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Doing Good But Getting Punished

Esther 2:19–3:6

Copyright © 2006 Jeremy D. Myers



Have you ever been in a situation where you do everything right, but you don’t receive any recognition or reward for what you’ve done, but instead, you get punished? Have you ever tried your hardest to live your life for God, but when you look around, it seems like nothing is going your way? Instead, those who live for themselves, and couldn’t care less about God and His ways, seem to be getting all the blessings?


They get the high-paying jobs with frequent raises, while you get the dead-end job with no raises. They get the nice houses and cars, while you get the ones that are falling apart and require constant care. They have no health problems, while yours run the gamut.


If you have ever experienced this in life, it’s very difficult to deal with. In such situations, it is very hard to not get bitter at the ones who mistreat you, or at the ones who seem to get better treatment. But the good thing is that this experience seems to be normal for the person who is trying to live their life for God. In the Bible, it is the Godly men and women who always seem to be getting the short end of the stick. Many of the Psalms and Prophets deal with this question about why the wicked seem to have life easier than God’s own people.


As we work our way through the book of Esther, we see that this is also what happens to a Godly man named Mordecai. He does what is righteous and just, but not only are his actions overlooked and forgotten, instead, his enemy Haman sets out to destroy him—and not only him, but all of Mordecai’s race, the Jewish people. Mordecai is overlooked when it comes to praise, but punishment is heaped upon him.


As we watch Mordecai handle this difficult situation, we can learn how to handle similar situations in our own lives.


So far, in the book of Esther, we’ve seen a proud and petty king destroy his marriage by banishing his wife, then destroy his country by gathering up all the young women of the for his own pleasure. The end result of that Miss Persia Pageant was that a young Jewish girl named Esther became the new queen. You’d think the king would be content, but look what happens in v 19.


19When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate.


Apparently there was a second gathering of virgins from across the land. Historians tells us that this occasionally happened to replace the older members of the harem.


Verse 19 is another sarcastic statement by the author showing the complete selfishness and arrogance of the king. He originally gathered all the young women of marriageable age because he wanted to find a queen. But now that he had a queen, he does it again.[1] Why? Because he can and because he wants to. I don’t know how this would have made Esther feel. She knew she was marrying this kind of man, and so can’t be too surprised. But verse 19 is not really about Esther. It’s about Mordecai.


We see from verse 19 that when the king gathered all the women a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. This tells us that he apparently held some sort of political office since it was at the king’s gate that most official business took place.


20Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him.


Esther is obedient to Mordecai. She didn't think “Well, now that I am queen, I can do what I want, and my race doesn't matter.” She still respected and obeyed Mordecai—even though she was queen. She did not give in to the pride that comes with power. She did not say “Well, I'm queen now, and I have power—what do I need him for? Why should I listen to him? What does he know about being queen?”


No, she continued to obey and honor Mordecai. Why? Because, as the verse says, Mordecai had brought her up teaching her to obey him and follow his instructions. Training your child begins when they are young. Obedience will not just happen when they reach 6th grade or get to high school. Many parents believe that they will just be able to reason with their children when they are older, so discipline now is not needed. Scripture and experience tells us exactly the opposite. Proverbs tells us to train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not stray from it. (22:6). Mordecai did this, and we will see the amazing results it has in the life of Esther—and for all the Israelites in Persia.


21In 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. 22So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name. 23And 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.


Mordecai is sitting at the king’s gate and two of the kings officers are angry at the king for something—we don't know what—but considering what we do know of the king, I’m sure there were lots of people angry at him, so these two officers plan to assassinate the king. But Mordecai, who was sitting at the gate, overheard their plans, told Esther, who in turn reported it to the King.


The plot was investigated and found to be true and the two men were hanged on a gallows. Gallows will play a part in the upcoming story as well. Gallows in that time, by the way, are not what we imagine from our western films. They did not hang people from a gallows by rope. This was not a western hang man's noose. If a person was hung from a gallows in that time, they were most often impaled on a stake or post. We see this in Ezra 6:11 which says “Furthermore, I decree that if anyone changes this edict, a beam is to be pulled from his house and he is to be lifted up and impaled on it. And for this crime his house is to be made a pile of rubble.”[2]


This was not an unusual method of punishment in the Persian empire. Darius, Xerxes' father, was known to have once impaled 3,000 men. This was the first type of crucifixion. Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but crucifixion was invented by the Persians and perfected by the Romans. So here we see its first stages of invention—they were impaled on a post or stake.[3]


And the last thing we read in chapter 2 is that these events were recorded in the history books of the king. Again, this might seem rather mundane and pointless, but there is no sentence in Scripture that is there without reason, and this sentence also will find meaning later.


And notice finally what is not said in these final verses. Mordecai receives no thanks and no reward for saving the King. It appears he has been forgotten. Herodotus says that Persian kings were generally very diligent in rewarding such acts. However, Mordecai is overlooked and forgotten. He saved the king’s life, but receives no praise, no recognition, no reward. Therefore, we again see the insensitivity of the King, since a failure to reward Mordecai is a serious omission on his part.[4] But there is Judge that is higher than the king, and as we will see in chapters to come, the Lord our Judge does not forget.


However, Mordecai does not know what is going to happen to him. Many of us, in his situations, would have gotten mad at the king, and maybe mad at God. If you had just saved the president’s life, but nobody on the news reported it, and the president didn’t call you up and thank you, and didn’t have his picture taken with you, you might get to feel a little bit of resentment.


Some people get mad at God when things turn bad. But not Mordecai. In fact, as we turn to chapter 3, we see he continues to stand tall for God, to not bow to pressure, and to remain true to God, even when it seems God and the king has forgotten about him. And not only forgotten, look what happens in 3:1. Mordecai saved the king’s life, but who get’s a promotion? Not Mordecai, but Haman.


1After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him.


Let me tell you a little bit about Haman. We learned in 2:5-6 that Mordecai was a descendant of King Saul. As we see in 3:1, Haman—who is the antagonist in this story, the arch-nemesis of Mordecai and the Israelite people—is an Agagite. He was a descendant of Agag.[5] Who was Agag? He was a King of the Amalekites during the time of Saul.


The Amalekites were a wicked and evil people. So evil, that God declared in Exodus 17:16 that He would wage war against them forever.[6] Why would God make such a statement? It all begins back in Genesis 25. Two sons were born to Isaac—Jacob and Esau. We are told that they were constantly struggling with each other—even in the womb.


Esau was the older son, but the one from whom came many enemies of Israel. From Esau came the Edomites, which were always the enemies of Israel, and also the Amalekites. Esau had a son named Eliphaz, and Eliphaz had a son named Amalek, who became the leader of the Amalekites.


The descendants of the Amalekites were always at war with the Israelites. One of the more famous battles is found in Exodus 17 where the Israelites were winning only as long as Moses kept his staff raised in the air. But when, because of fatigue, he let his staff drop, the Amalekites would get the upper hand. Until finally, Joshua and Caleb have Moses sit on a rock and they each take an arm and hold it up for him.


In the period of the judges we read again and again of the Amalekites, and the many troubles they caused Israel. Finally, in 1 Samuel 15, we read of a very humorous, but deadly serious story. You remember the story. King Saul is to go attack the Amalekites and put them all to death—from the oldest to the youngest, including all the animals.


But King Saul does not obey God. Instead, he takes the best animals for himself, which he tries to excuse by saying he will sacrifice them to the Lord. But aside from the animals, King Saul allows the King of the Amalekites to live. Who was the king? King Agag.


Then the prophet Samuel comes and confronts Saul with his sin, and then Samuel goes and kills King Agag himself. But apparently, some of Agag’s children escape, because 600 years later, we come across Haman the Agagite—Haman, the descendant of king Agag. He certainly remembers what happened to his family at the hands of the Israelites, and he is out for bloody revenge.


That is where Haman comes from. And by the way, Haman is the villain in this story and when Israelites told the story of Esther, whenever the name Haman is mentioned, all the people would boo and hiss.


So put yourself in Mordecai’s shoes. You just saved the king’s life, but what does the king do? Promotes Haman, your arch-nemesis! The one who wants to kill you. And the king doesn’t just promote Haman, Haman is elevated above all other nobles. He is promoted to something akin to Grand Vizier or prime minister, or vice president. Haman is rewarded and promoted when Mordecai—who saved the kings life—was overlooked and forgotten by the king.


But Mordecai was not overlooked and forgotten by everyone. Now that Haman has power, he decides to use that power to destroy Mordecai.  


2And all the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage.


Haman wants all to kneel and honor him, but why does Mordecai not kneel? Some say it would be breaking the first commandment—“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”—if Mordecai bowed to Haman.


Others say, “No, it not that Mordecai couldn't bow to Haman, most likely Haman was wearing the figure of a Persian god, and Mordecai wouldn't bow to that.”


But these theories have the problem that when Mordecai comes into power, and appears before the king, he most certainly would have to bow to the king, or be put to death. Furthermore, in order for Esther to hide her identity, she would have had to bow to the king, and probably Haman as well.[7]


So another theory has been suggested, based on historical reasons, that Mordecai had no problems with bowing before those to whom it was culturally required—such as bowing before the king, or later when Mordecai himself allows others to bow before him—but Haman did not deserve to be bowed to and out of pride and arrogance was demanding it—so Mordecai did not bow. I think this is likely, but not the best option.[8]


I believe the author has shown us within the text itself why Mordecai would not bow. When Mordecai is introduced in the story, he is introduced as an Israelite and a descendant of King Saul. When Haman is introduced, it is as an Amalekite and a descendant of King Agag.


The OT always stresses the bitter and unrelenting enmity between these two peoples. Amalek is always the pre-eminent enemy of Israel.[9] So Mordecai does not bow out of ethnic pride. He will not bow to an Amalekite—let alone the enemy of his ancestor King Saul.


Let's see what reaction he receives in verse 3.


3Then the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?”


In other words, “Why don't you just go along with the crowd? Why are you rocking the boat? It's no big deal really. You're just going to cause trouble for yourself...and maybe for us. Pick your battles.” How many times have we heard and succumbed to arguments like these at home or at the office? “Come on, just cut this corner like everybody else in the office. If you do it that way, you’ll make all of us look bad.”


Everybody else bowed, but Mordecai did not. We could say that Mordecai was literally standing up for what was right.


4Now it happened, when they spoke to him daily and he would not listen to them, that they told it to Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand; for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew.


Mordecai wanted Esther to hide the fact that she was a Jew, but he did not hide the fact that he was a Jew. Probably, he had received much ridicule, scorn and persecution for being a Jew, and wanted to spare Esther that pain. But here, when asked why he won't bow to Haman, he probably told them the history between the Amalekites and the Israelites. And the other officials report this to Haman.


5When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath. 6But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus—the people of Mordecai.


So now, not only are the other officials upset at Mordecai, all the Jews are upset at him as well. From their point of view, their lives are threatened because of one obstinate and stubborn Jew in Susa. Couldn't he have kept his convictions to himself and kept himself and all the Jews out of harm's way? Couldn't he have simply conformed and thus prevented the jeopardy of his entire people?[10] Mordecai was probably not very popular, even among his own people.


Some of us might right now be in such a situation. Do you conform to the crowd or follow God? If you follow God, you will probably make some enemies and maybe get some friends or coworkers in trouble. What should you do? You must do what God wants you to do, even if it get you in trouble with your boss, or with your coworkers. You may not get promoted. Instead, you may get threatened. But it is God we want to please, and not men.


“It is frustrating when our best plans are overturned and our good deeds and hard work goes unnoticed and unrewarded. Most bitterly, we often see others prosper who are less deserving.”[11] They get the reward and honor we should have had. They are wicked when we try to be good and obedient to God.


And we ask, “God, are you still watching out for me?” Many of the Psalms ask this question—and the prophets as well. Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 12:1, “Righteous are You, O LORD, when I plead with You; Yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal treacherously?”


Is that how life seems sometimes? Is that how you feel today? “God, I know you are righteous, but I would speak to you about your justice—why do you let the wicked have their way?” Or maybe your question is, “Lord, I have sinned against you and not lived in obedience to you…do you still love me and will you still remain faithful to me, although I have not been faithful to you?”


Well, if these are your questions, Esther has an answer, which we will see in coming weeks. One of the things we will see is that sometimes, bad things happen to us now, because better things await us in the future. God’s plan is often bigger than ours. He let’s bad things happen now, so that we can be brought to a place where He can do something grand and glorious in our lives that we never thought of or imagined. That is what is going to happen to Mordecai. So you’ll have to come back to hear the rest of that story.


But sometimes, in this life, things do not always turn out for the good. Frequently, Christians live and die without ever seeing justice, or receiving thanks and recognition for their faithfulness and obedience. In such situations, we can be confident that when the world ignores or overlooks us, or in many cases, treats us badly for our obedience to God, God sees us and He will reward us in eternity. He does not overlook us. He does not forget.


So if you are being overlooked, if you are being forgotten, know that God sees and God knows, and if He doesn’t right the wrong done to you in this life, He will make everything right when you stand before Christ in heaven.  


[1] Bush, WBC, 372

[2] Missler, 33. See Also, Crucifixion by Martin Hengel.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bush, WBC, 374.

[5] Some believe that this is simply a reference to the region that Haman was from, and has nothing to do with his lineage. See John Whitcomb, Esther, 62-63.

[6] Missler, 34.

[7] Whitcomb, 63-64.

[8] BBC, Walton, 487.

[9] Bush, 384.

[10] Missler, 38.

[11] Jobes, 127.



Copyright © 2006 TILL HE COMES


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