that wins saying “we murdered them” means that they literally killed all the opposing team. It simply is a hyperbolic statement which means “I will be very generous”. Mark records Herod making the same oath when his Herodias’s daughter dances for him: For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” (Mark 6:22–23 esv). This is a general point. We MUST take the bible literally, but that means we have to understand a word by the intention of the original author, not by its dictionary definition.
We also note that Esther still is extremely cautious about HOW she presents her request. After all, the edict to destroy the Jews has come from Haman, but he made it with the full knowledge and approval of the king. At this moment, speaking out could mean death and staying silent could mean death. So, she says that if it had just been slavery and servitude for her and her people, she would have stayed quiet (but I can’t help thinking about the Israelites crying out to God in slavery in Egypt). It is a sobering reminder to always be careful and aware of how our words can affect the outcome of the situations we are in. Choose your timing, choose your words. It could be the difference between life and death, success or failure.
Now we come to the diversion I mentioned. I am going to talk about misjudgement, and particularly about how people misjudge one another.
We live in a society where people are being judged for all sorts of reasons, white people are being judged as racist simply because of the colour of their skin, or women are being judged as transphobic simply for stating a belief that it is genetics and the physical characteristics you are born with define your gender, not some arbitrary self-identification. Many Christians are being judged because we won’t validate society’s views about same-sex marriage or abortion or one of any number of other issues.
So where I am going to concentrate is on the second half of the account and in particular how Haman begs Esther for his life and the King mis-reads it as an attack on her. We don’t know whether Haman would have escaped with his life had he not tried to beg Esther, or had the king not come in and caught him and misread the situation. That is a route of assumption which it is not necessary to travel.
Xerxes had left the room angry (furious) and gone for a walk in the garden. When he came back, he saw Haman trying to plead with Esther. He says, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?” (Esther 7:8). Was this true?
No, it wasn’t. Haman, for all of his intrigue and manipulation and scheming, was on this occasion misjudged not because he was hiding who he was, but because his actions were misread.
It is a real risk that we will misunderstand people’s words and actions and react to what we think, not what they mean, and, conversely, that they will misunderstand what we say and do. This is at the root of much hate and conflict we see in the world around us today.
Understanding other people is one of the keys to living in peace with them.
If we can understand how and why people misjudge one another, we can guard against our misjudging other people, and we can be aware of how and why they misjudge us.
What drives people to misjudge each other?
deceiving others about someone else
Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph. she tried to get Joseph to sleep with her and when he refused and fled, she told Potiphar he has attacked her. Joseph was thrown into prison because of the lies of Potiphar’s wife.
Nehemiah faced false accusations (Nehemiah 6:5–8) _Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written:
“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”
I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”_ The enemies of the returning exiles opposed the rebuilding of the wall and spread rumours and lies to create a narrative about them which was designed to discourage them and stop the rebuilding.
The Pharisees got people to give false testimony about Jesus. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward (Matthew 26:59–60 esv)
Note that the 9th commandment speaks directly to this, it says do not bear false witness against your neighbour (Exodus 20:16 esv) (or do not lie, or do not give false testimony depending on your translation). We often confine our understanding of this to a legal setting, to a court of law, but its application extends into daily life. When we lie about someone, we steal from them, we might steal their reputation, their dignity. In a court of law, we might steal their freedom … or (in some cultures) even their very life.
I personally have had people say false things about me, lying about my actions and also making spurious claims about my character. I am sure you have too, and you will understand the damaging effect it has on you.
Lying about other people is something many people around us have absolutely no shame in doing, they will think nothing say unfair, unkind and even untrue things about other people just to get ahead, to win a conflict or even simply because they have decided they don’t like you and take pleasure in seeing you hurt and damaged.
Sometimes it’s a particular deception called a “Straw-man” attack. This is a technique which paints a caricatured picture of someone or their argument which is easy to criticise, attack and tear down (hence the term “straw-man”). This is a very common way of attacking someone’s beliefs or character. Rarely if ever is an accusation about someone the complete story. It is far more frequently a “straw man” so we must guard against blindly believing second-hand accounts about other people prematurely.
deceiving others about ourselves
When you read the account of Abraham in Genesis, you cannot fail to notice that Abraham passed Sarah off as his sister. He did this not once, but twice, and he passed this characteristic on to Isaac who did the same. Isaac passed this trait on to his son, Jacob. Who, abetted by his mother Rachel, actually covered himself in the skin of a goat to deceive his father into thinking he was Esau.
There are all sorts of other accounts of people who hid who they were, who pretended to be something else.
In this very book, Esther has hidden her heritage.
Joseph pretends to be a stranger when he sees his brothers for the first time after many years in Egypt. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked. (Genesis 42:7 niv). Although he recognised them, they didn’t recognise him.
David at one point pretends he is insane, he has fled from Saul and is in Gath. When the Achish, the king, is told about who he is, David is afraid and we read he changed his behaviour before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. (1 Samuel 21:13 esv). This action deceives the king who releases him.
Luke records that the teachers of the law sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. (Luke 20:20 niv).
It is important to note that the Bible tells us not to be deceitful. Paul says, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2 niv).
What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. (2 Corinthians 5:11)
If we deliberately present something false to people, we cannot, in fact we MUST not, judge them for misjudging us!
The other side of this coin is that those with nefarious motives often present themselves as righteous and good. Paul tells us that even in the church there are those who seek to lead the people astray and says such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13–15 niv).
WE must be wise about taking on board what people present. This is a challenge if we’re basically honest, because trustworthy people tend to be trusting.
When Nehemiah and the returning exiles started rebuilding the wall, the people opposing them were spreading untrue rumours about them. Nehemiah 6:9 records Nehemiah’s assessment of this: They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” People underestimated the returning exiles and this influenced what they thought about them.
Sometimes people misjudge us by underestimating our abilities, or our character. They simply don’t think we are capable of doing something and completely misjudge us. This might result in them refusing us opportunity, or it might as in the case of Nehemiah result in them trying to discourage us from completing our task.
We must never underestimate our own abilities, and we must not allow other’s underestimation of our abilities to discourage or prevent us from fulfilling the will of God in our lives.
Jeremiah 37:9 This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not!” When the people of God were taken into captivity in Babylon, some of the prophets were saying we’ll be freed in just a couple of years. Jeremiah’s prophetic voice was different. He was saying, “no, you need to settle down and raise families, you are going to be here for 70 years” (read Jeremiah 29:4–10). Guess which prophesies were listened to?
Sometimes people think things because that’s what they want to think. It suits their perspective. They listen to what they want to hear, so we read in Timothy Paul says, For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4 niv)
They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah 30:10–11 niv)
This is a form of “confirmation bias”, seeing only what you want to see regardless of the evidence before you.
Sometimes people think the way they think because of their ideology. Historically this has been a mechanism for criticising religious people and ESPECIALLY Christians. We must understand that it is true of everyone, not just those of us who hold a faith in God.
Mark 2:6–8 _Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?”_
We see this from another angle in Acts 14. When Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium, they healed a man and the crowds thought they must be the gods Zeus and Hermes. They had great difficulty in preventing them from offering sacrifices to them.
People make judgments about us not because of what we actually are, but because of their own worldviews and their own assessment of us.
Luke 24:37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.
This is not the only time Jesus was mistaken as a ghost. In Mark’s gospel, the disciples are in their boat in the middle of the lake and Jesus is walking towards them on the water. Mark records that when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. (Mark 6:49–50 niv)
We also have a number of occasions cited where people come face to face with angels and worship them. On every occasion, the angel refuses the worship and says “don’t worship me – worship God!”, so for example At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” (Revelation 19:10 niv)
Sometimes people think things because the truth is way outside of their expectation or understanding.
Right here in this text.
Xerxes is angry – in fact, he is more than angry, he is, in fact, in a rage (Esther 7:7)
But anger is not the only thing which causes us to misunderstand one another, other things, such as fear, guilt, excitement, jealousy, anything which brings emotional stress will cloud our judgment.
Then there are things like physical illness, pain or even tiredness will cause us to jump to wrong conclusions about people.
So, remember it is in these moments that the counsel of people around us is key to us making good judgments about others.
It is wise in all things to ask people around you for counsel as you live your life. Ask people who have nothing to gain or lose from their advice, people you know who love you and have only your best interests at heart.
We cannot underestimate the significance of identification. Esther’s destiny is intrinsically tied up with her people. If they perish, she will perish. By virtue of her identity with them, Esther shares in the destiny of God’s people. Because God promised to deliver his people from the threat of Amalek, the destruction of Haman implies the salvation of the Jews. Up to this point in the story, that deliverance is only implied and not realized.
This is true for us as Christians, our destiny is tied in with Christ, and the promises God has made to those who are his. Our eternal life and death are identified in our belonging to Him and being part of His people. Identification with him brings us deliverance from death and we will live forever. In John 14:19 Jesus says to his disciples, “Because I live, you also will live.” Conversely, to be outside of Christ is to be numbered among the people God has already condemned to death as defined in Genesis 3 — humanity at large.
This is true regardless of what our personal circumstances, or even our personal feelings say to us.
Paul says, as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).
The good news is that unlike Esther who was born a Jewess, the circumstances of your birth does not determine your eternal security. All are invited to belong to Christ, to identify in this group. Paul writes in Galatians that There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 esv). It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your gender, your economic status, or any other arbitrary category you might apply to yourself, Jesus Christ invites Jew and Gentile, people of all races, religions, and ethnic groups, to be born again into a new identity, the people who will be saved by God’s grace from destruction, the church.
1 Peter 2:9–10 (ESV) But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Haman, the powerful, wealthy Agagite, pridefully sets out to live in a way that seems right to him, but in the end finds out only too late that he has actually set himself against God and his people. Sadly, this is also the case for many millions of people who dismiss out of hand God’s laws, despise His people and live according to their own judgement of what is right and wrong.
So the choice for us is simple, are we people of promise? Do we identify as one of those who belong to Christ? Or do we reject him? Are we numbered among those who still live according to our fallen human nature which opposes the things and the people of God and is seen in the nature of Haman, who opposed the things and the people of God and received the punishment he deserved? Those who oppose the things of God are ultimately doomed to death. This is the universal condition of all who have not been reconciled to God in Christ.
The fate of Haman should be a sobering reminder that living this way is ultimately the route to destruction.