The Origins of Anti-Semitism
Romans 9:1-6 (Introduction)
We're in Romans chapter 9 and at the risk of being redundant at the beginning of each one of these classes I'm going to review the same basic materials so we understand why I'm doing what I'm doing. Romans 9-11 is really the foundation in the New Testament for our understanding of God's future plan and purpose for Israel. For ethnic Israel, that is.
I brought some books this time for a little show and tell. One book I've been researching is Israel and the Church: The Origin and Effects of Replacement Theology by Ronald DiProse. He has spoken at the Pre-Trib Conference a couple of different times. You can go to the Pre-Trib website which is www.pre-trib.org and see all the papers that have been given over the past twenty-one or twenty-two years are up there under Archives. You can go through and find some of the presentations and papers that have been written by these guys that are much more detailed than what I'm presenting. Then another book is by Michael Bloch who is a professor at the Masters Seminary in California. His work on replacement theology is calledHas the Church Replaced Israel: A Theological Evaluation.
One of the things I noticed in both these authors' quotes is their use of the term "national" Israel. This is one of the troubles with having had one's work as writer and editor is that you notice sometime later and you think you could have said it a little better. But to the writing of books, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, "there is no end." You can edit and edit and edit and proofread, proofread, proofread, and it's going to come back from the printer with errors you can't believe you left in there. Trust me. I had an extremely detailed Hebrew professor who, like all Hebrew scholars, was very detailed minded. He published a commentary on Genesis and used his doctoral students to proofread the manuscript some three or four hundred times and it came back from the publisher with several hundred errors. You read it and you get too familiar with it and you let some errors by.
But one of the things that I noticed, is an important thing, in these two authors' quotes they would talk about God's plan for national Israel. I don't think that's the right adjective. It's "ethnic" Israel. In the work that I've done on Romans 11 in the past I've always used that term. God has a future plan for ethnic Israel. National Israel, yes. But there's not always been a time when there was a state, a Jewish state in the land of Israel. God always has a plan for the future of ethnic Israel. That's a broader term and I think a more precise term when we're talking about the future of Israel.
I have pointed out two things that have plagued Christianity. They have created incredible horrors down through the centuries killing millions of people and putting them through untold suffering. Nations have risen and fallen as a result of these errors which are all a result of fallacious interpretation. The first is replacement theology and the second is anti-Semitism. We talked about the issues related to hermeneutics or interpretation two or three lessons back. The last couple of lessons we looked at replacement theology and now it's anti-Semitism. I was going to try to do anti-Semitism as one-shot but I was just reading too much and there was too much to cover so I'm not going to make it in one-shot. I'm going to do two shots because there's one particular thing I want to do tonight. We'll have time for setting the stage for anti-Semitism in the Old Testament. So we have these two errors that have to be addressed. Anti-Semitism is coming back and intensifying every year.
It's interesting as I've gone through some of my reading I have looked at a book that has been incredibly influential over the years. It's Anti-Semitism by R.B. Thieme, Jr. Its first printing was in 1974. I'm not sure when R.B. Thieme first taught on anti-Semitism. If my memory is right it goes back to when I was in early high school. I think he taught on the dangers of anti-Semitism before the '67 war. Now the reason that's important is that up until the '67 war when Israel defeated the Arab nations and threw Jordan out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the U.S. wasn't really that strong a backer of Israel. Once Israel demonstrated their ability to defeat their enemies, America all of a sudden loved them. America loves a winner. We love an underdog and we love a winner and Israel was a little bit of both. We became much more supportive. It was L.B. J. who was responsible for all of a sudden deciding to throw the weight of the U.S. behind Israel in that conflict. In the last fifty or sixty years some of the presidents we've had have been elected solely in relation to what they were going to do for Israel. Harry Truman, L.B.J., and Nixon, just to name few.
Anyway, R. B.Thieme, Jr. did a series on anti-Semitism in the mid to late 60s and then it was converted into a book by Ursula Kemp. She was my first grade Sunday school teacher. She's still alive. She's probably 89 now. She actually came over here to West Houston Bible Church a couple of years ago and sat down on the front row. She is a converted Jew. She was raised in eastern Germany. She was eleven or twelve when kristallanacht took place. Her family had to flee and buy their way out of Germany. They went to Shanghai where she finished high school, met her future husband, who was some fourteen or fifteen years older than she. Some of you might remember him, Scotty. He was with the British constabulary in Shanghai and took her as sort of a driver to a party that a co-worker was having at Christmas time. On the way back, Scotty told her, "You're the woman I'm going to marry." She thought he was crazy drunk or both. Actually, he convinced her that he was serious. He convinced her to help him write a letter so her father could understand, asking permission to come and call. A few months later the Japanese conquered Shanghai. Scotty was put in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for the duration of the war. They were allowed to write to one another, once a month, only ten words. Think about that for a writing exercise. She and Betty Thieme wrote all the Sunday school curriculum that I grew up under at Berachah Church. A lot of it has been converted into the children's material now. Ursula actually did the work on this Anti-Semitism book and then it was revised later in the 80s.
This is a book that Tommy Ice read. He stands for a number of pastors I know who weren't pastors at the time but back in the 70s they read this book and they realized the importance of Israel and the importance of the Jewish people. Many people who today are staunch, vocal defenders of Israel, like Tommy, got started because they read this book. It is a very well done book, written in '74, updated in the late '80s. At that time it cites recent studies by the Anti-Defamation League that anti-Semitism is on the rise.
Then during the '90s Bernard Lewis's book, Semites and Anti-Semites was revised. It originally came out in the mid-80s. The last edition was '98, which was this copy. Again, he says that by the late 90s anti-Semitism is continuing to increase. I've read several other things I have at home on anti-Semitism and they say the same thing as late as last year. Every year the incidence in Europe, in America, around the world that are anti-Semitic are on the increase.
The memory of the Holocaust has faded. The generation that was involved in those activities is rapidly dying, rapidly leaving the scene, so the Holocaust is moving from an experiential memory to history. As it moves to history it fades from significance in the human race. That is the worst form of anti-Semitism that the human race has experienced but it's not going to be the worst. The worst will come during the Tribulation period as we will see.
Romans, chapter 9 is where Paul is explaining God's faithfulness to Israel though it might appear at the time that God has forgotten Israel, that Israel appears to have been set aside in favor of the church. But this is simply a temporary pause in God's plan for Israel. God still loves the Jewish people. They're still his chosen people. That has not changed. When we get to Romans 11:1-4 Paul again strongly affirms God's love for the Jewish people and that there is a future in God's plan for them.
Anti-Semitism is completely prohibited by the Scriptures. The foundation for this takes us back to Genesis 12:1-3, specifically in verse 3. This is the foundation for understanding why it is wrong to be anti-Semitic. God says, "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." This doesn't mean you're going to like every Jewish person you meet. It doesn't mean you have to like every Jewish person you meet any more than you have to like every Christian you meet. The Scripture says you are to love one another. What this does say is that holding their Jewishness against them is not acceptable. They may not be a nice person but everybody in any group has members of that group who aren't nice. There are probably people in West Houston Bible Church that other people wish weren't here because they give us a bad name. That's just the way it is when you have any group of human beings.
This is the foundation here and it's repeated again and again through Genesis. God has made a promise and He has set apart the Jewish people. I remember being asked on my first trip to Israel, "Why is it that people call it the Holy Land?" We can't make the mistake of thinking that it's holy because it's something pure about it. Holy comes from the Hebrew word that means to be set apart. It is a set apart land and it's set apart for the Jewish people. That's why it's the Holy Land. That's an accurate term but it's misunderstood. There's not anything mystical, magical about the soil or anything else but it is territory that's been permanently set aside by God for the Jewish people. No other people in history have been given a destiny tied to a piece of real estate like the Jewish people have. That's what makes it special.
That's why the Jewish people are a holy people, not in the same sense as we talk about the Church as holy because we're set aside in Christ which is a different context. The Jewish people are holy because they have been set aside by God for a special plan. They are the ones through whom God gave His revelation. They are the custodians of the Scripture from the Old Testament and they are the nation that God chose through whom to give us the Messiah. He's not through with them. There is a future destiny for the Jewish people in the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So even today because of the Abrahamic covenant which is still in force and has not been set aside or put on hold. God's plan for the nation has been put on hold while God is working through the Church but the Abrahamic covenant is still very much in effect, as we have studied.
We have to understand that any form of negative thinking, religious thought or political thought against Israel can be anti-Semitism. The political and the religious thought is intimately connected usually. In some instances you might be able to separate them but ultimately they tend to be so interconnected that one effects the other. All of that comes out of a literal view of Scripture.
Now we're going to look at this rise of anti-Semitism. We'll look at cartoons and editorials. One anti-Semitic cartoon is a depiction of the Western wall where Jews come to pray and it has the word "hate" there and the inscription at the bottom says, "Worshiping their God." This is the lie that is put out by anti-Semites. They say the Jews are filled with hate. They are racists. They are an apartheid state. All of this more than just more than typical invective coming from enemies. We look at a number of different wars that have occurred between historic enemies such as the French and the Germans, the Turks and the Greeks, the Turks and the Armenians, just different groups through history have had on-going land battles, claims over territory, territorial disputes, and they always generate a certain amount of invective against the enemy but there's something distinct with what happens with the language used against Israel. The Jewish people are held to a different standard than everybody else. That what makes it anti-Semitism.
Then we'll see that there's a rise in what is called a "new" anti-Semitism. It does get a little more sticky and hard to understand because of the Holocaust. A lot of people went underground with their anti-Semitism and it came out as a disguised form under the disguise of anti-Zionism. They just masked it in the form of being anti the state of Israel. There's an article in U.S. News and World Report that says, "Today several "isms" inhabit the world still. Among the most pernicious is the atavistic anti-Semitism and its twentieth century version, anti-Zionist." Atavistic means primitive, an ongoing for centuries. They're saying we've had this standard anti-Semitism and it's morphed into twentieth century with the rise of the Jewish state. "These isms are graffiti on the wall of history, emblems of a poison still potent and raw. Evidenced most recently by the remark of Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammed who said, 'Today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.' " See this claim that there's this Jewish conspiracy that the Jews are behind the evils of the world. That's part of anti-Semitic thought.
"Mahathir's words were deeply condemned but obscure much deeper strain about this new strain of anti-Semitism which is not that it is directed at individual Jews or even Judaism itself. It is directed, rather, against the Jewish collective, the modern state of Israel. Just as historic anti-Semitism has denied individual Jews the right to live as equal members of society, anti-Zionism would deny the collective expression of the Jewish people, the state of Israel, the right to live as an equal member of the family of nations. Israel's policies are thus subjected to criticism that cause it to be singled out when others in similar circumstances escape any criticism at all. Surely if any other country were bleeding from terrorism as Israel is today, there would be no question of its right to defend itself. But Israel's efforts merely to protect its citizens are routinely betrayed as aggression. It is a double standard." The deputy foreign minister of Israel said in July 2002, "The wave of worldwide anti-Semitic attacks in recent months is the worst since the 2nd World War." It's been another eleven years since then and it's even worse than it was eleven years ago. So this goes on and it continues.
As we talk about it we need to define it. What is anti-Semitism? What I did was put together a little collection of definitions because not everybody says exactly the same thing and it helped me to kind of think through this issue. Alan Dershowitz who is not someone with whom I am always in agreement; in fact, I am in agreement with him on rare occasions but his book, The Case for Israel, is pretty good. A few things I don't agree with him on but overall it's an excellent book and the way he structured the chapters have to do with the questions people ask. "Is Israel an apartheid state?" "Did the early Jews moving back take advantage of the Arabs and steal the land?" All of these charges are ones frequently made against the Jewish people so if you want to learn how to handle some of these issues if somebody raises a question; it's a good resource. He says that a good basic starting definition of anti-Semitism is "Taking a trait, character trait, that is widespread throughout the human race, if not universal, and blaming only the Jews for it." Everybody's greedy. Everybody's materialistic but we're going to act as if the Jews are the root, the cause; and if it weren't for the Jews, there wouldn't be any greed or materialism or greedy corporations or capitalism or anything like that. Just blame the Jews.
On the one hand they're blamed for capitalism and on the other hand they're blamed for Marxism because Marx was Jewish. Many of the early leaders in the Marxist Revolution were Jews. Then we have Ron Rosenblum's book, which is really a collection of essays from a lot of different sources. He defines anti-Semitism this way, "It's insisting that when Jews do wrong it's because they are Jews, not because they are human." He adds something very important to the definition. It's not just having an antagonism toward the Jews and blaming them for something but blaming them because they are Jews. That's a key element in his book.
Then we have the definition from The Compact OED, "A theory, action, or practice directed against the Jews, hence, anti-Semite is one who is hostile or opposed to the Jews." What's left out of that definition is "because they are Jews." I see the same problem in R. B. Thieme's definition in his book where he defines it as, "opposition to or prejudice against or intolerance to Jewish people." What needs to be added is "because they are Jewish." Not just antagonism, like antagonism against the French, against the Mexican, against the Germans, but it's because of that additional element, because they are Jewish which really ties it together.
Notice how the Anti-Defamation League puts it, "It's the belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teaching that proclaim the inferiority of the Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudice or stereotyped views about Jews."
Now what's important to understand when we start talking about the rise and development of anti-Semitism is that it has a spiritual explanation. I used this illustration Tuesday night. I've used it before but it is the best illustration that fits it. When I read the different works that I've got on anti-Semitism such as a four volume work on the History of Anti-Semitism since the Time of Christ to the Present by Leon Poliskov which is a quite detailed history of anti-Semitism and then I skimmed through The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism, I see their struggle to explain it. That will just warm your heart every night. The one thing I read is a struggle to explain why this is going on.
There's a story that Frederick the Great said to his chaplain one time, "Give me proof in just a few words that the Bible is true." The chaplain said, "Sir, it's the Jews." The Jewish people's continued existence is unique in history. There's no other ethnic group that has generated hostility from every other nation on the planet, especially western and Arabic nations. Not so much your Asian nations but you have virulent anti-Semitism among the nations that have been influenced mostly by Christianity, sadly, and by Islam. That's where you see the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism. As you look at attempts to explain why it is that there's just one group of people, no other, that has generated a universal hatred that the Jewish people have. How can you explain that? How do you explain the fact that this is the same group of people who have managed to survive through four thousand years of history and all of the nations that have opposed them have been defeated and their anti-Semitism lies in the dustbin of history? You can't explain that from a rational or empirical basis and yet that's how they approach it.
Remember the illustration. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He told them to name all the creatures, to identify all the things, to guard and keep the garden. Their mission to rule over the planet meant they had to go out and learn everything they could about the planet and to develop it, to develop the natural resources, and to use it under the authority of God as God's representatives over the planet. As they empirically investigated things, starting with Adam naming the animals, there were lots of things they could observe. But they could not observe a spiritual reality which is related to the prohibition God gave them that if they ate from one particularly tree they would die spiritually instantly. They could eat from all the other trees in the garden. They could eat from everything else God provided but if they ate from that one tree they would die spiritually. The only way they could access that truth was for God to tell them. They couldn't learn it through experience, through observation of anything. They couldn't learn it through reason or the use of their intellect. It had to be revealed to them.
When we come to the study of anti-Semitism and ask why we can only answer it if we take God's version, God's explanation, which ultimately is given in Revelation 12 and 13. We'll get there next time. We can trace it in the Old Testament and tracing it means tracing God's promise that began in the garden to the serpent and to the woman. After the yielding to the temptation when Adam and Eve are spiritually dead, God appeared in the garden. They ran and hid. They sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness and then God outlined the consequences of their sin. In doing so He addressed first the serpent, then the woman, and then the man. To the serpent He said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed." That is an expression of history. There is a conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, the human race. Specifically the seed is going to be a focus on an individual, which is the Messiah. But here's a broader more ambiguous promise but clearly a promise. It sets the parameters for understanding human history. Human history is set within the context of a broader warfare, the Angelic conflict, the Satanic rebellion or any number of different terms that have been used to describe this.
It is the fact that God has made a promise to provide a Redeemer that will be a human being, a Redeemer that will come from the seed of the woman who will provide salvation for the human race. That's the antagonism. So Satan's agenda in the Old Testament was to keep that from happening. Once it happened there were only a small group of promises that had not yet been fulfilled. Those were related to the Jewish people. So the only way that Satan can block God's plan is to try to destroy all of the Jewish people. In the Old Testament he tried to destroy the seed of the woman that went through the seed of Abraham, down through the seed of David in order to keep the Messiah from coming. Now if he can destroy all of the Jewish people then Satan can say, "See, God, you can't control history with these creatures who have free will. They're just too chaotic. No one can control it. You can't even be God. I win because I blocked you from fulfilling your promises."
So we trace through the Old Testament this promise of the seed. Now the next major mention after Genesis 3:16 is in Genesis 12:7, "Then the Lord appeared to Abraham and said to your descendants…" This is the word "seed" in the Hebrew. Seed is a singular noun but it's among those group of nouns called collective nouns. That means that the same form can either refer to an individual or to a group. It's like the word "deer" which is the same in the singular form and the plural form. You have to judge from context whether it's talking about a singular or a group, a plurality. The same is true with this word which sets up some interesting exegetical issues that I won't go into in this study. So God promises to the descendants, the seed, that He's going to give the land to Abraham's descendants.
He repeats that in Genesis 13:16. "I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth so if a man could number the dust of the earth your descendants also could be numbered." It's the word "seed" every single time. In Genesis 15:5 again, "As innumerable as the stars in the Heaven so shall your descendants be." Then we get into the fun verse, Genesis 22:17. God says, "Blessing I will bless you. I'll multiply you and I'll multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore and your seed shall possess the gate…" This is one of those places where the Masoretic text monkeys with the text a little bit so it won't be Messianic but what you have in a number of the other readings is not a plural, their enemies, but His enemies, so it's obvious in the mind of the writer the word seed shifts in the mind of the writer to a singularity, an individual, not the collective of the descendants of Israel. "Your descendants shall possess the gate of His enemies and in your seed [Paul quotes this in Galatians 3 when he emphasizes the fact it's a singular that refers to the Lord Jesus Christ] all the nations of the earth will be blessed because you have obeyed My voice." So we follow the seed. This is important.
Now it's coming to the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the Semitic line. The word Semitic is really sort of an ethnic term to describe those who are descendants of Noah's son, Shem. Those descended from Shem, which includes many of the Arab tribes, are called Semites from that name. It includes both Arabs and Jews and sometimes you'll hear people say, "Well we're not really anti-Semitic because we're Arab. How can we be anti-Semitic? Well, you can have anti-Semitic Jews, as well, and there are some that are that way. They're called self-loathing Jews. This is a whole different minority category.
But the term of anti-Semitic is an assault on Jews because they're Jews. It's an anti-Jewish belief. It's a hatred for the Jews. Now Abraham's descendants were targeted. Then we get a refinement of the seed in the Davidic covenant, "When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, God said, "I will set up your seed after you who will come from your body and I will establish His kingdom." So now we have this term seed identified as a singular, as an individual, but now it's an assault on the Davidic line to prevent the Messiah.
Historically as we go through the Old Testament we see various assaults on the seed. There's Cain's murder of Abel in Genesis, chapter 4:8. It is one of the first attacks on the seed. Then there's the corruption of the human seed through the infiltration of the fallen angels called the "sons of God" in Genesis 6, a term always used for angels and here it refers to fallen angels who took on human form and took human wives so they could corrupt the human gene pool to prevent a true seed of the woman coming from God incarnate as a human being—Genesis 6:1-12. Then we have the attempted rapes of Sarah and Rebecca when they're included in the harems of the Philistine leaders and the Egyptian pharaoh, described in Genesis 12:10-20 and then in 26:1-18. If they had been taken by the Pharaohs or the ruler of the Philistines then this would have caused great doubt upon whether or not their offspring were the offspring of Abraham or Isaac.
Then comes Rebecca's plan to cheat Esau out of his birthright and the consequent enmity between Esau against Jacob might have resulted in the brothers killing each other off and this would stop the line. The murder of the male children in Egypt by the Pharaoh in Exodus 1:15-22. We have the attempted murders of David by Saul in 1 Samuel 18:10-11 and several other places. Queen Athaliah's attempt to destroy the royal seed in 2 Chronicles 22:10. Remember she killed all but one who was hidden. That was Josiah who was hidden by the high priest in the temple.
Then Haman's attempt to slaughter all the Jews in Persia, described in the book of Esther. There were also attempts to lead the Jews into idolatry, the worship of Moloch where they would emulate their children in the fires of Moloch's belly where live sacrifices and burnt offers took place. This again is an attempt to destroy the Jews through the idols. We have Herod's attack against the children of Bethlehem in Matthew 2:16 and then many attempts during Jesus' life which are part of the attempts to derail Him from being the Messiah.
The rest of this evening I want to look at a major early attempt in the Old Testament to destroy all of the Jewish people in a huge assault. That occurred under the Persian Empire during the rule of Xerxes. This is in the book of Esther. Turn with me to the book of Esther and we're going to take about twenty of twenty-five minutes and just skim the book of Esther. This is one of those great stories that I think suffers to some degree if we do just sort of a verse-by-verse or paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of it because we lose the drama of it. This is written as a drama. It is incredibly intense. It is a great story and you wouldn't take a play and watch it one scene at a time over a period of twenty or thirty weeks. Now there's benefit in doing that because you can teach a lot of different things, but we also gain much just from taking in the entire episode.
There are a couple of things unique and distinct about the book of Esther. The first reason it's distinct is that it's the only book in the Old Testament that has no mention of God. God is not mentioned and for that reason there were some who doubted whether or not it should be included in the Old Testament canon. It was accepted by the Jewish authorities even before the time of Christ as part of the canon of Scripture. It was part of the group known as the writings. Remember the Old Testament is divided into three groups, the Torah, the five books of the Law, the Nevi'im, the prophets and the Ketuvim, the writings. This is in the section of the writings as is Daniel.
There's something distinct about both Daniel and Esther in that they depict the Jewish people in the diaspora and are out of the land which God has promised to them and they are living in a pagan world much as the Church is living in a hostile world today. There are certain lessons and application that we can take from it. How do we live wisely in the midst of a hostile environment? Daniel and his friends demonstrate a lot of wise principles on how to live in the midst of a pagan environment without taking everything to the level of a head-to-head confrontation. So they avoid a lot of confrontation by wisdom and the way they handle the conflict.
The same can be seen with Esther. Esther showed a remarkable amount of wisdom. God is in the background here. The fact that God is not mentioned doesn't mean that God is not involved. It's to teach the fact that in certain times of history God is not directly involved in things or He's not seen as being directly involved but He is the hidden puppet master behind the scenes overseeing the events in history. He's not there in an overt way. He is definitely providing for and protecting the Jewish people outside of the land in a hostile environment but He's not seen. Neither is Satan seen, like we see Satan in the book of Job. Satan is the one who goes to God and wants to test Job. The curtain is drawn back so we can see what's going on in the divine throne room when we're looking at the book of Job. The writer of Esther doesn't pull the curtain back for us. So we just see things as we do in our day-to-day lives as they are without an exposure of the spiritual realities behind the scene. We come to understand God's hidden hand and His providential protection.
The events take place during the reign of Ahasuerus, which is the Persian name for Xerxes, when he has suffered military defeat by the Greeks. He's come back and he is not in the best of moods and he is trying to drown out some of his sorrows because of his military defeat. The book begins by sort of setting the stage in the first chapter by showing why he is looking for a wife. Now we see that God is really working behind the scenes here. What happens here is that he throws a party. This party goes on for a while. His wife, Queen Vashti, is throwing a feast for the women at the same time. On the seventh day as they reach a certain stage of drunkenness at the king's party and he wants to bring the Queen out in order to display her beauty before all of his men friends. There's a hint there that this is extremely inappropriate but we don't know exactly what that entailed. She refuses to do it and according to the laws of the Persians, this is an affront that is really punishable by death. Ahasuerus is gracious; he doesn't have her executed but he does banish her from the court and for all practical purposes he divorces her.
This sets the stage for searching for a new wife. He has a beauty contest and talent contest and all of the best virgins in the land come forward to see who will be chosen by the king. It was a twelve month training process where they prepared them before they came before the king. One of the young ladies that comes is a young Jewish girl by the name of Hadassah. Her Persian name was Esther. Her cousin is Mordecai. We're told in Esther 2:7 that Mordecai had raised her from childhood, that she was his uncle's daughter so he was actually her cousin. She was much, much younger and her parents had died and so Mordecai raised her. He encourages her to go forward. He warns her not to tell anyone she's Jewish. This is emphasized twice in chapter 20. In verse 10 we're told that Esther had not revealed her people or her family for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it.
Now why Mordecai did that we don't know but this is important as the story unfolds because as the enemy, Haman, comes along he hates the Jewish people. He hates Mordecai which he transfers to all the Jewish people. If he had known that Esther was Jewish this would have changed the dynamics so for whatever reason under the providential oversight of God Mordecai stresses that she's not to let anyone know she's Jewish or who her relatives are. She is presented before the king and the king is going to fall in love with her, love at first sight, and she is the one who is going to be invited to be his new queen.
Now in chapter 3, all of a sudden we shift to the strong baseline and the evil villain comes on the scene, Haman. If you go down to one of the Jewish bakeries in town, if you go to Three Brothers in Memorial City area, you can buy hamantaschen. Hamantaschen is a tri-corner little cookie that they eat the feast of Purim. This is the origin of the Feast of Purim, one of the Jewish holidays and every year they put on a little morality play. The way you know the bad guy he wears a little tri-corner hat. At least that's how Haman is recognized so the hamantaschen is a tri-corner cookie representing that. They're not bad, as cookies go. They have some little fruit fillings and they're tasty.
Haman is identified as an Agagite. Now Agag was the king of the Amalekites at the time of Saul. I talked about this on Tuesday night. The Amalekites were traditional enemy of Israel and they were sort of a large tribe of Bedouin desert pirates frequently attacking different groups all through the Middle East. They were a real scourge at that time. So God directed Saul to kill them, kill them all, men, women, and children, sheep, goats, cattle, everything. Saul disobeyed. He doesn't kill them all. He lets Agag survive and it is believed that Haman is called an Agagite is because he is a descendant of Agag. He's an Amalekite. He has a history of being the enemy of the Jews, the enemy of Israel.
So he comes and rises in the ranks of Xerxes. When he comes through the gates into the palace, everybody bows and scrapes and does homage to him except for one man, Mordecai. And every day everybody shows him this deference and respect and feeds his pride and arrogance except for Mordecai. This gets under his skin. He builds up this hatred for Mordecai, and he transfers that to all of the Jewish people and builds this intense hatred for the Jews. Haman wanted Mordecai to bow and scrape to him and show him a little respect. Mordecai wouldn't do it. Then they told Haman that Mordecai was Jewish and so then Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.
First Haman decides he wants to kill the people of Mordecai so he goes to the king. He decides they need a date when they're going to have this empire-wide assault and kill all the Jewish people. So they're going to cast lots, called purim, which is where we get the name for the Feast of Purim, the feast of casting lots. So they cast lots; they pick a date, the 12th month of Adar and this is when they're going to have this assault. He goes to the king and tells the king he's going to give an enormous amount of money into the treasury if the king will sign this decree for the destruction of all these people who he says are really the enemies of the Persians and the king. Now the King doesn't really know what's going on and gets sucked in by his advisor. He's kind of an absent king at this point.
The king then took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. So again we get this drumbeat roll: this is the enemy of the Jewish people. So he sent out couriers all over the land to get all the military, the militia, the national guard, all armed and ready to go on the 13th of Adar when they're going to kill all the Jews.
But God is working behind the scenes. So no matter how dark things may appear in your life or mine, God is always in control. We never know what God is doing. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing and the right hand is doing something very interesting. So Mordecai finds out about this and he is just terribly upset, as you can imagine. He tears his clothes and he puts on ashes and sackcloth and he goes out to the men of the city. When this visual expression of his grief comes to Esther's attention, she is trying to get Mordecai to tell her what's going on. He eventually gets a message to her and tells her this is really a position that God has placed her in to come to the aid of her people.
At first she's a little resistant but in 4:13 we read, "Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, 'Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews.'" No one may know you're a Jew but they'll find out and you're not going to be able to escape. " 'For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place.' " That's his strong faith in the promise of God. It's not stated as such but we know that's what's there. Even if you're not the one to take advantage of this and be blessed by playing a part in the deliverance of the Jews, God's going to bring someone else along because God's not going to allow this to happen.
He tells Esther, "And you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" What a great line. We never know what opportunities we might have in whatever place or circumstance that God has placed us. So Esther rises to the challenge and she tells Mordecai to gather all the Jews for a time of prayer and a time of fasting. And they do so.
She then sets a plan. Now this is a fabulous plan. She's thought this through. We're not told what came into this or how she came up with a plan or anything but she comes up with a plan. Rather than just confronting Xerxes with what's going on, when she goes before him, and he recognizes her, instead of saying right away what the problem is, she's going to build a trap for Haman. And it's very subtle. She shows a lot of restraint and discipline and skill. This is a great illustration of what I've been talking about in terms of Proverbs on Sunday mornings in terms of wisdom. This is a great illustration of chokmah, wisdom and skill.
So after three days of prayer and fasting, she gets all dressed up, puts on her finest royal robes, and she's going in to the inner court in the king's palace. Now in Persian law, if she came out into the open, and the king didn't want to recognize her, then that's a death penalty. But if he picks up his scepter and he holds it out, she will come place her hand on it, then he has recognized her, and allows her to come forward. He accepts her and she comes in and she says that she wants to invite him and Haman to dinner the next day.
So the next day they come to dinner and they have a nice banquet dinner and wine. The king asks her what she wants to request. She says she'd like them to come back the next day. She's not in a hurry. How many times when we're witnessing to somebody, when we're dealing with some problem, we get in a hurry? We want to rush things. She's very calm, very relaxed, and she is waiting on the Lord. This is a great example of Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." God is working behind the scenes.
So this has just so fed Haman's ego. He goes home and he's just so excited. He's just dancing on air. Verse 9 says, "Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai." It just ruined his whole day. He goes home, grumpy, kicking the cat, throwing everything against the wall. He calls for his wife and friends and finally begins to get back in a better mood and tells them all the great things that are going to happen to him, riches, honor, and power. He is counting all of his chickens before they hatch, as it were. He is living as though this is going to happen. He has created a false scenario for himself.
He tells that he's been invited back by the queen the next day and he's sure wonderful things are going to happen. But he told about his problem with Mordecai, how he sat outside the king's gate and doesn't give him any respect. So his wife and friends tell him to go ahead and build some gallows since he's going to have so much power. That way he would be ready to execute Mordecai and to hang him for treason since he would have the power to do it. So he issues the orders to have the gallows built. He's just rubbing his hands together in glee that he's going to be raised to this position of power and at the same time he'll be able to destroy his enemies and all of the Jews along with it.
But that night, God is working. Xerxes can't sleep. He gets up in the middle of the night like many of us do at two or three o'clock in the morning. We turn on the television or pick up a book but we can't sleep. Xerxes calls for one of his chroniclers because history puts people to sleep. He wants them to read through the chronicles of the king. In that, an event passed over earlier is discovered where Mordecai had discovered an assassination plot against the king a few years earlier. This had been recorded. Mordecai had reported those who planned this assassination of Xerxes and he'd never been rewarded. When this is read to the king he realized he's never been rewarded. Why wasn't some honor given to Mordecai for saving his life? They tell him no one did anything for Mordecai.
The king asks who's on duty in the court. They heard Haman outside and they brought him in. The king asked him, "What should I do to honor someone who has done great things for the king?" Haman, of course, thinks the king is talking about him. He's so self-absorbed he tells him to bring a royal robe, and a royal horse the king has ridden upon, and put one of the king's prince's before him, leading the man through the city proclaiming, thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor."
So the king tells Haman, "Hurry up. Go get Mordecai and put him on the horse and take him through the city." You can just imagine how Haman felt at that point. Worse than being sucker punched. He's just seething on the inside but he takes Mordecai through the city and then afterwards, Mordecai went back to the king's gate. Haman hurries home with his head covered. He knows that everything is about to crash in on him. He tells his wife and his wife says, "If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish origin, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him." She prophetically announces his doom.
So the next day the king and Haman go to dine with Esther. While they are there, Esther then tells the king how he has been duped into signing this order to allow for the assault and execution of all the Jews in the land. She says, "For had we been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, although the enemy could never for the king's loss." The king wants to know who would dare do this awful thing. She tells him it's that wicked, evil adversary sitting right there, Haman.
The king arose and lost his temper. You don't want someone with that kind of power losing his temper against you. He looks outside, sees the gallows, and orders Haman to be hanged immediately upon the gallows that have been prepared for Mordecai. So Haman, rather than reaping a judgment against the Jews loses his life. God is protecting them. But then this date is still set; the law has been announced; so what are they going to do to save the Jews on the 13th of Adar?
Esther comes to the king with another plan to allow all the Jews to arm themselves, a good principle of self-defense, and to fight off any attacks. That is exactly what they did when the orders went out that they could do this, the Jews partied and celebrated all throughout the land, and then they prepared themselves. We're told at the very end of the story that they killed 75,000 of their enemies. After all that happened and all the praise that Xerxes had for the Jews in the land, you would think that the people would be smart enough to see that the king liked the Jews so they shouldn't fight against them but they fought and lost their lives. That shows the irrationality of anti-Semitism. It's not rational. It's not empirical. We can only understand it if we put it within the framework of spiritual warfare of the angelic conflict. It can only have ultimately a religious, spiritual explanation. We'll get into that next Thursday night.