An interesting and significant fact is uncovered when one looks a bit carefully at the information given us inEsther 3:1, 2. We are told that King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, and that Mordecai the Jew—who had been introduced in Esther 2:5 as a Benjamite—refused to bow and reverence Haman.
Now we are not in so many words told why Mordecai refused so adamantly to bow and reverence Haman. What we are told in verse 4 is significant and revealing, namely, that Mordecai told those who daily spoke to him about this stubborn refusal to do the king’s bidding—for the king had commanded such action—that he was a Jew. In this one little item of information, however, there is a great deal of significance, and we ought to consider it and its import.
We may note first of all that the expression “‘bow and reverence” need not mean bow down and worship as a god. It need not mean that Mordecai and the others in the king’s gate were commanded to perform an act of idolatry. There are instances throughout the Old Testament where men are reported to have bowed down before men of higher rank in the kingdom. InGenesis 19:1 we read of Lot bowing down before the two angels that came to him in the form of men. When Sarah died, according to Genesis 23:7, 12, Abraham bowed before the people of the land. Moses bowed before his father-in-law (Exodus 18:7). Abigail bowed before David, we are told in I Samuel 25:41. And these are only a few.
If now what the king commanded was idolatry, Mordecai would be correct in his refusal to heed the command. For we must obey God rather than man. And indeed we would have here a manifestation that Mordecai was a believing child of God. But the king did not command idolatry. We can rule that out at once. Had he commanded such worship of himself, we would have a different picture. But would he demand that the servants in the gate recognize one of his higher servants as a god? And would he not thereby say, “I am the big god, but here is a lesser god whom you must also worship in order to receive me as thegod”? No, that bowing and reverence was showing respect for the man because of his office; and it was showing respect for the king in that it showed submission under the king’s rule. In fact, subsequent actions of Mordecai reveal that he did not consider this a case of being commanded to commit idolatry. A few days later he accepted all the homage of the people when he was paraded through the street on the king’s horse, and as led by Haman. And what about Esther, as we read in Esther 8:3? She bowed before the king when she came with her petition for her people. And would the king later hang a god?
No, the explanation we find is what is stated in Scripture in verse 1, namely, that Haman was an Agagite while, as verse 4 reveals, Mordecai was a Jew. This identification of Haman as an Agagite is not some superfluous detail. There is not one word in Scripture that is superfluous. We may not be able to see the value of every word, but with God there is no wasted motion, no insignificant words. This little note is noteworthy, as is everything in Scripture.
As an Agagite, Haman was an Amalekite, or if you will a descendant of Esau. It is as though we have here Jacob and Esau; for Jacob’s seed is wrestling with Esau’s, even though this seed of Jacob is an unbeliever. All through history, from the day of Jacob’s birth when the struggle began, Esau’s seed has been a bitter enemy of Jacob’s seed. Some question that Haman was an Amalekite on the basis partly that Saul is reported in I Samuel 15:8 to have utterly destroyed the Amalekites with the exception of Ring Agag. Yet we read later on in Scripture of Amalekites, as in I Samuel 30:1. David, who reigned after Saul died, went to fight the Amalekites. By the way, Amalek was a son of Esau. You will find this in Genesis 36:16. Apparently some of the Amalekites escaped, or were in other lands at the time of Saul’s battles.
There was an intense hatred between the Israelites and the Amalekites. In fact, God swore that there would be war with the Amalekites from generation to generation. Of this Moses spoke in Exodus 17:16. And this was because when the Israelites came out of Egypt and were at Rephidim the Amalekites came and cruelly attacked the rear ranks of the multitude of Israelites. It was not an army fighting an army, but an army attacking a defenseless people. Turning now to I Samuel 15:2 we read, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came out of Egypt.”
Now remember that Mordecai had told those who sat in the gate with him, and that asked him why he did not obey the king to bow and reverence Haman, that he was a Jew. That can only mean that his reason for not bowing down before this Amalekite was exactly that he was a Jew. It was not that he envied Haman and would not bow before him because Haman had the position to which he aspired. Being only an official who sat in the king’s gate—which in light of Ruth 4:1 could mean that he was some kind of judge for minor cases, not in criminal cases—he could not expect at that time at least to be chosen as the king’s right-hand man. No, he would not recognize Haman, would not humble himself under him because he belonged to, or was at least a descendant of, a nation that had shamefully and cruelly treated his, that is, Mordecai’s nation.
But let it be noted and carefully considered that once again the Scriptures give us to see that Mordecai was an unbeliever, in spite of his zeal for the nation in which God’s church was found in that day. Once again, it is a case of what he does not say, as well as a case of what he does say. Those who sat in the gate with him and asked him why he was so stubborn and disobedient to the king’s command were told by Mordecai, as I said last time, voluntarily and not under threat of life, that he is a Jew. Of course, there is truth in this revelation. He was a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. But it does not take close scrutiny to see that, had he been a believer, and did the king command idolatry, Mordecai would have said, “I refuse because Jehovah forbids it.” Or he would have said, “Because I am a child of God, a believer who will worship no one but the living God, Jehovah the Creator of heaven and earth.” Here is another instance where God’s name is not mentioned, when a golden opportunity presented itself, and would have been seized eagerly by a believer. Now his only reason is his nationality, not his faith.
Or, if you will, take the position presented a moment ago that this is not a command to commit the sin of idolatry. Then you clearly have Mordecai breaking God’s law which requires of us that we honour those whom God has placed in authority over us. That is the fifth commandment; and that is a New Testament truth as well, as Paul makes very plain in Romans 13:1-7 where he writes, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God . . . . Render therefore to all their dues . . . fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” And since it was not a case of idolatry to bow and show respect, but, to borrow Paul’s words, to render fear to whom fear is due, and honour to whom honour is due, he would have said to those who asked him why he disobeyed the king’s commandment,” Because I am such a vile sinner, and I have disobeyed my God and must bow before Him in contrition and sorrow for my sins.” Neither of these did Mordecai. He neither confessed he would worship Jehovah alone; nor did he confess his sin of rebelling against God’s holy law. And if this were the only instance in the book where he revealed himself as walking in sin, we could not yet call him an unbeliever. Believers can slip and stumble and walk in sin for a long time before they are brought to repentance. David did, as far as his adultery and murder were concerned. But in light of all that preceded, namely, his command that Esther in no way confess Jehovah as her God, and in light of matters we hope, the Lord willing, to reveal in future contributions to this department, it just adds up to the case against Mordecai being a believer. And there is so much yet that is coming that a believer could never do so consistently without Scripture revealing as much as one instance of repentance before the account of his life in Holy Writ is concluded. There is nothing in the book or elsewhere in Scripture that can be called a positive, definite evidence that Mordecai was a believer. A Jew, yes. One with tremendous zeal for the nation of Israel, indeed. But no love for the church in Israel. No love for God. No love for the kingdom of God’s Son. Disobedience is defended instead of ended.
Looking ahead to what we know follows in this book of Esther, we can see the hand of God wherewith He is preparing the way for Mordecai to receive this same position that would require those in the king’s gate to bow before Mordecai and to reverence him. As highly as the king spoke of him when he learned that Mordecai had saved his life—and this. Haman never did for the king—and as great as his advancement in the kingdom was, according to Esther 10, it is highly unlikely that the king did not command that Mordecai be dealt with even as Haman was, so that all the servants in the king’s gate had to bow before him and show him respect in his office.
It seems from Esther 3:2 as though this commandment of the king was directed only to the servants in the king’s gate. If so, it would explain why Haman never noticed that Mordecai did not bow before him, and those who talked to Mordecai about his disobedience had to tell Haman that Mordecai did not keep the commandment. Haman did not at that time yet know that Mordecai was a Jew, and he probably did not take him for a servant of the king either. But, having been told the facts, Haman watched the next time and became furious that this Jew would not respect him in his office.
We will not go into that matter now but will do so next time more fully, the Lord willing. But let us appreciate the fact that even when unbelievers fight against each other, God is working all things for the good of the church that these enemies hate. He does not simply care for His church and protect her, He uses her enemies, while He has his everlasting arms underneath that church, to serve the cause of that church, be it unwillingly and unconsciously. He will carry His church through the flood and through the fire and make those who hate His church serve His church, even in their works of wickedness and deviltry. With the same hands that uphold His church He uses the world as tools whereby the way is prepared for His Son to come, that He may bring this church to everlasting glory through His cross, resurrection, and return in glory. At no moment does He lose control over the wicked. Never is there a slipup or situation that calls for Him to make a correction.
Today, as well, nation is rising up against nation. Worldly fight against worldly; enemies of God fight against enemies of God. But it all serves the coming of Christ, in fact, is a sign to the church that He is coming. Nothing prevents His coming, and all serves preparing the day for His glorious return and our glorious deliverance.