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Purim: Why Not Bow?

by Tim O'Hearn

In chapter three of the Megilla, the scroll of Esther, King Ahasuerus decrees that all should bow down to his courtier, Haman. All the servants in the king’s gate follow the decree except Mordechai. Even after the other servants nagged him, he would not obey the king’s decree. As a result, the servants inform Haman, who convinces the king to destroy all Jews.

Why did Mordechai choose this particular command to disobey? Was it because he would not bow down to any man, but only to God? I think not. He had sat in the king’s gate for some time, but it was not for failure to bow to the king that he was singled out. Yet his obedience is directly related to his being a Jew, “for he had told them that he was a Jew (Esth. 3:4)”

Obviously there was something about Haman, himself, that prevented Mordechai, as a Jew, to bow down before him. Whatever it was obviously was not unique to Mordechai, because Haman chose to try to exterminate a whole nation because one of the king’s servants, a Jew, would not bow to him.

The answer can be found in Haman’s name and lineage. He is called “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” three times in the book and “Haman the Agagite” twice. We come upon the name Agag previously in two places in scripture? In Numbers 24:7, as Balaam is blessing Israel he says “his king shall be higher than Agag.” In and of itself, this means little to us. But in 1 Samuel 15:8-33 we read of “Agag, king of the Amalekites.” While it may be that Agag was his personal name, the likelihood is that it was a family name or even a title. So Agag was the king of the Amalekites, and Haman was an Agagite. Therefore, Haman was an Amalekite. This explains Mordechai’s refusal to bow, and Haman’s hatred of the Jews.

The enmity between the Jews and the Amalekites had been going on even from the beginning of the Jewish nation. After Israel had come out of Egypt with the equivalent for that time of the atom bomb (the crossing of the Red Sea), no nation wanted to face them in battle. No nation, that is, except Amalek. Exodus 17:8-16 tells of the battle and concludes “the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” As Moses said farewell to Israel he reminded them that the Amalekites had attacked the weak and the stragglers and said, “thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget. (Deut. 25:19)” No wonder Mordechai would not bow to this man, specifically. He was a sworn enemy of the Jews.

Haman was probably equally aware of the history. That is why he was not content to destroy one man, but went after all the Jews in the empire.

What does this mean to us today? Without a meaning for us, this is nothing but a scholarly exercise in genealogic research (sorry, Mom). I think the lesson for us is that God is in control of history. He promised enmity between the nations for as long as they both existed. At least one Amalekite had survived to the time of the Persian Empire. And that one man “happened” to come face to face with a Jew, and was destroyed thereby.

Through a series of “coincidences” Haman was brought to death. The old queen coincidentally opposed her husband. The new queen was coincidentally a Jewess. Her uncle coincidentally sat in the gate of the palace and refused to bow to an Amalekite who was coincidentally in the king’s court. This man coincidentally had built a gallows that just happened to be handy when the queen revealed his treachery. When coincidence piles on coincidence, it is no longer a coincidence. Coincidentally, God is still in control.

(Purim falls on March 9, 2001)