Sermon: Wisdom & Folly

In our jaunt through Esther, we have been listening to God’s Word as a story of redemption. The people are in exile, in great peril from the wicked plot of Haman. We hope, along with Esther and Mordecai, for God’s deliverance, which often comes in unexpected ways and from unexpected places. We have been listening to Esther as a story of deliverance and a vision of how God works in our lives. And rightly so.

But this morning, I want to invite us to take a step back and look at Esther from a different angle. Esther not only shows God’s mighty hand of deliverance, but is a vivid picture of the different between wisdom and foolishness. In our passage this morning, we have two scenes: one is the height of wisdom, the other the depths of foolishness. Wisdom is a bit like great art – you know it when you see it, even if just exactly what makes it what it is eludes you. Thankfully, God guides us in what to look for when looking for wisdom. So as we hear Esther chapter 5, let’s listen in conversation with a verse from the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 11:2. Lee could you put that up on the screen.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble.

Let’s say that all together:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble.

Esther chapter 5, beginning in verse 1, but before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble. With these words still ringing in our ears, listen to Esther chapter five.

These are the very words of God, from the book that we love:

On the third day, Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, opposite the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne inside the palace opposite the entrance of the palace. As soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won his favor and he held out to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the top of the scepter. The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” Then Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet that I have prepared for the king.” Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther desires.” So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared. While they were drinking wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be given you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Esther said, “This is my petition and request: If I have won the king’s favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them, and then I will do as the king has said.”

Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, Haman was infuriated with Mordecai, nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh and Haman recounted to them all the riches of his splendor, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him over the officials and ministers of the king. Haman added, “Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go with the king to the banquet in good spirits.” This advice pleased Haman and he had the gallows made.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let’s read Proverbs 11:2 together again: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble.

There are two scenes in our passage this morning – one full of wisdom and one full of foolish pride, one with Esther and one with Haman.

As we learned in the last couple weeks, Esther’s situation is precarious to say the least. She is a Jew and now Queen of Persia. At the order of her uncle and adoptive father, Mordecai, she has hidden her religious and ethnic identity. But now Haman has plotted to destroy all the Jews throughout the empire. He has declared the day and made the order sealed with the king’s ring and sent to the four corners of the Empire. Esther learns of this edict of destruction and is faced with a choice: she can remain silent and hope this calamity will pass her by, or she can risk her life by going in to the king unannounced to plead for the life of her people. At the very end of the last chapter, Esther said she will go to the king and asked the people to fast with her for three days before she goes.

Almost everything about Esther’s life is full of chaos and peril. Her life is at risk, her family’s life, the life of her entire people hangs in the balance. Haman son of Hammadatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews, has the king’s signet ring and the king’s power along with it. The circumstances surrounding Esther are a raging storm, but when we see her emerge from her three days of fasting, she is calm.

Esther is in a position of weakness, but she demonstrates strength and stability. We are not told what is going on inside her, but what we see is a sort of shrewd wisdom.

After three days of fasting, Esther puts on her royal robes and goes to the inner court of the king’s palace. She enters dressed like a Queen, but she doesn’t go all the way in. It says she stood opposite the king’s hall. Esther does not barge into the throne room, but stands just outside the doorway, decked out, where the king can see her. And when he does, he extends the scepter, inviting her in.

Not only has Esther risked her life and come away unscathed, but by standing at the entrance instead of coming straight in, when she enters, she makes it look like it was the King’s idea to have her there.

The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.”

Now is the time, right? Say, “Haman has issued an order in your name to annihilate my people. He even bribed you. You have to stop him.” This is where Esther will say what she came for, right? The king has promised her anything, up to half the kingdom.

No, instead she invites them to a banquet. What may seem odd at first is, again, wisdom from Esther. If Esther demands the king stop Haman right there, one, she has to tell the whole court that Haman duped Ahasuerus into this, which won’t go over well. Two, Haman is not present, so even if she convinces the king, he will confront Haman later, where the snake might find a way to slither his way out when it is ‘just the guys’ talking.

So, Esther invites them both to a banquet. She mentions Haman like he is an afterthought, but by putting them both at the banquet, she forces a direct and immediate confrontation when she reveals the plot. Esther’s actions work to place her in the greatest advantage when she finally pleads for the life of the Jews.

They go to the banquet. They reach the wine-drinking stage, which means the king is likely in a very good and agreeable mood. He asks the question again, “What is it you want, Esther? Make your request and I will grant it, up to half my kingdom.”

Then Esther said, “This is my petition and request: If I have won the king’s favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them, and then I will do as the king has said.”

Another banquet. Why? Did she lose her nerve? Maybe, but I think her last phrase gives us a hint that she had a plan in all this. and then I will do as the king has said. Originally, she was coming weak to beg the king for her people, but two banquets later, she has managed to convince the king that this was his idea to give her what she wants. then I will do as the king has said. By the second banquet, her demand will be in accordance with what the king asked her to do.

Esther was surrounded by chaos and peril. She entered the king’s court risking her life, but she has the king and Haman alone at a banquet, where the king thinks this whole thing was his idea. Wisdom.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble.

Haman went away from the first banquet with Esther and the king thinking he was hot stuff. Verse 9 says that he went away that day happy and in good spirits. Everything was going his way, including a personal invitation to dine with the king and queen. Life was good. Everything was coming up Haman. But not for long. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, Haman was infuriated with Mordecai.

What a contrast to Esther. Esther’s whole world was chaos and disorder, but she walks steadily through it with calm and poise. Haman is having everything go his way, but one thing goes wrong and his whole life goes off the rails. He burns with anger because one man won’t acknowledge him the way he wants. Haman goes home and gathers his friends and his wife Zeresh. He starts telling them how great he is – all the riches of his splendor, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he advanced him over the officials and ministers of the king. Anyone think that Haman might be a little insecure? After all, these are his friends and his wife. I am sure they already know how rich and powerful he is. Certainly, his wife is very aware of how many sons he has. Yet, Haman feels the need to repeat them all and then says, Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate. His world falls apart – and everything he has worked for is meaningless – because of one man.

Haman’s life is unstable. It is built on a poor foundation. The smallest tremor sends everything crashing down. Haman’s life is built on the approval of others. His worth, his success, his sense of self is connected to how everyone else sees him. That is why one man’s disrespect sends the whole building crashing down and why he has to gather all his friends to remind them of his status and wealth. He needs their affirmation desperately and when he does not get what he craves, he acts the fool.

No one in Haman’s life told him to forget it, to let it go. No one in his life told him that his value what not connected with his outward success, but that the gospel answered his need for true significance. No one told him of the God that loves his people unconditionally, in spite of their sin. No one told him to lay down that idol of other people’s approval and turn in repentance toward the true God, whose love never fails.

Instead, when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble. Haman’s family and friends only seek to soothe his bruised ego, and tell him to build a stake 75 feet high. They stoke his need for approval and petty vengeance by telling him to have the king impale Mordecai on it, so that he would not just die, but be disgraced and humiliated. Unsurprisingly, this advice pleased Haman and he had the gallows made.

There is a stark contrast between Esther and Haman. Esther is stable in face of a raging storm, but the slightest breeze crumbles Haman’s world. What is the difference between the two of them? We see the fruit – the wisdom of Esther and the foolish pride of Haman.

The key, I believe, is in the first few words of verse 1: On the third day. Esther spent three days fasting – three days without food or water, in prayer to God. She and all the people of God, purposefully went without to declare their dependence upon God for everything in their life and to seek his face. Esther spent time before the face of God, so that when she stood before the face of Ahasuerus, she stood on solid ground.

The difference between wisdom and foolishness is the ground on which you stand. Esther began with prayer and fasting. She began by remembering where she stood. Only in God’s presence, could she remember who she was and whose she was, so that when the storm came, when she stepped out into the court of the king, she would walk in the way of God.

Maybe this morning, you are feeling unrooted and unstable like Haman. Maybe you are in the storm and feel as if the slightest breeze will send you tumbling over. Maybe this morning is an invitation to rest in God’s presence, to go to him to remember who you are and to whom you belong. Maybe this morning is an invitation to enter into wisdom, by humbly placing all your life in the hands of God. Maybe this morning is an invitation to remember where you stand.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall.”

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching – for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s