November 24 – December 1, 2023

Friday, November 24

2 Chronicles 32: Sennacherib sent to Jerusalem a delegation charged to discourage those besieged within the city walls. Comparing this account of the activity of this delegation with the other extant versions of the story (2 Kings 18—19, Isaiah 36—37, Josephus, Antiquities 10.1.1-5), the reader observes the Chronicler’s lack of interest in the many details recorded in those other sources. For example, unlike 2 Kings, he does not provide the date of the invasion, nor does he provide the names of those in Sennacherib’s delegation. In addition, he does not, unlike 2 Kings, tell the great number of the Assyrians who perished (verse 21).

For the Chronicler the great offense of the Assyrians, which he elaborates through verses 16-19, consisted in their equating Israel’s God with all the other gods that they boast of having defeated.

Although the prophet Isaiah was arguable the major religious figure of the day, this is the only place where he is named in the Books of Chronicles (verse 20).

In the event, of course, Jerusalem did not fall to the Assyrians. There were two reasons that seem to have been complementary. First, an angel of the Lord intervened, evidently in the form of a plague that destroyed the bulk of the Assyrian forces (verse 21), and then Sennacherib received word that he was needed back at the capital (2 Kings 19:7). That first explanation is corroborated somewhat by the observation of Herodotus that a plague of mice overran the Assyrian camp. Mice are common bearers of disease and infection.

In any event, the faith and fame of King Hezekiah was extolled in the outcome (verse 23).

The one verse devoted to Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery (verse 24) might be a disappointment to students of the Bible except for the many interesting details filled in by 2 Kings 20:1-11; Isaiah 38:1-8,21-22; and Josephus, Antiquities 10.2.1.

It appears to me that the Chronicler presumes the reader’s prior acquaintance with the details of this story, but he passes over them in order to say more about the king’s state of soul, his lack of gratitude, his pride, but then also his punishment and his humble repentance. This description of Hezekiah’s spiritual trial is found only in Chronicles.

Whereas in Chronicles the description of Hezekiah’s great wealth stands outside of an historical context (verses 27-29), in 2 Kings (20:13) it is placed in the context of the visit of the Babylonians delegation. The Chronicler, in his account of this latter event, shows more interest in Hezekiah’s spiritual state. The diplomatic visit itself is treated without physical details. Indeed, the Chronicler seems to suppose that his readers already know this story; he writes, completely en passant, “and so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon (verse 21—RSV).

In short, throughout this section the Chronicler manifests more interest in Hezekiah’s state of soul than in his political and military accomplishments. In this respect he receives from the Chronicler pretty much the same attention as David.

Saturday, November 25

Matthew 24.1-14: The discourse introduced in today’s reading forms a sort of last testimony of Jesus, in which the Church is provided with a final injunction and moral exhortation. In this respect it is similar to the farewell discourses of Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Samuel. That is to say, it serves the purpose of instructing the Christian Church how to live during the period (literally “eon” in Greek) that will last until the Lord’s second coming.

This conduct will be especially marked by vigilance, so that believers may not be “deceived.” They will suffer persecution, Jesus foretells, and he goes on to make two points with respect to this persecution. First, they must not lose heart, and second, it does not mean that the end is near. They must persevere to the end.

The original remarks of the Apostles, which prompted this prophecy, were inspired by Herod’s fairly recent renovation of the Temple. According to Flavius Josephus, “the Temple was constructed of hard, white stones, each of which was about 25 cubits in length, 8 in height, and 12 in depth.” That is to say, the walls of this mountain of marble, towering 450 feet above the Kidron Valley, were 12 cubits, roughly 15 feet, thick! The various buildings of the Temple complex were colonnaded and elaborately adorned. Its surface area covered about one-sixth of the old city. The Roman historian Tacitus described it as “a temple of immense wealth.” It was because of the Temple that Josephus remarked, “he that has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never in his life seen a desirable city. He who has not seen the Temple has never in his life seen a glorious edifice.”

This splendid building, said Jesus, would be utterly destroyed. In making this prophecy our Lord steps into the path earlier trodden by Jeremiah, who also suffered for making the same prediction.

When the disciples approached Jesus with their question, He was looking across the Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives, an especially appropriate place to discuss the “last things.” The question posed by the disciples seems to combine the Temple’s destruction with the end of the world. Only Matthew speaks of “the end of the world” here. This expression will, in due course, be the last words in his Gospel.

The wonderment of the Apostles over the splendor of the Temple should put the careful listener in mind of Jesus’ parable of the vine growers. That parable ends with the abrupt introduction to a quotation from Psalm 118: ““The stone the builders rejected? / Has become the chief cornerstone. / This was done by the Lord’, / ?And it is wonderful in our eyes.”

Revelation 10.1-11: Just as there was a double interrupting narrative immediately prior to the opening of the seventh seal, so a pair of visions will now precede the sounding of the seventh trumpet: the angel holding the little scroll, and the two faithful witnesses.

In the first of these, John is struck by the angel’s numinous character, at once bright and obscure. The angel’s body is clothed in a cloud, reminiscent of the cloud of the divine presence during ancient Israel’s desert journey and the cloud associated with the tabernacle of the divine presence. The face of the angel, on the other hand, has the luminosity of the sun. Nonetheless, the very fierceness of his countenance is tempered by the rainbow arching over his head, a reminder of the eternal covenant between God and creation in Genesis 9. The angel’s legs are pillars of fire, an image also reminiscent of the Exodus. His voice is like the roaring of a lion (verse 3), which is echoed by the seven thunders from Psalm 29 (Greek and Latin 28).

With one foot on the earth, one foot on the sea, and his hand into the air, the angel touches, as it were, all three aspects of physical creation: solid, liquid, and gas (verse 5). Moreover, all three of these components are mentioned in his oath (verse 6; Exodus 20:4,11), in which he swears that God’s secret purpose (to mysterion) in history will not be delayed of fulfillment.

Sunday, November 26

2 Chronicles 34: On reaching age 20 in the year 628, Josiah took the kingdom in hand and initiated a religious reform of the nation (verses 3-7). There are five things noticeable about this reform.

First, Josiah got rid of only Canaanite gods (verses 3-4). Evidently the Assyrian gods had already been purged by the repentant Manasseh (33:15).

Second, in the pursuit of this reform Josiah ignored his northern border (verse 6). He could afford to do this, because the recently weakened Assyrian warrior would never again show his face at the walls of Jerusalem. The last of the great Assyrian emperors, Asshurbanapal (668-633) had lately died, and none of his feeble successors could ever again threaten the western end of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian Empire was already in grievous decline, and the Babylonian king, Nabopolassar (626-605) would soon be in full revolt against it. Asshur would fall to the Babylonians in 614, Nineveh in 612, Haran in 610, and the dreaded Assyrian would be no more.

Third, only the Chronicler notes that the Levites were charged with the financial oversight of the refurbishing of the Temple (verses 11b-13). This is not only the kind of detail we expect in Chronicles, but it also ties the Levites to the discovery of the scroll in the Temple. In the next chapter it will be obvious that the priests and Levites were very much involved in Josiah’s project of reform.

Fourth, Josiah’s reform was seconded by the prophet Jeremiah. Apparently born in 640, the very year of Josiah’s succession, Jeremiah received his prophetic call in 627 (Jeremiah 1:2), five years before the discovery of the scroll in the Temple. Thus, Jeremiah was only 18 when the scroll was discovered. Josiah’s reform seems to have been something of a youth movement. In 627 Jeremiah complained, in fact, that he was still a mere boy (Jeremiah 1:6).

Fifth, Josiah’s reform involved the refurbishing of the Temple, and as preparations were being made for it in 622 a mysterious scroll was discovered there (verse 8). Except for the mention of the Levites, the Chronicler (verses 9-11a,14-18) describes this discovery pretty much as it is described in 2 Kings 22:3-7. The scroll is described as containing “the law of the Lord given through Moses,” and biblical scholars since patristic times have suspected that it was either the Book of Deuteronomy or a significant portion thereof.

On hearing the scroll read and learning its content, Josiah was horrified, realizing how woefully he and the people had failed to observe the Law (verse 19). Even his extensive reforms, which have been in progress for several years, did not measure up. The king had a sense of impending doom by reason of the nation’s accumulated sins over many generations, so he sent his companions to seek prophetic guidance on the matter (verses 20-21).

They consulted the prophetess Huldah (verse 22), who did them the kindness of telling them the worst. The accumulation of evil was already too great, she said, to evade its inevitable results. The scales were already overbalanced to the point of a relentless crash, and there was no way to stop the forces of history unleashed by so much sin. The nation would soon perish because of its chronic infidelities (verses 23-25). Only thus, remarked Josephus, could the Lord vindicate the warnings of the prophets (Antiquities 10.4.2).

The sole consolation held out by Huldah was the guarantee that the punishment of the nation would not come to pass during the lifetime of the present godly king (verses 26-28). Since Josiah was a relatively young man at the time, perhaps there were those who took comfort in the thought that they too would be spared the vision of the impending punishment. Alas, they did not know how little time Josiah had left in this world. The king would be dead in thirteen years.

Josiah took this prophecy of Huldah in the same spirit of humility that he displayed when the Law was first read to him. Resolving that whatever time was left would be spent in the pure service of God, he caused the book of the Law to be read aloud in the presence of the national leaders and whoever else could join them (verses 29-30). He would not spare them the bad news. He would not permit them to walk blindly into the future or put their hopes on a vain sense of security. Their days were numbered, after all, and Josiah thought it a mercy that they should know it. God was still God, and man still owed Him pure service (verse 31). Josiah would continue to love God “with all his heart and all his soul,” an expression that he had recently learned from reading the Sacred Text of Deuteronomy!

Monday, November 27

Revelation 11.11-19: The literary background of John’s vision of the two witnesses is Zechariah 4:1-3,11-14, where the prophet has in mind the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and the anointed priest Jeshua, the two men who preserved the worship in God’s house. Those two figures represented royalty (for Zerubbabel was a descendent of David) and priesthood (for Jeshua was a descendent of Aaron), which are two essential aspects of the life in Christ (cf. Revelation 1:6; 5:10).

“Two” witnesses are required, of course, this being the minimum number required in order “to make the case” (Deuteronomy 19:15). But the two witnesses in this chapter of Revelation are the heirs, not only to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, but also to Moses and Elijah. It was the first of these who afflicted Egypt with plagues, and the second who closed up heaven for three and a half years (cf. Luke 4:25; James 5:17). This is John’s way of asserting that the Christian Church, in her royal priesthood, continues also the prophetic war against false gods. She will destroy God’s enemies by fire (verse 5), as did Moses (Numbers 16:35) and Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-12).

When the monster from the abyss kills these two servants of God (verse 7), the forces of evil seem to have triumphed (verse 10), but they will be carried up to heaven, again like Moses (Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.48) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), because the victorious Lamb has the final word.

With respect to the prophets Moses and Elijah, whose outlines appear in this vision as symbolic representations, we know that the “return” of both men was expected by John’s contemporaries (cf. John 1:21; Mark 6:15; 8:20). Both men did “return” at our Lord’s transfiguration; indeed, in Mark 9 and Matthew 17, the question of the return of Elijah is precisely the point of the conversation that immediately follows the transfiguration.

When the two witnesses ascend into heaven (verse 12), one tenth of the city falls (verse 13), the city in question still being “Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (verse 8). This one tenth of the city, calculated as seven thousand souls, is literally a tithe of the city’s population. Thus, the number of those who perish is a sort of direct reversal of the seven thousand who were saved in Elijah’s remnant (1 Kings 19:18).

Thus ends the second woe, which is the sixth trumpet (verse 14). The first six trumpets were warning blasts, whereas the seventh will be a kind of fanfare (verse 15).

In the hymn that follows the seventh trumpet (verses 17-18), we should especially observe that God’s wrath is salvific, a matter at which believers will rejoice, because God’s reign is established by His wrath. God is not a neutral observer of history. On the contrary, He is deeply biased on the side of the poor and oppressed. Some people in this world are poor and oppressed, because other people in this world worship false gods. In the biblical view, poverty and oppression are the results of idolatry, and this provokes God’s wrath. His wrath is against the false gods and their servants, and believers are summoned to rejoice in the victory of that wrath, because it is the victory of freedom over slavery, justice over injustice, and Moses over Pharaoh. The wrath of God is the last thing in the world that Christians should be afraid of, for the wrath of God is on their side (Matthew 23:35-36).

As in the ancient procession around Jericho, the Ark of the Covenant appears after the seventh trumpet (verse 19).

Tuesday, November 28

Matthew 36-44: In the extended exhortation to vigilance, a major illustration is the example of Noah at the time of the flood. All the signs of impending danger were present, but only Noah was able to read them. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (11:7).

But Noah not only lived in righteousness; he also proclaimed righteousness. The Apostle Peter referred to him as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), and late in the first century Clement of Rome wrote that “Noah preached repentance, and those who heeded him were saved” (7.6).

This picture of Noah as a righteous preacher of repentance came to the early Christians from Jewish lore about that famous builder of the ark. Flavius Josephus wrote of Noah’s relationship to his contemporaries in this way: “Noah was most uncomfortable with their actions, and, not at all happy with their conduct, he persuaded them to improve their dispositions and their actions. Seeing, nonetheless, that they did not obey him but remained slaves to their own wicked desires, he feared that they would slay him, together with his wife and children, as well as the spouses of the latter, so he departed out of that land” (Antiquities 13.1).

Unable to convert his contemporaries, Noah then followed the divine leading to build an ark for the delivery of his family. He knew that God intended to flood the earth and destroy its wicked. This is what things will be like, says our Lord, at the end of the world.

The similarity between “days of Noah” and the “advent” (parousia–verses 3,27,37,39) of the Son of Man consists in the suddenness of the crisis. Not until it is actually upon them do men realize what is happening. It is literally a kataklysmos (verses 38,39), from the verb klyzo, “to wash over,” “to wash away.” The people in Noah’s time, like those at the beginning of The Plague, by Albert Camus, were living what they thought were normal lives, not expecting the catastrophe about to befall them. This is how it will be when the Son of Man returns.

Among those people living normal lives will be believers. They will be living with the unbelievers, working in the fields, grinding at the mill (verses 40-41). Yet, God will distinguish between the believer and the unbeliever. He will take the one and leave the other.

This distinction, or judgment, already introduced in the parables of the tares and wheat (13:24-30,38-42) and the good and bad fish (13:47-50), is not taken up thematically. It will appear in the parables of the good and bad servant (verses 45-51), the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), and the sheep and goats (25:31-46). God’s judgment means that some men be saved, others lost. Holy Scripture gives no evidence of any other conclusion.

Matthew’s next metaphor for the last days is drawn from common social experience—namely, the vigilance necessary to prevent the entrance of a burglar into the home. This image of impeding thievery appears often in the New Testament, not always as a quotation from Jesus. In his very first epistle, nonetheless, St. Paul explicitly presumes that his readers are already familiar with it (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Matthew and Luke (12:39-40) are nearly identical in their preservation of this wording of this parable. The warning to the Church at Sardis is very similar in its wording (Revelation 3:3). Second Peter 3:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2 both add “in the night” after “thief.” The metaphor appears again in Revelation 16:15.

Wednesday, November 29

Psalms 79 (Greek and Latin 78): After the four horsemen had appeared, all carried on mounts distinctive in color, and the earth had been ravaged with their fourfold affliction, the Lamb of God reached forth to break the fifth seal of the great scroll. St. John tells us what he saw when that seal was opened: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony (martyriaˆ) which they held” (Rev. 6:9).

These are the souls of the martyrs, which means “witness-bearers,” and they are said here to be “under the altar” because their blood, poured out as in sacrifice, lies uncovered at the base of the altar. In the Bible, that is to say, the “soul [or “life”] is in the blood” (cf. Lev. 17:11, 14; Deut. 12:23). Their holy blood, unjustly shed, cries out to God “with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Rev. 6:10).

In a holy impatience that the truth of God should be vindicated, “How long?” is a cry and a question often enough heard from the lips of the psalmist (Psalms 74:10; 79:5; 89:46) and the Prophets (Is. 6:11; Dan. 8:13; 12:6; Hab. 1:2; Zech. 1:12), so it is not surprising that we should hear it too from those whose own lives were with violence cut short because of their witness to God.

“How long?” is not a petition for personal vengeance, of course, for the desire for personal vengeance is offensive to God and therefore forbidden to His servants. It is a prayer, rather, that God’s own justice be validated by decisive fact and that a very important article of the Creed be vindicated with utterly determined finality: “He will come again in glory to judge.”

Even as the saints wait for that hour, they pray with fervor that it might, please God, be hastened: “How long?” A certain impatience, after all, is an essential component of desire. No sincere prayer of faith says: “Lord, we want this very badly, You understand, Sir, but, really, do take Your time about it. We would hate to rush You. It’s quite all the same to us.”

God’s answer to this prayer of the martyrs, nonetheless, is that He has much bigger plans in mind and does, in fact, intend somewhat to take His time in the matter, so they are exhorted to “rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (Rev. 6:11). In other words, there are more martyrdoms to come.

Similarly, Hebrews, after listing those who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off” (11:13), says that even though they were “stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword” (11:37), they are nonetheless obliged to wait still longer, “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (11:40).

This “How long?” prayer of Holy Church also finds expression in Psalm 79: “Help us, O God our Savior; for the sake of the glory of Your name, O Lord, deliver us, and forgive us our sins for the sake of Your name, lest the nations say: ‘Where is their God?’ Let the vengeance of the blood of Your servants, which was poured out, be known among the nations in our sight. Let the groaning of the prisoners come before You. With Your enormous arm take charge of the children of those who are slain. To our neighbors render sevenfold in their bosoms the contempt with which they have contemned You, O Lord.”

The Bible gives us no reason to believe that a prayer for the vindication of God’s judgment should be a particularly gentle prayer, for the judgment of God really is a judgment. It is not ambiguous or hazy. That is to say, it really does make decisions; it says, clearly and very emphatically, “this but not that.” God’s judgment really does know the difference between sheep and goats. There is no danger that God will mistake Abel for Cain.

Therefore, as our psalm surveys the ravages and wastes of our sinful history, with God’s house laid in ruins and the holy city “reduced to a fruit market,” with the corpses of God’s servants given as food to the fowl of the air and the beasts of the field, and “their blood poured out like water round about Jerusalem,” we join our voices with the martyrs who cry aloud “How long?” to the Lord holy and true.

Thursday, November 30

Esther 2: The real villain in the Book of Esther is certainly Haman. If anyone in this book functions as a fool, however, it is arguably Ahasuerus. This first scene of chapter 2 opens with the King coming to his senses . . . or, if this is too much, coming out of his anger drunken stupor.

We recall that Vashti had been banished when, as the text says, “the heart of the king was merry with wine” (1:10). That is the say, the crisis that gives rise to the plot of this book was created because the king had drunk too much. Ahasuerus failed to take to heart the counsel given, centuries earlier, to King Lemuel by his mother: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor is strong drink for princes” (Proverbs 31:4).

By way of illustrating that verse, the author of Kings tells us that Benhadad, the King of Syria, was engaged in a drinking binge when he decided to go to war with Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 20:12).

What we have here in the Book of Esther is much worse: The king who rules all the territory from the Indus River to Ethiopia, is portrayed as issuing universal decrees while he is both drunk and angry.

We observe that only two verses separate two observations in the text. First, we are told, “the heart of the king was merry with wine.” Then, just two verses later, we read, “The king became furious and burned with anger.”

Anyone who has ever dealt with intoxicated men will recognize the pattern: The may go from merriment to anger in only a few seconds. All it takes is a provocation.

We are not certain how long Ahasuerus stayed in that drunken stupor. When he does come out of it, however, he “recalls (zakar) Vashti.” He remembers that she “what she had done, and what had been decreed against her.”

Observe the wording. He remember what Vasshti did, and he remembers “what had been decreed against her.” The passive voice here is significant. It does not say that Ahasuerus himself remembered that he had made the decree against Vashti. The whole business seems to have become vague in his mind.

After all, the banishment had not been his idea. In this book Ahasuerus does not have ideas of his own. He invariably follows the ideas of whoever is talking to him at the time, whether the advice of the royal cabinet or, as in this chapter, the counsel of his private chamberlains.

An early reader of this book, Flavius Josephus, was probably right in thinking that Ahasuerus genuinely missed Vashti. No matter, an irreversible decree had gone out in his name, and there was nothing he could do about it. Josephus observed, “But the king, being in love with her (diakeimenos de pros avten erotikos), did not hold up well with a separation. But yet, because of the law, he could not be reconciled to her. He grieved, therefore, not being able to do what he wanted to do” (Josephus, Antiquities 11.6.2. #195).

When a man in power—especially in that absolute power which, as Lord Acton commented, “corrupts absolutely”—is also given to drunkenness and anger, the last thing he needs is to be surrounded by those who cater to his every whim. Alas for Ahasuerus, who has only “yes men” about him. In the previous chapter his royal cabinet, the lords of the realm, prompted him to promulgate a universal decree which probably put the entire empire into turmoil. Now, he takes counsel from the private chamberlains, those who take care of the business of his household. On the basis of their advice he issues yet another edict: “Round up all of the good-looking young women!” Thus begins the “Search for Miss Persia.”

Friday, December 1

Esther 3: Although one might expect the next stage of the story to tell of the king’s promotion of Mordecai as an expression of the royal gratitude, it speaks, rather, of the favor bestowed an a completely different person—a stranger to the reader—someone named Haman.

Everything we need to know about Haman, at this point in the story, is conveyed in the brief identification of him as “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite.” The author expects us to remember that Agag was the king of the Amalekites, the monarch whose end is recorded in 1 Samuel 15. From that older account we know that Saul, Mordecai’s distant relative, had defeated Agag in battle. Consequently, we readers, knowing of the “bad blood” between these two families, should pay close attention to this sudden appearance of this “Agagite” in a story about a relative of Saul. Even before he tells anything else about Haman, we suspect the author is setting the scene for a “grudge match.”

Mordecai, for his part, immediately perceives the appearance of Haman as a challenge. When royal decree is proclaimed that the king’s new appointee, when he passes through the city gate, must be universally greeted with a deep bow, Esther’s uncle demurs. No bow for Haman, he resolves. No Jew is going to bow before an Amalekite; the thing is unthinkable.

In refusing to bow to Haman, Mordecai is moved by a deep and disturbing memory. He recalls that God’s People had just managed to escape the clutches of Pharaoh when “Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” At that time, after Israel’s army defeated the Amalekites while Moses prayed on top of the hill, the Lord Himself pronounced the curse that summed up what He thought of this enemy: “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” The Lord, indeed, went even further, dictating what Israel took to be the proper attitude, at all times, with respect to the Amalekites: “the Lord fights with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:8-15).
Mordecai also knows that his distant relative, King Saul, failed to implement that curse against Amalek. When Samuel invoked it with respect to Agag, Saul spared the life of Agag, disobeying the prophetic injunction, and for this disobedience the Lord rejected Saul (1 Samuel 15:1-20). Mordecai, remembering the disobedience of Saul, is determined not to repeat it. No, if Saul was rejected for treating Agag with mercy, Mordecai is certainly not about to demonstrate public obeisance to this son of Agag. Bow down to Haman? Forget it; it won’t happen.
Haman, his head held high over the prostrate forms of those who did him homage on his entrance to the city, fail to notice the solitary figure of Mordecai, who remains seated at the gate. However, two of the king’s servants take note of it and become alarmed. This kind of behavior is not safe.
Indeed, it is rebellious. Everyone remembers the fate Vashti when that unfortunate lady declined to obey the command of Ahasuerus. Now here is this Mordecai, sitting down, each day, in defiance of a royal decree. Vashti’s disregard for the husband’s authority, it was feared, would incite other women to a similar disrespect in their own homes. How much more will this defiance on the part of Mordecai provoke a spirit of rebellion in those who learn of it.
The two servants approach Mordecai several times for an explanation. ‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘I can’t do it. I am a Jew, and that’s that. You Persians would not understand, and it would take too long to explain it to you. But no homage for Haman.’ The servants, probably afraid they would be held liable for permitting this behavior of Mordecai, bring the matter to Haman’s attention.
Haman’s memory of history is just as long as Mordecai’s, and he fully understands the implications of the latter’s refusal to do him homage. One of our first commentators on this story, Flavius Josephus, understood Haman’s response: “Now there was a certain Haman, the son of Amedatha, an Amalekite by birth, who was accustomed to approach the king. . . . And when he wished to punish Mordecai, he thought it too insignificant a thing to request of the king that he alone should be punished; he resolved, rather, to annihilate the whole nation, for he was naturally an enemy of the Jews, because the Amalekites, to which he belonged, had earlier been destroyed by them” (Antiquities 11.6.5).