ABC Extra – Pride and Destruction

May 9, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

One of the frustrations of teaching through a whole book of the Bible in the scope of a mere hour, as I did in Sunday’s ABC, is that, inevitably and necessarily, I must leave many aspects of the book unaddressed.  Thus, as I taught the book of Esther yesterday, I found myself frustrated with all the things I didn’t have time to talk about!   Thankfully, however, I do have this blog.  And so, I thought it might be helpful to touch on a fascinating subplot in Esther’s story that I did not cover yesterday.

The basic contours of Esther’s story are these.  The Jews are under the rule of King Xerxes of Persia in the fifth century B.C.  When Xerxes’ queen, Vashti, embarrasses him at a party, he banishes her and launches a search for a new queen.  After an exhaustive quest, Xerxes settles on Esther, a lovely young Jewess.  Shortly after Esther becomes queen, however, an evil advisor to Xerxes named Haman concocts a plot to destroy the Jews.  Esther has a cousin named Mordecai, and when he catches wind of this plot, he sends the queen a message, begging her to help her people.  Esther then holds a series of two banquets to which he invites King Xerxes and the evil Haman and, at the second banquet, reveals to the king Haman’s nefarious objectives.  When the king learns of Haman’s plot, he becomes furious and orders Haman to be executed by hanging.  And the Jews are saved from extermination.  This is the story’s major plot.

The subplot of Esther’s story centers around the queen’s cousin, Mordecai.  We are first introduced to Mordecai in Esther 2 where we are told, “Mordecai had a cousin named Esther, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother” (Esther 2:7).  Thus, Mordecai had taken Esther under his wing.  Later in this same chapter, we read this interesting anecdote:

During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.  But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.  And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. (Esther 2:21-23)

Apparently, Mordecai is a Xerxes loyalist.  When the guards of the king’s chamber conspire to kill him, it is Mordecai who foils their plot.  Incidentally, about ten years after this assassination attempt, Xerxes is indeed assassinated by some new guards who also keep watch over his chamber.  What is especially important to note, however, is the thanks Moredecai receives for saving the king’s life.  He receives no thanks.  The king quickly forgets about his valiant act, though it is recorded in his annals.

Well, several years pass, and the night before the king and his right-hand man Haman are to attend Esther’s banquet where she will reveal Haman’s plot against the Jews, the king comes down with a case of insomnia:

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.  It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. “What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” the king asked. “Nothing has been done for him,” his attendants answered.  The king said, “Who is in the court?”…His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.” “Bring him in,” the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?”  So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor,  have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.” (Esther 6:1-10)

Mordecai finally receives his well-deserved commendation from the king.  But how he receives it is comical.  He receives it from Haman, the very man who is plotting to kill Mordecai along with all his people!  And Haman could not be more humiliated that he is compelled to honor Mordecai in this way:  “Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief” (Esther 6:12).

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  Clearly, Haman is presented as an insufferably arrogant character.  His delusion concerning his own greatness is sickening:  “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?”  Haman believes there is no one greater than himself.  But before we scorn Haman for his haughtiness too quickly, it is worth asking if we don’t suffer from a pride similar to Haman’s.  After all, who among us does not think we are somehow worthy of high honor?  And who among us has not gotten angry or bitter or resentful – if only internally – when we did not receive the acclaim we thought we deserved?

Haman’s hauteur should remind us all that we are called to be humble servants of Christ.  For we follow One who “humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  Do you live your life with Christ-like humility?

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