Focal Passage: Esther 3:1-15
It happened so fast you could barely see it.
The English sailors in James Clavell’s novel Shogun are shipwrecked near a Japanese fishing village. The district samurai chief comes to investigate. Both sailors and villagers line up for inspection. The villagers bow before their samurai master, all except for one old man, who stands proudly erect. In the blink of an eye the samurai’s sword flashes and the man’s head rolls — the punishment for not showing proper respect.
The old man was a Christian, a recent convert. He refused to bow down to anyone other than his true Lord, and he paid the price. As for the samurai, small-mindedness, a big ego and unbridled power are a dangerous combination. It might have been easier for everyone if Mordecai alone had been required to pay the price for his personal insubordination, but sometimes the consequences of our actions, like the causes, extend far beyond ourselves.
Esther has been queen for four years (2:16, 3:7). Mordecai is now a guard at the king’s gate (2:19). He’s in the right place at the right time, foiling an assassination plot against the king, who is so impressed he has the event written down (2:21-23). Another lucky coincidence?
Meanwhile a fawning narcissist named Haman has become the king’s right-hand man, and the king orders everyone to bow when Haman walks by. Mordecai refuses. Why?
It’s nice to think that Mordecai is simply following the example of earlier exiles (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego) who, out of devotion, risked their lives by refusing to kneel. It’s an admirable quality.
Except that, in our narrative, Mordecai does not appear to be especially pious (remember the unmentioned name of God?). What else could it be? Pride, maybe, but bowing to Haman is not a problem for anyone else. You do what you have to do.
Haman is an Agagite (3:1). Jewish historian Josephus pegs him as a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15), for centuries Israel’s bitter enemies. If so, Mordecai is simply following the warning in Deut. 25:17-19: when it comes to the Amalekites, “never forget!” Old hatreds die hard.
Haman hears of the snub by the Jew Mordecai. It may appear “beneath him” (3:6) to retaliate for a personal insult, but apparently Haman knows his history, too. He jumps at the opportunity to settle an old score.
His proposal? Genocide: “to destroy, kill and annihilate all Jews” (3:13). On what grounds? “They’re not like us” (3:8). Works every time.
It’s no longer just a personal matter. And if God really is moving behind the scenes, He’s got a lot of moving to do — as always.