Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Vengeance is Mine, Part II

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the indications of a vengeful spirit, which can be found in Amos 1:11, 12. You can find that original post here. From those verses, we can see the primary indicators of a vengeful spirit are:
Disregarding the relationship with the wrongdoer

Pursuing of the wrongdoer with threats of various kinds

Failing to recognize extenuating circumstances / misunderstandings

Experiencing a burning rage over the wrong committed

Bearing a perpetual grudge against the wrongdoer, regardless of time or severity of wrong

The next logical step would be to study the consequences of a vengeful spirit. Perhaps the best study on this topic the Bible has to offer can be found in the book of Esther, in the incident of Haman's persectution of Mordecai and the Jews. The episode can be found in Esther 3 - 7. At very least, I would recommend reading chapters 3 & 7.

Haman exemplifies what happens to one when they become consumed by a sense of vengeance. We can even reasonably equate his behavior with the outline provided in Amos 1:
Haman experienced a rage over Mordecai's refusal to bow to him that "tore perpetually" (Esther 3:5 & 9:5-13)

Haman bore a grudge and was willing to "keep his anger" for eleven months to see Mordecai hanged (Esther 3:7)

Haman pursued Mordecai with a "sword" (the threat of hanging) (Esther 5:14)

Haman "cast off all compassion" and let his rage rule his will by convincing the king to issue the decree that all Jews be executed (Esther 3:8-11)

Finally, Haman's sense of vengeance caught up with him when Mordecai's relationship to the king was revealed. By "pursuing a brother" Haman sealed his own fate. (Esther 6 & 7)

So what led Haman to these series of "unfortunate events"?

John R. W. Stott once observed:
"Envy is the reverse side of a coin called vanity. Nobody is ever envious of others who is not first proud of himself."

If you examine the narrative, you see that Haman had been exalted by the king. This honor basically required all who were of lesser rank to bow in Haman's presence. It's hard to imagine that Haman would not have been quite proud of this fact. So, when Mordecai refused to bow, Haman's pride took a hit. His ego was bruised and Haman wanted what he believed was rightfully his: Mordecai's worship. That is, Haman envied Mordecai's respect because he first took great pride in his own social status.

Observe Haman's behavior in Esther 5:9-14:
9 Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king's gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home.
Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, 11 Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 12 "And that's not all," Haman added. "I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. 13 But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate."

14 His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, "Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy." This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built.

Haman's pride and envy, then, worked together to fuel his sense of vengeance. If he was not to have Mordecai's worship, then it would be Mordecai's death. It should also not be lost on the reader the excessive height of the gallows which Haman built for Mordecai. By hanging him 75 feet in the air, Haman had intended Mordecai to worship him far more in death than he ever could have in life. No one was going to miss this.

So what came of Haman's sordid pursuit of vengeful glory? Anyone familiar with the story knows, but it's worth examining closely as we can learn a few things about the costs of having (or even associating with) a vengeful spirit.

Haman's sense of vengeance exploited the relationships he had with others. In this case, Haman used his close relationship to the king to obtain the death of every Jew in the kingdom. That is, the king became an unwitting pawn in Haman's plot to kill an entire race of people to whom not only did his queen belong, but also the man who saved his life (Esther 2 & 6).

Not only did Haman abuse and greatly embarass the king with his vengeful ploy, but the whole situation was exposed at a very bad time - when the king was drunk. The king's judgment was impaired and it's certain the wine left him less able to control his feelings. Had the king not been drinking, Haman might have gotten away with his life. However, when the king left and re-entered the palace to find Haman begging his queen for mercy, in his drunken state he misinterpreted Haman's pleadings for an assault, thereby sealing Haman's fate. Haman was hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai, 75 feet in the air. No one, I'm sure, missed it.

Not only should we avoid a vengeful spirit, but the king in Esther teaches us that we should avoid those who do have a vengeful spirit - no matter how close they are to us. Haman abused his close relationship to the king, rendering the king an unwitting pawn in his game of vengeance. The king's rank and influence were nothing more than tools for Haman to use to feed his own pride and satisfy his envy.

There's another great example of this in Matthew 14:1-11 which chronicles the untimely death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herodias. John the Baptist had spoken out against Herod and Herodias. Herod would have killed John for it, but he feared public opinion. Herodias, however, didn't care. Her pride was injured. She envied John the Baptist's respect, and his death was the only thing that would satisfy her envy. As a result, Herod became a pawn to Herodias' vengeful ploy and he ended up risking the one thing he valued more than John's criticism: public opinion.

Haman teaches us that vengeance can leave us with a skewed view of reality, destroy close relationships, and lead us into embarassing situations which we don't see until it is too late to change our minds. The kings in both stories remind us that associating with vengeful people makes us potential pawns in their games. Ultimately, a vengeful spirit is a spirit that honors no one and is not honored by God.

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