Anyone who knows me well is fully aware that falling asleep is not problematic for me. However, Wednesday December 3, 2014 was much different. I received news that the New York policeman who choked Eric Garner to death in full view of millions of people all over the globe would not be indicted. Questions and concerns loomed in my mind relentlessly and sometimes uncontrollably. One minute I was thankful my sons were grown men now and had families of their own. The next I trembled because it seems age makes no difference. Black men being killed by policemen has no age restriction. Then the fear for my six grandsons growing up in a law enforcement and a legal system that has little regard for their lives moved me between fear and disgust.
I share this space with my brothers T (Thabiti) and Carter (Tony). When it comes to issues like this, I usually leave the writing to them. What they say represents me so well. I have grown accustomed to reading their thoughts and simply saying, “Amen.” However, after listening to a talk by Kevin Smith, I was convinced I could not sit this one out.
Like my Brother Carter, I have been in several conversations about the recent police killings of African-American men and boys. Church members with hurting hearts have come to me and want to know how their pastor is thinking about these events. I prefer those conversations over writing any day. It’s much better when people can see the hurt in your face and feel the pain through your body language. I trust you will recognize sensitivity in my words.
Laying there Wednesday night, as sleep evaded me, I wondered over and over again, “Is there a word on this, what biblical insight can I draw upon?” As I tossed and turned and ran biblical passages and accounts through my mind, by God’s grace, I stumbled upon an obscure biblical character whose life and approach to a national crisis in his day soothed my soul.
His name is Mordecai, and you can find his account in the book of Esther. Now, before I go any further I am fully aware of the danger of tugging too hard on biblical characters due to the great distances between us in time and culture, and mostly the role they played in redemptive history. With that in mind I found some wisdom in Mordecai’s response to his national crisis in his day, and hopefully you will too.
One of the obvious characteristics of the book of Esther is the fact the author never mentions God. I, for one, sense this was a deliberate omission. It demonstrates God is present even when He is most absent. A lot of people are feeling in some ways God is absent and perhaps unconcerned about the recent events in our country. The book of Esther says He is not absent and He is absolutely concerned with what’s going on. He is just as present now as He was in Mordecai’s day.
You will need to read the entire book of Esther to really appreciate the role of Mordecai. Go ahead — it should only take you about 30-45 minutes. Here are a few snippets. He’s quite a fascinating brother, indeed a man for his time.
- He raises his niece and cousin (Esther) in the place of her deceased parents, cf. 2:5-7.
- Although he was a foreigner in the Persian kingdom, he was a good law abiding citizen, cf. 2:21-23
- He was a godly man, cf. 3:1-4. Yet, his piety would result in a change in the law making it legal to kill him and annihilate every Jew (his kindred) in the Persian empire, cf. 3:5-6. It appears he was a praying, preaching, and practicing man.
- When he received knowledge of the horrendous plot, he went into a public display of grief, as did the rest of Jews who heard the report. The ESV paints the picture vividly: Mordecai is in sackcloth and ashes (the attire of grief) and he cries out with a loud and bitter cry, cf. 4:1-3.
- He didn’t just weep and complain; he took action. He used whatever influence he had to press into service those who could possibly make a difference, namely Esther, cf. 4:6-9.
- He rightfully makes his case to Esther based upon a clear understanding of the Providence of God. It’s very helpful to notice that Mordecai’s big God theology did not allow him to do and say nothing. Actually it seems, his theology is what led him to act, cf. 4:12-14.
- The case he made to Esther regarding her responsibility to act was transforming, compare 4:10-11 with 4:15-16 and 8:6.
- His remedy for the calamity was gracious, strategic and effective, for his day and his time in redemptive history, cf. 8:10-11, 16-17; 9. My brother T has offered several recommendations that are equally gracious, strategic and I sense would effectively address the issues we are currently facing. You can read them here, here and listen here.
- Finally, Mordecai received divine commendation for the good work he accomplished, cf. 10: 1-3.
I am not a historian in any sense of the word. However, the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and others along with the accompanying circumstances says to me we are in a “Mordecai Moment.”
These are days of grief. Grieving for the lives lost and the manner through which they were lost is not unusual. As a matter of fact it’s quite normal. Yet our response must not end with weeping. There needs to be a reasonable response to these issues. Who better to lead the way than those who know the Sovereign God of the universe? Suggesting and supporting gracious and strategic remedies should be pouring from the lips of Mordecai-like people in our day.
The book of Esther ends in great celebration, cf. 9:20-22. God has again come to the aid of His people. His plans for them could not be thwarted, cf. Gen. 3:15, making the book of Esther a wonderful account of God bringing His redemptive purposes to pass using ordinary people.
Did Mordecai know his pivotal place in redemptive history? I don’t think so. He was simply an ordinary man responding the way ordinary folk should.
May his tribe increase in this moment in which we find ourselves.
Photography by Ben Ranyal via Flickr Creative Commons.