Mordicai Refuses To Bow To Haman - Esther 3:1-6
Arnold Dallimore wrote a two volume biography of George Whitefield. At one point Dallimore says, “The open-air ministry required great zeal, but it also required great wisdom, and as he (Whitefield) sought to conduct and extend it, it constantly faced him with the decision as to where the highway of good sense ended and where the by-path of fanaticism began.”
At one point Dallimore shares a prayer that Whitefield had prayed concerning his need for wisdom after his actions had resulted in a fight in which he was hit in the head. Whitefield prayed, ‘God grant that I may behave so, that when I suffer, it may not be for my own imprudencies, but for righteousness sake.’
After this brawl Whitefield began to urge Christians to be wise and not foolish. For example, Whitefield said in one sermon, ‘Do nothing rash – wait on the LORD. We need a proper mixture of the lion and the lamb. The Lord’s cause needs not noise and rashness. I desire that no wild fire be mixed with the pure fire of holy zeal upon God’s altar.’1
On another occasion Whitefield asked for prayer from a friend concerning these things by saying, ‘O pray, dear sir, that my zeal may be always tempered with true Christian prudence. It would grieve me should I bring sufferings causelessly upon myself. A trying time, perhaps, is at hand. O that I may be found faithful.’
I mention these things because we too need to be wise and discerning in these days. There will be times in our life when godly wisdom is applied to a situation we will achieve peace. There may be other times, however, when we will apply godly wisdom to a situation and we will encounter trouble and trials.
In our text today we will see that Mordecai disobeys an order given by King Ahasuerus when he refuses to bow to a man named Haman the Agagite. When Mordecai does this he is confronted by those who are around him. Day after day they apply pressure upon him to bow his knee, but Mordecai refuses to cave to this pressure. When Haman is told about this situation he becomes angry at Mordecai and he wants to kill him and all of the Jewish people throughout the entire kingdom.
It would not be unreasonable to suppose that Mordecai knew that there might be some repercussions for him when he did this. Mordecai may have prayed ‘that his zeal may be always tempered with true prudence.’ Mordecai probably knew that his actions may bring personal suffering and a ‘trying time, perhaps, would be at hand.’ So like Whitefield, he would often be praying like Whitefield, ‘O that I may be found faithful.’
Let us read Esther 3:1-6,
After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. 2 And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. 3 Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king's command?” 4 And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai's words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. 5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. 6 But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.(Esther 3:1-6)
This text can be divided into three historical events:
King Ahasuerus promotes Haman the Agagite
Mordecai does not pay homage to Haman
Haman plans evil against Mordecai and the Jews throughout the kingdom
King Ahasuerus promotes Haman the Agagite
We read of the promotion of Haman in verses 1-2, “After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. 2 And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him.”
After Mordecai had saved the kings life we may have expected that he would have been the one that was chosen by the king for a promotion. However, we see that another man was promoted and set above all of the other officials in the kingdom. This man’s name was Haman the Agagite.
(Gospel Application: Jesus rescues sinners by dying in their place for their sins. This is a far greater act than what Mordecai did for King Ahasuerus; yet people will exalt other idols in their lives rather than honoring Christ. We think that King Ahasuerus is acting strangely in this moment but he is actually reflecting the sinful unbelief of all of us who are dead in our sins. Just as God will have to sovereignly work in King Ahasuerus so that he would honor Mordecai, He also has to powerfully work in us so that we will honor the Son in grateful adoration (Esther 6:1-3). In response meditate upon Psalm 148 and praise the LORD.)
This is the first time that we have heard of Haman in this book, however, I am going to assume that he was very well known to the king. Haman seems to have had access to the king and had impressed the him more than any other official. As a result of this Haman is exalted higher than anyone else. Perhaps this is why Haman received this promotion and why Mordecai was not considered for it.
The sovereign will of God is in all of these things. None of this is random or done by chance. King Ahasuerus has his reasoning for this move, but God is the one who is directing the heart of the king in these decisions. (Proverbs 20:24 - A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?)
Gospel Application: the puritan Jeremiah Burrough’s wrote a book called ‘Gospel Worship’. In it he speaks of how a Christian is to draw close to God and they are to often be in His presence. Burrough’s speaks of two benefits that come from drawing close to God and abiding with Him.
First, he says, “Those who are most familiar with God have greater access to Him. When strangers come into God’s presence, he does not regard them, but when a familiar friend enters, he pays attention to him.”
Secondly, Burrough’s says, “Those who are familiar with God do not fear death. Death is a joy for them, as one divine said while dying: ‘I shall change my place; I shall not change my company.’”2
I mention these things to make these points. First, Haman had greater access to King Ahasuerus so that the king had more regard for him than he did for Mordecai who was not able to see the king. However, we are beginning to see in this book that Mordecai is drawing close to the LORD at this time. We see this as Mordecai begins to reveal his lineage, his faith in God and as he begins to separate himself from the things of this world. Mordecai is drawing closer to the LORD and the LORD will soon exalt him in ways that Mordecai can not yet see and in ways that King Ahasuerus cannot yet imagine.
Do we spend most of our time trying to have our opportunity to get that raise, get that promotion, or attempting to make something good happen for ourselves; or are we primarily drawing closer to the LORD who can bless us more abundantly than we can imagine?
Secondly, we are also seeing that Mordecai and Haman are beginning to look very different in their responses to things. Haman craves the approval of men and is angered when one man refuses to bow his knee to him. Mordecai on the other hand, is getting bolder, stronger, more courageous and does not fear men or even his own death. Consider Haman’s reaction when the king was turning against him in Esther 7:7-8, “And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king. And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was.”
My friends, we will all have moments of fear. We will be tempted when we have taken a stand for the LORD to back down to avoid persecution. But perhaps the answer in these moments is found in the instruction of Jeremiah Burrough’s. If we will draw close to God we will receive His undivided attention and we will grow in boldness and we will not fear the consequences that our obedience to God may bring about.
The promotion of Haman to this position may have been especially hard for Mordecai because Haman was an Agagite. Agag was an Amalekite king. When the Jews were coming into the promised land the LORD had promised to utterly destroy them. (Exodus 17:14)
Many years later (500 years), when Saul was king, the LORD had commanded him to destroy all of the Amalekites. But even though God gave the Jewish people a great victory over the Amalekites Saul did not put Agag to death (1 Samuel 15:8-9). Now, many years later a descendant of Saul, Mordecai, and a descendant of Agag, Haman, are brought together again. This time it would appear that the Jews were at the disadvantage; but the LORD was working to protect His people through all these things.
This is a good reminder that our disobedience to the LORD can have long lasting ramifications for others. (Hezekiah, Solomon, Adam) Instead, each of us ought to live each day with Proverbs 20:7 in mind which says, “The righteous who walks in his integrity – blessed are his children after him!”
Mordecai Does Not Pay Homage To Haman
In Esther 3:2b-4 we read, “But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. 3 Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king's command?” 4 And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai's words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew.”
It is not necessarily wrong for a Jewish person to bow down to honor a person. We see this often throughout scriptures. Some have said that Mordecai may not have bowed down to Haman because he was a godless and self-serving man. Haman clearly liked to be honored by others (Esther 6:1-11). It has been suggested that Mordecai refused to bow to Hama because he lacked humility. Others have also pointed out that in this culture it may have been an act of idolatry to bow to Haman. Still others say that if Mordecai were to bow to Haman he would be giving honor an enemy and so he would not bow to him.3
When we were first introduced to Mordecai we saw a man who seemed to have grown comfortable in Susa. He was a Jewish man who lived in a vast Gentile kingdom. He had disobeyed the Word of the LORD about returning to Jerusalem, but he now seems to be willing to be a witness for God and for his people.
When Mordecai made the decision to not bow his knee to Haman everything changed. From that time on he received pressure from the king’s officials. We read, “Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king's command?’ And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them…”. (3-4a)
We have already seen how Mordecai came to the court of the harem and checked on Esther every day. Esther 2:11 says, “And every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her.” Mordecai knew the importance of encouraging Esther as she was going through all of the challenges in the harem. What a blessing this must have been to Esther!
Recently I watched a biography about Dwight Clark who played in the NFL and later was diagnosed with ALS. One of the things he appreciated was the support that he received every day from his fellow teammates. In the interview he said, “There are a bunch of guys that are checking in on me all the time...Those guys check in a lot. Nobody more than Eddie.”
As Dwight’s illness progressed he and his wife moved to Montana. They had one reason for moving to Montana and away from their home in San Francisco. Dwight wanted to be by Eddie DeBartolo, the man who encouraged him the most.
If this sort of encouragement can be such a positive influence upon someone, then we see in our text today that Mordecai also was learning how this could also be used in a negative way. We are told that the king’s officials spoke to him day after day and questioned why he would not bow to Haman. The actions of these men would have brought great pressure on Mordecai to compromise; but he didn’t. We are simply told that Mordecai did not listen to them (Esther 3:4 – And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them...).
These things are really important words to consider. These men spoke to him day after day but Mordecai would not listen to them. Mordecai could not control the mouths of other men but he could control what he listened too. He could not avoid hearing their message but he did not have to receive it as his own. Mordecai could not escape and avoid their talk, he heard it day after day, but he did not have to let it get to him.
We have three messengers that are continually, daily, moment by moment trying to influence us: indwelling sin, the fallen world, and the enemy of our souls. We cannot keep these things from speaking to us throughout the day but we do not have to listen to them. We do not need to obey them. We do not need to conform to them or receive their messages as our own. We can be like Job who acknowledges the message of the wicked and says, “The counsel of the wicked is far from me.” (Job 21:16) We can heed the instruction of Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Haman Plans Evil Against Mordecai and the Jews Throughout The Kingdom
We read in verse 5, “And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.”
This is a shocking development. Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman angers him greatly. Haman is not content to exact revenge upon Mordecai alone but he will try to kill every Jew in the kingdom.
We began this morning by quoting from the biography on Whitefield. Whitefield asked for prayer saying, “‘O pray, dear sir, that my zeal may be always tempered with true Christian prudence. It would grieve me should I bring sufferings causelessly upon myself. A trying time, perhaps, is at hand. O that I may be found faithful.’”
I would think that Mordecai would have prayed a prayer like this one. The scriptures do lead us to believe that Mordecai’s actions have been foolish or unwise. But his actions will be the excuse that Haman uses to try to kill Mordecai and all the Jewish people.
One must consider this situation and ask, “If an evil plan like this can be considered and planned out, is any evil plan impossible in this fallen world?” History has taught us that in this sinful world the most unimaginable sin can be carried out without anyone really taking notice (abortion, genocide, etc.). Yet the most heinous of all evil plans ever carried out was against God’s own Son Jesus Christ. Through that unthinkable evil God has provided salvation to all who will come to the Son by faith.
Let me ask the question: Do you think that Mordecai was right in disobeying the king? (The book of Esther does not give any hint that what Mordecai did was wrong or foolish.)
Over the last several years I have heard more and more Christians asking questions like this. No sincere believer will take these questions lightly and assume to quickly that they know how to respond in some of these situations.
As I have contemplated these things I have appreciated Isaiah 9:13-16and how it might help us to consider what our focus should be upon. This is what it says,
13) The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the Lord of hosts. 14) So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and reed in one day— 15) the elder and honored man is the head, and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail; 16) for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.
In verse 13 the LORD has sent judgment upon the people of God. This judgment was intended to make the people turn back to Him and to seek the LORD of Hosts.
The second observation comes in verses 13-15. Here we see that God is going to cut off from Israel ‘the head and the tail’. He defines these things in verse 15 saying, “...the elder and honored man is the head, and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail…”. These rulers, both political and religious, are wicked, unrepentant and prideful. Yet, the people follow after the leaders and obey their unrighteous decrees, their idolatry and they accept their false teachings.
The third observation is in verse 16. We read, “...for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.” Notice that these leaders, these guides, lead the people away and the people are swallowed up. There are real consequences that we face if we do not turn to the LORD and if we continue to be led away from Him.
Let me ask a question. Is there more trepidation in your heart when Mordecai disobeys the king s and does not bow, or is there more trepidation when you consider someone not returning to the LORD?
To be honest, I often felt more trepidation concerning Mordecai disobeying King Ahasuerus than the fact than if he were to disobey the LORD. Why is that?
In Isaiah 9 God’s people are being led astray and they are being swallowed up by their leaders; and yet, all of this happens while we are often unaware. Could it be that by doing this Mordecai would stop being led astray and his faith would not be swallowed up in this pagan Persian Empire? We have already seen that Mordecai sought to save the king when his life was in danger. So Mordecai is not rebellious and against the authority of the king. But in this particular case Mordecai was not going to bow his knee to Haman and so he disobeys the king’s command.
As I contemplate this I often think of the Jews in this story. They did not blame Mordecai when Haman seeks to kill them all because of this. They did not condemn his actions as if they were the result of some foolish action by Mordecai. How easily they could have done so in this moment.
When I was in the seventh grade my brother and I went to a school where we simply did not fit in. We were from the wrong side of the tracks. I did whatever I could do to simply fit in and remain largely out of the public eye of the other kids. My brother, however, was becoming increasingly more frustrated with how he was being treated. One day my brother was being picked on by a prideful boy and so my brother fought back. When I saw my brother I yelled at him, “Thanks for making my life miserable!”
Now, so many years later, if I went through that again I would respond differently to my brother. I think that I would go up to him and support him and walk up and down the school hallway together. If only I could do it over.
Jesus, our elder brother, came into this world and He was not well received. Jesus went on to tell us that all who follow after Him will be treated the same way. We could yell at Him and say, “Thanks for making my life miserable!” but I think we’d quickly regret that. Instead, we ought to draw even closer to Jesus and His people. The LORD delivered Mordecai and the Jewish people when they drew close to Him and He will deliver us as we turn to Him and inquire of Him.
1George Whitefield, Arnold Dallimore, p. 286
2Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Worship, p. 16-17
3Dr. Thompson, Exposition of the book of Esther, Esther 3:1-6