The book of Esther has all the right stuff to be a best seller: a beautiful protagonist, a strong hero, a vile villain, and enough plot twists to keep us turning the pages! It’s no wonder the Jewish people read the story every year at the celebration of Purim, is it? God’s faithful and timely intervention to save his people is cause to rejoice!
Scripture gives us just the basic facts about Mordecai, and leaves a lot to the imagination about our strong hero. We’re told that he’s Esther’s cousin, but took her in “as his own daughter” when her parents died. He was of the tribe of Benjamin (not the tribe of Judah, so he’s not in the lineage of Jesus); he lived in the citadel of Susa, the winter capital of the ancient Persian Empire; and his father Jair was the grandson of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon with Jehoiachin, king of Judah. The math tells me that Mordecai may have been born in Babylon. And yet he knew his identity as a Jew, in exile, one of God’s chosen people. Who taught him that, I wonder?
Esther, our protagonist, is an orphan. That, in itself, could be cause for insecurity, fear of abandonment, depression, and a host of other emotional issues. But this beautiful girl seems to be fully grounded. Experts tell us that the relationship that a father has with his daughter is crucial for the development of good self-esteem. It appears that Mordecai nailed it. And yet there is that moment in the story when “dad” has to speak some pretty harsh words to his daughter.
When Mordecai learns of the edict Haman has tricked the king into signing to annihilate the Jews, he grieves in the way he’s always seen the Jews mourn: “he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.” It was the same in every province to which the edict came, including the statement that the Jews grieved with “fasting.”
Esther would have known about fasting, thanks to her upbringing with Mordecai. But that wasn’t her first reaction to the wailing and weeping she heard outside her window, was it? Her first reaction was to send clothes for Mordecai to put on “instead of his sackcloth.” When that doesn’t appease the situation, she sends her eunuch to “find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.” Could it be that she’s forgotten the way of grief of her people, comforted as she was by palace life? When she heard about the edict, could it be that she had forgotten her own identity as a Jew?
Actually, Mordecai had “forbidden” Esther to reveal her nationality and family background when she was first chosen to participate in the king’s beauty contest. He knew there were people, like Haman, who despised the Jews. Like any worried dad, he paced back and forth every day near the courtyard of the harem “to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.” But when Esther is chosen as queen, Mordecai began sitting at the king’s gate, the secret of his daughter’s identity all but forgotten. Until that vile villain Haman comes along. Haman is God’s reminder that who we are matters.
Who are you when no one is looking? It’s a question that is often voiced when the subject of character is discussed. I heard someone say once that our beliefs give rise to our values, and our values determine our behavior. Faced with death, Mordecai sternly reminds Esther who they are – God’s chosen people. “Go, gather together all the Jews… and fast for me,” Esther tells her father once courage has taken root in her heart. “I will go to the king…And if I perish, I perish.”
There are some things worth dying for, you know? Jesus says YOU are one of them.