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Who was Mordecai in the Bible?

Mordecai is a figure in the Old Testament. He was the cousin of Esther and played a significant role in helping her rescue the people of Israel from genocide. Mordecai lived during Israel's captivity by the Persians, when Ahasuerus was king. He is introduced in the second chapter of the book of Esther: "Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away. He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother" (Esther 2:5–7).

Mordecai was a "first generation" Jew in captivity. He probably remembered what it was like in Israel before they were taken captive, and he had lived through the reigns of several Babylonian kings. He was raising his cousin, Esther, who would become queen of Persia. King Ahasuerus gathered all of the virgins in Susa in his search for a new queen, and Esther was among them. Mordecai counseled her not to tell anyone of her Jewish heritage (Esther 2:10). During her year of "beautifying" prior to going before the king (Esther 2:12), Mordecai would go to the gates of the harem every day to check on Esther (Esther 2:11). Esther was chosen as the new queen (Esther 2:16–18).

Later, while sitting at the king's gate, Mordecai witnessed a plot to kill the king, which he relayed to Esther. Esther informed the king, the plot was thwarted, and the two men responsible were hanged (Esther 2:19–23).

Sometime after this, the king promoted a man named Haman above all the other officials and commanded that they would bow down to Haman at the gate. Mordecai refused to do so, and Haman was filled with hatred against him (Esther 3:1–6). Instead of taking it out on him directly, Haman "sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus" (Esther 3:6).

Haman began counseling King Ahasuerus against the Jews, telling him, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that it is not to the king's profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed" (Esther 3:8–9). The king gave his signet ring to Haman, allowing him to do as he pleased to the Jews. A decree for all Jews to be slaughtered on a certain day went out across all the provinces (Esther 3:12–15). Because it was in the name of the king of Persia and sealed with his ring, it could not be revoked.

When Mordecai learned of this, he put on sackcloth and ashes and mourned loudly in the city (Esther 4:1). Esther's servants told her of Mordecai's distress and she sent to him to find out what was wrong. Mordecai told Esther's messenger about the order of destruction and gave him a copy of the written decree. He also told the messenger to "show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people" (Esther 4:8). At first Esther refused, citing the law that any who came into the king's presence uninvited would be killed unless the king extended his scepter to them. She had not been called in to see the king for the past thirty days (Esther 4:10–11). But while Mordecai had initially told Esther to keep her heritage a secret, he realized that the time had come for her to reveal it. He told the messengers to reply to Esther, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews form another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13–14).

Esther agreed to go to the king, fasting with her maidens for three days first and requesting that Mordecai and the other Jews in Susa do the same (Esther 4:15–16). She then approached the king, who extended his scepter, and asked to throw a banquet for Haman and the king. At the banquet, Esther asked them to attend another banquet the following night. Haman left "joyful and glad of heart" (Esther 5:9) after such an honor. "But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai" (Esther 5:9). He told his friends and his wife about Esther's banquet and the return invitation, and how seeing Mordecai at the gate ruined it all for him. They suggested he have Mordecai hanged in the morning. Haman had the gallows made (Esther 5:10–13).

That same night, king Ahasuerus could not sleep, so he had the chronicles of memorable deeds read to him. The account of Mordecai foiling the previous assassination attempt against the king was read. The king asked how Mordecai had been recognized for the deed and discovered that he hadn't been. Haman entered the court at that time, with the intent to ask about hanging Mordecai. Before he could make his request, the king asked for Haman's advice on how to honor someone (Esther 6:1–6). Thinking the king had Haman in mind, Haman suggested the man wear royal robes and be led through the city on a horse the king had ridden, wearing a crown, while the man who led the horse proclaimed, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor" (Esther 6:7–9). The king ordered Haman to do all he had suggested for Mordecai. Mordecai was thus led through the city in honor (Esther 6:10–12). Haman's wise men and wife rightly recognized, "If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him" (Esther 6:13).

Haman proceeded to the next banquet, where Esther revealed Haman's plot to kill her people. The king charged Haman to be hanged upon the gallows he had meant for Mordecai (Esther 7). The king gave Haman's estate to Esther. Mordecai also came before the king and Esther told him of their familial relationship. The king gave his signet ring to Mordecai, and Esther placed him over Haman's house (Esther 8:1–2). But the problem remained—because the king's decree could not be rescinded, the destruction of the Jews would still happen. The king gave Esther and Mordecai the right to write a new decree as they saw fit and to seal it with his ring (Esther 8:3–8). They did so, making allowance for the Jews to defend themselves should any of their enemies attack (Esther 8:9–14).

"Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced … there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them" (Esther 8:15–17). When the intended day of destruction came, "the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them … All the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them. For Mordecai was great in the king's house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces, for the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful" (Esther 9:1, 3–4). The decree for the Jews to be permitted to defend themselves and destroy their enemies was extended for one day in the citadel of Susa (Esther 9:11–15). Mordecai recorded these events and sent letters to the Jews in all the provinces ruled by Ahasuerus, instituting the annual Feast of Purim (Esther 9:20–32).

Mordecai's life was in such a time and place that he was able to help save a whole generation of Jews from being slaughtered. Mordecai was a man of action; he was not paralyzed by fear, but by faith he recognized that God would preserve the Jews for His larger plan as He had promised. Mordecai could have left his belief in God behind and pursued success or comfort or safety in his pagan surroundings, but instead he kept his eyes open to what God was doing around him. Not everyone is rewarded for their faithfulness with success, but God blessed Mordecai and he became "second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people" (Esther 10:3).

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