By Amanda Cox
We just finished reading the account of Esther on our reading plan. There is a ton of commentary you can read about this story that I’m sure goes into very interesting depths. This is not that. [This review contains spoilers]
As a bibliophile and cinephile, I just really appreciate some dramatic irony and dynamic rivalry.
There are a handful of stories in the Bible that I always get excited to read because they have this amazing plot twist or ‘gotcha’ moments, but also reveal big things about who God is.
Esther’s story is so rich and interesting to me. While Esther is the title character, I found myself drawn into the rivalry of the other main characters, Mordecai, a servant of the king, and Hamen, the King’s second in command.
Hamen and Mordecai were, by descent, mortal enemies. Hamen, an Amalekite, was a descendant of a people group that were ancient enemies of the Jews. Mordecai was a Jew. (God had had previously instructed the Isrealites to destroy all the Amalekites, but clearly that didn’t happen. Ultimately, the disobedience of the Jews was how this story even came to pass, as is the case for much of the Old Testament.)
Thus, when Mordecai refused to bow to Hamen, Hamen got pretty mad. Not only did he have a lifetime of hating the Jews in general, but he became enraged when Mordecai did not pay respect to his position of power and authority.
Meanwhile, Mordecai was working behind the scenes instructing Esther on how to behave and act and what to do and say, which landed her in a pretty powerful position as queen.
Mordecai and Esther trusted their investment in the long-game and trusted God as their deliverer. They took calculated actions when needed, but never tried to manufacture their own authority.
For instance, Mordecai learned of a plot by the king’s workers who were planning to harm the king. He exposed those people to the king, and the king was grateful. But the king never actually rewarded him for this valiant act of service.
As part of his position of power, Hamen convinced the king to allow a day where people could kill all the Jews. It became an irrevocable law. The date was set about a year in advance as a result of “casting lots” for the time-frame. It was no coincidence that there was a certain delay in this plot.
The drama really got heavy when Hamen reached a pinnacle of annoyance with Mordecai. He had this grand plot for his destruction. Hamen’s friends encourage him to build a monstrosity of a pole in preparation on which he would impale Mordecai in a very public manner. What he didn’t know was that meanwhile, the king had been looking over his records and realized that he never rewarded Mordecai for saving his life.
Hamen is so pleased with himself and thinks he’s about to present his awesome plan for Mordecai’s destruction the next morning when he sees the king. It says he was waiting out in the courtyard for the king. The king saw him and wanted advice about the one thing he had been thinking about all night: how to honor Mordecai. This is one of the best moments of the story because we, as readers, know that both the King and Hamen were going to talk to each other about the same person from vastly different viewpoints.
When the king asked for Hamen’s best idea on how to honor someone, Hamen thought he was constructing an elaborate reward for himself. I can only imagine the elation he felt thinking he was about to get his dream reward. Then the most delicious, jaw-dropping moment: The king told him to bestow this reward on his most hated enemy, Mordecai. Ouch.
Furthermore, Esther used her favor with the king to destroy Hamen’s plot to wipe out her people. Hamen in one moment falls from his position of power and ends up impaled on his own pole.
On the day the Jews were set to be destroyed, the Jews destroyed their enemies completely. All of Hamen’s family was wiped out, and God spared His chosen people.
The power of this story, to me, was the way in which Esther and Mordecai took calculated risks. Esther masterfully submitted to the authority of those she was placed under so that when the crucial moment came, she lead from a position of trustworthiness and favor.
Mordecai was very deliberate in whose authority he recognized. He remained loyal to the king and God while standing firm in his position regarding Hamen. In the short-run, being hated by someone with so much power must have been incredibly stressful. We see the long payoff of trusting and obeying God to be the judge and deliverer.
My commentary bible points out that Mordecai spent much of his life “serving in the shadows”, trusting that God would ultimately be the deliverer. He remained under authority but was bold in his beliefs and actions when he felt he needed to be. He did not try to elevate himself. He was patient for a payout. In one swift action, his mortal enemy was defeated and he was placed in a position of power and authority and it says his influence continued to grow. God had tested him and he had proved that he could step into the position without becoming corrupt.
This really resonated with me. In many areas of my life, I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Too much attention makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes bitterness can creep in, though. I start to feel entitled to some sort of recognition or start to feel like no one is appreciating what I’m doing. This does nothing helpful, and it muddles the purity of serving under authority. Or other times, when action is needed, I shy away because “it’s not my responsibility”. Mordecai expertly balanced action with submission.
My take-away was that I need to continually guard my heart against feelings of entitlement, pride or wanting recognition for things. Ultimately, even when I’m serving others, I am serving God. I want to do that with a pure heart. I want to be found trustworthy and faithful in what is currently in my hand. I don’t want to constantly be trying to manufacture my own power, authority, or influence.