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It was my sophomore year in college and I was struggling through my course load, while at the same time trying desperately hard to make financial ends meet. I was in middle of writing a difficult paper when my older brother called and asked if I was sitting down. His tone alone told me that what he was going to say next was going to hit me like a brick to my chest.
“Hey, Shegz. Dad just suffered a heart attack.”
He went on to explain what happened, but I don’t recall much of the conversation after that statement. It was the most surreal experience I've ever had. Aside of the fact that I couldn’t imagine my dad’s heart working up the nerve and daring to attack him [he was a rough and tough guy], we were several thousand miles apart. My father was in Nigeria at the time, I was in New Jersey, and my brother was calling me from Maryland to relay the message he had just received from my mom back in Nigeria. So, it wasn't like I could just rush home to be by his beside. It was one of the lowest points of my faith because I couldn’t even find the strength to pray to God for comfort.
None of us is ever ready for that moment.
The reality, however, is that it comes - a time in every life when all hell suddenly breaks loose. One morning, all is calm and chill, but by 7:00 pm, you feel like you’ve just been inhaled into life’s back draft!
Life ain't always pretty, is it? But, lest you begin to despair, take heart! There's hope ahead!
In this third installment of our series through the Old Testament book of Esther, one of the main characters, Mordecai is about to feel the full weight of his own “all-hell-breaks-loose" moment.
In the closing verses of Esther 2, we read that Mordecai’s proximity to the king’s palace exposes him to a conspiracy to take the king’s life. He in turn conveys the plot to his cousin-queen, Esther, and she communicates the information to the king, giving full credit to Mordecai. The matter is investigated and found to be true and the culprits are arrested and executed.
This should make Mordecai a hero, right? The next few verses should tell us that he was rewarded and celebrated by the king for foiling the evil plot. But instead, here’s how chapter 2 wraps up that account, “…All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.” (v.23). In other words, “Thanks, Mordecai. Good job! We’ll make a note of it in the king’s journal.”
To say here that life isn’t fair would be an understatement, especially in light of what happens next. Esther 3:1 opens by saying, “After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.”
Are you kidding me?!
First of all, who the heck is Haman and what in the world happened to Mordecai's reward? Shouldn’t it read, “After these things, King Xerxes honored Mordecai… NOT Haman… M.O.R.D.E.C.A.I!
That is sometimes the reality of life though, isn’t it? Sometimes, you will work hard, do the right thing, stand up for the right cause, take the high road, and someone else will get the reward.
In spite of how unfair all that sounds, it’s here, right at the turn of the chapter that things now take a dramatic turn for the worse, not only for Mordecai, but for pretty much every Jew in Persia.
It all starts with the palace official named Haman who was rewarded in place of Mordecai. We don’t know what he’s done, but the king is so highly impressed with his service that he promotes him to the position of Prime Minister. Furthermore, the king commands that homage is to be paid to Haman wherever he goes in the kingdom; in other words, people are to bow in his presence because he now bears the authority of the king.
Simple enough, right? Well, not quite.
Mordecai apparently has a problem with this new order and refuses to bow or pay homage to Haman. To the casual reader, Mordecai may come across as an instigator, or even worse, he may come across as feeling a little jealous about being overlooked earlier, but there’s a whole lot more going on here.
First off, Mordecai at some point explains that part of why he won’t bow is because, “…he was a Jew.” (v.4). This tells us that Mordecai’s reservations may have been religious in nature. Though the passage doesn’t give us much to go on, one can speculate that Haman may have been claiming some kind of divine status with his new title. The rabbis even invented a story that Haman carried with him an idol, something to which Mordecai felt he couldn’t bow to without compromising some of his values as a Jew -Old Testament 101: “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices.” Exodus 23:24].
Whatever the real issue may have been, Mordecai’s defiance stirs up something ugly and evil in Haman. Haman is so furious that he loathes the idea of simply punishing Mordecai. Instead, he decides that every Jew in Persia needs to pay the price. Haman wants to commit genocide. Read for yourself how it plays out in Esther 3:6-9. “Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes … (8) Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “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. 9 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.”
Clearly, this is an extreme reaction to one man wounding his pride. Whenever someone’s reaction is excessively disproportionate to another person’s action, it is indicative of a deeper. Haman is nursing a more sinister grudge with Mordecai than Mordecai even realizes. Luckily, the passage itself gives us a huge hint as to what the real matter is.
If you look back at Esther 3:1, you'll note that Haman is introduced to us as, “Haman the Agagite.” The Agagites descend from a king named Agag who was the ruler of the Amalekites, the ancient enemies of Israel (see where this is going?]. There’s a pretty dramatic battle in Exodus 17:8-13 between the Amalakites and the Israelites soon after they fled the bondage of slavery in Egypt. The Israelites won that skirmish.
Several generations later, they would face off again under the leadership of Saul, a Benjamite of Israelite. In that account, God ordered Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites, including their king, Agag. Saul obeyed partially and tried to play fast and loose with God’s instruction until a prophet named Samuel intervened and put Agag to death himself.
Haman is a descendant of one of the Amalakites who survived that mass slaughter. So when he finds out that Mordecai is not only of Jewish descent, but also from the tribe of Benjamin, just as king Saul was, he wants Jewish blood to fill the streets in Persia. It’s almost poetic when you think of what happened and is about to happen. Israel had been commanded by God to completely wipe the Amalekites off the face of the map. They didn’t’ fully obey. As a result, an Amalekite [Haman] is now planning to wipe the Israelites off the face of the map!
Here’s a good opportunity as any to share a lesson that seems apparent to me.
LESSON 1: THAT GRUDGE YOU’RE NURSING WILL ONLY INCREASE IN TOXICITY.
Over the course of your life, you will more than likely hold on to one or several grudges against others. I’m speaking here of a persistent feeling of ill will and resentment resulting from a past insult or injury. I’ve unfortunately carried my fair share of grudges to no avail.
Haman is a classic example of what happens when a grudge has become toxic. His deep-seated resentment towards the Jews has fully grown into mass murder.
You may read that and think, “Dude, calm down. Sure, I can’t stand looking at ___________'s face, but I have no plans of ever doing them any harm! Chill already!” That’s fair, but might I remind you of what the Bible says in James 1:14-15, “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
In other words, choosing to hold on to bitterness is tantamount to finding a stray kitten and bringing it into your home. You love its beautiful smile, its soft coat, its cute paws and purrs. You become so accustomed to it that you’re not even aware that it’s growing into what it was always destined to become. Until one day, you walk into your house and a 200-pound tiger pounces on you and begins tearing you apart piece by piece! Think I’m being a little overdramatic? Read on. Later in this story, Haman’s grudge is going to pounce on him like a 200-pound tiger!
Listen to how the scriptures say we are to address a grudge/bitterness we may be holding on to. Romans 12:17-21 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
A few great reminders here: One, as much as is humanly possible, you should initiate restoration and reconciliation with someone you’re holding a grudge against. Two, allow God room to fight on your behalf in instances where you’ve been wronged. He knows your true motive as well as theirs and is frankly in the best position to determine who gets a smack down and who gets a pardon. Three, responding in kindness to someone who has a grudge against you will frustrate their efforts to do you further harm.
Get on these three right away, otherwise that cute kitten you’re carrying around will turn into a tiger and tear you up!
In Haman’s case, his grudge is still a kitten as he schemes and plots the demise of every Jew in the Persian kingdom. He falsely implies to the king that the Jews are a threat to welfare of his vast empire. The king, thinking Haman is mostly concerned with kingdom affairs [and unaware that his wife is actually one of “those” Jew] signs off on the mass execution.
Haman has clearly gone off the deep end. Do you know what's even more disturbing about his behavior? It’s the fact that he secures official palace permission to carry out his evil deed on the 13th day of the first month, but the actual order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children wasn’t to take place till the 13th day of the twelfth month!
You see, Haman is not content to simply kill the Jews, he’s also waging psychological terrorism on them! He’s essentially set things in motion so that every Jew in Persia has to live in terror for 11 months as they wait for the executions to be carried out. It’s for this reason that the last verse of Esther 3 says every citizen [including many Persians who no doubt had Jewish friends affected by this edict] was bewildered by the news.
The chapter ends abruptly on that very sour note and that in itself is a lesson we can learn from.
LESSON 2: THERE WILL BE SOME PAINFUL EVENTS WE WILL EXPERIENCE IN THIS LIFE FOR WHICH WE MAY FIND NO RESOLUTION OR IMMEDIATE ANSWERS TO (in this life).
The inevitable question that arises when tragedy strikes or all hell breaks loose is the question, “WHY, GOD?” What many people may find even more excruciating is the [sometimes] deafening silence from heaven that follows.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat bedside next to someone struggling through this question. The truth is, there is no easy answer. Our trials may be because we are doing certain things right and God has deemed us worthy to suffer for His sake, or it may be as a result of sin in our lives. Sometimes our hardship is a result of the repercussions of someone else’s sin, or it may simply be God’s way of sharpening us for the next thing He is getting ready to bring us into. Then of course, it may just be that we live in a fallen world and painful things happen in a broken world!
Once again, there are no easy answers. Even if God Himself were to show up and explain what was happening, it would be like trying to fit the entire Atlantic Ocean into a little Dixie cup! Our fragile and finite minds cannot possibly comprehend the inner workings of the mind of an omniscient and omnipotent, albeit loving God.
But here’s a basic truth our minds can comprehend, “… we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Roman 8:28. You may have heard that verse a thousand times. Well, it is no less true the thousand-and-oneth time! No matter what tragedy befalls you, the Bible reassures you that through Christ in you, God will work in it and through it for your good and ultimately for your glory.
From your perspective, life may be falling apart and your version of hell may have broken loose, but there isn't a moment of your life that escapes God's attention or a trial you experience which doesn't first check in with God. More importantly, He Himself reassures His own with this promise, "When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
No matter how chaotic your life may appear now, know that you are NOT alone!
In Esther’s story, we will see God bring that promise to fruition as he causes what the enemy meant for evil to work for the good of Mordecai, Esther, and every Jew in the Persian empire! Join me in next week’s blog post to find out how God does this.
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.