Following God includes loyalty — Esther 3

Following God includes loyalty — Esther 3:2, 5-6
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 21, 2013 AM

Sandra struggled with two seemingly irreconcilable forces in her life. She believed God had called her to be a missionary but she could not believe He would send her to such a dangerous place. Like many Christians Sandra has falsely assumed God’s primary function is to protect, preserve, and prosper His people. They focus on Scriptures that affirm God’s love and care for His own. These believers assume God would not lead them to serve Him where they would be uncomfortable, much less, where there is potential danger. However, God’s objective is to carry out His purposes through His people. Those purposes may require His people to serve Him at great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith as they serve Him in the risky situations into which He leads them. Perhaps we forget that following God includes loyalty even when there is risk involved.

The plot of the Book of Esther thickens in chapter 3 with the introduction of the villain. A man named Haman accepted a promotion by King Xerxes to a position of prestige and power. The office to which he was elevated is not stated, but several details about Haman are noted. His father’s name was Hammedatha. He was an Agagaite, which identifies him as a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites during the era of Israel’s early monarchy. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, teaches us that following God includes loyalty. Let’s discover what occurs…

READ: Esther 3:1-6

One cannot sort-of-kind-of follow God and expect God’s blessings. King Saul failed to learn this lesson and his disobedience affected not only himself but future generations. The Amalekites were a Canaanite tribe who consistently opposed Israel from the exodus out of Egypt to the reign of David. God had ordered Saul to eradicate the Amalekites in a holy war. However, Saul spared Agag until the prophet Samuel voiced the Lord’s displeasure and then executed the Amalekite king. Saul’s failure to completely obey God allowed the Amalekites to survive and to continue to harm Israel. In these verses, we discover that in following God…

I. God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty! (Vv. 1-3)
1. The writer of Esther portrays King Xerxes as a man easily manipulated by others. The king had ordered his subjects to bow down as recognition of Haman’s status. The Hebrew verb means to fall on one’s knees and bow down. The important aspect was not the posture but the attitude it reflected. The word translated pay homage often is used to denote worship of deity. No doubt Haman’s vanity had influenced Xerxes to order this gesture. The narrative does not state why Mordecai refused to bow. His behavior throughout the story demonstrates his personal loyalty to the Persian king. So his refusal was not a sign of treachery. Nor can it be attributed to some Jewish law against bowing to other humans. The Scripture offers numerous examples of Jews’ bowing to other people: “Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites”, so he could bury his wife Sarah.  (Genesis 23:7 NIV) David honored King Saul after he could have easily killed him, “David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” (1 Samuel 24:8 NIV) Those who sought audiences with the King of Israel, bowed before him in respect (2 Samuel 14:4). And Bathsheba bowed before David in order to garner his support for Solomon to be king (1 Kings 1:16). However, Mordecai had both religious and political reasons for steadfastly not bowing to Haman. Jewish tradition held that no self-respecting Jew would ever show reverence to an Amalekite. So Mordecai may have seen his refusal as conforming to God’s command to not honor false idols, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God!” (Exodus 20:5 NIV) Mordecai would have understood that the Persians saw such tribute as an act that bordered on acknowledging the honored individual was a god. In that case, bowing would have been idolatry. I would conclude Mordecai took the risk of offending Haman because he recognized God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty!

EXAMPLE: What risks have you taken lately for your faith, what risks are you willing to take? Many say they “love” Jesus and we all desire that He love us, but what has our love or His love motivated us to risk for His kingdom purposes. Do your co-workers, classmates, friends, neighbors and family members know you will not bow to the world’s ungodliness? Frank got up from the lunch table and walked out when one of fellow co-workers began telling a crude joke. The jokester snickered, “What a prude Frank is. He thinks he is better than us!” Art looked at him, stood up, and remarked, “No, perhaps he doesn’t appreciate your ungodly crude jokes, and in fact, neither do I.” Art then left the table. Later, as Art was working, the young man who had been telling the joke sought him out and apologized for his poor choice in jokes. He related that his wife did not appreciate his humor either and wondered why. Out of this conversation, this young man and his wife soon were attending Art’s church. Art had shared with him that as a Christian, we show our worship and loyalty to him even by the words we use. Just as Mordecai took the risk of offending Haman because he recognized God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty, we can as well!

Vowing revenge but scorning to lay hands on a single victim, Haman meditated on the extirpation of the whole Jewish race. He knew they were sworn enemies of his countrymen; and by artfully representing them as a people who were aliens in manners and habits, and enemies to the rest of his subjects, he procured the king’s sanction of the intended massacre. All because “Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.” Mordecai teaches us that…

II. Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

1. Mordecai’s loyalty to God in not bowing to Haman enraged the Persian. His anger revealed his true character. He was obsessed with his power and prestige and consequently craved constant human praise. His pride left no room for accepting less than unconditional adoration. Therefore, Haman resolved to kill Mordecai for not admiring him as much as he admired himself! The death of just one man would not satisfy Haman’s vanity. So great were his rage and his pride that he resolved in destroying every Jew in the Persian Empire. He believed only this result would be appropriate considering the so-called offense against him. The failed attempt to rid Persia of Jews is the primary plot of the Book of Esther. Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship. The hardship may affect the individual, God’s people, or both. In the case of Mordecai, it put him and all other Jews in danger. God’s people today sometimes confront hostility when they refuse to give others what God alone deserves. They are to remain steadfast and not allow opposition to lead them to compromise. On the other hand, God’s people must not blame an entire group for the actions of one member as some folks do when they decide to leave a church fellowship over their own personal pride being wounded. When Mordecai failed to show Haman the respect he desired, the Persian determined to eliminate all the Jews from the empire. When Haman cast lots to identify the proper time for his mass murder, it fell in line with God’s purposes. The Amalekites, not the Jews, would be annihilated. Afterwards the Festival of Purim was begun in celebration of the Jews’ deliverance by God from Haman’s evil plans. Haman had persuaded King Xerxes that the Jews threatened the Persian Empire’s national security. To these false accusations, Haman added a bribe and was able to accomplish his aims He obtained a royal decree setting aside a time for slaughtering the Jewish people. Haman’s scheme might have succeeded except for God’s providence. Mordecai’s cousin and adopted daughter was the Queen of Persia. God had placed Esther in a situation where she could make a difference if she trusted Him. When faced with a choice of either remaining complacent or standing for his beliefs, Mordecai learned that identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

EXAMPLE: Isn’t it interesting that Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that, your brother has something against you; leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24 NIV) Yet, far too often Christians act like the hated Haman and get easily offended when they are not properly recognized, bowed down to, or respected in the way they think they should be. What a contrast is Mordecai to Haman! Haman wanted and sought after human recognition, Mordecai sought only to honor God. Mordecai learned that identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

Conclusion:
God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty! Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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