Esther had been Queen of Persia for five years (compare 2:16 with 3:7). On the advice of her adoptive father, Mordecai, she had told no one during that time that she was Jewish. This seems to have been a family policy — apparently Mordecai had never told his coworkers about his heritage either. It’s not that he wasn’t proud of being one of God’s chosen people, he was just cautious. While the Jews had been living in exile for over a hundred years at this point, they had been given freedom to start businesses, hold jobs in government, and blend into society. For a people who had been conquered and forcibly removed from their homeland, blending in was a good thing; standing out could be a bad thing. But there comes a time when taking a stand for the Lord is the right thing, even when it is difficult or dangerous.
For Mordecai, that time came when King Ahasuerus promoted a man named Haman to the rank of second in command of his vast kingdom. In order to emphasize Haman’s new authority as the Prime Minister of Persia, the king had commanded that all the other court officials bow down before him each day in a demonstration of respect. Everyone followed the rule except Mordecai, who refused to bow to Haman. When his coworkers pressed him for a reason, Mordecai revealed (apparently for the first time publicly) that he was Jewish — a reason that makes sense in light of Haman’s heritage.
Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek, an ancient enemy of God’s people. The Amalekites had once attacked the Jews at a very vulnerable time, just after their escape from Egypt (see Deuteronomy 25:17-18). Many years later the Amalekite king, Agag, was so treacherous and wicked that the Lord ordered the prophet Samuel to execute him (see 1 Samuel chapter 15). Because of this history, the mutual disdain of Haman the Agagite and Mordecai the Jew was pretty intense. Mordecai refused to bow to the sworn enemy of God (Exodus 17:14-16), and Haman refused to allow a Jew to disrespect him.
Haman came up with a plan to simultaneously punish Mordecai and settle an ancient score: he would convince King Ahasuerus to sanction the extermination of the entire Jewish race. When Haman made his appeal to the king, he did not even mention Mordecai. Instead, he leveraged the king’s love of money: since many of the Jews had been wise in business and had acquired some wealth, killing them would allow the king to seize their assets, which could amount to a significant gain in the royal treasury. The king naively agreed, sealing the death warrant of God’s people.
I take away from this passage a pair of truths. First, this script has not changed much since ancient times. Satan has always sought the destruction of God’s people, and men like Haman (and Hitler) have been his willing instruments of hatred. Present-day hostility toward the nation of Israel follows the same storyline, as does the persecution of Christians around the world. Second, there comes a time when you must take your stand for the Lord. Like Mordecai, standing up for your faith may be unpopular and it will take courage. But remember that when you stand on God’s Word, stand against evil and injustice, or stand up for God’s people — all of heaven is backing you up! Stand firm!