In February 2015 the terrorist group ISIS beheaded twenty-one Christians on a beach in Libya. In a video the men are seen moments before their execution, calling out to Jesus and mouthing prayers. Most of them were Egyptian migrant laborers working to provide for their families.
ISIS slaughtered the men in order to shock the world with terror. The response of their families sent an altogether different message. One mother of a twenty-five-year-old victim said, “I’m proud of my son. He did not change his faith till the last moment of death. I thank God. . . . He is taking care of him.”1
A priest described his congregation, which lost thirteen of its men, by saying, “The whole congregation was coming to the church to pray for their return, but in their prayers later on, they asked that if they died, they die for their faith, and that’s what happened. The congregation is actually growing, psychologically and spiritually.”2
The men could have lived. With a simple confession of Allah, knives would have been lowered and lives spared.
What would you have done?
The question is more than academic. You may not face blades and terrorists, but don’t you face critics and accusers? Family members mock your beliefs. Professors make fun of your faith. Colleagues gossip about your convictions. Do you sometimes feel all alone?
As many as five years have passed since Esther was appointed queen (Est. 2:16–17 and 3:7). Life has been good to her and Mordecai. She lives in the lap of luxury. He serves in a seat of power. Both continue to keep their Jewish nationality a secret. As far as anyone knows, they are pure Persian. All is good until Mordecai overhears a plot.
In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name. And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. (2:21–23 NKJV)
The Persian versions of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald schemed to assassinate King Xerxes, but their big mouths got them into trouble. Mordecai caught wind of the plot, reported them to Esther, and they ended up on the king’s gallows.
And . . . that’s it. No more details. No public recognition for Mordecai. No more character development. No explanation. My editors would red ink me. “Why include this story?” “Who are these people?” “What happened next?”
A possible answer is found in the first verse of the next chapter. “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” (3:1).
Xerxes found himself exposed again. His first wife had resisted him, and now his subjects were plotting to kill him. He presumed to be lord over the world’s greatest empire and yet was threatened from within his own camp. A statement must be made! He responded by appointing a heavy-handed, take-no-prisoners vizier, “Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite.”
Don’t hurry past the odd-sounding terms in this introduction. Haman was the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite. An Agagite was a descendent of Agag, the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were the most ancient of the Hebrews’ enemies. The children of Israel were hardly out of Egyptian bondage when “Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim” (Ex. 17:8 NKJV).
Why would a warring tribe turn their wrath against some exslaves? Moses and his people owned no land. They possessed no territory. They had done nothing to anger the Amalekites. Why the guerrilla warfare on the Hebrew people?
And why with such cruelty? Moses recalled their barbarism when he urged the Israelites to “remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. . . . [Y]ou shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deut. 25:17–19).
The Amalekites picked off the stragglers: the old, the sick, the widowed, the disabled. They had not the courage to attack from the front. Moses saw the evil people for who they were: instruments of Satan. Lucifer hated the Jews. He knew God’s plan was to redeem the world through Jesus, and he made it his aim to annihilate the family tree before it could bear fruit. After defeating the Amalekites in the wilderness, God promised, “‘I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’ And Moses . . . said, ‘Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation’” (Ex. 17:14–16 NKJV).
God went so far as to command King Saul to destroy all the Amalekites, along with all their animals. But Saul spared the king and saved the best of the sheep. The name of the king? Agag. Haman, then, was a descendant of the original anti-Semitic race. Hebrew hatred was in his blood.
Mordecai, in turn, was a descendant of Saul, a Benjamite (Est. 2:5). Saul’s refusal to obey God and destroy Agag was a perpetual blemish on the Benjamite legacy.
The moment Mordecai encountered Haman in Susa was more than two men meeting at the citadel. This was a collision of ten centuries of bias and hatred.
Haman and his hate made for high drama when he saw Mordecai at the gate. “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” (3:2).
Someone needs to capture this moment on canvas. The towering gate in the background. Haughty Haman and his entourage of servants. Persian officials with faces low to the ground. And in their midst one man standing ramrod straight—Mordecai. Backbone as stiff as a frigate mast.
This was the moment Mordecai refused to bow.
His resistance went on day after day. His fellow court members “spoke to him daily and he would not listen to them.” Finally they got an explanation. “Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew” (v. 4 NKJV).
Well, there it is. The camouflage came off. The mask was removed. Mordecai had spent his life hiding his nationality and had trained Esther to do the same. The two were so Persian in tone, appearance, language, and behavior that she could marry the king, he could work for the king, and no one knew that they were descendants of Abraham. But one look at Haman changed that. Mordecai wasn’t about to bow before an enemy of God’s people.
Haman went ballistic. Place Esther 3:5–6 against your nose, take a whiff, and see if you don’t detect the stench of Satan:
When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 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.
It wasn’t enough to make Mordecai miserable. It wasn’t enough to kill the unbending Jew. Haman embarked on a mission to annihilate God’s chosen people, root and branch.
This was bald-faced racism. Haman felt superior to an entire race of human beings simply because of their ancestry. As if he had the right to gamble with the lives of humans, Haman took the equivalent of a die called pur, cast the lot, and determined the date of execution to be eleven months hence. He then went to the potentate and said:
There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury. (vv. 8–9)
Haman was willing to pay $20 million3 for the right to exterminate the Jews.4 By now we know that Haman was vile to the bone and Xerxes had the spine of a jellyfish. But nothing could prepare us for the nonchalant decision to engage in ethnic cleansing.
The king agreed . . . telling him, “Keep the money, but go ahead and do as you like with these people—whatever you think best.”
Two or three weeks later, Haman called in the king’s secretaries and dictated letters to the governors and officials throughout the empire, to each province in its own languages and dialects; these letters were signed in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with his ring. . . .
The edict went out by the king’s speediest couriers. . . . Then the king and Haman sat down for a drinking spree as the city fell into confusion and panic. (vv. 10–12, 15 TLB)
The king and his right-hand man had such disregard for human life and disdain for the Jewish people that they could pronounce a bloodbath and then enjoy cocktails.
Note it wasn’t just the Jews who were bewildered; the entire city was on edge. For all they knew Haman might turn on them. What if he had a bias against shop owners or farmers or people who were left handed? When the sheriff is a wimp and his deputy is a despot, anything can happen.
Haman dispatched couriers to each of the provinces with a command and an offer. The command? Kill all Jews. The offer? Plunder their possessions. The date dictated by the casting of the die was still eleven months away. Let them live in misery, Haman must have thought. What Haman did not know is this: “People throw lots to make a decision, but the answer comes from the LORD” (Prov. 16:33 NCV).
Chance didn’t determine the date; God did. Even though this story does not mention his name, it reveals his will. It was God who delayed the date for eleven months, giving his plan time to unfold. It was God who reminded Mordecai of his ancestry, his identity. And it was God who prompted him to take a stand for what is right.
God will give you the courage to do the same.
Max Lucado, You Were Made for This Moment: Courage for Today and Hope for Tomorrow (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021), 2–5.
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