Lightly edited rough transcription of a chapel talk given at Colorado Christian University on November 7, 2023.
For this chapel, I was asked by Pastor Paul Faust to speak about the legacy of our faith and aspects of our Christian heritage. But given the events of the past month, I decided I’m not going to speak on that topic. Instead, I want to lead us in a time of reflection on the extraordinary events of October prompted by the attack on Israel. But I want to take you to the Scirptures to try to shed some light on how we should think about all the things that are going on right now.
One of my favorite books in the Bible is the Book of Esther. Anybody else here love the book of Esther? SIt is the story about a woman named Hadassah, one of the great women of the Bible, sort of the female counterpart to Joseph and Daniel. Do we have any Esthers in the house, by the way? I know we do. If you’re an Esther, would you just stand up? Ladies, you have a great name. I actually have a daughter-in-Law named Esther. I have four children and one of them married an Esther. She is a Korean-American. She is a wonderful, beautiful woman with a great name. But this is a book about how the Jews got relief from their enemies and how God used a courageous Jewish woman named Esther.
Surprisingly, in the Book of Esther, the name of God is not mentioned. Some have actually questioned whether this book should be in the Bible because the name of God does not appear. But when you read the book carefully, what do you discover? That God is everywhere present in the book of Esther, right?
He’s the hidden being behind the curtain, providentially working things out. So the book of Esther has a real profound theology. It’s a wonderful book. It was written in the time of the Persian Empire, when Persia ruled all the way, think of this, from India to Ethiopia and Africa. That’s a lot of landmass. And the king at the time, if you open up … In fact, open up your Bible to Esther 3. But in Esther 1, it tells us that the king at the time was King Ahasuerus, and his other name known pretty much by historians is Xerxes I.
He was very powerful, he was known to be very ruthless. And you know probably the setting, some Israelites were still in exile. Some had actually returned to the land. He reigned from 486 to 465 BC, and the story begins where he’s having a big banquet and his queen, Vashti is just rather disagreeable, and she decides not to show up when called for and humiliates the king. He will have none of it. And so he asked his advisors what he should do, and they say, “Basically, she sent in a really bad message throughout the kingdom. You need a new queen.”
So what happens? There’s this search for a beautiful woman in Persia, and the search goes everywhere. The officials of Persia start gathering, just going to houses saying, “Well, this could be a contender. We’re taking her.” That happened to Esther. She was being raised by Mordecai, and she got pulled out of the house probably against her will. And as she enters the king’s palace and starts to interact with the others and the king’s advisor, she wins his favor and she eventually becomes the queen. And with her adopted parents’ help Mordecai, she discovers a plot to overthrow the king, and she is used to actually keep the king on the throne.
Well, while all this is happening, there’s an official in the court of King Xerxes named Haman. And Haman is not very friendly to the Jewish people. As you read the Book of Esther, you realize he’s not just concerned with Mordecai who won’t bow to him, but he’s got a beef with the Jews as well, because it turns out that he wants to destroy them, to kill them, to annihilate all the Jews, young and old, women and children in the entire Persian Kingdom. And the Book of Esther is about how God saves his people through the courage of one woman who risks everything and speaks.
Of course, the wider story of Esther is God is using this to bring light to the Gentiles, to use His chosen people to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. But this is a really important part of that story. And the story has an endnote where it says, “Never forget what happened.” In fact, there was a feast instituted in Israel called the Feast of Purim, to make sure that they don’t forget. The message is because the same thing is probably going to happen over and over again.
Now when we focus on the Book of Esther, we often focus on Esther and we should, because she’s such an amazing person. But you really can’t understand the Book of Esther without this man named Haman. So my title this morning is, the “Return of Haman and the Hatred That Won’t Go Away.” I want to read to you six verses from Esther 3. “After these things, King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the Agatite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who are with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage.”
“Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king’s command?’ And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So as they had made known to him, the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.” That’s just a snippet.
On October 7th of this past month, our world changed in a very significant way. The events of October 7th may end up turning to be not only a turning point in the Middle East, but a turning point in American History. And perhaps a turning point in world history. For sure, a turning point in American higher education. You may not realize it, but this could end up being part of one of the defining events of your generation.
The news, there was a barbaric attack against Israeli civilians. It was horrendous. I mean, the people who were there, I had friends who were in Israel at the time, and friends who have seen much more graphic things that made the news. Babies with heads cut off, 40 babies tied together and burned alive. Children killed in front of their parents, parents in front of their children. Women raped, paraded through the streets, hostages taken of infants, toddlers, elderly, Holocaust survivors, many, many dead, many wounded, and as you know, many hostages.
Then what happened is the news hit the world wires, newswires is there were these celebrations around the world celebrating what was done as an act of liberation, celebrating on college campuses, so many university campuses in the United States. And at the same time, there were many university leaders who are just shockingly silent about it all. And at the same time, there was this eruption of hatred towards the Jews all over the world. I mean, we’re watching these news clips and you’re seeing crowds chant, “Gas the Jews. Gas the Jews.” And of course, there were attacks on synagogues and businesses and many other things going on. And you ask yourself, “What’s going on? I don’t understand this.” And there’s probably one word that helps us understand and that’s the word, antisemitism.
When this happened, CCU immediately responded. I talked to CCU President Eric Hogue and he said, “Yeah, go out on social media and condemn the attack.” Which we did about 24 hours within the attack, which the attack was then known to be at that time, the worst attack on the Jews since the Holocaust. And then since that time, I’ve had the privilege of speaking out on editorials, which appeared on Fox News. And this past weekend, if you happen to get the Denver Gazette or the Colorado Springs Gazette, they gave me the expanded cover story of their editorial page to comment on it.
President Hogue thankfully signed a statement called, We Stand With Israel that was put together. It was a coalition of college presidents put together by a friend of mine named Ari Berman, who’s the President of Yeshiva University in New York City, an Orthodox Jewish university. I just want to read from that statement. It said, “A broad coalition of more than a 100 institutions of higher education, including public, private, faith-based, historically Black colleges and universities today issued a statement standing with Israel, the Palestinians who suffer under Hamas’ cruel rule and Gaza and all people of moral conscience.”
Rabbi Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University and convener of the coalition said, “The massacre in Israel put a spotlight on campuses and the role universities have and presidents have in articulating the values that higher education presents. There’s an unparalleled strength in presidents joining together to lay a moral groundwork on which all civil dialogue is naturally based.” It goes on to say, “We were horrified and sickened by the brutality and the inhumanity of Hamas. Murdering innocent civilians, including babies, children, raping women, taking the elderly hostages are not the actions of political disagreement, but the actions of hate and terrorism.”
“The basis of all universities is the pursuit of truth, and it’s time like these that require moral clarity. Like the fight against ISIS, the fight against Hamas is a fight against evil. We the presidents and the chancellors of universities, colleges and higher education associations across the US and the world stand with Israel and the Palestinians, who suffer under Hamas’ cruel rule in Gaza and with all people of good conscience.”
Now understand there were only a 100 universities out of 4,000 in the United States that signed that. And as I was taking all this in, I was thinking to myself, “My goodness, the world is in another Haman moment.” The world was actually shocked in 1945 at the end of World War II. I wasn’t born then. I was born in 1955, ten years later. I know that makes me sound very old, but I tell people, “I choose to self-identify as a 50-year-old.” But when it was learned after the war about the Nazi concentration camps, the Holocaust, people were shocked.
Not everybody knew that was going on during World War II. Yet in 1939, Adolf Hitler told the German public at the beginning of the war that it would mean the end of European Jewry. He spoke about the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe, kind of like Haman. And not many people took him seriously thinking, “Oh, he doesn’t really mean it.” But at the end of the war, it was very evident that he actually did mean it. And even though some deny the reality of the Holocaust, it is the event that showed that he was deadly intent on carrying out his plan.
Now, I had an uncle, I called him Uncle Wally. He was fighting in World War II. He was an infantry leader with the 71st Infantry Division of the Army. He didn’t generally talk to us about the war, because it’s so hard, but one day, he opened up as people were denying the Holocaust took place. And I remember he came to our house in Littleton and he said, “I want to tell you a story. It was 1944 and I was part of this unit and we were advancing through Austria, and we stumbled across a concentration camp. We didn’t know about it. It’s called Gunskirchen Lager. It was the central Nazi concentration camp in Austria. It was filled with 18,000 Hungarian Jews.”
He said, “These were Jews of the intellectual class, the doctors, the lawyers, the professors. And when we got close to this, we just saw a big encampment, we first noticed something was wrong by the smell and the air of burning.” As they got close, they saw the grim realities, the large camps surrounded by barbed wire, those who are now reduced to an animal existence. They approached the camp and they saw emaciated stragglers with skeleton-like frames, striped uniforms, crying out for [foreign language 00:35:52], water from the GIs who were coming in. They were begging for food, those who are still alive, though many were not. Those who were alive would come close if they had the strength and kiss our hands.
He said, “We radioed back to bring all kinds of help in when we realized what we had found.” He said, “But one of my fellow soldiers said, ‘The day I saw Gunskirchen Lager, I finally knew what I was fighting for and what the war was all about.” 6 million Jews that were killed. And at the end of World War II, the world said, “Never again. We will never let this happen again.” And of course, that’s the primary reason the UN and Western Nations established the modern state of Israel, to be a refuge for the world’s Jews, a homeland for them. And yet, 78 years later, here we are back again, and we’re seeing this explosion of antisemitism in our world.
The other day, I had a rabbi in my office in Leprino Hall. He’s a friend of mine. He’s the editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg. And he was in Israel on October 7th. He just got out, because his wife had an emergency medical condition. But he said to me, “Don, I always thought in my lifetime I would just read about the Holocaust. I never thought I would be living in another Holocaust.”
Antisemitism, do you know it’s been called the world’s oldest hatred? The hatred that will not go away. And what’s unique about it, it keeps popping its head up almost in every generation. There are forces that keep trying to eliminate the Jews. I mean, think of it biblically in your Bible, Egypt. Pharaoh tried to destroy them, then the Assyrians under Sinharib. Then the Babylonians had an attempt under King Nebuchadnezzar II, then the Persians, Haman, then the Romans. Then during the Crusades, some of it went really, really wrong and they started attacking the Jews. Then the Ottomans, then the Nazis who had the most ambitious attempt at genocide in history. And since the founding of Israel in 1948, Israel’s fought numerous wars just to defend its right to exist. And today, of course, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran want to eliminate it.
It’s kind of curious to me as a historian how this continuing attempt through history to eliminate the Jews. Why? What is going on? And their amazing survival through history, what’s that about? And their amazing giftedness in history. It’s just a historical peculiarity that stands out and signals that something’s going on and you better dig deeper. But the new antisemitism today has two sources. One is of course the radical left in the United States, which I mean it used to be the radical right that was very antisemitic in the 1930s, but today, it’s the radical left. And the other of course is radical Islam, where they’re calling for Jihad against Israel and the Jews.
What most people don’t understand is that Iran has been calling out for the extermination of Israel and the Jews for the last, I don’t know, 10 years. Hamas, its proxy, has a charter that calls for the obliteration of Israel. Hezbollah does the same. I’ve been to Israel twice this past year. Back about a year ago, I took a group of donors to Israel and we went to Bible lands. Dr. Kotter went with me. We had a marvelous time teaching at all the biblical sites.
Then I got invited in April by a friend of CCU, a Jewish businessman downtown Denver who’s building a big museum in Jerusalem. It’s called The Museum of Tolerance. It’s meant to be kind of like an Abraham’s tent, bringing Jews and Muslims and Christians together to talk, which is a good thing. But when we were there, part of the tour was he took us and flew us by helicopter from Jerusalem all the way up to the Lebanese border.
When we went to the Lebanese border, the IDF, Israeli Military were showing us, just giving us a tour of the wall and then of the towers, the Hezbollah towers on the other side. And he said, “You see that tower over there? That tower is designed after the towers of the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau. It is there to send a message to the Jews. See there that outpost, there’s a sign of Khomeini and it says, ‘1000 Jihadis are coming to Jerusalem.” Then they took us through the tunnels that have been dug by Hezbollah to enter Israel for the day of invasion. We went into some of the tunnels, very sophisticated. It was absolutely amazing just to see it with your eyes.
So when protesters are chanting from the river to the sea, “Let Palestine be free.” Do you know what they’re saying? They’re saying, “Obliterate Israel.” That’s not an innocent cry. They’re saying Israel has no right to exist and the Jews have no right to exist, and they’re calling for the obliteration of the Jewish State. Now, two questions arose in my mind. The first question was, “Gosh, how is this happening in our universities? How did our universities get to this place?” And I’ve been writing about that in the papers.
Part of it is just people don’t have any framework of the Bible anymore. They don’t even know what might be unique about Israel, biblically illiterate. Part of it is a moral relativism that has been embraced by so many of our universities. Part of it is the ascendancy of a neo-Marxist thought, post-colonial theory that’s become very popular. Part of it’s just the naivety about radical Islam. But then the other question that struck me is, well, why is the world breaking out with this rabid antisemitism right now, when only 0.2% of the world’s population are Jews? Why? What is at the core of this hatred?
Why even at the UN, is Israel more hated than North Korea? Is it Israel’s state policies? No, because this hatred was there long before the State of Israel. Is it the lack of a two-state solution and land for Palestine? Well, no, because this was there long before that was even debated. Is it Islamic law which says that once a land has been ruled by Muslims, it is an Islamic possession and it can never be abandoned, so they apply that to Palestine and Spain? No, because this hatred existed before Islam. Is it the wealth and influence and sheer giftedness of Jews and jealousy towards them? Probably not. Is it the scapegoating and conspiracy theories of the Middle Ages when they blamed the Jews for the plague? No, because this hatred was there long before that. Is it that they were blamed by some Christians in the early church for being Christ killers, for killing Christ? And again, it existed long before the early church.
Now what’s going on is deeper than all these things, and I think scripture actually helps us with this. So with a finger in Esther, if you have a Bible, turn to Psalm 83. And I think it’s helpful if you read Psalm 83 and Esther together. Again, I want to know what the Bible says about this. What does God think about this? Not just what’s in the news. And so Psalm 83, it’s a fascinating passage. I’ve titled it, Antisemitism Yesterday And Today, The Anti-God Forces In The World. And it begins, “O God, don’t keep silent. Don’t hold peace or be still God. Behold, your enemies make an uproar. Those who hate you have raised their heads.”
Well, how? Verse three, “They lay crafty plans against your people. They consult together against your treasured ones.” That would be Israel. “They say, ‘Come let us wipe them out as a nation. Let the name of Israel be remembered no more.” For they conspire with one accord against you, God, they make a covenant.” And then it lists all the nations that have tried to annihilate Israel. And of course then, the psalmist breaks out with this cry, “Lord, pursue them. Don’t let them succeed in this. Judge them. Terrify them with your hurricane that they may see your name, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the Lord are the most high God over all the earth.”
It’s a fascinating psalm, because it tells us that the hatred against Israel is ultimately a hatred against God. The ongoing hatred through history, you say, “What is that about?” Well, because they’re chosen people, people hate that and they hate the One who chose them. They look to God as, I don’t know if it’s unfair or, “We don’t like You, or we will not have You rule over us. We don’t like Your treasured ones. We are going to oppose them.” And of course, you look at this and you say, “God did choose Israel among all the nations to be His covenant people, to be a light to the nations. He did give them special gifts and a special calling. He set His love not just on the church, but He elected Israel for His unique purposes.” And yet the attacks want to throw themselves at God’s work in the world.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a pastor for 23 years, and I just know that the enemy always throws himself against the work of Christ, the church. I’ve experienced that, and I believe that the enemy was very active throwing himself to try to block the incarnation from happening, the Christ going to the cross. He hates this. And I think it fits the pattern to believe that Diablos, the devil throws himself against all God’s work, including His purposes for the Jewish people.
So having looked at Esther and Haman reminded ourselves that we should never forget this. In Psalm 83, that at the bottom antisemitism is tied up with the hatred, not just of God’s chosen people, Israel, the Jews, but also against God Himself. What should we do? And I want to close with this. Well, I think obviously, we should avoid any kind of antisemitism, getting caught in it. Why? Let me give you three reasons.
Morally. First of all, a moral reason. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. They need a homeland to protect them. When no other nations would have them, this was the solution that the United Nations and many others said, “This is the way to go. This will protect them.”
Then secondly, there’s what I call a covenantal reason for avoiding antisemitism, because the Jews have a special place in God’s economy. In Romans 11, Paul asks, “Has God rejected his people? No, they are still his people, his elect. They’re the original branches of the olive tree. They will be grafted in again.” The church is his new covenant people. But Paul says about the Jews, “The gift and the calling are irrevocable.” And then Paul adds, “This is a mystery.” We try to figure this out, how this all fits together and it’s not always clear. Then Paul breaks out into praise about the mysterious wisdom of God–“Oh, the unsearchable judgments of God, how inscrutable His ways.”
There’s a third reason to avoid antisemitism. It is a Christian reason. The church owes a great debt to the Jews. I think we forget this, but the roots of our faith are Jewish. There’d be no Mary, no Joseph without the Jews. There’d be no Jesus without the Jews. There’d be no 12 disciples without the Jews. There’d be no mother church without the Jews. These are the relatives of Jesus. We’d have no Bible. We’d have no Old Testament. We’d have no Psalms without Israel. So here are three reason for standing with the Jews anytime, but especially in times like this: a moral reason, a covenantal reason, and what I call a Christian reason.
Yes, there have been some Christians in history who said, “But aren’t they to blame for killing Christ? Aren’t they the Christ killers?” And I think we have to respond biblically and say, “Now, wait a second. That’s not how scripture reads. Scripture reads that Pilate and the Romans and some of the Jewish leaders, not the whole race, and Judas and Satan, and especially our sins put him on the cross. That’s what killed the Son of God, and God was working through all that to bring us salvation and forgiveness.
But now let me add a caveat to what I’ve said. By saying this, I’m not endorsing, we’re not endorsing everything the State of Israel does. We’re not overlooking the Palestinians who live in Israel. 20% of them are the citizens of Israel, or the Palestinians, and the Palestinian Christians, who have been living under the tyranny of Hamas.
We’re not overlooking the significant difference between that I have with my Jewish friends about Jesus. I mean, we’re about ready to celebrate advent and Christmas and celebrate the Messiah’s coming. And as Christians, we believe He has come and He’s going to come again. When I’m with some of my Jewish friends who do not accept Jesus but are longing for the Messiah, I tell them, “I think you’re going to be surprised when He comes, that it’s Jesus.” And of course, we’re evangelicals and we want the world to know about Jesus, Jew and Gentile. But meanwhile, we need to love them, stand with them, pray for them, especially in a time like this.
So let me just bring it home to you and just say, students, do not fall for the world’s oldest hatred and the lies that surround it, that you’re going to hear more and more from the media in the days ahead. And when you go home at Thanksgiving, communicate that to your family and friends. Do not get sucked into the world’s oldest hatred. It truly is on the wrong side of history. Esther and Psalm 83 remind us that God rises to the aid of his chosen people. But to do that, He uses people like you and me and Esther to stand and speak when we need to speak. So the question that the Book of Esther leaves us with is this: who will stand and speak when the world goes mad? As Mordecai said to ESther, “Who knows, but that you who were born for such a time as this.”
I want to end with a story, stories of a German Lutheran Pastor named Martin Niemöller. Have you ever heard his name? He was a prominent Lutheran Pastor in Germany. In the 1920s, he was sympathetic to the Nazi movement. He supported the radical right wing. And as Hitler came to power in 1933, he began to have questions and he started to doubt. And then, he became an outspoken critic of Hitler, especially when Hitler started interfering with the Protestant Churches in Germany. Niemöller spent the last eight years of Nazi rule in Nazi prisons and concentration camps, because he became an outspoken critic of the Third Reich. But he’s best remembered for this statement.
He said, “Here’s what happened.” He was reflecting at the end of the war of what happened. He said, “First they came for the socialists. I didn’t speak out, because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak out, because I was not a Jew. But then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me when they came for me.” This is a test for your generation. Will you join with Esther or Haman? Dare to be an Esther.
Would you pray with me?
Lord God, these are sobering things and there’s a complexity to this whole set of world events that is truly beyond us. We appeal to You as the Sovereign Lord, and we pray today for the peace of Jerusalem. We pray for just resolution. We pray for the restraint of evil. Like the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 83, we praise that You would arise and intervene, and do what we cannot do ourselves. We pray for wisdom for the world’s leaders, leaders in Israel, the leaders in the United States, all the leaders who are speaking into this. We thank You for Gospel-sustaining hope that we have no matter how crazy the world goes. And we thank You for voices and examples like Esther, who stand in Your strength and for Your great name. Help us to do the same. We ask this humbly in Jesus’ name, Amen.