Mordecai the Jew
This very remarkable man lived at a time in which the Jewish state had failed through the unfaithfulness and disobedience of its people. The Gentile (in the form of the Persian emperor) was in power and the Jews were his subjects. The relationship between Jehovah and Israel could no longer be publicly acknowledged and a faithful Jew could only hang his harp on the willows and sigh over the faded light of past days. The city and temple where Mordecai’s fathers had worshipped were in ruins, and he himself was living as an exile in a strange land. Such was the outward condition of things in the day in which his lot was cast. This was not all, however, for occupying the second place in the Empire and wielding almost boundless influence was an Amalekite––and the Amalekites had been the bitter enemies of the Jews for centuries. In the light of all this, you would naturally have thought that Mordecai would have been only too anxious to pay his respects to the great man, but remarkably, “Mordecai bowed not, nor did [him] reverence” (Esth. 3: 2). Nothing would induce him to yield a single mark of respect to the second ruler in the kingdom! Mordecai can save the life of King Ahasuerus (see Esth. 2: 21–23), but he will not bow to Haman.
Why was this? Was this blind obstinacy, or bold decision? In order to answer this, we must look at what lay behind Mordecai’s behaviour. If, on the one hand, there was no authority for his conduct in the Law of God, then it must be deemed to have been stubborn pride or envy of the man in power. But, on the other hand, if there was within God’s Word a plain authority for Mordecai’s attitude, then we must without hesitation pronounce his conduct to be the fruit of uncompromising faithfulness to Jehovah.
This makes all the difference. If he was acting merely on the basis of his own private opinion, then Mordecai might justly be dismissed as nothing but a narrow–minded bigot. What, however, do we mean by such a term? Certainly we hear a great deal about narrow–mindedness and bigotry today, but then men have long since lost the true names of things. What do they call bigotry and narrow–mindedness? A faithful clinging to, and carrying out of, a ‘Thus saith the Lord’! What, by contrast, do they designate large–heartedness? A readiness to sacrifice truth on the altar of politeness and tolerance! Reader, be assured that this is how things stand today, both within the professing Church and without. Of course we do not want to be sour or cynical, but we must speak the truth if we are to speak at all. We must not shut our eyes to the solemn fact that God’s truth is being trampled in the dust and that the name of the Lord Jesus is despised and rejected. If you want to walk in the light of Scripture then you cannot be ‘politically correct’—the two are incompatible.
So why, actually, did Mordecai refuse to bow to Haman? Was there a great principle at stake? Was it merely a whim of his own? Had he a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as his warrant in refusing a single nod of the head to the proud Amalekite? Yes! Turn to the seventeenth chapter of Exodus and there we read: “And Jehovah said to Moses, Write this [for] a memorial in the book, and rehearse [it] in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah–nissi. And he said, For the hand is on the throne of Jah; Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation!” (vs 14–16). Here then was Mordecai’s authority for not bowing to Haman the Amalekite. A faithful Jew could not do reverence to one with whom God was at war. The heart might plead a thousand excuses and urge a thousand reasons. It might seek an easy path for itself on the plea that the Jewish system was in ruins and that therefore it was positively absurd to maintain such lofty ground when the glory of Israel was gone and the Amalekite was in the place of authority. The argument might run something like this: ‘Of what use can it be to uphold the standard when all is gone to pieces? Besides, you should remember that in Exodus 17 the command was only to be rehearsed in the ears of Joshua, and only had its true application in his bright and blessed days. It was never intended for the ears of an exile and never intended to apply in the days of Israel’s desolation. What is the harm in giving just one nod? That will settle the matter. Haman will be satisfied, and you and your people will be safe. Why the stubbornness? Why the lack of courtesy? Don’t stand up in that dogged way for a thing so manifestly non–essential!’ All this, and much besides, might have been urged on Mordecai, but the answer would have been simple: ‘God has spoken. This is enough for me. True we are a scattered people, but the Word of the Lord is not scattered. He has not reversed His word about Amalek, nor entered into a treaty of peace with him. Jehovah and Amalek are still at war and a representative of Amalek stands before me in the person of this haughty Haman. How can I bow to one with whom Jehovah is at war? How can I do homage to a man whom the faithful Samuel would have hewn in pieces before the Lord?’ (see 1 Sam. 15: 33).
‘Well then’ it might be further urged upon this devoted Jew, ‘You will be destroyed. You must either bow or perish’. The answer would again be notable for its simplicity: ‘I have nothing to do with consequences. They are in the hand of God. Obedience is my path, the results are with Him. It is better to die with a good conscience than live with a bad one. God has spoken. I must obey Him come what may’.
This was no ‘armchair faith’. How Mordecai’s committal puts us to shame––his neck, literally, was on the line! His Lord had spoken and therefore he obeyed unflinchingly—even though everything around was against him. By contrast, how little you and I are prepared to endure a single sneer, one scornful look, or a solitary contemptuous expression for Christ’s sake! And how we recoil most of all from being reproached on the ground of narrow–mindedness and bigotry! We naturally like to be thought large–hearted and liberal, but we must remember that we have no right to be liberal at our Master’s expense. We have to obey His Word if He is to be the Lord Jesus to us. “Behold, obedience is better than sacrifice, Attention than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15: 22).
Mordecai knew little and cared less about the thoughts of men on the question of narrow–mindedness. He stood like a rock and allowed the whole tide of difficulty and opposition to roll over him. He would not bow to the Amalekite, whatever the consequences. Obedience was his path. The results were with God. And look at the results! In one moment the tide was turned, the proud Amalekite fell from his lofty eminence and the exiled Jew was lifted from his sackcloth and ashes and placed next the throne (see Esth. 7: 10; 8: 15). Haman exchanged his wealth and dignities for gallows; Mordecai exchanged his sackcloth for a royal robe.
We may protest that that we are not Mordecais and that nor are we placed in his position. This is true, but the principle set out in his history still holds good, whoever and wherever we are. There is not one of us, however obscure or insignificant that is not responsible to make a stand on the Word of God. “If ye love me” said the Lord “keep my commandments” (John 14: 15). Years later, He could speak again in relation to some of His own: “thou hast a little power, and hast kept my word” (Rev. 3: 8). Of course I am not expected to understand everything in the Word, but I am expected to obey it. “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2: 3, 4).
The strength and moral security of Mordecai’s position rested completely on the fact that he had the Word of God for his authority. Had it not been so his conduct would have been senseless in the extreme. To have refused the usual expression of respect to one in high authority without some significant reason could only be regarded as the most foolish obstinacy. But the moment you introduce a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ the matter is entirely changed. “The word of [the] Lord abides for eternity” (1 Pet. 1: 25). The divine testimonies do not fade away or change with the times or the seasons: “Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law” (Matt. 5: 18). Hence what had been rehearsed in the ears of Joshua as he rested in triumph under the banner of Jehovah (see Exod. 17: 8–16) was designed to govern the conduct of Mordecai though he was clothed in sackcloth as an exile in a foreign land. Ages and generations had passed away, the days of the judges and the days of the kings had run their course, but the commandment of the Lord with respect to Amalek had lost none of its force. The Lord had sworn that He would have war with Amalek—not merely in the days of Joshua or in the days of the judges or in the days of the kings—but “from generation to generation”. Such was the record—the imperishable and immutable record of God—and such was the plain, solid and unquestionable foundation of Mordecai’s conduct.
In closing, let me say a few words as to the immense importance to you and me of entire submission to the Word of God. We live in days in which the appalling success of the enemy in overthrowing the authority of Holy Scripture in the minds of professing Christians is only too apparent. So long as the statements of the Word of God chime in with man’s reason, so long as they do not run counter to his will, and so long as they are not subversive of his interests, then he can tolerate them and may even quote them with a measure of respect. But the moment it becomes a question of Scripture versus man’s interests, reason or will, then the former is either silently ignored or contemptuously rejected. I fear that very few are truly alive to the real state of the moral atmosphere which enwraps the religious world. I do not refer here so much to the bold attacks of infidel writers. What we have now before us is rather the cool indifference on the part of professing Christians as to the Bible, the little or no power which the truth wields over the conscience, and the way in which the edge of Scripture is blunted or turned aside. Though passage after passage is quoted from the inspired volume it seems but like the pattering of rain upon the window. It comes very close to what James speaks about in his epistle: “For if any man be a hearer of [the] word and not a doer, he is like to a man considering his natural face in a mirror: for he has considered himself and is gone away, and straightway he has forgotten what he was like” (James 1: 23, 24). The Bible is read (thank God) but it does not govern the conscience, form the character, or shape the path. We need to bow down in reverential submission to its holy authority in all things. What does God say? “But to this man will I look: to the afflicted and contrite in spirit, and who trembleth at my word” (Is. 66: 2). A single line of Scripture ought to be sufficient for our souls on any point, even though in carrying it out we should have to move contrary to the opinions of the highest and best of men. May the Lord raise up many faithful overcomers in these last days—men like the faithful Mordecai who would rather ascend the gallows than give up one tittle of God’s blessed Word! “The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but my words shall in no wise pass away” (Matt. 24: 35).