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Sermon Series: For a Time Such as This
by Mark Horne

Exiled from The Feast
Esther 3.1-4.3

Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

As a nine-year-old child, when I came back from the mission field with my parents, I discovered the joys, or at least the brain-numbing excitements, of Saturday morning cartoons. One of my favorites was Tarzan, “Lord of the Jungle.” One of the three plots of that was recycled through that series was that of Tarzan being captured by or stumbling upon some ancient forgotten empire ruled by a megalomanic monarch. There were so many of these empires stuck in underground ruins or lost valleys or high mountains, its amazing that there was any free space left in the jungle.

In all of these shows, Tarzan would inevitably be brought into the throneroom and told to bow before the king or queen. His response was always the same: “I am Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, and I bow to no man.”

As a child of America, that response thrilled me. That to me represented the ultimate truth of what it meant to be a free man.

But it’s not a Biblical attitude.

Ruth bowed to Boaz-not because he was her husband, this was their first meeting-but because he was an elder of the city and her benefactor (Ruth 2.10). Abigail bowed to David simply because he was an outlaw warlord (1 Samuel 25.23). People bowed to David when he was king, as we see in 2 Samuel 18.28. There’s nothing anywhere in the Bible that forbids bowing to a person and everything we find in the Bible leads us to believe that bowing was taken for granted as a sign of respect for another person’s office.

The Second Commandment by the way, has nothing to do with this. It forbids bowing to man-made objects-images which represent God. It says nothing about bowing to God-made images which represent God. We don’t bow much anymore due to democratic principles and practices. The only place left in American culture where gestures of respect are made toward those with high office is the military. Everywhere else, we’re expected to shake hands. Frankly, I’d much prefer to bow to an office irrespective of who is holding it, than to shake hands with a man as if we were friends, even though he may be a very evil ruler.

The fact is that the Bible calls rulers “gods” because they represent Him. >From the lion’s den, Daniel even addresses King Darius as if he was an immortal, “O King, live forever.” It makes sense to bow to such people.

While I’m talking about the Second Commandment, it might be a good idea to correct a mistake that’s often made about Protestant worship. Outside of Protestantism, it is at least acceptable, and commonly required for worshipers to worship through man-made images. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, icons are seen as windows into heaven. If you were to go to an Orthodox service, you would probably get the impression that the icons were like two-way television screens through which one could bow, or light candles to, or pray to Jesus. That is all clearly a violation of the Second Commandment. We are forbidden from bowing to things we have made or even to works of nature. They are not means of worshiping God.

But it is wrong to think of our worship as being without icons, without images. You are all facing an icon right now. He is speaking to you. And I am facing icons as well. We are all made in God’s image; we are God’s icons. Protestant worship isn’t iconless. Granted, we don’t worship through mute, blind, deaf icons which would make us like them. Rather we worship through speaking, seeing, hearing images of God whom God uses to transfigure us by the Holy Spirit after the image of His Son Jesus.

Protestant worship is person-centered. I face you and you face me. Our seating arrangement is even slightly circular. That’s exactly right. We are means of grace to one another.


Coming back to Mordecai, his actions are entirely inexcusable. He is not merely showing disrespect for Haman, which in itself might not be that big a deal, but he is directly disobeying the command of the King. According to verses 2 and 3, the king had issued a command that everyone bow down to Haman. Given what happens later, I suspect this command was temporary in order to establish Haman in his position. But the main point here is that the King has directly commanded everyone to prostrate themselves, just like he commanded Vashti to present herself at his feast.

And just like Vashti, Mordecai publicly refuses to obey the king’s command.

Of course, Mordecai had lots of provocation. Haman is an Agagite, a descendent of King Agag the Amalekite. As I mentioned two weeks ago, Mordecai’s ancestral relation, King Saul, lost his throne when he spared the life of King Agag. That must have been a real blow. Especially after he saved the King’s life, but got no reward.

But how does Mordecai respond?

Mordecai told Esther to hide her identity. In the face of Haman he pursues a very different policy. He publicly disobeys and uses his special status as a member of God’s covenant people to excuse his behavior: Look at verse 4:

Now it was when they had spoken daily to him and he would not listen to them, that they told Haman to see whether Mordecai’s reason would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew.

“I can’t obey the king’s command to bow to Haman because I am a Jew.” Two weeks ago we talked about how it was compromising for Esther to hide her identity. Mordecai advised her not to bear witness. But now Mordecai, remembering who he is, and in his zeal against God’s enemies the Amalekites, is himself bearing false witness. He is not only engaged in rebellion against the king’s command, but he is involving all the Jews in what he has done.

I had a friend who graduated from seminary and was looking for a call. During his search for a church to pastor, he found one with a session dominated by exuberant reconstructionists (something that was in his own background). They also shared his conviction regarding bringing our young children as soon as possible to the Lord’s Table. They used the Psalms in their worship. This seemed real promising.

They had him over for a candidating trip, and in the course of my first meal with the search committee, he had one of the elders tell me that he cheated on his income tax. I don’t mean he took every legal exemption he could. I mean he self-consciously lied about his income and told every one else on the session of elders that he did so. You see, my friend was told, the IRS is enslaving us and stealing from us and has no right to know my income or take as much as they do.

Now, I’m not exactly thrilled with the U. S. tax code either. But let me ask you: How does Paul tell Christian slaves to deal with their pagan masters? He told Titus:

Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.

Then Paul goes on to tell Titus (in chapter 3) what to teach his people about their civil magistrates:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.

For we also were once foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

Now, that is the Christian ethic for dealing with tyrants. I could back it up copiously from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to Timothy and elsewhere. The Apostle Peter says basically the same thing in his letters. The New Testament Church of Jesus Christ taught submission to pagan slave masters and pagan civil magistrates.

It might be helpful for understanding all this, to compare the Early Christian Ethic to that of first-century Judaism. With the exception of the Saduccees, if the Jews had a basic slogan, it would have been “No King but God.” And Christianity perpetuated that tradition by proclaiming “No King but Christ.” We find that amply demonstrated in the writings of first-century Palestine. We also find it all over the Gospels. Why did the Pharisees publicly ask Jesus whether or not it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar? Because if Jesus said yes, he would have immediately lost his popularity.

First century Judaism and first-century Christianity had an almost identical starting point. God alone is king, not Caesar. But they had radically different ethics. A hundred years before and after Jesus, all contemporary accounts tell us of protests, riots, outlaw banditry in the name of resistance to the pagan empire, and outright armed rebellion and warfare in Palestine. But all the evidence in the New Testament and after tells us that first-century Christianity engaged in submission to authority, either through obedience or acceptance of persecution. They showed sympathy to the prisoners and joyfully accepted the seizure of their property (Hebrews 10.34).

And so what happened? Judea was destroyed by Rome, whereas Christianity, despite years of persecution, eventually took over Rome.

Mordecai here is, despite the provocation, engaged in a foolish controversy. He is invoking his genealogy, His Jewish heritage, to excuse sin. He is starting strife and a dispute about the Law that is unprofitable and worthless.

So what happens to him and his people.

Haman is a very evil man. This makes Mordecai’s actions all the more dangerous. Instead of simply punishing Mordecai like Vashti, according to the wise advice given by the King’s attendants, Haman gives the King very bad advice. He wants to not only kill Mordecai, but all the rest of these Jews who he has been told by the king’s servants in the gates, will never bow to him.

So he tells the king, according to Esther 3.8, that “There is a certain people,” not saying who they are, with “laws different from those of all other people” (true) “and they do not observe the king’s laws” (false, but Mordecai has given occasion for the enemy to make such an accusation).

And let’s remember, God could have easily thwarted Haman’s accusation. “The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverb 21:1). God could have kept Ahasuerus from agreeing with Haman’s plan.

Furthermore, Haman, superstitious pagan that he was, cast lots to find out what day he should carry out his sentence. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16.33). God could have stopped Haman’s scheme right then and there. But He didn’t.


So what happens?

The couriers went out impelled by the king’s command while the decree was issued at the citadel in Susa; and while the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was in confusion.

Here we see something developing that is rather odd in the book of Esther. There is no banquet without a decree being passed, and there is no decree passed without a banquet, or at least without drinking. In chapter 1, at the first feast where wine flowed freely, a decree was passed against Queen Vashti. The next banquet announces that the crown has been given to Esther in chapter 2. After this, Esther is going to invite the king to two successive feasts, called “banquets of wine” in order to get Haman sentenced. When a new decree goes out in favor of the Jews there will be feasting. And then finally, Mordecai will decree a regular feast called Purim, the climax of this book.

That’s six feasts, most of which emphasize drinking, and if we include this episode of the King and his counselor sitting down to drink as their decree is published, then we have seven.

Now, feasting and drinking, makes sense in the overall theology of Esther. We already saw a few weeks ago that when we are told that the first feast, in Esther chapter 1, was done “according to the Law” that it is referring to the law in Deuteronomy 14.26 in which worshipers are told to spend part of their tithe on a feast and encouraged to celebrate with wine or strong drink. But it is important to realize that most of the tithe was particularly brought in at the feast of booths or ingathering. Furthermore, according to Deuteronomy 31.10ff this was also the feast where the decrees of the LORD where declared to all Israel every seven years. Finally, this was also the feast where seventy bulls were sacrificed in intercession for the seventy nations and predicting their conversion. All of these things tie into Esther real closely. At each of these wine banquets we have decrees proclaimed in a book that culminates in mass conversions among the Gentiles in the entire 127 provinces stretching across the known world.

And of course, this also ties into the Biblical pattern of Lord’s Day worship where we gather with God to eat and drink with him, and hear His decrees in His Word declared to us. Not only that, but by our prayers we rule with Christ and our decrees are sent forth. Listen to what Jesus said when he instituted His Supper in Luke 22.29ff:

[J]ust as My Father has covenanted to Me a Kingdom, I covenant to you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Kingdom authority and kingdom feasting go together in the Bible.

But Mordecai and the rest of the Jews have been excluded from all that. What we see here is Haman getting to sit down with the king, rule with him and drink with him, while everyone else is in outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mordecai can’t even enter the kings gate anymore. He is excluded, while Haman is included.

And more than that, the Jews end up excluded from God’s feast as well. This is the month of Nisan, the first month of the year on the thirteenth day. The fifteenth day is the day in which the Passover is supposed to be kept. But no one who hears this news is celebrating any feast. Esther 4.3 tells us the Jews fasted. What irony! At the time when the Jews were supposed to be celebrating their release from bondage in Egypt, they were fasting because they were sentenced to death in Susa.

This is the penultimate curse, next to death itself. I said this when I preached to you in Oregon, but it bears repeating: God told Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he would die. Adam’s death in that day was not physical cessation of life, which happened over nine hundred years later, but exile from God’s garden where he had access to God’s food-the tree of life. When Ezekiel sees a vision of Israel being restored from exile back to the Land and the Temple, he sees a vision of an army of scattered dry bones being given new life. Exile from the feast is death, but restoration to the feast means resurrection.

At risk of waxing too theological about Esther, we need to realize how important this is to our faith. We say we’re justified. We say we’re forgiven. But if we look in the Bible we see the world is under a curse because of sin, and we are still suffering under that curse. Our loved ones suffer from dreadful diseases. Our wives go through torture just to bear children. Without in any way meaning to detract from God’s providential mercies to us, we all know we are still suffering under the curse on sin.

This is a problem. Imagine a man in prison receiving a phone call from the president, saying, “I have officially pardoned you of your crime.” What great news! He would be ready to bolt out the door. But wait. What if the president said, “You still have to stay in prison. I haven’t canceled the penalty, I’ve just pardoned the crime.” Would that make any sense? But in a way, that is what we all experience. We are pardoned, but we are still in many ways in prison under the curse.

That’s why access to the feast is so important. Adam’s exile from the feast was his first death, a sign of the physical death he was to suffer centuries later. Our restoration to the feast of the Lord’s Supper is our guarantee that we will be called up from our graves in glory. It is our initial resurrection, enacting the fellowship with God which we have been given because we truly are forgiven despite the ongoing curse.

All that comfort has been taken away from Mordecai and the Jews. They are tasting a first death with a second death decreed for them in a year’s time. All because Mordecai rebelled against God’s established authority.


But there is grace in this passage.

First of all, there is grace to Mordecai. In making his allegations as the accuser of the Jews before the King’s throne, Haman has overstepped himself. If he had simply complained about Mordecai’s behavior to the king, Mordecai, like Vashti, would have probably simply been deposed and disappeared from history. Precisely because Haman is doing so much against Mordecai and his people, Mordecai may be shown mercy somehow.

And secondly, there is the matter of the lot. God, who controls the lot, has given Mordecai and the Jews a whole year to deal with the matter. They have time to repent and they have time to prepare. The picture is that the King has delivered an irrevocable decree of death over the entire world, but there is time to perhaps devise another decree that will save God’s people before the time of judgment.

At the climax of this book, when Mordecai introduces a feast to celebrate God’s new deliverance of His people, he gives that feast a name: Purim. Literally translated as “the lots.” Somehow, in Mordecai’s mind, God’s deliverance of his people was especially connected to the casting of the lot by Haman. God spared them by giving them time.

The whole world is under a sentence of death. But God has given us time. Let’s use the time wisely.

Using the time wisely means many things. In our last sermon on Esther, it meant bearing witness instead of hiding our identity. In this passage it means not rebelling against authorities or cultivating a rebellious attitude.

And it especially means not justifying such an attitude or behavior in the name of God or His Law. God will not give us dominion if we cause others to associate such an attitude with the Gospel.

Let me close with Paul’s words to Timothy in the chapter 6, verse 1 of his first letter:

All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.

If Paul can say such things about unbiblical chattel slavery, how much more should we take it to heart with regard to pagan civil magistrates?

Let’s pray.

Copyright © 1998, All rights reserved.

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