Mordecai Worships Only Jehovah
MORDECAI was involved in the government affairs of a world empire, but he did not worship the political state. He obeyed the laws of the land when they did not conflict with God’s laws. He even acted for the preservation of the state when it was threatened by seditious conspirators. But when it came to a showdown test of allegiance Mordecai’s loyalty was for God first. That his fearless course was blessed by Jehovah is shown by the record in the Bible book called “Esther”.
The narrated events of the book take place in Persia, in the royal city of Shushan, “in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:).” The book of Esther covers approximately 484-474 B.C. While the principal character of the book might be said to be Esther, it was Mordecai who through his wise counsel guided her into the queenship. Their relationship is shown by the following:
“Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.” King Ahasuerus, because of Queen Vashti’s disobedience, selected a new queen, who was Mordecai’s cousin Esther. But even after her exaltation to the queenship “Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him”.—Esther 1:1; 2:5-7, 20.
Next in the record are recounted two events that show Mordecai’s stand for law and order through human government, yet make clear his refusal to violate God’s law when state ordinances conflict therewith. The first event is recorded at Esther 2:21-23: “In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king’s gate, two of the king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus. And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai’s name. And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king.”
Thus was squelched the conspiracy against the state. But in the very next verses Mordecai himself is found defying the king’s command, because it would have forced him to violate God’s law if he obeyed the king’s: “After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. Then the king’s servants, which were in the king’s gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment? Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.”—Esther 3:1-5.
Note that when Mordecai had been daily questioned as to his refusal to bow down, he had answered by telling them that he was a Jew. That meant he reminded them that he was following God’s command that forbade bowing down and reverencing and worshiping creatures. Haman’s anger sought outlet not only against Mordecai but against all the Jews, and in pursuance of that end Haman pushed through a decree to destroy the Jews. On what basis was he able to get the king’s consent to his anti-Semitic drive? By charging the Jews with sedition against the state because they put God’s law above man’s. Haman told the king: “Their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws.”—Esther 3:8.
So confident of success was the cocksure Haman that he built gallows on which to hang Mordecai, and was on his way to see the king to get permission for such legalized murder. But the king met the Agagite with the question: “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?” Conceited Haman thought that surely the man to be honored was himself, so he outlined an elaborate parading of the man through the streets on the king’s horse, the horse to be led by one of the king’s princes. The king agreed, but how crushing the blow to Haman when he heard the man to be honored was Mordecai and that he, Haman, would be the one to lead the horse on which Mordecai rode! Why did the king suddenly wish to honor Mordecai? Because one night the king suffered from insomnia and had read to him the historical records, and in that reading it was brought to his attention again how Mordecai had reported the conspiracy against the king, and when the king learned that nothing had been done to honor Mordecai for his service, he determined to remedy the oversight. The next day he had the interview with Haman, that turned out so painful to the Agagite’s ego.
Through Esther’s intercession, as advised by Mordecai, Haman’s wickedness was exposed and he was hung on the gallows he had reared up for Mordecai, Mordecai was elevated to Haman’s former position, and arrangements were made for the Jews to defend themselves on the day that Haman’s wicked decree of destruction was to be executed. As a result the tables were turned and it was the Jews’ enemies that died instead of the Jews. To commemorate the victory Mordecai ordained the keeping of the feast of Purim, which command the Jews have since carried out. (Esther 8:11; 9:1-32) As for Mordecai himself, he “was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed”.—Esther 10:3.
The other dramatic happenings in the book of Esther we leave for succeeding articles on the characters Esther and Haman to develop. The remainder of this article we devote to discussing some interesting facts regarding the chronology of the times and the book of Esther, which was probably written by Mordecai, whose name means “like pure myrrh or bruised myrrh”. There is a difference of opinion as to the writer of the book. There are scholars who credit it to Ezra. Ezra probably brought the book with him when he came from Babylon to Jerusalem, in 467 B.C., and added it to the then still growing Hebrew canon. However, it is more probable that Mordecai wrote the record, because he was in position to have all the minute knowledge shown in the narrative of the private affairs of Mordecai and Esther, of Haman’s family, and particularly of the domestic details of the palace of Shushan. Also, at the time of his elevation in the king’s service he would have access to the official records which are mentioned in the account.
The canonicity or authenticity of the book is questioned by many. Their chief objection is based, not on historical grounds or well-founded critical analysis, but on an arbitrary, emotional reaction arising from the fact that the name of God does not appear once in the narrative. But the entire book breathes a spirit of faithfulness and integrity toward God and deep interest in the cause of God’s people. The fact that Mordecai steadfastly refused to honor and bow to God’s enemy, Haman the Amalekite, is proof that Jehovah and His law were recognized by Mordecai; Haman objected to this people whose laws were diverse from the nation’s. Moreover, divine maneuvering of events is implied at Esther 4:14, and prayer is doubtless referred to by the word “cry” at Es 9:31.
The canonicity of the book may be established on the following grounds: The Jews have always reckoned it in the canon; it was probably received into the canon by Ezra, who lived at the time its recorded events occurred and would be in position to pass on its authenticity. He would have excluded it if it had been a fable. Though written in Hebrew, it contains the Persianisms and Aramaisms with which the Hebrew tongue had by that time been contaminated; its wording in this respect matches that of the books Ezra, Nehemiah, and First and Second Chronicles. The record has the ring of genuineness by harmonizing completely with the times in which it is historically set. Another strong argument in behalf of its authenticity and historical basis is that to this day the Jews keep the feast of Purim ordained by Mordecai in remembrance of their deliverance at that time. The strongest argument, however, is that the prophetic pictures forecast by the events of the book of Esther are now, in these “last days”, undergoing fulfillment under Jehovah’s direction.
During what time did the events related occur? It was at a time when the Persian empire extended “from India even unto Ethiopia”. This would fix Darius II as the earliest possible ruler to so hold sway, and the language of the book and the events and customs disclosed and its inclusion into the canon by Ezra would not permit the events to be located beyond the reign of Artaxerxes III. In between these two Persian monarchs was Xerxes. The Ahasuerus of the Esther account must have been one of these three.
In the twelfth year of his reign this Ahasuerus did not seem too well acquainted with the Jews and their beliefs or disposed to favor them, because he permitted himself to be very readily influenced by Haman to decree their destruction. Darius II would hardly have fitted in this setup; he was well acquainted with the Jews and had favored them early in his reign, before the twelfth year thereof. Neither would Artaxerxes III, because he specially favored the Jews in his seventh year and again in his twentieth year. It must be that the Ahasuerus of the Esther account was Xerxes. To this most scholars agree, and the American Translation Bible and Moffatt’s translation even substitute Xerxes for Ahasuerus in the account.
When, then, did Xerxes reign? After the long reign of Darius II Xerxes began ruling, about 486 B.C. Historians generally say 485 B.C. As to the time of ending of his reign there is disagreement. Most encyclopedias say his reign extended to a twenty-first year, to 465 B.C., and that then Artaxerxes III ascended the throne. But the most accurate profane historian of those times, and who lived during the reign of Artaxerxes III, namely Thucydides, fixes, in the light of a chronology table by Diodorus, the end of Xerxes’ reign and the beginning of Artaxerxes’ rule at about the year 474 B.C. Actually, Xerxes reigned twelve full years and possibly started his thirteenth, from 486 to 474 B.C. The events of Esther extend from his third year through his twelfth, a period of about ten years.