Simon Bowkett's Podcast

Esther 2 v 19-3 v 6 ... getting 'passed over', and doing it well

November 12, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
Esther 2 v 19-3 v 6 ... getting 'passed over', and doing it well
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Esther 2:19-3:6

         •        Introduction

How do you like being treated unjustly and unfairly, passed over for preferment when you’ve deserved it, at a time when others are cutting you out of the picture and getting all the glory for doing nothing good?

It’s not easy to take … and we’re likely to react to it.

But what SORT of reaction are we going to make, and (here’s a deeper question) why are we going to choose to make that response?

It’s a question that runs very deep in us, and a question that reveals what it is that … in the bottom of our HEARTS … we truly believe.

Where do we go with all of this?

Welcome back to Esther chapter 2!

         •        1) God’s people hiding in plain sight 2:19-20

In Esther 2 we find God’s imperfect people hiding in quite plain sight.

“When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 

20 But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.”

Esther 2:19-20

So by this point in the story Mordecai is ‘sitting at the King’s gate’.

The gate entering into the walled palace complex at Susa was a large building.

It was where legal, civic and commercial business was done.

There is archaeological evidence indicating it was 131 feet by 92 feet … not small … and had a central hall which led on to the royal compound and two rectangular side rooms.

But being a person who ‘sat at the gate’ made you an official, a person with status in the operation going on there.

To be in that position, Mordecai has compromised on keeping the Jewish food laws at the very least and undoubtedly wasn’t keeping to the strict teachings of the Torah at all.

He couldn’t do so in such a role in the Persian Empire as a royal official so close to the centre of government.

He’s one of God’s people … but he’s hiding in plain sight.

More explicitly we’re told of Esther: “But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.”

This pragmatism is evident also in Esther … who certainly couldn’t have lived within the requirements of the Old Testament laws in the Persian King’s harem.

The fact she was able so effectively to conceal her Jewish heritage suggests that she was not consistently observing Jewish dietary and religious requirements. 

As C. A. Moore observes, “In order for Esther to have concealed her ethnic and religious identity…in the harem, she must have eaten…, dressed, and lived like a Persian rather than an observant Jewess” (Esther [AB], 28.) 

Esther 2:20 makes it explicit: Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do”

In this regard her public behaviour stands in contrast to that of Daniel, for example.

What are we to make of that?

And yet responsibility for her doing so is passed to Mordecai … we’re told she kept her faith and background hidden because Mordecai had instructed her to.

So in any event, there are Esther and Mordecai, living at the centre of power in the Persian Empire, God’s people hiding in plain sight.

         •        2) Mordecai saves Xerxes, 2:21-23

“During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. 22 But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.”

Being in this position ‘sitting at the King’s Gate’ gave Mordecai this opportunity to become aware of the plot against the king’s life.

We just don’t know how.

But we are given the names of the two guys plotting Xerxes’ death, and when they crop up again in 6:2 we are additionally told that they were “two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.”

So there is a plot involving the guys guarding the doorway to assassinate the king.

We’re told they became angry … no idea why … but clearly this is a really dangerous situation.

It’s a real threat to Xerxes.

And Mordecai foiled the threat by reporting it to Queen Esther, who told the King, who took those men and killed them in his usual brutal way by impaling them on a pointy stake.

Now the important thing to notice here for the progress of this story is that the matter is recorded in the Annals of the Kings of Persia.

The Greek historian Herodotus refers to an official list recorded in the Persian archives naming the King’s ‘benefactors’.

That’d be where Mordecai’s name got written with an account of what he’d done to save the King’s life.

It will be an important feature of this story in the future.

But immediately something very unusual happens.

         •        3) Xerxes honours Haman, 3:1-2a

Acts of loyalty were usually IMMEDIATELY and generously honoured by the Persian Kings.

The Persian Empire was a patronage culture where it was a moral issue to give loyalty on the client’s side and to reward it on the patron’s side.

But IMMEDIATELY in this account we’re told of a new character … one ‘Haman’ …being immediately and generously honoured by the King, with absolutely NO reason given for it at all, whilst Mordecai gets passed over.

This is EXACTLY where the readers, knowing the culture and the expectation … especially in a patronage culture … would have expected to hear at this point how Mordecai was honoured for his loyalty, and would be shocked to hear about this Haman instead. 

Esther 3:1-2 “After these events, King Xerxes honoured Haman 

son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, 

elevating him and giving him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles. 

2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honour to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. 

But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour.”

In comes Haman.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the pantomime villain just walked onto the stage.

There’s a hint here that the audience should ‘boo’.

Who is this guy who gets rewarded in place of Mordecai?

When this type of Hebrew narrative introduces a person it characterises them so you know what you are dealing with.

So when we meet Mordecai first in Esther 2:5 he is introduced NOT as a wise man or an official in the court (both of which were the case) but as a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin.

And when Haman is introduced he is introduced as an Agagite:

“Xerxes honoured Haman 

son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, 

elevating him and giving him a seat of honour  …”

There was what Karen Jobes calls “the perennial relationship of enmity” between Jews and Agagites … and that gets mirrored in this relationship between Mordecai and Haman.

Immediately they hear Haman was an Agagite the audience EXPECT to see conflict and aggression.

Agag had been the King of the Amalekites at the time of Saul (who rather poignantly was also of the tribe of Benjamin and the first King of Israel). 

The Amalekites were the first people in the world to try to attack and destroy God’s covenant people.

In Exodus 18 God made clear to Moses that His people would be at war with them from generation to generation.

In 1 Samuel 15 the prophet Samuel told King Saul:

“go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them.”

Saul was supposed to wipe them all out, but he didn’t.

“He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. 

These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.”

Samuel confronted Saul about this the next day and told Saul that because he had rejected the command of God, the LORD rejected now Saul as King over Israel.

It was a defining moment.

And the point here is that Haman was a descendant of those antagonistic Amalekites, the sons of Agag.

Over the following centuries the antagonists of the Jewish people were referred to as Agagites, so the Jews referred to Romans as Agagites and even in our times Palestinians are sometimes referred to in this way.

It is an ANCIENT animosity.

So far as this story goes, without warrant and whilst neglecting the honour that in a patronage culture the King of Persia should have bestowed on Mordecai for saving the King’s life, Xerxes elevated this Agagite to the highest honour with absolutely no good reason for doing so.

Here is a set-back and a serious, immoral dishonour … an INJUSTICE … being done to God’s people.

And without shouting or bawling or crying out in protest, Mordecai simply doesn’t go along with it.

In modern terms we might say he is ‘doing a Gandhi’.

This is passive resistance, but not about everything in the world that Mordecai doesn’t feel happy about.

It’s just about Haman getting undeservedly honoured while Mordecai who’d deserved it was neglected.

Mordecai WOULDN’T bow down before Haman.

         •        4) Mordecai doesn’t honour Haman, 3:2b-6

“All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.


3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behaviour would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.”

God’s promise to protect Israel in the on-going animosity with these Amalekite sons of Agag was given within the context of the Sinai covenant (in Exodus 17:8-16) … but the question now was whether that promise of protection would still hold, now that they are living in exile precisely because the Jews had violated that covenant?

That is the question the story line will go on to develop.

Could they expect God to be faithful to His covenant pledge to them, when they had failed to keep their pledge of faithfulness to Him?

Well, it doesn’t look like it at this point!

Haman’s name sounds something like the Hebrew for ‘wrath’ and that is where Haman goes next.

He is enraged that Mordecai the Jew will not bow down and honour him and his pride-driven wrath gets poured out not just on Mordecai but on all the Jewish inhabitants of the Persian Empire.

Esther has been Queen for five years by the time Haman gets the King on board with his wicked plan, but we’ll see how THAT develops and how bad things get there before the tide finally begins to turn and God steps in to reverse the plight of His persecuted people … and God will do all of that without stepping into the limelight for His people or writing anything on the skies about what He was doing at all.

         •        5) Quietly bearing with but not embracing wrongs

Well, what we’ve got here in this story is an example of injustice being done and unwarranted hostility being shown to the imperfect people of God.

But these events took place early in Biblical history before quite a lot of the pertinent Scripture on how to deal with that sort of thing was written.

Nonetheless, Mordecai doesn’t set a bad example at all of how to deal with it … not at all.

Now, of course, we get the best model of quietly bearing with wrongs without condoning them from the example of the Lord Jesus Himself.

Even around this time … just before it … Isaiah had prophesied about the example the Lord would set as He wrote down the words of Isaiah 53 …

“He was oppressed and afflicted,

    yet he did not open his mouth;

Do you see that?!

It is prophecy way before the actual events but in prophecy here this is the Saviour being oppressed and afflicted, and HE did not cry out against it and shout it down.

“ … he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

    so he did not open his mouth.

It wasn’t Mordecai who pressed the issue … it was these other courtiers who brought it to the notice of Haman, and they did so quite maliciously.

v. 8 “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

    Yet who of his generation protested?”

Isaiah 53:7-8

There’s an example for us there … it’s a prophecy of the Almighty bringing deliverance for His people through the injustice meted out to God Incarnate, and Him bearing it quietly while refusing to acquiesce in the wrong.

And in the New Testament it’s that example of the Lord … dealing with being wronged and unjustly treated … that seems to be the dominant model for how we as believers should respond to this sort of experience.

So in Philippians 2 Paul encourages his readers not to grumble or argue but to have the same attitude in their relationships as Christ Jesus … for a particular stated reason there in Philippians that really explains what is going on with Mordecai and Haman here in Esther:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.”

What we are taught propositionally about how to respond to injustice in the New Testament is what we see being fleshed out in the course of this narrative in the Old Testament book of Esther … God is actually at work in you to fulfil His good purpose!

The story line in Esther demonstrates that fact.

But here in Esther the emphasis is going to be on the fact that the God Who doesn’t shout is active behind the scenes when it doesn’t feel like He is, and the reversal we’re going to come across in this story fleshes it out and drives that message home to us.

Mordecai IS being treated unjustly in a way that would have been seen as scandalous even in Persian society.

He HADN’T been rewarded for his great service to the King and yet this unworthy Haman character had been.

And Mordecai wasn’t going to endorse the wrong … just as Christ didn’t endorse at all the wrong that was done to Him … but he doesn’t raise His voice and stamp his foot either.

But the story goes on to show that God was at work in all of this behind the scenes.

And you may well say, ‘It’s all very well for you to say that, but I just can’t get over it, I can’t just quietly take what is happening to me here …’

So how CAN you?

That is a very human response.

I understand it!

And I know it can be very hard to find the strength to deal with being wronged in the way described.

But look at this … Hebrews 11 takes us through a list of heroes of the faith across Biblical history who have quietly put up with harsh experience of all sorts of being rejected and persecuted and then immediately Hebrews 12 gives us the key to learning to live like them:

“since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. 

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us …


It doesn’t always seem as easy as that so, how?

‘Ah!’ says Hebrews 12:2

“let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, 

so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

The key lies in focusing our thoughts not on the injustice, not on the being side-lined, passed by, pushed down … but in first throwing it off.

The key lies in doing that then focusing our thoughts on fixing our eyes on Jesus

He inspiringly leads the way through this sort of authentic, Christ-follower experience!

He, for the joy that was set before Him ENDURED the Cross … look! SCORNING the shame!

And the fruit of that was that He has ended up sitting at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven.

So Hebrews says the key lies in considering Him, the One Who endured SUCH opposition from sinful people … “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

And the Book of Esther makes it clear in the way the story develops that in this very injustice that was being perpetrated, God was developing the salvation of His people.

Mordecai had none of this prophecy or this example of Christ to encourage such behaviour … but he certainly behaved in the face of such injustice in the way that was prophesied about and then later embodied by the Saviour!

And this book of Esther is going to go on and show that the refuge of His people is the Lord Himself, bringing salvation from the injustice His people may be called upon to carry but not condone, secure in the knowledge of Whose salvation is sovereign and Whose hand it is that actually steers the universe to its destination.

         •        Conclusion

So, what will we do when God’s people and His cause suffer injustice?

What will we do when the enemies of God’s people seem to have everything their own way?

And what will we do when we are not only marginalised and maligned but our faces seem to be getting pretty badly rubbed in it?

Yes the courts are open.

Yes the press will carry the story.

Yes we can curry favour and campaign to reverse our fortunes.

But faith trusts the hand that governs the universe.

And all the while it doesn’t condone the injustice, it doesn’t (either) trust in raising its voice in the streets.

Amazingly but not for the first or last time, it is precisely from the root of this injustice … both in the experience of Mordecai and of the Saviour … that God’s salvation of His patiently waiting people will proceed.

So in this life where we will be passed over, not noticed, not receive recognition we may well feel we deserve, 

“let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

And as we do so let US draw strength to pursue what is OUR high sand heavenly calling by this means that we are exhorted to, to

 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, 

so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”