Following the foiled assassination attempt, Haman had created an atmosphere of fear in the court of Ahasuerus, which was no doubt what the king appointed him to do. When Mordecai alone, even of all the Jews, refused to bow to Haman, his friends tried to convince the old man to change. But he wouldn’t compromise and instead unveiled his Jewish heritage as the reason for his refusal. Eventually the king’s servants felt it was too dangerous to keep the matter from Haman. To say nothing could be taken to mean siding against Haman, and they knew that that position had only one ending.

So Haman was advised that Mordecai, by now in his mid-80s, refused to bow. Haman found out what this insolent old man actually was. A Jew. Not just any Jew—but from the tribe of Benjamin. But wait, there was more; a descendant of Kish, Saul’s father! He should have kept investigating and he may have found out he was also the new queen’s cousin, but he was so consumed with anger that he no longer thought rationally. Recent history has shown just how far insane antisemitism can go and Haman was right up there with the worst in history. Annihilating the Jews was uppermost in his mind, but that feisty little octogenarian and his stunning-looking cousin stood in his way.

Why didn’t Mordecai just bow down? Everyone else did, so was it really so important? Historically it turned out that it was, but he must have had some doubts. If so, he needed only to cast his mind back less than 100 years, which he surely did. Just five years before he was born, three faithful young Jewish captives—eunuchs—had made the same stand as Mordecai. They refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, and the king was full of wrath: similar faithful stand, similar furious reaction; and similar outcome, eventually. But that was all in the future. All Mordecai had at the time was his faith and courage. He would need both.

Though Haman boiled with rage, his response was ice-cold. Such was the malevolence within Haman that simply murdering Mordecai was nowhere near enough to soothe his wounded pride. He decided that genocide was the only answer. All the Jews in Persia (basically in the world) would die for this old fool’s impertinence. He concocted a story for the king about these people in the kingdom who just wouldn’t fit in, with just enough truth to make it plausible. In Persia, it wasn’t the first such story about such a people, and the king may well have seen other letters about them. There were officials in Jerusalem who would back up Haman’s story if needed. They were a threat to the safety of everyone in the kingdom of Persia and it would be expedient to have them removed. Haman even sweetened the deal with a multi-million dollar bounty for the king’s coffers. Ahasuerus’ poor attention to detail again proved potentially disastrous.

Mordecai was utterly devastated. How could he be otherwise? Right now, it seemed his refusal to bow to Haman was going to be directly responsible for the complete extermination of the Jewish race. The decree of Cyrus had all been for nothing, they were all going to die anyway, in Shushan, Jerusalem, Babylon, wherever. Throughout the empire Jews wailed in mourning, none more so than the man who felt responsible for it all. He tore his sleek courtier’s clothes to shreds, replaced them with course sacks and ashes and cried a bitter, woeful wail. In short, he broke down. He wandered in shock around the city and finally back to the gate of the palace. But he dared not enter. No one in mourning was allowed to enter the king’s palace.

There he lay, old and exhausted, perhaps tired of living, perhaps scared of dying at the hands of a mad man. Then a strange thing happened. A courtier arrived with a change of clothing for him. It was from Esther. Mordecai declined the offer, but even in the gloomy depths of his despair the first ray of light appeared—Esther. She sent Hatach her servant back to Mordecai to try and find out what on earth had happened. She had no idea at all, such was the splendid isolation of the court from everyday life. The first ray became a glimmer of hope, and the old man in sackcloth began to emerge from his grief. For at heart, Mordecai was a man of faith. It was why he hadn’t bowed down. It was why he wouldn’t be destroyed. Esther was hidden like a precious jewel in a profane king’s harem, placed there by a Providence beyond comprehension. Suddenly, words replaced wailing. Faith became action. Despair gave way to hope. Mordecai told Hatach everything that had happened, every last detail of what Haman had devised, even providing a copy of the decree of death that Haman no doubt made sure he had. And then the big one: through Hatach, he asked Esther to go before the king and plead for mercy for the Jews; no, he didn’t ask her, he told her! This was a command of the highest order, with the life of his beloved cousin at stake.

He waited for her reply, still out in the street, still in sackcloth and ashes. Hatach returned with the queen’s answer. Now she was frightened. To disobey her cousin was almost unthinkable but to go unrequested before the king was most likely fatal. Her reply to Mordecai barely disguised a plea for her life.

The fiery furnace of trial was again about to produce a triumph of faith.

Mordecai had already been the cause of his people being sentenced to death, now the person most precious to him pleaded for her life. He didn’t waver. He braced. At the height, or maybe depth, of his trial, the old man suddenly saw everything clearly. The danger was awesome but so was the Power he perceived was at work and now everything made sense: his life, with all its cruel suffering; the beautiful cousin with whose life he had been entrusted and who he raised so carefully to have faith; the horrible moment when the knock on the door came and she was taken; his own decision not to bow down to Haman and the awful consequences. It had all led to this one moment. Who knows? Just stay faithful, and see what happens. The message went back to Esther: no compromise. It had to be this way. And the beautiful young woman he had raised showed the same courage she’d come to admire and love in him. Only be with me, she asked. Let us all fast together for three days, within and outside of the palace. Together we will live or die. Together, Mordecai and Esther became united once more to see what the answer of Providence would be.

All Mordecai could do after the three days were over was wait, and hope. It was over to Esther and she proved to be more than just beautiful. She was an astute judge of human nature, who knew her sometimes impulsive husband well. He could sentence a man to death on a whim, but he could also be moved by the out-pouring of love from his wife.

But Mordecai sat outside the palace and waited. The hours slowly went by, his tension no doubt increasing as time moved on. If Esther hadn’t been accepted then the sentence would surely have been quick. But then: news that a banquet had been held for Ahasuerus and Haman, hosted by Esther; and another one planned for tomorrow. What was going on?

Haman emerged from the palace at some point during that long day and saw Mordecai back in his usual place, intractable as ever. Mordecai was doubtless perplexed by the turn of events honouring Haman, but his trust in God’s care prevailed. He wasn’t about to back down from what he knew was right even though Haman’s ego was bursting at the seams, barely being able to contain his murderous rage at this Jew! It was only a suggestion from Haman’s friends that assuaged his anger—a public execution on gallows almost 20 metres high!

Night fell with a deadly darkness and no doubt Mordecai struggled to sleep. So did Ahasuerus. The king ended up reading a few old chronicles during the night and came across an article about the failed assassins and the bravery of Mordecai.

And then something remarkable happened, one of history’s great reversals.

The next day Mordecai was sent for by the palace. He doubtless knew of the gallows being prepared for his death and perhaps thought of his impending execution at the end of a very high noose. Haman was waiting for him. But what was this? What on earth had happened? His hate-filled enemy splendidly dressed him in royal clothes and carefully helped him onto one of the king’s own horses. Then he led Mordecai, now on horseback, throughout the city, ordering everyone to honour this old man. No doubt many of them even bowed down. Mordecai was no doubt in total awe at the power of Providence. He was doubtless full of thankfulness for this remarkable turnaround of events.

From that moment things happened quickly. By the end of the next day, Haman had been hung on his own ghastly 20 metre gallows. Another antisemitic madman had bitten the dust! As for Mordecai, well the king was highly perceptive. Courage, loyalty and wisdom were valuable currency for an autocrat like Ahasuerus, and he saw them all in this aged Jew, whom he now knew had already saved his life once. He knew also that Mordecai had raised his queen to be the precious character she was. Her own courage and wisdom had just saved the king from a potentially disastrous mistake. If it weren’t for these two remarkable cousins, the king would certainly be dead or dethroned by now. He rewarded them accordingly.

At Esther’s request, Mordecai now ruled where once Haman had been, and the good citizens of Shushan were thrilled. He wrote and sealed in the king’s name the orders that ultimately overturned Haman’s plans. Not one Jew was killed on that fateful day, the 13th day of Adar, but many of their enemies were. The 14th of Adar is still kept to this day as a day of celebration for Jews—Purim—where they remember the story of Esther and Mordecai (and jeer whenever Haman’s name is mentioned. He’d be furious if he knew!)

For what was left of his life, Mordecai the Jew ruled as the deputy of king Ahasuerus in Persia, with Esther his cousin next to the king as his beloved queen. From sackcloth and ashes, he had risen to greatness and power. He knew the power of Providence, that whatever happens, there is always reason for hope; that an unseen, sometimes unnamed Hand is always at work and that for everyone with the faith of Mordecai and Esther, He will ultimately turn sorrow into joy.