Do you remember Mordecai’s life-saving feat to save King Ahasuerus from assassination? Despite his service to Ahasuerus, Mordecai’s favor is ignored. King Ahasuerus doesn’t give Mordecai any reward or recognition for saving his life. And this becomes even more obvious as the next verse reads, “After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him” (Esth. 3:1 ESV).
In other words, here’s another guy getting promoted when Mordecai seems to be the one deserving it.
“And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage” (v. 2 ESV).
Believe it or not, this verse makes scholars scratch their heads. I mean, at first thought, it might seem like Mordecai refuses to honor Haman because of jealousy. After all, shouldn’t Mordecai have been promoted? But the text doesn’t imply any jealousy on Mordecai’s part.
Others might imply that Mordecai refuses to bow before Haman because, as a God-fearing man, he seeks to worship God alone. However, the text doesn’t describe this scene as one of worship. And neither Mordecai nor Esther show much hesitation honoring King Ahasuerus and his commands elsewhere in the text.
With that being said, we’re not sure why Mordecai refuses to pay homage to Haman. We’re not sure why Mordecai disobeys the king. But one of the most popular interpretations comes from an important detail given in verse 1. The Bible describes Haman as an “Agagite.”
As Iain Duguid writes, “He [Haman] was thus a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, the ancient tribal enemy of the Jews. When Israel came out of Egypt, the Amalekites attacked them in the wilderness, for which God cursed them and condemned them to extinction (Ex. 17:8-16). Because of that assault, God declared that there would be a lasting enmity between the two peoples, and he committed himself to blot out all remembrance of Amalek from the face of heaven.”
In fact, in 1 Samuel 15, God sends King Saul to kill King Agag. Instead, “… he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword” (v. 8 ESV). Because of his disobedience, God rejects Saul as king.
I say all of that to say this: the most probable reason for why Mordecai refuses to honor Haman is because of the nasty history between the Jews and Agagites. But even if that’s the reason, it’s not a sufficient reason for Mordecai to withhold honor where honor is due.
“Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king’s command?’ And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew” (v. 3-4 ESV).
After concealing his Jewishness for the longest time, Mordecai spills the beans. It’s possible that this information is connected with his explanation of why, as a Jew, he won’t bow before an Agagite. But that’s an inference. What we know for sure is that Mordecai isn’t even about to honor Haman.
“And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (v. 5-6 ESV).
In Mordecai’s defense, Haman is an arrogant jerk. But Mordecai’s reason for withholding honor isn’t good enough.
As the apostle Paul discusses the importance of honoring authority, he writes, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7 ESV).
Peter agrees as he writes, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17 ESV).
I can’t think of a better time to write about honoring those in authority. During this COVID-19 pandemic, the government is placing all kinds of restrictions on us. And whether you agree or disagree isn’t my concern. But honoring those in authority is a biblical mandate that we must follow—even when the individual in authority is less than ideal in our minds. Therefore, I think we have something to learn from Mordecai’s example. Are we honoring those placed in authority? Like Mordecai, how often do we withhold honor because of our own preferences?
The passage ends with an irrational plan by the ignorant Agagite. Haman plans to annihilate the Jewish people. It’s a genocide motivated by selfish intentions. But as we’re about to see, God is working behind the scenes. And the queen sitting on the throne is about to save her people from destruction. After all, God is sovereign in the silence.