Let’s move the hands of the clock back more than 2,400 years to ancient Iran. Two high-level Persian court politicians had become so angry with King Ahasuerus that they plotted together to assassinate him. The old Latin word for this plan – conspiracy – comes from the joining of ‘spiro’ (to breath) and ‘con’ (together). They ‘breathed together’ – were in the same room – as they planned their dastardly deed.
- In those days, while Mordechai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s officials from those who guarded the door [ancient term for court diplomat; see also 6:2], became angry and sought to attack King Ahasuerus. But the plot became known to Mordechai and he informed Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in Mordechai’s name. Then when the plot was investigated and found to be so, they were both hanged on a wooden gallows; and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king’s presence (Esther 2:21-23)
The Jewish holiday of Purim (‘lots/dice’ which are thrown to determine someone’s fate or a course of action) is upon us. It is the happiest of all Jewish celebrations, commanded in Esther 9:27-32 as a feast “not to be neglected by the Jews”, nor should “their memory fade from their descendants.” The manic-depressive (or, better worded, ‘depressive-manic’) nature of these events accurately reflect much of Hebrew history. Even today the world nervously considers a similar scenario – the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear conspiracy to destroy Israel (the Jewish state) and to wreak havoc on pro-Western forces and neighbors.
Social media is currently buzzing with a plethora of posts focusing on coronavirus-related subjects. No matter what position these posters hold, one common denominator often binds these posts together – the flames of anger, conspiracy and fear.
Let’s consider the Book of Esther in light of our current situation. What can be learned about the roles of anger, conspiracy and fear in God’s redemptive process of rescuing both the Jewish people and all who turn to Him in these Last Days?
A king’s anger
Solomon commented that “a king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion” (Proverbs 19:12). King Ahasuerus’ character comes down to us in Scripture as that of a man known for occasional burning anger:
- On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was cheerful with wine, he ordered . . . to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal turban in order to display her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s order delivered by the eunuchs. So the king became very angry, and his wrath burned within him (Esther 1:10-12)
- After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done, and what had been decided regarding her (Esther 2:1)
- Then Haman became terrified before the king and queen. The king then got up in his anger from drinking wine and went into the palace garden (Esther 7:6-7)
- So they hanged Haman on the wooden gallows which he had prepared for Mordechai, and the king’s anger subsided (Esther 7:10)
A queen’s fears
The Scroll of Esther reveals that, even though Esther was the favored Queen of Persia, she had to confront powerful fears.
- Esther did not reveal her people or her kindred, because Mordechai had instructed her that she was not to reveal them (Esther 2:10)
- Esther still had not revealed her relatives or her people, just as Mordechai had instructed her. For Esther did what Mordechai told her just as she had when under his care (Esther 2:20)
- Then Esther spoke to Hathach and ordered him to reply to Mordechai: “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king in the inner courtyard, who is not summoned, he has only one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live” (Esther 4:10-11)
- When Mordechai learned of everything that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly. And he came as far as the king’s gate, for no one was to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. In each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and mourning rites. And many had sackcloth and ashes spread out as a bed. Then Esther’s attendants and her eunuchs came and informed her, and the queen was seized by great fear. And she sent garments to clothe Mordechai so that he would remove his sackcloth from him, but he did not accept them. Then Esther summoned Hathach from the king’s eunuchs, whom the king had appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordechai to learn what this mourning was and why it was happening. So Hathach went out to Mordechai in the city square, in front of the king’s gate. Mordechai told him everything that had happened to him, and the exact amount of money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the elimination of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their annihilation, so that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favor and plead with him for her people (Esther 4:1-9)
- When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the courtyard, she obtained favor in his sight. And the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the top of the scepter. Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you, Queen Esther? And what is your request? Up to half of the kingdom it shall be given to you!” (Esther 5:2-3)
There was good reason for Esther to fear. Her royal predecessor had been summarily dumped, and Esther only became queen through winning a fickle ‘Miss Persia’ beauty contest. The Jewish people were not native to Persia, having been exiled to Iran as Babylonian prisoners of war barely 100 years previous. There were good reason for Mordechai to forbid Esther from revealing her Jewish identity. Haman’s genocidal conspiracy plans leave no doubt about that.
Honor, fear, anger, blood and conspiracy
“High honor is not safe from injury until blood is spilt over its flanks” (a proverb of Abū al-Ṭayyib Aḥmad ibn Al-Ḥusayn Al-Mutanabbī Al-Kindī, famous Iraqi ‘Abbāsid Arab poet at the court of Aleppo’s Sayf al-Dawla). In David Pryce-Jones’ classic ‘The Closed Circle: an interpretation of the Arabs’, he explains that “acquisition of honor, pride, dignity, respect and the converse avoidance of shame, disgrace, and humiliation are keys to Arab motivation, clarifying and illuminating behavior in the past as well as in the present” (page 34). This dynamic is found throughout the Middle East, he adds. Pryce-Jones notes that “by definition, honor and shame involve publicity” (page 40).
Here is a Middle-Eastern key to understanding the issue of public honor in some of Ahasuerus’ and Haman’s actions:
- The principle of giving honor was decisive in the royal response to Vashti’s behavior (Esther 1:20).
- Haman’s public authority was recognized by public homage. Mordechai’s refusal to follow the crowd was seen as a challenge which brought shame and potential weakness to Haman: “After these events King Ahasuerus honored Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and promoted him and established his authority over all the officials who were with him. All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman. For so the king had commanded regarding him. But Mordechai neither bowed down nor paid homage” (Esther 3:1-2)
- Haman’s ambitious soul had no problem with enacting genocidal vengeance against Mordechai and his entire nation: “When Haman saw that Mordechai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage. But he considered it beneath his dignity to kill Mordechai alone, for they had told him who the people of Mordechai were. So Haman sought to annihilate all the Jews, the people of Mordechai, who were found throughout the kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:5-6)
- Then Haman went out that day joyful and pleased of heart. But when Haman saw Mordechai at the king’s gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordechai. Haman controlled himself, however, and went to his house. But he sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh. Then Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and his many sons, and every occasion on which the king had honored him and how he had promoted him above the officials and servants of the king. Haman also said, “Even Esther the queen let no one except me come with the king to the banquet which she had prepared, And tomorrow also I am invited by her with the king. Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him, “Have a wooden gallows fifty cubits high made, and in the morning ask the king to have Mordechai hanged on it; then go joyfully with the king to the banquet.” And the advice pleased Haman, so he had the wooden gallows made (Esther 5:9-14)
- So the king’s servants said to him, “Behold, Haman is standing in the courtyard.” And the king said, “Have him come in.” Haman then came in and the king said to him, “What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?” Therefore Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king desires to honor, have them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal turban has been placed. Then order them to hand the robe and the horse over to one of the king’s noble officials, and have them dress the man whom the king desires to honor, and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘So it shall be done for the man whom the king desires to honor.’” Then the king said to Haman, “Quickly, take the robe and the horse just as you have said, and do so for Mordechai the Jew, who is sitting at the king’s gate. Do not fail to do anything of all that you have said.” (Esther 6:5-10)
The thwarting of a conspiracy
The Book of Esther is essentially the historical narrative of how Satan took advantage of Persian Haman’s pride and genocidal ambitions, and how the devil was ultimately defeated by intercession (both in prayer and in direct appeal to the monarch – Esther 4:3, 8, 13-17; 7:1-6; 8:3) as well as by physical defeat of the anti-Jewish forces (Esther 8:4-9:16).
- For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to eliminate them, and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and eliminate them. But when it came to the king’s attention, he commanded by letter that his wicked scheme which he had devised against the Jews was to return on his own head, and that he and his sons were to be hanged on the wooden gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. And because of the instructions in this letter, both what they had seen in this regard and what had happened to them, the Jews established and made a custom for themselves, their descendants, and for all those who allied themselves with them, so that they would not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation and according to their appointed time annually. So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city. And these days of Purim were not to be neglected by the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants. (Esther 9:24-28)
Terrorism and fear
In the film ‘Network’ by Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet, a news media outlet seeking to boost ratings comes to the stark conclusion that terrorism sells. So the media executives get together in the same room and conspire to assassinate their own top television host on prime time.
Terrorism-related homicides are a small fraction of overall homicides, both in the world and in the U.S.A. Yet terrorist attacks are prominently highlighted on the evening news. And that media frenzy is exactly the outcome that terrorists desire. The media system actually fuels the fears of their audiences by marketing the shock value of terror attacks.
Things that seem uncertain, unpredictable and not controllable ratchet up people’s perception of risk. And when people remain in a state of heightened stress for a long time period, their ability to carefully weigh costs and benefits of different actions is downgraded, A felt need arises to resolve matters decisively and to establish certainty in one’s perspectives.
When people get angry, they find it hard to believe that factors beyond anyone’s control have caused the immediate problem. It must certainly be that there is an individual to blame. “People in an extended hyper-state of vigilance struggle to distinguish lower threats from higher threats.”
In the article ‘The enemy in our feeds: This is how your fear and outrage are being sold for profit’ by Tobias Rose-Stockwell, July 28, 2017, one sentence stands out as particularly relevant for us: “The terror was far more contagious than the virus itself, and had the perfect network through which to propagate – a digital ecosystem built to spread emotional fear far and wide.”
In Esther’s day it could have been said, “Even paranoid people can have real enemies following them.” In today’s social media culture, paranoid people see real enemies in just about every corner. Left-wingers and ‘progressives’ see the enemy on the right. Right-wingers and conservatives see the enemy on the left. Both pro and anti virus-vaccination advocates see dark hearts only on the other side of the aisle. Regardless of the final outcome, it can ruefully be noted that countries, families and individuals are being split over these matters. It might be the fear of the virus or it might be the fear of the vaccine. But the social collapse that we all see coming down is no respecter of persons.
A pandemic of fear
A dear and departed prophetic friend spoke nearly ten years ago of a pandemic which would come upon the earth. He said that “the first one would prove to be little but fear,” but that a second one coming after that would be serious. There is all-too-evident fear spreading across the globe, and it is certainly doing great damage.
The current spread of the coronavirus has caught many unprepared and at a disadvantage. Proper awareness of the virus’ origins and design, proper emergency hospital treatment, proper evaluation of potentially promising anti-viral medicinal solutions, accurate appraisals of the effectiveness of masks and social distancing, accurate communications to the public regarding what the vaccine can and can’t do, and clear explanations about its development process – in so many cases medical, scientific and political authorities have been doggedly struggling to keep abreast of the fast-moving changes and developments. And their consumer audiences (both of media and of vaccines) have been shocked to discover that sometimes and in some venues the emperor has no clothes.
Do not give the devil a foothold
We are aware of how some dear friendships are breaking down, how other relationships are fracturing, and social media wars are being conducted by believers in full public view, with drawn and bloody swords – just over these issues. Fear, anger, mutual accusations of conspiracy theories – is this what we signed up for, dear brothers and sisters? What do we need to do to be able to stand in the evil day? Paul reminds us that “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of people, by craftiness in deceitful scheming, but speaking the truth in love . . . (Ephesians 4:14-15).
In the midst of this media maelstrom, it is important to remember the humanity of those with whom one disagrees, on both sides of the aisle. All of us must honor each other’s right (both ethically and legally) to hold our own perspectives and opinions. Those who would suppress or suspend the civil rights of people who in good conscience cannot or will not receive vaccination, are potentially leading their people down a slippery slope, one which could easily lead into dark cellars.
I have always found encouragement from this apostolic command, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil a base of operations/ a foothold/ an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). The Greek word here is topos (τόπος), and the language conveys the sense of a helipad, where a demonic helicopter can land an unload troops.
Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Ruach HaKodesh of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)
How should we then pray?
- Pray for all those working on developing and applying medical solutions to receive God’s wisdom and strategies
- Pray for governmental leaders to receive divine revelation and courage how to best handle the challenges and make the wisest decisions
- Pray for all who are attempting to understand God’s ways and wisdom and obey His voice amidst the roaring storm of competing voices
- Pray for the raising up of the Ezekiel 37 prophetic army among the Jewish people
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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