Choosing to Look Beyond
If I were living in Germany right now I would be in jail.
It seems surreal to see those words written in black and white – scarier still that they are true. You see, we home school. My husband and I felt compelled by God to choose this form of education when our eldest was still a toddler.
Some of you may be aware that the small homeschooling community in Germany is being heavily persecuted. Children ripped from their homes and placed in state foster care. Parents put in jail. Threats leveled at foreigners living in Germany who are home schooling. Families choosing to hide their activities from authorities. Others fleeing the country before their children are taken.
Just a few months ago a similar threat came from the state court system in California. A judge in the Los Angeles juvenile court system, in a case dealing with a single family, laid down a ruling basically stating that all homeschooling was illegal. An amazing array of lawyers, homeschooling advocate organizations and groups that defend basic rights in this country quickly got involved and the ruling was overturned. For now, homeschooling in California is legal.
But it’s opened a can of worms that several groups are now working to fix via a constitutional amendment to secure parental rights. Without awareness, without proper guidelines, without these rights seen as fundamental, we could become like Germany. We could become like many countries in the world that face persecution not because of educational values but because they proclaim the name of the One true God. We could become like Persia in the days of Esther.
Here’s a quote from German Consul General Wolfgang Drautz as to why Germany’s government is so vehemently opposed to homeschooling: “The public has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole.”1
Sounds suspiciously like the persecution in Esther 3 faced by Mordecai and the Jews in Ahasuerus’ realm.
Perhaps some of you face persecution, not necessarily from a government but from neighbors, opposing groups, co-workers, even from family members. Choosing to look beyond is what we need to do. Let’s find strength together as we study this week.
A. Who is Haman and where did he come from? In the book of Esther it seems as if this prince of Persia suddenly appears out of nowhere.
- Read Esther 3:1 along with the following texts looking for the Amalekite lineage: Genesis 36:12; Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Numbers 24:7 with I Samuel 15.
- We see the possible lineage of Haman woven throughout Scripture as that of one of the most ruthless and awful enemies of Israel.2
B. Sometimes God allows kings and governments to elevate those into power who, to us, may seem the worst possible candidates. Even within organizations, churches, mission boards or volunteer groups, people are sometimes placed into positions of authority which put us into awkward or difficult positions. It might be hard to even understand how and why the decision was made. Sometimes we have a say in the situation. Sometimes, we don’t. Read and meditate on Psalm 86. It’s a wonderful reminder that God can “make glad the soul” of His servants no matter the circumstance.
DAYS TWO AND THREE
A. Read Esther 3:2-6. The text tells us that all the king’s servants bowed – except Mordecai. It stands to reason that there would be at least a few other Jews in the employ of the king. Yet Mordecai alone chooses not to bow. Josephus believes Mordecai refused based on the fact that the Persian nobles elevated themselves to the rank of “god.”3 Others believe Mordecai knew Haman was an Amalekite and would not pay homage to such a vile enemy.4 Respect and cultural practices mandate the proper honor to those in authority. Worship is an honor belonging to God alone.
- Read “worship” verses found in Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 11:16; 2 Kings 17:36-39; 1 Chronicles 16:29; Nehemiah 9:6; and Psalm 100.
- Contrast those references with “honor” verses in Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 25:6; Daniel 11:21; 1 Timothy 5:17; and 1 Peter 2:17.
- Have you experienced a conflict in this area? If so, how did you show the proper respect and honor in your culture without removing God from His rightful place?
C. Mordecai was daily confronted by his fellow servants regarding his choice not to bow to Haman, according to verse 4. That kind of pressure must be wearying. But Mordecai would not be moved. Looking beyond means keeping our eyes above what is going on around us. The prophet Jeremiah is a good example of one who did not move or waver from the message God gave him for Judah. Read Jeremiah 17:7-8, 26:1-15 for a taste of Jeremiah’s steadfastness.
D. If he hadn’t prior to this, Mordecai now reveals his true heritage. Isn’t it interesting that Mordecai’s fellow servants wanted to see if Mordecai’s faith would hold true? Being a Jew was inextricably tied to why he did things the way he did. Often God will put us in a position where we have no choice but to reveal our allegiance to Him in our “whys.” Write about a time God placed you in a position that required revealing your allegiance to Him even when it was difficult.
E. We know from the last lesson that Mordecai chose not to return to Jerusalem when the opportunity was there. Now we see a consequence of staying. Mordecai’s lack of obeisance infuriates Haman. But verse 6 indicates that the blame for these horrific results may not rest only on Mordecai. Even though Haman was wrathful toward one man, he didn’t go after Mordecai alone because he’d been told of his heritage.
Mordecai was a Jew and Jews were a hated commodity in the mind of Haman. If one Jew won’t bow because he is a Jew, better rid the entire kingdom of Jews. Their thoughts are different. Their ways are different. Even their loyalties are different. It didn’t seem to matter that Mordecai proved that Jews made good citizens – working hard in the gate of the palace. Nor did it matter that he showed they were loyal citizens – choosing to seek out the truth of possible assassins and protecting the crown. And it didn’t matter that Mordecai showed that Jews cared about family, not just making them a burden for the realm – adopting an uncle’s daughter at great inconvenience.
- Persecution is never fair and yet it should be expected by God’s people. Read Psalm 31:14-15; Matthew 5:11-12, 43-48; Luke 21:12-15; John 15:18-21.
- What is your attitude when the right thing produces unjust blame?
A. Choosing to look beyond will not always make our situation better. Often, seeking God’s hand in a circumstance will reveal even more insidious workings of the enemy, because now we can see the situation more clearly.
- Read Esther 3:7-11. Instead of simply coming before Ahasuerus with his grievance, Haman casts the lot, or “Pur,” to discover the perfect month and day to carry out his plan. But, as in all areas of human sinfulness that attempt to thwart God’s ultimate plan, the Lord fashioned sufficient time for Haman’s plot to be revealed and countermeasures taken.
- Skim Numbers 22-24. Similar to the Esther account, we see the unmistakable truth of God’s sovereignty in foiling the curses of man on His chosen people.
B. Haman is a master of deceptive words. (Maybe that’s why he moved up in the ranks so suddenly.) He cleverly weaves a story of political intrigue to the king without ever mentioning the specific name of the offending people group. It’s amazing how twisting words or leaving out vital details can establish a believable falsehood that is absolutely incriminating.
- Look up Proverbs 12:15-25. I love reading these short sentence sermons so rich with meaning.
- Evaluate how we are to state our case in a given situation. Are the words chosen helpful and edifying or are they destructive to others?
C. Part of Haman’s deception to the king was in the form of a bribe. If his plan was executed, the plunder of the Jewish people in the kingdom would fill the coffers of Ahasuerus. Because his eyes were blinded to the complete truth and because his greed was whetted, Ahasuerus agreed to the plan. The king offered an immediate, carte blanche license to Haman’s plan. In any leadership role, we must listen intently, question thoroughly, especially in cases of dispute and bad feelings among our sisters and brothers in the Lord. We can’t take sides simply because one articulates eloquently and convincingly. And bribes come in many forms – position, honor, prestige, to name a few. Choosing to look beyond means not being persuaded by anything that would obstruct justice and truth.
- Read Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Psalm 15; Ecclesiastes 7:7; Isaiah 1:23.
- In what ways are you bribed spiritually and tempted to take sides unfairly?
A. Read Esther 3:12-15. Haman wrote an edict in the king’s name, sealed with his signet ring (which was the same as an official signature). Not only did Haman send it to each satrap (a viceroy or lieutenant), each governor and each prince of the realm, he also made sure that general copies were put out in every script in every language possible.
B. Because the edict was issued as law, it lowered the possibility that non-Jews might hide or protect Mordecai’s people. In Proverbs 24:11-12 we read how God will ultimately hold us accountable to our consciences. But, the 13th chapter of Romans exhorts people to live in subjection to the laws of the land. I Peter 2:13-17 ends with “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” Titus 3:1-2 reminds us to be subject to rulers but within that to focus on loving people in God’s name Being a good citizen means being rightly aligned under the government of our country as well as living righteously under Almighty God. Choosing to look beyond means seeing everything – every edict, every law – through the filter of God’s complete word.
- What if the two conflict? Read Daniel 6:4-17.
- How have you had to balance the conflict between God’s law and man’s laws?
C. Susa, of course, was the first to hear of the edict. Verse 15 says the initial reaction was one of confusion – even outside the Jewish community. Statistically speaking, there would have been some whose anti-Semitic feelings ran deep. But for others, who didn’t feel this way, imagine the questions: What is going on? Why was this law made? I’ve lived next door to my Jewish neighbors for 20 years, what have they done? Will my people be next? (Remember, Persia covered a vast area full of conquered territories.) This law likely caught many by surprise and produced extreme anxiety.
- Read Job 25:2; Psalm 4:8, 55:18, 119:165; Proverbs 12:20, 16:7; Isaiah 26:3, 54:10; John 14:27, 16:23; Romans 15:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:16.
- When the pressures of life mount, how do you prevent anxiety?
There will be persecution for the Jews – in the distant past of Esther’s time and before, in recent days and in the future. God stated from the beginning that the world would hate them (Genesis 12:3), their position, their separateness, their God. Similarly, we know there will be persecution of us and our stand for Christ, our choice to be different, our choice to honor Him alone. (Luke 6:22) In some countries, there is still the right and even the expectation to fight for truth and justice. In other countries, there is virtually no voice for the oppressed.
Standing alone, this chapter may seem very discouraging. The formation and development of a horrific plan is center stage and the chapter ends in hopeless confusion – while the king and Haman sit down to drink. But be encouraged. God’s plan of preserving His people for the coming Messiah is not thwarted and there is still much to see in the book of Esther. When God puts something on your heart, no matter the cost – stay the course. He gives the strength, the resolve and the answer when problems and pressures overwhelm us. He will give steadfastness to look beyond.
1. “Germany Declares War on Home-Schoolers,” by Dale Hurd, CBN News, August 11, 2008.
2. Many view Haman as being descended of King Agag of the Amalekites. (Eastman’s Bible Dictionary) However, this direct Amalekite association is not necessarily a given. Traditionally, Jews use the term “Agagite” to denote an archenemy. Giving a person “honorary membership” into the house of their hereditary foes shows just how awful they truly are in the minds of the Jewish nation. Also, the term could come from “agagu,” an Assyrian word meaning “powerful, vehement or angry.” – International Standard Bible, “Agagite,” by Horace J. Wolf, 1913.
3. Robert Jamieson commentary on Esther 3
4. Matthew Henry commentary on Esther 3:1-6
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