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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Amalekites and Israelites: Judgment and Grace
Text:Esther 9:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice
 
Preached:03/06/2016
Added:2016-05-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Pastor Ted Gray
03/06/16 – a.m.
 
“Amalekites and Israelites: Judgment and Grace”
Esther 9:1-17
 
In Matthew 5 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45). Jesus also taught us the Golden Rule, that we are to do unto others what we wish they would do for us. And He taught us to turn the other cheek, that when someone slaps us on one side of the face we turn the other. Yet here in this 9th chapter of Esther we read how God’s people of the Old Testament – the Jews – seem to have done the opposite. They killed over 75,000 of their enemies and hung the ten sons of Haman in a gruesome public display. 
 
And that causes a dilemma for some Christians. There are some Christians who question whether the book of Esther should be in the Bible. After all, there is no mention of God’s name, no specific mention of prayer although it is implied, and then in the end the Jews go and kill their enemies in what seems initially to be a brutal display of power.
 
However, in John 10:35, Jesus also taught that the Scripture cannot be broken. In other words, the Bible, comprised of 66 books, forms a chain whose links cannot be separated. As we look at this 9th chapter more closely we will see that this chapter is in harmony with all of Scripture in what it teaches.
 
The Right to Defend Ourselves
 
First, God’s people have a right to defend themselves. The enemies who were killed were not simply people with whom the Jews disagreed or did not like. Rather they were armed men who wanted to annihilate the Jews. We see that in the edict that was granted in the previous chapter. Esther 8:11: The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and their children and to plunder the property of their enemies.
 
In a situation where either the lives of God’s children are going to be taken or the lives of the wicked, God allows His people to take action and defend themselves. That has been true throughout history and remains true today. As a contemporary example, when you come to church in the evening you will notice that one of the Council members is sitting in the last row. The Council member is there, not just because the sound man might become lonely way in the back of church. But he is there as a protector. Years ago we had men who would guard the parking lot from vandals. At that time I doubt any of us thought that one day our culture would be such that we would want to guard, not only the parking lot, but also the sanctuary.
 
Although it may be unpleasant to think about, there is growing animosity against Christians in our own country. And there are instable people who might be inclined to harm God’s people when they gather to worship. Because of that reality, last year our Council voted to have a rotational system of someone sitting way in the back of the church to serve as a guard.
  
It is our hope and prayer that the guard would never need to sound the alarm, but as God’s people we have every right to defend ourselves and to be proactive in that defense. When Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us He is not saying that we should let the enemies of Christ annihilate His people.
 
While we have every right to defend ourselves, we are not to take revenge. Romans 12:19 warns specifically against revenge, Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
 
Defense With Restraint
 
And that leads to a second truth about this passage: The Jews of Esther’s day set an example as they defended themselves. They exercised restraint; they killed the armed men who had plotted to kill them, but they did not harm the women and children, and they did not take the plunder.
 
Verse 5 has caused some people to believe that the Jews attacked their enemies without any restraint whatsoever. Verse 5 concludes by saying they did what they pleased to those who hated them. However, other commentators point out that in the context of the passage the Jews showed a great deal of restraint.
 
Did you notice that three times over, in verse 10, 15, and 16 we read that “they did not lay their hands on the plunder”? Yet they had every right to do so. When Haman had made the initial edict to annihilate the Jews, that edict included the plunder of the Jews. As we saw (last week) in the previous chapter, the edict of Haman could not be revoked, but it could be counter-acted with this edict that Mordecai made.
 
The edict was point by point the same as Haman’s, except that it gave the Jews the right to do to their enemies what their enemies had planned to do to them. That is why the edict also allowed the Jews to kill women and children. But in that area too they showed restraint. They only put to death the men who were armed and were seeking to kill the Jewish people of that day. As one commentary points out, “..the clause ‘did what they pleased’ does not imply that the Jews acted sadistically toward those who hated them, rather that the Jews had no difficulty in dispatching quickly their enemies.” (Luter and Davis, God Behind the Seen, pg. 327)
 
As you might imagine, those commentators who are critical of this passage also believe that Esther should not have had the ten sons of Haman hanged. At first glance it does seem like a barbaric act and you might wonder why Esther would do that. However, the public hanging of those ten sons would serve as a visual warning for many years to come. It would serve as a powerful reminder not to harm the people of God, the Jews in the Old Testament.
 
Years ago I knew an old prospector. He had been panning for gold for decades. He had followed the tributaries of every major river in northern California and Oregon looking for flecks of gold in his pan. But one of the things he talked about the most was the time when he was just a little boy. A man in his small California mountain town had killed another man to get the gold he had laid a claim on north of the town.  
              
Having been convicted and proven guilty, this man was in jail awaiting his sentence when a group of local men sprung him out of jail. They took him to the town square and put a noose around his neck, and strung him up on a tree to die. It was vigilante justice. I don’t know how many times I heard that man tell that story, but it was often enough to know that it left a lasting impression, an impression that spanned 70 years or so. When these ten sons of Haman were hung – literally their corpses were impaled on posts – it must have been one dramatic sight, one that would stay in the memories of both the Jews and their the enemies.
 
The Difference Between Killing and Murder
 
A third truth that we see in this passage is that there is a difference between killing and murder. Over 75,000 armed enemies of the Jews were killed, but that does not mean that the sixth commandment was broken. In the old King James Version of the Bible, Exodus 20:13 is translated as “Thou shall not kill.” However, virtually all the other translations, including the new King James Version of the Bible, say, “You shall not murder.” There is a large and significant difference between those two words. We see the difference in two distinct areas: capital punishment and the fighting of just wars.
 
There is a massive effort underway to rid our country of the death penalty altogether. Even the Pope has called on world leaders to cease all executions. However, the Bible clearly teaches the death penalty. In Genesis 9:5-6 the Lord said to Noah, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.”  Romans 13:4 also teaches that the civil government does not bear the sword for nothing, meaning that the civil government has the right to put a murderer to death. When they do an execution, they are killing a criminal, but not murdering him.
 
A second area of confusion concerning the sixth commandment is war for a just cause. The United States government grants an exemption from the armed services for those who conscientiously object. Among them are Quakers, the Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others. However, Scripture is more than clear that in a fallen hostile world, war is necessary; Scripture is clear that killing in war is not a violation of the sixth commandment. In the Old Testament we see Abraham pursuing the kings who kidnapped Lot. That was a just war. So were many of the other wars that Israel had with their Old Testament enemies.
 
In the New Testament we read where soldiers coming to Jesus were not rebuked for being soldiers. Some, including the Centurion whose servant was ill and Cornelius, a devout believer, were commended for their faith. No Christian likes war, but in a fallen, sinful world war is inevitable. And as long as there are just wars, Christian soldiers may kill their adversaries and not break the sixth commandment. There is a big difference between killing and murdering when it comes to both capital punishment and fighting a just war.
 
We see, by way of application, that the actions of this chapter harmonize fully with all of Scripture. Far from being vengeful and barbaric the Jews of Esther’s day were defending themselves from armed enemies. They were in a just war. They had to defend themselves for the protection of their families and their own personal lives.
 
A Holy War
 
But they were also in a very real sense in a holy war because as they killed their enemies they were fulfilling the warning given by God in Exodus 17. The enemies that the Jews in Esther chapter 9 were putting to death were Amalekites, and those who were sympathetic to them – their allies. The Amalekites had attacked the Israelites viciously when Israel was in the desert in their pilgrimage to the promised land. Because of the cruelty of the Amalekites to God’s people, we read where the Lord said to Moses, in Exodus 17:14, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
 
Joshua was used by the Lord to defeat many of the Amalekites, but a remnant of them remained. Because of that, when Saul was king of Israel the Lord sent Samuel to him to say, in 1 Samuel 15:2-3, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
 
Deuteronomy 25:17-19 also describes the judgment God would bring on the Amalekites. The Lord said:  “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land He is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”
 
King Saul did not do as the Lord commanded. He spared the life of the Amalekite king, King Agag. As we have seen, Haman was a direct descendent of Agag, the king of the Amalekites, just as Mordecai was a direct descendent of Saul, king of Israel. (In 1 Samuel 30 we read how David destroyed the Amalekites, except for 400 men who rode off on camels and fled). Consequently, this conflict that we witness in Esther chapter 9 is a continuation of the war of good and evil that marks all of history.
 
And as we see the decisive way in which the Jews of Esther day were able to defeat their armed enemies, we are reminded that God is true to all his promises, both in redemption and in judgment. The Lord had promised to wipe out the memory of the Amalekites. Saul had refused to do as the Lord commanded, so now more than 500 years later in history, God gave the upper hand to Queen Esther and to Mordecai to bring judgment on these lifelong enemies of His people.
 
God is True to His Promises of Judgment and Grace
 
We love to think of the promises of God and how they are fulfilled in Christ. We love to sing, “standing on the promises of God my Savior.” And that is truly wonderful to think upon. But may each one of us always remember that God is true to His promises – His warnings – of judgment as well as His promises of redemption. When some of the Amalekites escaped the sword of Joshua, the Lord gave Saul the command to put them to the sword. When he disobeyed that command, the Lord raised up David against them, and when 400 men escaped and perpetuated the line of Amalek, the Lord brought up another unique time in history to bring judgment against the ancestors of those who cruelly waylaid Israel as they came up out of Egypt.
 
As Romans 11:22 warns us:  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.­ ­ God is true to every promise He has made, both in regard to salvation and to judgment.
 
The Judgment of God Satisfied at Calvary
 
But for those who believe in Him, God satisfied the judgment for sin at Calvary. There is no doubt who has won the war between good and evil, God and Satan. Jesus Christ is the Victor, and one day every person who has ever lived will acknowledge His greatness and glory.
 
And those of us who believe in Him with a saving faith can be sure that He satisfied the judgment for sin when He offered Himself on the cross of Calvary. As we have seen, the hanging – literally impaling – of the ten sons of Haman served as a warning. But it also pointed to the curse that the Amalekites were under. Esther commanded that those ten sons of Haman be hanged, not only as a deterrent and a warning, but also she realized the biblical truth that cursed is everyone who is on a tree. Haman and his sons were cursed. But if you and I were judged according to our thoughts, words and deeds we would deserve the same curse – the same judgment – that the Amalekites were under.
 
Yet, those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have the full assurance that Christ took the curse that we deserve upon Himself. Galatians 3:10-14: For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
 
We are like Esther and Mordecai and the Jews of their day in the sense that they too were sinners, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yet God had mercy on them because they were His people – not by their works but by His grace and gift of saving faith. May the same be true for you and for me in this week of preparation. As we look ahead to the Lord’s Supper may we look with gratitude to Him who satisfied God’s judgment for sin at Calvary, taking upon Himself the judgment we deserve and giving us salvation from sin and everlasting life through faith in Him. Amen.

 

- bulletin outline -

 

The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. - Esther 9:5
 
“Amalekites and Israelites: Judgment and Grace”
Esther 9:1-17
 
I. The dilemma for some: Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), but in this chapter we read how God’s people in the Old Testament, the Jews,
    killed over 75,000 of enemies (5-10, 16)
 
 
 
II. The Bible, comprised of 66 books, forms a chain that cannot be broken (John 10:35). This chapter is in harmony with all Scripture as it teaches:
       1) God’s people have a right to defend themselves (Esther 8:11), but are not to take revenge (Romans 12:19)
 
 
 
       2) The Jews of Esther’s day set an example as they defended themselves but did not take the plunder (10, 15, 16) even though they were entitled to it
           (Esther 8:11)
 
 
 
       3) There is a difference between killing and murder (16; Exodus 20:13)
 
 
 
III. Applications:
      1) The actions of this chapter harmonize fully with all of Scripture. They are a fulfilment of God’s warning  (Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 25:17-19). The actions
          by Mordecai, a descendant of Saul, complete the requirement that Saul failed to meet (1 Samuel 15:2-3)
 
 
 
      2) God is true to all His promises, both in redemption and in judgment (Romans 11:22)
 
 
 
      3) For those who believe in Him, God satisfied the judgment for sin (13-14) at Calvary (Galatians 3:10-14)
      
 
 
 
 
 
03/06/ 2016 - a.m.

 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 03/0, Rev. Ted Gray

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