Example from Mordecai-Esther Interaction—
Understanding Adversity through Bigger Picture
Queen Esther initially was reluctant to honor Mordecai’s request that she appeal to the king against an edict to annihilate Jews. She feared violating a law against visiting the king uninvited, which could attract punishment by death. However, Mordecai redirected her to see the request as an opportunity to use her royal access to appeal the annihilation order and win deliverance for her people. Having thus seen the bigger picture, she called for prayer and fasting and vowed to appeal to the king even if it meant the ultimate punishment: “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
We continue the study series on Responding to Adversity with focus on Mordecai’s life in captivity. We examine his life during the period in terms of three interactions. As we discuss in a previous study under Living in the Image of God through Adversity—Example from Mordecai, the interactions underscore Mordecai’s commitment to worship and serve God and living to uphold the commitment even in adversity. Also, the interactions triggered event sequences that coalesced to propel Mordecai over his adversity.
The interactions are: (1) he raised his uncle’s orphan daughter as his, (2) reported an assassination plot against the king, and (3) refused to worship an agent of the king even while facing a threat of execution for his refusal. As we discuss in the previous study, he not only raised the daughter but guided her to winning a contest to become the new queen of the land. Also, her position as queen cleared the way for Mordecai to report an assassination plot that he uncovered and earn recorded credit for the report.
This study focuses on events that arose from the third interaction: Mordecai had declined to honor king’s agent Haman because the type of honor demanded of him conveyed connotation of worship. He would not perform the act of honor because it would violate his commitment to worship God, and only God. His refusal to worship Haman ignited an event sequence that initially caused his adversity to grow in scope and intensity before ultimately leading him to triumph over the adversity.
Adversity Intensifies… toward Its End
Mordecai’s refusal to worship Haman led to a conspiracy to annihilate Jews. Haman had perceived Mordecai’s “disobedience” as an opportunity to deal with the Jews all at a time. He sought the king’s approval for his plan [Esther 3:8–9]: “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.” The king approved Haman’s proposal and gave him absolute authority to “…do with the people as you please” [Esther 3:11]. Haman issued a decree on behalf of the king to “…kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.” The decree was published in every language and made law in every province in the kingdom of Xerxes.
The open threat to “kill and annihilate all the Jews,” therefore, was the immediate result of Mordecai’s refusal to worship Haman. He refused to perform the act of honor commanded for Haman because the act would violate his commitment to worship God, and God only. Similar to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defying Nebuchadnezzar’s demand for worship of an image of gold (see previous bible study under Motivation for Worship). However, unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that faced their “punishment” alone, Mordecai’s “punishment” extended to all Jews in the kingdom. That is, Mordecai’s adversity increased in scope and intensity as an immediate result of his refusal to violate his commitment to worship only God.
However, as we discuss subsequently, the increased scope and intensity of his adversity were like a fire that drives out a snake to be killed. Just like the viper driven out by heat that coiled itself on Paul’s hand, but “Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects” [Acts 28:5]. Mordecai’s adversity increased but the increase triggered an event sequence that ultimately led to his triumph over the adversity.
Doing As You Can to Combat Adversity
As Mordecai’s adversity intensified with the threat to “kill and annihilate all the Jews,” he did what he could to combat the adversity. First, like other Jews in every province, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and cried aloud everywhere. Second, he mounted a one-man protest at the king’s gate. He intended to protest to the king but could not go beyond the gate because he was dressed in mourning attire (sackcloth).
Third, Mordecai requested Esther to appeal to the king. Esther’s attendants had noticed Mordecai’s protest and informed Esther. She sent him regular clothing to replace the sackcloth but he rejected the clothing. Then Esther sent a eunuch to Mordecai to find out what was the matter. Mordecai explained the matter in detail, provided supporting information to help Esther understand, and requested her to appeal to the king.
Fourth, when Esther’s response indicated an intention to decline the request, Mordecai rebuked her [Esther 4:12]: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.” Then he told Esther to reconsider the request as an opportunity that God setup for her to bring deliverance to her people [Esther 4:14]: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” We note that Mordecai recognized responsibility to redirect his daughter notwithstanding she was an independent adult. Also, he was successful in redirecting her because “…she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up” [Esther 2:20].
By doing what he could to combat the adversity, Mordecai placed himself in position to receive God’s intervention. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Peter Escapes from Herod’s Prison, God provides input to solving our problems but expects us to apply human effort in order to be prepared and positioned to accept his input. Because the nature and timing of his intervention are generally not known a priori, we have to seek solutions by doing what we can with faith of God intervening at his chosen time and in his chosen way. Mordecai did what he could and, as a result, received God’s intervention through Esther accepting to join the protest by appealing directly to the king.
Esther Vows to Appeal to the King…
If I Perish, I Perish
Mordecai’s rebuke and counsel redirected Esther to consider the events as potentially an opportunity for her to help bring deliverance to her people. Esther vowed to go to the king. She called for three days of prayer and fasting by all Jews: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” [Esther 4:16].
Satisfied that his protest had borne the appropriate fruit, Mordecai departed and gathered Jews for prayer and fasting as Esther requested.
Summary of What We Learned
Queen Esther initially was reluctant to honor Mordecai’s request that she appeal to the king against an edict to annihilate Jews. She feared violating a law against visiting the king uninvited, which could attract punishment by death. However, Mordecai redirected her to see the request as an opportunity to use her royal access to appeal the annihilation order and win deliverance for her people. Having thus seen the bigger picture, she called for prayer and fasting and vowed to appeal to the king even if it meant the ultimate punishment. In a subsequent study, we discuss her appeal with the king and how the appeal led to Mordecai’s triumph over his adversity.