For the Jews throughout the empire, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times, depending on what perspective you had on any given day. There were a lot of neat things that had happened. For example, by 511 BC when these events had begun to happen, the kingdom had become fairly stable. Rushdoony pointed out that this was the only empire where the king was subject to his own laws, and could not undo his decrees. It made Persia one of the more stable empires of the past. Though we have seen that there was tyranny, there was a far greater degree of local self-government under Persia than there was under Babylon. So you're thankful for small blessings. They had good roads, well protected and administered regions, a higher degree of justice. Rushdoony comments that although they were not free (because it was a tyranny), they were able to live more safely and to be more prosperous than under Babylon.
And both Ezekiel, Zechariah and Haggai have already at that point given prophecies of great encouragement. They prophesied a return of many Jews, and Ezra has already returned to Israel with another large group of settlers just a few months after chapter 2, verse 18. They prophesied that other Jews who were sown among the nations would be used to convert huge numbers of Gentiles. And those prophecies form an important background to understanding this book. All three prophets prophecy the rebuilding of the temple, and Ezekiel went into great detail in laying down all the regulations of this temple that was to be built. In fact, he promises that the New Covenant giving of the Spirit would start in this temple. And that is exactly where Pentecost happened – in the temple precincts. By the end of chapter 2 that temple has been built, and the decree of Darius (also known as Artaxerxes) that authorized it, was incredibly supportive of the Jews in Israel. Darius had become pro-Jew and pro-freedom for the Israelites back home. And so, in one sense it was the best of times.
But it was also the worst of times. Things could change at a moment's notice. If your daughter can be abducted by this tyrant without your permission, what other things could happen at a moment's notice? There's political intrigue. You know, it doesn't matter how careful Darius was and how paranoid he was, he was still subject to assassination. Bigthan and Teresh were his body guards. So intrigue is in the air. Darius' son Xerxes is assassinated by his own bodyguards in his bedroom. And it could have happened here. So there is conspiracy in chapter 2 and another form of conspiracy in chapter 3. Who would have thought that Haman (of all people) would have been advanced to be Prime Minister? As you read through the book, it becomes apparent that there is anti-Jewish sentiment that is growing. Perhaps it is envy over their wealth. From the sum of money that Haman promises the king out of the plunder, one has to believe that God has prospered the Jews with incredible wealth. And some of the Gentiles envy that. But you see, Ezekiel and Zechariah have also prophecied about this opposition. In fact, they have already prophecied of this attempted annihilation of the Jews and then of God's miraculous reversal where the followers of this Agagite are destroyed. And so it really was the best of times and the worst of times happening side by side. It was a mixture and you really never knew what you would be up against from day to day.
Mordecai and Haman are Deliberately Juxtaposed as Spiritual Representatives
Mordecai as the Representative of Israel
Chapter 3:1 hints at this coming conflict when it says, "After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him…" We have two ironies brought forward. The first and most obvious is that the loyal Mordecai (who has just saved the king's life) is ignored while the treacherous Haman (who ought to be destroyed) is advanced. Any Jew who read those words would have had that grate upon him.
Another irony is that the people whom God had declared perpetual war against (the Amalekites) were triumphing while Israel, who had been commanded to never make peace with them (was falling). And perhaps it was because of prayerlessnous. In the first conflict with the Amalekites, Israel lost when Moses was not praying, and they won when Moses prayed.
I won't go into all the arguments back and forth on the meaning of Agagite, but the best evidence clearly favors the view that Haman was a descendant of the ancient king Agag, and Mordecai was a descendant of the ancient king Saul who had been commanded by God to kill Agag. Carey A. Moore says,
"Regardless of its original meaning, now it clearly represents a nomen gentilicium, meaning a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites. This is the view of Josephus (who rendered it amalekiten, the Talmud, and the Targums, as well as most commentators, who rightly view Haman as a descendant of the Amalekites, a people who frustrated Israel in Exodus xvii 8-16, whose downfall was predicted by Balaam (Num xxiv 7), and whose King Agag was slaughtered with many (1 Sam. xv 8) but not all (1 Chron iv 42f.) of the Amalekites."
The reason I am emphasizing that Haman is not from some supposed region called Agaz, which is a totally different spelling, is that this ancient conflict is central to the book. The Jewish Encyclopedia says, ""Agagite" can only be interpreted here as synonymous with "Amalekite" (compare "Agag," king of the Amalekites, the foe of Saul, I Sam. xv. 8, 20, 32; Num. xxiv. 7 [and that's a passage where Agagite refers to any leader of the Amalekites. Anyway, the Jewish Encyclopedia goes on to say]; … Oppert's attempt to connect the term "Agagite" with "Agaz," a Median tribe mentioned by Sargon, can not be taken seriously."
And so, already in chapters 2 and 3, the author is setting these two men up as spiritual representatives of the great conflict between Satan's kingdom and God's kingdom. There is clearly a demonic force that is driving this genocide. And this has been a non-stop conflict since Exodus 17. The Amalekites did everything they could to destroy Israel.
They engaged in guerilla warfare, killed the weak and the stragglers, and sought to annihilate Israel. And God finally declared war on them and made this declaration, "Because a hand was against the throne of the LORD, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation." This was more than just a fight against Israel. This was a demonic war against the throne of God. This was a spiritual conflict. Some people think that Mordecai's refusal to bow down to Haman was totally unreasonable. But if he had honored God's sworn enemy, it have been direct disobedience to God's orders. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19 God had said, "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget." Later in 1 Samuel 15, when king Saul spares Agag's life, he is rebuked and told that the kingdom would be removed from him for his disobedience to God's order. He lost a kingdom because of failure to kill Agag. That's how seriously God took his command to never make peace with an Amalekite.
Well, you can see the fix that Mordecai is in. This is not simply honoring a king. Mordecai has no problem with bowing before the king or before some other official. But he refuses to break God's word on this issue of honoring an Amalekite. And as explanation, all he needs to do in verse 4 is to say that he is a Jew. Any Jewish reader would know the rest of the story. Jews were never to forget God's warfare against Amalek or honor an Amalekite. Maybe in a later sermon, I will show how the Amalekites were descendants of Magog the son of Japheth, and how the battle described later in this book is the battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel. In fact, when Ezekiel prophecies that battle, which would come, he says that they will bury the dead in the Valley of Haman Gog. The word Gog and Agag are almost identical and mean the same thing according to John Gill, James Jordan and others.
So the conflict in this book between the Amalekites and the Jews is a true symbol or prophetic glimpse into the New Covenant conflict between God's kingdom and Satan's kingdom. And who will win in the New Covenant? It won't be the Hamans. When the Jews are converted, there will be even greater blessing brought to the Gentiles. That in a nutshell is the meaning of Purim. There aren't many symbols in this book, but this conflict between Agag and Israel is clearly a symbol in the Pentateuch and later. And it ties in very closely with the prophetic function of the feast of Purim.
Now I will deal with this conflict on a later date, but I wanted you to at least see how the author is beginning to set up the symbolism by borrowing this ancient language. So these two people stand as spiritual representatives.
Haman as the Representative of the Amalekites
They Stand Juxtaposed as Civil Rulers
Mordecai the Statesman
Mordecai Seeks the Welfare of the City
But Haman and Mordecai also stand juxtaposed as civil rulers to be either avoided or imitated. Mordecai stands as a statesman to be imitated. A statesman is not only a person skilled in civil administration, but one who does so with integrity and without hidden agendas. In verse 22 it may have been hard for Mordecai to be enthusiastic about defending this king, but he knows not only that this will be in the best interests of his nation, his people, and the government itself to whom he was employed, but it's the right thing to do. Revolution is never Biblical, though it is often tempting. So Mordecai seeks the welfare of the city by exposing this revolutionary principle.
Chapter 10:3 indicates that this was his habit throughout his tenure. It says, "Mordecai the Jew was second to King Ahasuerus, and was great among the Jews and well received by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen." Three statesman-like things we see in that passage. First, his Jewishness was not hidden from politics. It was as Jew that he served. Now many have felt that he started in chapter 2 hiding his religion and asked Esther to. We have seen that that is one of three possible interpretations. And if that is the case, God has had to force him and Esther to not hide their faith. But whichever interpretation is right, clearly by chapter 3 and through the rest of the book, he is known as Mordecai the Jew. His religion was not hidden from his job. Too many Christians nowadays in their desire to get ahead politically have said that their Christianity is not going to impact or affect their job. But it is schizophrenic to be a Christian in your private life, but not in your public life. Everything we do must be done to God's glory and from a Christian perspective. If your Christianity is not informing your politics, than principles from a foreign religion are. It is impossible to be neutral.
The second thing we see there and in this chapter is that he was seeking the good of his nation and seeking their peace. Jeremiah commanded the exiles,
Jeremiah 27:9 "Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace."
1 Timothy 2 commands us to do much the same thing. Tyranny is better than anarchy, and by turning these men in, he is seeking the welfare of his country.
The third thing that we see in Mordecai is that he stands for principle even it could mean his job. Many politicians today are not statesman who are willing to take unpopular stands. They have their finger in the air, and will change their decision if the decision appears to be unpopular. And let me tell you something. It is hard not to. The peer pressure is enormous when you are in politics. And there have been some very effective congressmen on both sides of the isle down through the years who have been a minority on issues, and yet were respected because they knew how to work with people. They were principled statesmen. Mordecai knows that he could lose his job, or more likely, lose his life if he does not bow down to this Agagite. Yet, he knows the penalty of Saul his ancestor, who lost a kingdom over the same issue. He chose to be a statesman and face the risk.
We won't look at it today, but Mordecai also stands as a statesman in that in chapter 9 he sought to use his influence to promote God's laws and God's kingdom. That should be uppermost on every Christians heart, but it should especially be part and parcel of a magistrate's life.
Mordecai Stands for Principle Even if it Could Mean His Job (3:2-4)
He Uses His Influence to Advance God's Laws (9)
He Sought the Good of His Countrymen (10:3)
Haman the Consummate Politician
Haman Seeks Only the Welfare of Himself
In stark contrast to Mordecai stands Haman who does not seek the welfare of the people he is ruling, but rather uses them for his own advancement. Haman uses the king and the government to advance his own personal agendas and personal vendettas. I sometimes wonder if all politicians are that way. I know its not true, but it seems like there are fewer and fewer people who truly see themselves as servants. Politics seems like a self-serving office for the most part.
Anyway, it gets worse. Not only is he consumed with his own welfare and advancement, he treats life as cheap. He is willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives and then in verse 15 it says, "So the king and Haman sat down to drink…" Man! Talk about a cavelier attitude toward life. All he cares about is himself. But you know what? They aren't alone. A lot of the wars that have been declared in the last century were wars for personal and political gain. It's not just Sudan that treats human life as cheap so that they can have oil. It seems to be part and parcel of all humanistic governments.
Haman Uses the King and the Government to Advance His Personal Vendettas
Haman Does Not Seek the Welfare of the Country as a Whole.
Instead, he sacrifices lives for the sake of personal goals.
They Stand in This Passage as Contrasts of Character
Haman's Progression Down
Haman is Self-seeking
Now, we may have more to say about politics in the future, but I want to spend a bit more time on the contrasts in character. None of you are politicians, but you ought to be able to relate to the moral and character issues in these two men. Scripture says that pride goes before a fall, and that God abases the proud but raises up the humble. We can see the downward steps by which Haman falls. And I think this is a paradigm of how we can mess our own lives up.
First, we see Haman as self-seeking. We aren't told how Haman climbed the social ladder so quickly. But it is clear that climbing the social ladder was very important to Haman. He has everything in verse 1, but because of his constant desire for more, he cannot bear that there is one person who doesn't honor him in verse 2. Envy can't see all that it has if there is something more that it does not have. It's always consumed with what it does not have. One of the verses that used to be frequently quoted when our children were younger is "envy rots the bones." It makes you feel miserable, not happy. Don't you feel rotten inside when you want what's your brother's or sisters? And that's what was happening to Haman. You would think he would be the happiest man in the world, but envy does not allow for happiness because there is always something more. Destroy envy before it destroys you. Envy is a destructive force, and if it can't destroy others who get in the way, it will destroy you.
Haman Feeds His Pride – He Longs for Honor
But the twin enemy of the soul is pride. We see Haman constantly feeding and stroking his pride. He likes to be bowed down to. The first thing that comes to his mind in chapter 6 when the king wants to know the best way to honor someone, is that he would like to be treated like the king. He wants to appear great. And I think this is natural to man. We like to be noticed and complemented: "Boy do you look sharp today." We like to get credit for what we have done: "I did it by myself." We like to be in authority and have prestigious positions." It manifests itself in different ways. But the bigger pride becomes, the more easily it is hurt. And that was certainly the case with Haman. He feels attacked by this lack of respect. So you have easily hurt feelings.
Hurt Then Leads to Anger
What is the next sin to manifest itself? Anger. Verse 5 says, "When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath." Anger is most frequently associated with feeling slighted in some way. And James warns that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. In fact, it rarely produces even the sinful results that men want. Usually anger ends up clouding our judgment and gets us in trouble. In this case, the anger causes Haman to nurse his hurt feelings, to seek revenge, and as the chapters tick by, to become bitter. But does this bitterness make him feel better? No. In chapter 5, honor upon honor is conferred upon him and yet he can't enjoy it. He says, "Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting in the king's gate." Numerous movies have this as part of their plot – that bitterness leads to revenge and bad judgment and eventually unseats the person who sits in Haman's place. We recognize the problem in others, and yet we still engage in it ourselves. That's why we need a savior. Apart from God's grace, I think this is the natural response of the human heart. It breaks apart marriages, makes people hate their jobs, cause people to leave churches, separates friends.
Haman Nurses His Hurt Feelings
Haman Seeks Personal Revenge
Haman Has a Great Fall
Mordecai's Progress Up
Mordecai Not Self-seeking
He Shows Concern for the "Welfare" of Esther (2:11)
God's way is so much better. God calls us to leave the vengeance business in His hands. He doesn't say that we can't pray for it, but he does say that it ought never to grip our hearts. In fact, God calls upon us to bless those who curse us, and to seek their good and their welfare. It is just as much for our own good as for our enemies good that we must do this.
Mordecai in this book demonstrates a servant's heart. The author says that he was very concerned about his daughter's welfare in 2:11. Now that is understandable. Even unbelievers can be concerned for their own.
He Sought to be a Faithful Magistrate (2:21)
But Mordecai went beyond this and sought to be a faithful magistrate in chapter 2:21. And I think that the last verses of chapter 2 are put there to contrast Mordecai's faithfulness to the king to show that his bowing down was not because of anything in king Darius. It was exclusively related to Haman. Mordecai was faithful in his job rather than being self-seeking.
He Sought the Welfare of His People (10:3)
Chapter 10:3 shows that he had earned the respect of his countrymen and sought their good and their welfare. Again, it wasn't his own good and his own advancement that was uppermost in his mind. He had a servant's heart.
He Was Willing to Lay Down His Career and Even His Life for Principle
(3:2-4 with Exodus 17:14-16; Deut. 25:17-19)
If he had been self-seeking like Haman, he would have done whatever it takes to be in Haman's good graces. But in verses 2-4 he is willing to lose his life rather than compromise God's principles. This was serious stuff. Verse 2: "And all the king's servants who were within the king's gate bowed and paid homoage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage. Then the king's servants who were within the king's gatge said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king's command?' Now it happened, when they spoke to him daily and he would not listen to thenh, that they told it to Haman, to see whether Mordecai's words would stand; for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew." He is not worn down by pressure, intimidation or even the wrath of Haman in verse 5.
Doing what is right is not always the popular thing to do. Rarely do people come up and say, "Thank you for taking that tough moral stand and getting us all in hot water," unless they are being sarcastic. No, the complements don't usually flow for doing the right thing. Often your own friends will try to talk you out of the decision and into a minor compromise. Others may falsely attack your motives and accuse you of pride, rebellion or whatever. It is hard to stand for the right thing. You are misunderstood and lonely. Mordecai was in a difficult situation. But statesmen are men who stand by principle rather than seeking their own comfort and welfare. And we must be men, women and children like that as well. Don't ever seek leadership in family, church or state if you don't have what it takes to face the pressure and loneliness of unpopular decisions. You know some Christians are doomed before they even get to Congress because, though they hold to right principles now, they don't have the moral fiber to be able to stick to those decisions.
Mordecai Crucified His Pride and Did Not Seek Honor
He Hides That of Which he Could Boast (His Royal Lineage)
So he was not self-seeking. But secondly, Mordecai actually crucified his pride and did not seek honor. Twice in this chapter it emphasizes that fact that he had told Esther not to reveal her family or kin. She was a descendant of king Saul, and that would have been a thing that pride would like to boast of. But Mordecai warned her not to. He was willing to tell them that he was a Jew, but he never tells them of his lineage back to king Saul. Even when he writes the book, he mentions Saul's father Kish and Saul's son Shimei, but he hides that of which he could boast – his royal lineage.
He Didn't Seek Advancement in Exchange for Compromise (3:2-4)
Second, as was already seen in verses 2-4, he doesn't seek advancement in exchange for compromise. This is such a stark contrast to Haman's pride, that it could not be coincidental.
Later, When He Gets honor, He Doesn't Boast in it, but Immediately Goes Back to Work (6:11-12)
Look at chapter 6:11-12. "So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!' Afterward Mordecai went back to the king's gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered." It's almost as if this was not a welcomed spotlight for Mordecai. He certainly doesn't stick around to bask in the glory. He goes right back to work and business as usual. He handles his humiliation earlier in the story by continuing to be faithful, and he handles this glory without boasting. This again, is a way of crucifying the pride.
Even Later in the Story He Seeks the Welfare of His People Rather Than His Own Advancement or Security
Even later in the story he seeks the welfare of his people rather than his own advancemtnt or security. In other words, his elevation was not selfishly squandered to serve his ego. He had a servant's heart.
Mordecai Does Not Nurse Hurt Feelings or Seek Personal Revenge
His Daughter Has Been Taken from Him Against His Will (A Shotgun Wedding)
The third contrast that we see is that Mordecai did not nurse his hurt feelings or seek personal revenge. His daughter has been forced from his hands by a shotgun wedding – actually, initially there is no indication that she would be a full wife – just one more body in his harem. It would have been very easy for him to be consumed by hatred toward Darius and to so nurse his own hurt feelings that when Bigthan and Teresh are furious at the king, he thinks – yes, there is good reason to be furious. Good riddance. I won't say a thing. In fact, one author said that they must have felt safe in venting their feelings before Mordecai because they must have assumed he was safe. He too had been hurt by the king, and all knew it. Otherwise, why their carelnessness?
And then this second gathering of virgins in verse 19 of chapter 2 is like pouring salt in the wound. Sure, there was some consolation in that she became queen, but to get more women is adding insult to injury. But Mordecai does not given in for a moment to his hurt feelings and seek revenge. Instead, he blesses the one who has abused him; he does good to the one who has done wrong to him; he heaped coals of fire on Darius's head.
This Second Gathering of Virgins Adds Insult to Injury.
If Anyone Had Motivation to Be Angry Against the King, He Did.
Yet He Subsumes His Own Desires and Acts as a Responsible Citizen (2:21-23)
Life is filled with injustices, but we should trust the God who controls all things to do right.
Mordecai's Loyalty Forgotten
Haman's Self-serving Rewarded
But in the End it Glorifies God and Is for the Good of God's People
If you have acted more like Haman than like Mordecai, I would encourage you to reflect on the end results of each case. Though men can be evil against you, only you can allow them to conquer your spirit. You may not have any control over the terrible things that happen to your house, your money, your body, etc., but you do have control over who can conquer your spirit. Too many times we allow ourselves to be overcome by evil. When you get angry and filled with hatred and bitterness, that other person has conquered your spirit. You have allowed them in to have full control over your emotions.
Some of you have jobs that are similar to what Mordecai is in. You have taken big risks and put your neck out to serve the company, but have not been rewarded. You have been faithful and forgotten, while a Haman who does not deserve it has been rewarded. Instead of fretting over it and becoming bitter, which makes you the loser emotionally, Scripture says that you need to get over it. You can do that through several steps:
Trust God's Sovereignty to Be Perfect.
This whole book is a book on God's sovereignty working even through the seamy and ridiculous sides of life. That is the first and essential step to avoid the bitterness that will turn you into a Haman. Trust God that he has been in control of all these events.
Be Faithful to the Calling God Has Given to You.
Don't let the evil or unfaithfulness of others divert you into unfaithfulness.
Bless Those Who Have Done Evil to You.
Now this is complicated by the fact that it was both Darius and Haman who had done evil to him. Darius he can bless, and he did so; Haman he cannot bless without compromising God's Word. But for this step, just think of the king. Mordecai could have become a bitter old man if it had not been for his willingness to let God handle injustices and for him to overcome evil with good. Every evening as he thinks of this uncircumcised king sleeping with his daughter it could driven him crazy. But Mordecai couldn't change the king. Only God could. And according to the reading that some have of Ezra, God did indeed convert Darius. I said before that I am somewhat skeptical of this interpretation, but God did soften his attitude toward the Jews from what it had been in the first two years. But for this point I recommend that you engage in an exercise: Pray phrase by phrase through both 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, and Romans 12, the chapter on overcoming evil with good. Pray that God would bless and advance your enemy, that He would give him a raise, that He would convert him, etc. That will go so strongly against the grain of what your inward sense of justice feels, but if you come to the place of consistently returning good for evil, you will find yourself in total control when they do evil against you. No bitterness will flow.
Finally, Thank God That He Rewards the Righteous, and Rejoice That He Is Working All Things Together for Good.
There are other steps that can be taken to avoid bitterness of spirit, and I have a whole sermon and handout that you can listen to on that, but since it is not in the text here I won't deal with them. These four steps by themselves will rid you of much of the problems that led to Haman's fall. God guarantees that He resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. If you look at the end result of the wicked's miserable life, and your own joy in God, you will realize that it is worth it. So I charge you to humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
But one last application: Have you ever thought about why we have so few people who have the moral courage to make the right decision in pressure moments like Mordecai went through? I believe it's because what is right usually isn't popular, it usually isn't easy, and we are tempted to think that it really doesn't matter. In fact, those three items could make a sermon all on their own, but we won't go down that rabbit trail. We tend not to do what is right because what is right usually isn't popular, it usually isn't easy, and we are tempted to think that it really doesn't matter
How do we gain moral courage? Again, there are other steps, but the two I see clearly in the life of Mordecai the prophet are these: 1) moral courage has the attitude that I don't have to survive for this to be right. If you can come to the place where you can say that I don't have to survive, you will have what it takes to make the right decision when it means loss of money, or your spouse's anger, or the loss of comfort. Mordecai knew that he was living his life before God and it was God he was seeking to please. If dying was the best way to please God, he was willing to do it. If failing in the eyes of the world was the best way to please God, he was willing to do that. Later in this book Esther does the right thing and says, "If I perish, I perish!" If those can be your words, you will have the first ingredient to having moral courage. This is being sold out to God completely.
The second ingredient is knowing the presence and power of God. Even a prophet like Mordecai who was used to hearing from God could lose the sense of God's presence like David did from time to time. And that is why Mordecai fasts as soon as this decree is made known. But he knew God personally. He was more afraid of offending God, than of offending man. He loved God's favor more than man's. Because he knows God, he is sustained by God.
I urge you to imitate Mordecai, a man of moral courage who was not overcome by evil, but overcame evil with good.