One of the mysteries in Esther is why Mordecai refused to acknowledge Haman. We are never explicitly told, and such guesses as that he was continuing Yahweh’s war against Amalek do not carry weight. If such was Mordecai’s purpose he was in sin, because it was Yahweh’s war, not his. Saul did not move against Amalek until Yahweh ordered him to.
The notion that Mordecai was obeying the Second Word is also nonsense, because bowing to images of God is entirely appropriate. Abraham bowed to the Hittites, for example.
The clue lies in the question asked by the other members of the Persian Supreme Court (King’s Gate): “Why are you transgressing the king’s command?” Note that they did not ask why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman. The question was why he was disobeying the king. The only answer Mordecai gave was that he was a Jew, which of course identified Jews as rebels against the king and caused all the problems that ensued.
And what kind of answer was that anyway? Jews refuse to honor kings? Since when? Well, since the days of Jeremiah, that’s when. God had told the Jews through Jeremiah and his associates that Nebuchadnezzar was the new high king and that they were to submit to him. They rebelled over and over and were eventually taken into exile. Now, through Mordecai, they are rebelling again, and this time God might just wipe them off the face of the earth.
Still, what’s this about the promotion of Haman? What is it about this event that caused Mordecai to rise up in rebellion?
I believe the answer is given us in chapter 6. When the Great King (“Ahasuerus”) learned that Mordecai had not been honored for saving his life, he immediately honored him greatly, even above Haman. I believe that this is what had angered Mordecai. He had not been rewarded for his good deed.
Immediately before the promotion of Haman, Mordecai had saved the king’s life (2:21-23). Chapter 3 begins significantly “Now after these events the king, the Great King, promoted Haman….” Say what? Surely Mordecai should have been promoted. This aged Jew had served on the Supreme Court faithfully and had risked his life by turning in the plotters. But instead of promoting him, the (seemingly) ungrateful king had promoted Haman. This is why Mordecai was angry, and why he refused to honor the king’s man and rebelled against the Great King.
This was a sin on Mordecai’s part, of course, and not his first. He had told Esther to conceal her identity. And Esther herself sinned by refusing to leave and cleave, instead continuing to obey Mordecai and effectively despising her husband (2:20). All of these sins would have to be dealt with, and are in the course of the book of Esther.
Jesus tells us that we have no right to any rewards. When we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants. Blessings are gifts, not things earned, for there is no “merit theology” in Biblical religion. Mordecai should have bowed to providence, to the king, and to Haman, trusting in the Lord. He did not.
How often we ourselves become angry with God, our Great King, when things don’t happen the way we think they should. We should have received that promotion, not that inferior other guy! We should have been picked! We must learn from Mordecai to be patient and to take the lowest seat, waiting to be promoted in God’s good time.