Let’s keep going with Esther.
While I would love to see myself as Esther in this story, truth be told, I toggle between being a Mordecai (not bad) and Haman (not good). It’s interesting to read how people interpret the contempt and dislike Haman has for, not just the Jews, but specifically Mordecai. Some point to an instance where Mordecai refuses to “bow down before any human being.” Others speculate on a deeper tension, pulling in possibilities from the pasts of both characters. Regardless of why, there’s this thing between these guys, and it’s not good for anyone.
I want you to think about the last person you had a problem with. Think about the last relational dynamic that was a thorn in your side, a pain in the neck, a persistent problem. I also want you to think about a time you have been “punished,” when you have been intentionally left out, bullied adult-style (passive aggressive behavior) or you felt betrayed or threatened in some way.
When I’ve been Haman: I’ve noticed we do this thing. I call it, “punishing,” because it’s at the core of what I think we are trying to accomplish, but we aren’t willing to admit our immaturity. It’s also often referred to as passive aggressive behavior.
Dictionary.com: denoting or pertaining to a personality type or behavior marked by the expression of negative emotions in passive, indirect ways, as through manipulation or noncooperation: a passive-aggressive employee who often misses deadlines.
I would probably label Haman’s behavior as overly aggressive but in a manipulative manner. He can’t just tell King Xerxes, “I don’t like the Jewish nation, especially this guy Mordecai, so I just want to let everyone kill them all. Does that work?” So he crafts this idea, creates this concept, plants it in his own heart and mind, and then delivers it to the king. He comes up with a plan to satisfy this intense desire for Mordecai and his people to suffer.
I realize this is intense, and most of us aren’t trying to rally local authorities to arrest our enemies, but think about the other things we try to orchestrate when we don’t like someone or we have been wounded. Maybe we leave them out of stuff. Maybe we remove ourselves, waiting for them to notice our absence. Maybe we post something vague online about the kind of people we do and don’t like, hoping they will see it and realize it’s really about them. All this sounds so silly when I type this, but I’ve done this kind of stuff, and as an adult. I’ve played these games, and I’ve had them played on me.
When I’ve been a Mordecai…
We get only a glimpse of Mordecai. He is plotting, just like Haman, but plotting to save his people. It’s as if he is laser focused on his goal and doesn’t realize the intense hatred brewing in Haman. (By the way, I’ve also done that. Been so upset with someone, and they had no clue. I’ve also had someone super upset with me, and I had zero idea.) Mordecai is doing his non-bowing-down, visiting-Esther, looking-out-for-his-people thing while Haman’s frustration consumes his thoughts and conversations.
I had a friend that was slandered. It was pretty bad. People manipulated facts and sometimes outright lied. The potential damage these behind-the-back conversations could have – impacted career, marriage, ministry, everything. As I watched my friend navigate this, there was zero retaliation. It impacted them for sure, but there wasn’t a “punishment,” they didn’t “unfriend” these people or cast them out, they didn’t try and sling back mud. I asked why, and they referenced the author of 1st Peter, speaking of Jesus:
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
He entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
Oh that I would have always done that. That I, rather than taking up an offense, or mounting a passive aggressive defense, would simply entrust myself to him who judges justly.
Thinking on the teen small group I lead, one of the girls mentioned a friend who does all of these things and “gets away with it.” I realized that, as I tried to explain that no one ultimately “gets away” with things, her frustration and hurt blinded her to that concept, but it’s true. Haman certainly did not get away with anything. The very torture he devised for Mordecai ends up being his own punishment and death. I get that too. As I reflect on the ways I’ve “punished” people in my hurt and immaturity, it often bounced back to do more damage in my life than my intended victim.
If you have found yourself in a vengeful spot, don’t be Haman. It doesn’t work.