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No Good Deed

by Tim O'Hearn

The book of Esther is primarily a history of the establishment of the holiday of Purim (which comes on March 25 in 2005). There is an incident in the story, however, that may be instructive independent of the holiday. It involves Mordechai, the uncle of the Esther of the title of the book and the real hero of the story.

It seems that Mordechai spent a lot of time sitting in the gate of the palace. He may have been there to beg. He may have been there to act as a lobbyist for any Jews who had business in the palace. We are not told. What we are told is that he overheard two of the doorkeepers plotting against the king. Why would these two let such a man overhear them? A couple of thoughts come to mind. They, like everyone else in the palace, were unaware of Mordechaiís relationship to one of the kingís wives. They may have been just plain stupid. Mordechai may have been such a regular fixture in the gate that he was invisible to them. Or they may have thought that since he was of a captive people, although possibly native born, that he would agree with them and thus keep quiet. If it was the last of these reasons, then they figured wrong. Although a member of a captive ethnic group, Mordechai was an honorable man. He did the right thing. He reported the plot to Esther, who reported it to the king in her uncleís name. The two plotters were hung, and Mordechaiís deed was recorded in the chronicles of the realm. (Esther 2:21-23)

Four chapters later (and donít ask how long a period of time a chapter is), King Ahasuerus suffered from insomnia. Now, there are various cures for insomnia. One is to read a boring book. So the king started reading the chronicles of the land. This may have been like reading the genealogies in the Bible, but one incident stood out that kept the king from going to sleep. He read about Mordechai reporting the plot of Bigthana and Teresh, the doorkeepers. Kings are nothing if not thorough, so he asked what reward had been paid to Mordechai. When told that no reward had been made, the king knew something must be done. Accounts must be settled.

Haman the Agagite, a bitter enemy of Mordechai, was waiting to talk to the king about hanging Mordechai. Why was he waiting in the kingís dressing room so late at night? Or had the king been reading until morning? The scripture doesnít say. Maybe Hamanís bitterness was so great that he was willing to wait up all night for the king. Regardless, when the king asked him what should be done for the one the king wanted to honor he naturally thought he must be the honoree. Beware, oh Hamans of the world; hatred and pride combine to bring you down. Haman devised a glorious scenario to honor himself. Then he learned that it was Mordechai who would be so honored, and that he was appointed the lowly job of herald. And so Mordechai was honored for doing what God would have had him do.

Even ending the story here, is it truly independent of Purim? The theme of the holiday is that God will protect his people, and that reward may come from an unexpected direction. This incident really just shows that Purim applies on a personal level as much as on a national level. Mordechaiís honor came through his enemy, and just as that enemy was seeking his head.

Some people say that no good deed goes unpunished. God shows here that no good deed goes unrewarded. It may not happen at once. It may take four chapters of Godís time, but God will recognize us when we do the right thing.