Tezavveh & Zakhor
For the week of March 3, 2007 / 13 Adar 5767
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 27:20 - 30:10 &
Devarim / Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2-34
Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahashverosh, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews. (Esther 10:3)
This coming Saturday evening (March 3, 2007) begins the Jewish festival of Purim. Purim commemorates the dramatic events recorded in the book of Esther, when the Jews were facing extermination at the hands of the wicked Haman. One of the features of the book of Esther is that it never once explicitly mentions God. Yet the hand of God is so clearly evident in this story.
While this book of the Bible is traditionally known as "Esther", and while Esther certainly plays a most crucial role in the outcome of the story, it is actually Mordecai who is the true protagonist, for it is he who moves the story along. Please don't get me wrong. Esther, at the risk of her own life, was used by God to save the day. But as we shall see, the story is more about Mordecai than anyone else.
To begin with, Mordecai adopted Esther when her parents died. The quality of his care is underscored by the fact that she was one of the girls selected as a potential successor to the deposed queen. Even while she was in the palace he never stopped being concerned for her.
Interestingly, it is because he placed himself where he could most readily keep tabs on Esther, that he foils a plot against the king. Obviously he is a person who not only cares, but is willing to do something when necessary.
Mordecai is the one who precipitates the main events of this story. When Mordecai infuriates Haman, the king's top noble, by refusing to pay homage to him, Haman devises a plot to destroy, not only Mordecai, but all of Mordecai's people, the Jews. Mordecai was simply being a faithful follower of God by not showing respect to this enemy of the Jews (Haman was a descendant of Agag the Amalekite).
When the decree is issued to destroy the Jews, it is Mordecai's public display of grief that attracts Esther's attention, which in turn leads to her being informed of the situation. Mordecai then urges Esther to plead with the king for mercy, having discerned that her being made queen at this very time was no coincidence.
Mordecai's presence in the story is felt again when the king realizes that he never rewarded him for his uncovering of the plot against him. The timing of the king's reward emphasizes the absolute foolishness of Haman's plans through the mouths of his own wife and friends, who said to him, "Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him - you will surely come to ruin!" (Esther 6:13).
Once Esther accuses Haman in front of the king, Haman is executed upon the very gallows he had specially prepared for Mordecai. Mordecai provides the edict for the Jews' self defense. He also records the events and proclaims to the Jewish world the annual celebration we call "Purim," which refers to the lots that Haman drew to determine the date of his planned destruction of the Jews.
In the end Mordecai is made second in rank to the king. The book closes with what I read at the start:
On one hand it may seem that it was Mordecai's personal convictions that created the trouble in the first place. But on the other hand, what actually happened was that Mordecai was used by God to expose great evil influence in the government of his day. In the end much good was accomplished.
While not everyone will have the same amount of influence as Mordecai, he illustrates the lives of all truly godly people. Should not our presence make a difference wherever we may be? As people called by the Messiah to be salt and light (see Matthew 5:13-16), our lives should confront darkness and evil everywhere. We should not be surprised when we stir up trouble among those who plan evil, as we work for the good of others and speak for their welfare.
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