Minutes With Messiah Logo

Living in Obscurity

by Tim O'Hearn

Richard M. Johnson. William R. King. Garret Hobart. Sometimes there are people of relative importance or unimportance whose names tend to be forgotten. The three names above were all Vice Presidents of the United States, but few even recognize their names. (These served under Presidents van Buren, Pierce, and McKinley.) The Bible is also full of obscure names. On Purim (beginning the evening of March 11 in 2017), when the scroll of Esther is read, some names will be mentioned that are not as familiar as those of the main characters. And yet, we may learn some things from these obscure characters.

In Esther 2:21-23 we learn of two eunuchs in the king’s service, Bigthan and Teresh. Their names don’t tell us much. Bigthan may have been the king’s sommelier, similar to Nehemiah one hundred years later. The name of Teresh gives us no hint of his position. The passage says they were both eunuchs, and that they were doorkeepers, perhaps of the harem. It also says they sought to “lay hands” on the king, usually taken to mean that they plotted to kill him, because they were angry about something. We also know they were not very smart, or not very observant. Here they are, plotting against the king with a Jew named Mordechai sitting just feet from them. It may be that they figured since he was a Jew, a foreigner, he might agree with them. Or it may be that since he was a Jew he was invisible to them; they may have discounted his ethnicity so much that they could not even see him. Or it may be that he was invisible because he was there every day, and was to them no more than might be a doorknob or a stone kerb. In any case, they plotted in Mordechai’s hearing, he reported it, and they were executed.

What can we learn from these men? The obvious lesson is to pay attention, especially when you are thinking about doing something wrong. One other thing might be what Solomon said about opposing authority.

Never make light of the king, even in your thoughts. And don't make fun of the powerful, even in your own bedroom. For a little bird might deliver your message and tell them what you said. (Eccl 10:20)

Hatach is another person about whom we know little, but the little we know may be significant. Esther 4 may be the best-known chapter in the book, but people pay little attention to Hatach, who appears by name only in this chapter.

The king’s chief counselor, out of anger against Mordechai, had sent out a decree for the destruction, death, and extermination of all the Jews from India to Ethiopia. Mordechai told this to his cousin, Queen Esther. He couldn’t communicate with her directly because he was wearing sackcloth, in mourning, which was not allowed in the palace. Also, he was not allowed into the harem. So he had to communicate by means of a eunuch, who was this Hatach. Esther had not made her lineage known to the king or his court. As Esther’s liaison with Mordechai, then, Hatach may have been the only person in the palace to know that the queen was a Jewess. He carried messages between the two cousins that made the queen’s ancestry abundantly clear. Some eunuchs were personal servants to the women of the harem, but many were expected to pass on information gained in the performance of their duties. As such, Hatach may have been subject to execution of the king found that he was withholding this juicy bit of gossip. Still, he held his peace.

We don’t know what happened to Hatach after the events of the subsequent chapters of Esther. Did he continue to live in obscurity in the harem? Did the king want him executed because he had withheld valuable information? If the latter, we can assume that his life was spared by Queen Esther as a reward.

Hatach serves as an object lesson in loyalty. He did not betray the queen’s trust. He is a model of discretion. He did not gossip about what must surely have gotten him much attention. Rather than modeling ourselves after Bigthan and Teresh, we should follow the example of Hatach. Even if nobody knows their names.