Esther 3:2 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.(NIV)
Here we see that the king had given a command to the servants who worked for him at the King’s Gate to pay honor to Haman. This was no simple bowing of the head or even just to a knee, but there are two words here in the Hebrew. Both of the Hebrew words in this passage can be translated to prostrate oneself. In other words, those before Haman were to fall down and prostrate themselves. The second word can even mean to worship. This command was an all out call for the servants at the King’s Gate, which included Mordecai, to in essence worship Haman as their head. This, of course, did not sit well with Mordecai.
The word “disobey” in the NIV is actually “cross over” in the Hebrew. I find this interesting because it means that Mordecai was crossing over the command of Xerxes. In other words, he was not doing it necessarily in an obvious way. Remember Haman had not noticed him not prostrating himself, when everyone else obviously did. Perhaps he found ways to be conveniently away from the areas Haman passed and this was only obvious to those who worked with him, but not Haman. The reason I think this may be the case is because his fellow servants at the King’s Gate spoke to him about this “day after day”. They were trying to get Mordecai to follow the king’s command.
Finally, Mordecai gives his response to their inquiries. His answer, “I will not prostrate myself before (worship) Haman because I am a Jew”, or something like to that affect. This was not something Mordecai could bring himself to do. If you have never noticed before, Mordecai has a Babylonian name and a Jewish name is never given for him in the book. Also, the other servants at the King’s Gate do not seem to know he is a Jew, he had to tell them or as the Hebrew says it, he “declared” he was a Jew.
Mordecai broke his silence. Remember that Mordecai had told Esther not to reveal to anyone that she was a Jew. It would appear that Mordecai was giving her advice that he followed himself. There is no telling how long he had worked at the King’s Gate, but all that time his true identity was kept secret until he himself made it known.
There is a time and place for secrecy, even about who we are in Christ. There is also a time and place to publicly declare we are His servants. Many of us do not ever face this choice, but most assuredly some do. The believers in Muslim nations for instance. Even Jews who have come to believe in Messiah that search for the right time and place to tell family of their decision, praying for an open door to tell them about Yeshua and at the same time knowing the possibility of being disowned.
Then there are those times that come, like this one for Mordecai, when no matter what happens it is time to speak. It is time to declare our allegiance to the One we serve. These are the times Jesus is talking about when He says, “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before My Father.” We are not to keep silent and worship other gods. Another good example is the three young men in the book of Daniel who refused to bow before the statue of the king of Babylon and faced the fiery furnace. Those young men, according to their Hebrew names were, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. May we never bend the knee and worship another god.
It would appear that there were anti-Jewish sentiments within the culture of the citadel of Susa. I say this because when the other servants found out he was a Jew it was this information that caused them to go to Haman. They could have gone to Haman before this, but it was not until they received this little tidbit of information that they chose to see if Haman would tolerate it. The other servants must have known that at least Haman despised the Jews and wanted to see what he would do.
What could the reason for this anti-Jewish sentiment have been. No one knows. If you may allow me to speculate, it may have been because they were against or at least refused to fight in the Persian-Greco war that Xerxes lost. Remember they were in a Persian province at the time, yet in looking through Herodotus’ account of the war there is no listing for a Jewish participation when he lists so many others. Again this is speculation, but seems at least possible.
The main reason for Haman, of course, was what we discussed in the last post. The Israelites had almost annihilated his people hundreds of years earlier in the time of King Saul. So for Haman this was personal. There was no way he was going to tolerate this lack of respect and, yes, worship from this Jew. It would appear as if the servants knew this would probably be the result. We will get more into Haman’s response in our next post.
I want you to notice something else as well. The other servants did not have the authority to arrest Mordecai on there own. They were by no means ahead of Mordecai in ranking and position. It may even be that Mordecai was over them since they did not feel confident enough to report him until after he declared publicly that he was a Jew. Perhaps they feared him already. However, I would not be fair if I did not at least mention the possibility that they may have liked him and did not want to see him get in trouble until they found out he was a Jew. That, of course, again says something about he overall attitude toward the Jews, at least in the citadel of Susa, it not in the whole of the Persian Empire.
Regardless, of the details that have long since been lost to history, there was an anti-Jewish sentiment in the citadel that gives Haman the perfect opportunity for what he does next. Attack!