When to Bow and When to Stand (Esther 3:1-6)

There is a picture from the Nazi era that I have seem multiple times on the internet. It shows a crowd of people where every one of them has their arm outstretched in the Nazi salute … except for one man with his arms crossed. His story involves more than this one incident, including his marriage to a Jewish woman.

When everyone bows down, but one person remains upright, that is a rather obvious way of drawing attention. This is what Mordecai did. We’ll take a few shots at why, but first let’s recall the story …

3:1 – After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 2 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 behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.

5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.

The story recalls the similar nature of an event in the life of Daniel not bowing down. Was it for the same high-minded and godly reason? Maybe, though Haman was not seen as deity, it was merely honoring his position as second only to the king; so this would not technically violate worshipping a false god.

Though we cannot say for sure that the following background gives the reason, it certainly is interesting, if not plausible and fitting well with the entire story.

Haman is named in the first sentence as an “Agagite.”  What in the world is that? Do you remember a King Agag? Maybe only slightly? He was an Amalekite king. We think of the Philistines as the #1 enemy of Israel, and they did plenty to be thought of in such a way. But it is difficult to imagine a people group that more horribly — in every way imaginable — treated the Jewish nation worse that did the wicked Amalekites.

Here is some more of the story from 1 Samuel 15, and this will help it come into focus a bit more for you. King Saul was told to completely destroy Agag and the Amalekites and everything belonging to them, but he did not fully follow through; and Samuel the Prophet made a visit to confront him about this. Saul greeted Samuel with the statement that he had obeyed God …

1 Samuel 15:14 – But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

So Samuel basically says, “So what you’re telling me is that you did not fully obey God!”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

The story continues with Agag being brought before Samuel, and it says that the Amalekite king thought that this was going to turn out well for him after all. But Samuel did what Saul was supposed to do: Kill Agag. This was the turning point for Saul. From this time forward his life was in total decline as God had decreed that the kingdom would be removed from him.

Do you remember what tribe Saul was from and what was his father’s name? He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and his father’s name was Kish. Have you heard that name recently in our writings and Scripture readings?  Yes, you have … since Mordecai was a Benjaminite whose great-grandfather was named Kish — the ancestor that Nebuchadnezzar had brought to Babylon over 100 years previously.

In accord with Jewish tradition and understanding of this story, Mordecai and Haman were continuing a national feud that dated back some 400 years. And if true, this would explain why Haman scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.

So when does one make a stand? Briefly, I think the answer is that one must certainly do this when it is a matter of obedience to God’s command; that is clear. Beyond that, one might choose to stand in a difficult and hostile situation when it is a matter of personal calling. There may be times in life where God through his sovereign work chooses to use us to be the one to make a stand in a given situation, even though it is not something that every other Christian is obliged to do.

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This entry was posted in Esther and tagged , , by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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