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Hi there, Covenant Family. We are going to take a look at another Old Testament story today. It is an Old Testament story somewhat related to the book of Daniel, which we’ve been slowly working through on Sunday mornings. Daniel is written to people who are exiles from the kingdom they ultimately belong to, living in kingdoms or nations that don’t honour their God. Ultimately, it is written for all people whose citizenship is in God’s kingdom, but are trying to find their way while living and working in the kingdoms of this world.

Today we’re looking at just a small part of the story about a man named Mordecai. Mordecai lives after the time that students of the Old Testament call the exile. He lives after the time that displaced Jews have been allowed to return home. He lives after the time that the Temple of Yahweh has been rebuilt in Jerusalem. By his time, large groups of Jews have returned to their land to rebuild. And while those things are the story of Mordecai’s people, none of that is Mordecai’s personal story. We’ll explore what we know of him from the book of Esther briefly this morning in this Covenant Weekly for May 28.

 When we talk about exile - living in a place that is not our true home surrounded by people and things that don’t reflect the way of the kingdom - we typically talk about it as a bad thing. How we talk about it normally suggests that exile is something we should avoid or certainly never choose. And this is a logical conclusion. Exile is presented as a consequence of bad choices for Israel. Their songs talk about never forgetting their homeland and always longing for the kingdom of God. Why should it be different for us? Given the choice of living in and among those who embody the kingdom of God and those who do not, is there even a real choice?
And yet, for Mordecai, it seems there was a choice. As mentioned, Mordecai lived at a time when the exile had officially ended. While the Babylonians had initiated the exile, the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great had issued the Edict of Restoration that enabled Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild homes and even their temple. He even helped fund this restoration and even sent items that had been stolen from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar back to be used in the temple again. Many returned and the temple was reestablished.

After Cyrus, Darius the Great established himself as the king. And after Darius the great, his oldest son (and Cyrus’ grandson) Xerxes came to the throne. It is this Xerxes that we read about in the book of Esther. He has not changed his grandfather’s policy on the re-establishment of Israel. To a certain extent rebuilding in Israel has continued.

But even as the exiles are welcomed to go home - to escape this existence their poetry has so deeply lamented - many Jews stayed. What was initially a consequence of poor decisions and ungodly living becomes the new normal, the new reality in which some stay rooted. And one of those men is Mordecai.

In Esther 2, we are introduced to Mordecai this way: 5 At that time there was a Jewish man in the fortress of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair. He was from the tribe of Benjamin and was a descendant of Kish and Shimei. 6 His family had been among those who, with King Jehoiachin of Judah, had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar.

He is described within the context of the nation he came from, but for some reason, Mordecai has not returned to the land where that nation was established. He has chosen to continue in exile. And in the following pages of the story, from a Jewish perspective, it seems as though maybe he will suffer because of it.

Without rehearsing the whole story (although I encourage you to go read the book of Esther - either for the first time or again), here is some of what happens. Mordecai has raised his much younger cousin, with the Jewish name Hadassah and the Persian name Esther, into a beautiful young woman. The king, Xerxes, has a falling out with his queen and so banishes her and decides to hold a beauty contest to choose a new queen. Because Mordecai and Esther haven’t returned to Jerusalem, she is seen and chosen as one of the many women to be taken into the king's harem for evaluation as he considers who will be his new queen.

In doing this, Mordecai is concerned about her safety and instructs her to conceal her Jewishness. Already, this seems to be going very badly. In this place, she wouldn’t be able to live out the Jewish diet, prayer life, or cleansing rituals. What should have been the core of her identity would be lost.

But Mordecai stuck close to her. He is described as taking walks close to where she lived so he could stay up on what is going on with her. And apparently, he works for the king. We read this at the end of Esther 2.

21 One day as Mordecai was on duty at the king’s gate [that is why we can conclude he is working for the king], two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthana and Teresh—who were guards at the door of the king’s private quarters—became angry at King Xerxes and plotted to assassinate him. 22 But Mordecai heard about the plot and gave the information to Queen Esther. She then told the king about it and gave Mordecai credit for the report. 23 When an investigation was made and Mordecai’s story was found to be true, the two men were impaled on a sharpened pole. This was all recorded in The Book of the History of King Xerxes’ Reign.

So not only has he chosen to remain in this place of exile. Mordecai has done it to work for this foreign king. He’s not here by force. He’s here for the money. And in this place, he goes out of his way to foil an assassination plot against the king.

Then at the beginning of chapter 3, he really seems to be up against consequences for being a Jew in this foreign land. Every day, one of the king’s right-hand people, Haman, would come past the gate where Mordecai worked. And because Haman was so important, every person he passed was expected to bow to him and show homage. And every day Mordecai refused to do so. It doesn’t say he didn’t do it because he was a Jew, but he did, at some point, tell Haman and the officials around him that he was a Jew. And Haman got so frustrated and angry at the lack of respect Mordecai showed him that he decided getting rid of Mordecai wasn’t enough. He would work to get rid of all the Jews.

Surely this was the consequence of him settling down in this place that should not have been his home! The story goes on to talk about Haman getting the king to decree that on a specific date, all Jews throughout the empire would be able to be killed and their property taken.

Mordecai, though, convinces Esther to risk her life before the king, to finally tell him she is Jewish, and to see if, with the help of the king, they can find a way to save her people. This ultimately proves successful. Esther is in a place to save the Jewish people and, to this day, they celebrate this deliverance during Purim.

Looking at Mordecai’s story, it would be easy to conclude that this threat to his people was, in large part, because he didn’t return home when he had the chance. By choosing to try to be Jewish in the foreign land, he was setting himself up for trouble.

This is not how the story is told, however. Rather, Mordecai is celebrated as one who served where God wanted him and fulfilled the work God wanted him to do. In fact, only decades later, Nehemiah, another Jew who chose to live in exile during this time, would feel compelled by God to see the wall around Jerusalem rebuilt. This same Xerxes that Mordecai served, whose life he saved, and who was married to Esther, would send another large contingent of Jews back to Jerusalem with his support to rebuild the city walls. One can’t help but wonder if Mordecai and Esther’s influence helped shape that decision.

The exile is indeed presented as the result of bad choices and unjust practices in ancient Israel. Cyrus the Great’s Edict of Reestablishment was very important in Jewish history and the personal history of many people. But even within the Bible, things were not so simple as to say that there was one right way for a Jewish person to live and embody their connection with God. It presents both the returning exiles who rebuild the Temple and Mordecai who serves the foreign king as faithful. It presents men who commit to not marrying foreign women and Boaz who marries the Moabite, Ruth, and is in the line of the Messiah as both seeking to follow Yahweh.

Perhaps Mordecai’s story, told within the Jewish context, should remind us that God’s kingdom is bigger than a patch of land somewhere - whether that land is known as Israel, the Vatican, or Covenant Christian Community Church. Seeking God’s kingdom first isn’t about a place. It is about a way of being within the world - wherever we are called or choose to be, work, serve, and play. His story reminds us that being faithful doesn’t mean it will be easy or without challenges. And those challenges don’t indicate that we’re doing something wrong!

With that in mind, as you go through this day in whatever you face, let me leave you with a thought Mordecai shares with Esther as he challenges her to go before the king on behalf of her people. He tells her, “Who knows if perhaps you were put in this position for just such a time as this?” As you seek to live faithfully - to embody the reality of God’s kingdom wherever you find yourself this week, may you be reassured by the possibility that perhaps God has you in that role so that you can embody his way in the specific time and place you find yourself. As you do so, to the best of your ability, remember that you are not alone. God is, and always will be, with you.

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