Esther 3:2
Haman was not allowed to enjoy his high and ill-gotten position without trouble. Almost at the outset it brought him an annoyance which led to tragical results. In connection with this check to the triumph of his course, notice -

I. THAT A REAL AND MARKED CONTRAST EXISTS BETWEEN THOSE WHO "FEAR GOD" AND THOSE WHO "LOVE THE PRAISE OF MEN." The servants who "sat in the king's gate" readily obeyed the command that they should do homage to the favourite - all except one. Mordecai stood erect) with no fear or reverence in his look or attitude, when Haman passed in and out of the palace. It was a sight worth seeing) that of this man, too noble to bend to the world's idol, before which all others stooped in slavish adulation. Between Mordecai and his companions in office there was an evident gulf.

II. THAT CONDUCT WHICH CONTRASTS WITH THEIR OWN OFTEN EXCITES AN INQUIRING CURIOSITY IN THE WORLDLY. His fellow-servants at once noticed Mordecai's singularity. They daily questioned and expostulated with him, but "he hearkened not unto them." In silence he listened, and still disobeyed the king's command. Sincere inquiry is to be encouraged, and kindly met; but a prying curiosity into the affairs of others is unmanly, and to be reprobated. "Busy-bodies" in the Church were duly noted by Sts. Paul and Peter (2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Peter 4:15).

III. THAT CONTRASTS OF BEHAVIOUR WHICH SEEM TO REBUKE EASILY AROUSE THE SPIRIT OF MALEVOLENCE. Overcome by the importunity of his companions, or perceiving that his continued silence was regarded by them as an indication of his being afraid to speak out, Mordecai at length declared that he was a Jew, and gave that as a reason why he could not abase himself, as they did, before Haman. This announcement awakened in their minds a deeper and more evil curiosity. Their pride was wounded by the Jew's implied claim of superiority. How would it go with him if Haman were told of his obstinacy and its reason? So they told Haman. It was mean and wicked; but they were hurt, and they no doubt expected that the all-powerful favourite would soon compel the Jew to a behaviour in harmony with their own. Small minds, that bend before every breeze of authority or fashion, readily become ungenerous, and conceive malice towards those who are stronger than themselves in principle or self-respect (1 Peter 2:1-3).

IV. THAT IT TAKES LITTLE TO MAR THE ENJOYMENT OF A FALSE GREATNESS. The sight of Mordecai standing upright amongst the prostrate attendants of the palace filled Haman with a fierce and vindictive wrath. True greatness is magnanimous. It is above resenting little affronts, or jealously exacting the signs of outward respect. It does not rest on the humiliation of others. But Haman's glory was tarnished, and his happiness soured, by the stubbornness of one man who occupied a lowly position compared with that of the favourite. Mordecai was the fly in the ointment of his pride.

V. THAT A FALSE GREATNESS CONTAINS WITHIN ITSELF THE CAUSES OF TROUBLE AND DANGER. It is necessarily suspicious and exacting. Doubt and fear are ever springing up in its path. It imagines affronts when none are intended, and magnifies small annoyances into hostile designs. It is thus often driven into passions and crimes which endanger its existence. All evil ambitions possess in the heart of them the seeds of their own punishment. God vindicates himself in the natural working of human vanities. Lessons: -

1. Hate every false way, however alluring. Beware of its deceitful promises.

2. Cultivate a generous spirit. Show respect to rights of others. Avoid humiliating those who are dependent on you, or below you in social rank.

3. Make God your law-giver and guide, and Jesus your example and trust. - D.

But Mordecai bowed not.
But why did Mordecai not obey the commandment of the king? It may have been because he had a personal dislike to Haman, but that would not have justified him in contradicting the will of the sovereign. Or it may have been that, being a Jew, he regarded himself as exempted from doing honour to one of a race which God had cursed. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." But so long as Mordecai was a captive in Persia he could hardly be excused, on this account, from resisting the law of the land. The ground of this righteous Jew's refusal must be sought for deeper than either of these things. There can be little doubt, we think, that the homage commanded to be paid to Haman amounted, in this Jew's estimate, to that which should be rendered to God only. The stand which he took had its foundation in religion — a foundation which the men of the world have ever failed to comprehend.

(T. McEwan.)

But on what ground did Mordecai refuse to bow to Haman and do him reverence? The only answer which comes clearly out of the chapter to that question is, that the position which he took was one that was common to him with all his people, so that it was sufficiently accounted for to others when he said, "I am a Jew." It was a matter of religion with him. But, that being admitted, the question still arises, What was there in such a command as this of Xerxes to offend the conscience of a pious Jew? Some have answered that, as the Persian monarch was regarded as an incarnation of Ahura-Mazda, and therefore entitled to Divine honours, the act of prostration before him was understood to imply worship; and so homage paid to Haman as the king's representative would be a virtual giving of Divine honour to a human creature. This is confirmed even by heathen writers — for Herodotus tells us that certain Greeks, on being pressed to prostrate themselves before the king, when they were introduced into his presence at Susa, declared "that it was not their custom to worship a man, nor had they come for that purpose"; and Curtius has said, "The Persians, indeed, not only from motives of piety, but also from prudence, worship their kings among the gods." Now, if that explanation be adopted, the act of Mordecai takes its place beside the refusal of the early Christians to sacrifice to the Roman emperor, and puts him on the honour roll among those whose rule of life in all such cases was, "We ought to obey God rather than men." But while it would fully justify Mordecai, this explanation is in itself not without difficulty. For did not Joseph's brethren make similar obeisance to him? Would not Mordecai after his own elevation to Haman's place be required to bow before the king? and must we condemn Nehemiah for rendering to Artaxerxes the homage which Mordecai here refused to Haman, though Xerxes himself had commanded that it should be rendered? It is possible, of course, that Mordecai was right, and that all the rest were wrong; but it is not absolutely incontrovertible that the reverence here required was of the nature of religious worship. Others, therefore, have sought for the reason of Mordecai's disobedience to the royal mandate in the nationality of Haman. Taking Agagite as equivalent to Amalekite, they remind us that the Amalekites were the first to attack the Israelites after their escape from Egypt, and that after his victory over them on that occasion Moses said, "The Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." They recall to our remembrance, also, the fact that it was for sparing some of the Amalekites that Saul was first rejected by God from being king over Israel, and that the only time that Samuel wielded a sword was when he "hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord." Now if Haman was indeed an Amalekite, it would be easy to find in that a reason for Mordecai's conduct as well as for Haman's purpose of revenge; for these descending feuds between races in the East are both undying and enve nomed, especially when they are rooted in religious differences. But then we have no other case in Scripture where a royal title like Agag becomes a public patronymic, so as to be the name of a tribe; and it is hard to account for the appearance of one of the hated race of Amalek here, at this late date, in Susa. So there are difficulties connected with both solutions, and it is not easy to choose between them. Perhaps the first, all things considered, is the more satisfactory.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The commandment of the king was very express, and Mordecai manifestly exposed himself to imminent danger by disregarding it. If, indeed, his objection to pay homage to Haman was founded upon a conviction that such homage amounted to something like idolatry, then we might regard his refusal as ranking him with the three illustrious youths who braved the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar rather than they would submit to worship the image which he had set up. But we can scarcely take this view of the matter, as it is not likely that Mordecai would have withheld from the king himself the outward reverence which the law and usage of the country required. But if it was because Haman was of the seed of Amalek, that the Jew would not bow to him nor do him reverence, then intense must have been the detestation of that race, when he would rather run the risk of incurring the displeasure of the king than pay respect to one of them who stood so high in the royal favour. Yet we conceive that he might feel himself fully vindicated in his own conscience for acting as he did. It was, after all, a high religious scruple by which he was influenced. By the law of Moses the Amalekites were condemned to perpetual infamy. No earthly rank or station could blot out or modify that sentence. In this view of the subject, Mordecai would have supposed himself an apostate from his religion had he done reverence to Haman, and therefore he refused to do it, whatever might be the consequence to himself. We cannot but respect such a feeling as this, generated as it was by regard for the Divine law. It could not be appreciated by the other servants of the king, who may have attributed Mordecai's conduct to a sullen and haughty temper; but, although the matter in itself was apparently unimportant, it was an evidence of real heroism of character in this man to obey the dictate of conscience at the hazard of personal suffering. True religion does not interfere with the discharge of the ordinary courtesies of life, nor does it forbid our rendering that honour to rank and station which is their due. But when vice and real infamy are shrouded under high rank, the Christian must beware of acting so as to make it supposed that the rank forms an apology for the vice and infamy, or renders them less hateful than they really are.

(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

All was going well with this man. His rivals had been crushed, his seat had been set above the seats of all the noblemen at court, the king had made him his boon companion, and had issued orders that the palace servants should bow before him and do him reverence. He was as nearly happy as a man can be whose ruling passion is vanity; but such men hold their happiness by a very frail tenure. It does not look altogether well that Ahasuerus should have needed to give special orders about his servants bowing to Haman. Darius had not needed to do this in the case of Daniel. Had the favourite been respected and liked, men would have given him all seemly honour unbidden. "But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence." It does seem a very small matter; but when such a man as Mordecai attached importance to it we must pause and consider whether the matter was really so small as it seemed. For it is an unsafe way of reasoning to say about anything, "It is only one little act; why scruple over it? If it does no good it can do no harm"; and so forth. By such reasoning habits of untruth and intemperance have many a time been formed, and what was perhaps little in itself, if it had been possible to separate it from all else, has been found to be anything but little in its results. The truth is, we cannot separate any single action from the rest of our lives; so that the importance of an action depends not on its greatness or its littleness, but on many other circumstances, such as how often we do it; the effect it has on others, particularly its influence on our own con. sciences. In this case it so happened that what Mordecai did — rather what he determined not to do — proved to be of very great importance to the whole Jewish people and the whole Persian empire; but he could not know that. What he did know was that, if he had once bowed to Haman, his conscience would have been defiled, as surely as Daniel's would have been if he had eaten the king's meat; and polluted conscience is no trifle. A man has to carry it about with him all day, to go to sleep with it if he can, to encounter it again when he awakes, until God purges out the stain. But why should Mordecai have feared that, by bowing to Haman as the rest did, he would bring on himself this worst evil, a bad conscience? "We do not need to suppose that the homage enjoined was idolatrous; it may have been nearly so; but Mordecai knew the character of the prime minister, and he knew the fifteenth Psalm: in his eyes "a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord." In addition to the knowledge Mordecai could not but have of Haman's character, he knew him to be of the seed-royal of Amalek; and a man with the spirit of Moses and Samuel in him would not recognise the advancement of "the Jews' enemy." The point might be small in itself, but the principle involved in it was to Mordecai more important than life. The day was not far off when Ahasuerus and all Persia agreed with Mordecai in his estimate of Haman. But persons who act on high principle must be content to find that few on earth understand them at the time. Angels understand and smile on them, but the smiles of angels are not seen. Possibly some of Mordecai's Jewish brethren might hint to him that his conduct was rather extreme (that terrible word!) — savouring more of bigotry than of pious charity.

(A. M. Symington, B. A.)

The difference between right and wrong may be shown in a little matter, but it is not therefore a little difference; and they who are determined to be thorough in their allegiance to God will make no distinction in their conduct between small things and great. Very noble, too, was Mordecai's firmness in resisting the entreaties of his fellow-servants, for he shut up the whole controversy with the simple confession, "I am a Jew." He will not needlessly publish his religion on the house-top, but neither will he be ashamed of it in the "king's gate." It might cost him much to make the confession, but he knew that sin would be still more costly, and so he did not shrink from saying, "I am a Jew."

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

In Mordecai's adherence to his religious principles we see that there are limits to the claims of social and official civility — bounds that duty does not allow us to pass in our respect for our superiors. The Word of God is the standard of respectability and manners as well as of faith, and it forbids all lying and deceit, all flattery and all mean compliances with the wishes of others, however exalted. It does not allow us to do anything that is contrary to good breeding and the chivalry of right. It does not allow us to neglect our duties, waste our time or injure our health, merely to please a friend or a potentate. Let it be remembered, to the honour of one of the Presidents of the United States, General Jackson, that he never allowed any visitors to keep him from the house of God on the Lord's day.

(W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Then the king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment?
But yonder come his fellow-servants of the palace; what have they to say? Why they Jay to him, "Why transgressest thou the king's commandment?" And verily, aged man, why? Is it that all eyes may be turned upon you? It is true, indeed, that he is the observed of all observers who does not go with the multitude, even though they go to do evil. Any one that dares to think and speak for himself is sure to be condemned by the many that he differs from; for his position and principles are a running commentary of condemnation upon them. It has ever been so, and perhaps it will always continue to be so, for it is not for the man that lives in the cellar to say what he sees who dwells on the house-top. Some men are before their times, and some men never catch up with the age in which they live; and some men have not moral courage enough to hear themselves breathe honestly and freely. We see this daily as to the press and the pulpit. Is not the daily bread of the printer put in jeopardy if his journal does not meet the popular taste? And have we not seen large bodies of business men combine to starve newspapers to death by withholding their patronage unless the said papers would defend their conduct? And is it not true that if one pulpit has the courage to utter an honest opinion, that does not happen to coincide with the rest of the pulpits, that then all the pulpits and papers that have neither capacity to understand nor the moral honesty to comprehend the poor dissenter open their batteries upon him?

(W. A. Scott, D. D.)

And again his fellow-servants say, "Friend Mordecai, consider well what you are going to do. Remember, it is not Haman merely, but his master also, that you offend. Is it wise, then, for you to peril the forfeiture of your place and your life upon a question of mere etiquette or courtesy? It is extremely impolitic and dangerous for you not to do homage to so great a prince. And besides, if you will not bow with us, then you will have to suffer alone." "Yes, friends," says he, "I have considered all this; and I am content to meet the consequences. It is not a mere question of courtesy. I am a Jew. My religion is with me a glorious reality."

(W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Mordecai's fellow-servants were not capable of understanding his principles. Cowards never apprehend the true character of a brave man. Little minds cannot see up into the magnanimity of a great and noble soul.

(W. A. Scott, D. D.)

For he told them that he was a Jew
We have in the case of Mordecai an example of fidelity to principle which is worthy of all study and imitation. He felt that it was wrong to do homage to Haman. In resisting the entreaties of his fellow-servants, he shut up the whole controversy with the simple confession, "I am a Jew." Herein he gave an example which Christians might follow with advantage. Have the courage, young men, when you are asked to do what you know to be wrong, to reply simply, "I am a Christian." Add to your faith courage — the heroism not of the warrior but of the man who has learned to run the gauntlet of ridicule and scorn, and to follow the dictates of duty "uncaring consequences." To quote the words of the greatest wit of his age, — "Learn to inure your principles against ridicule. You can no more exercise your reason if you live in the constant dread of laughter than you can enjoy your life if you are in the constant terror of death. H you think it right to differ from the times, and to make a point of morals, do it, however rustic, however antiquated, however pedantic it may appear; do it as a man who wore a soul of his own and did not wait till it was breathed into him by the breath of fashion."

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

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