In my morning Bible reading, I have been going through the book of Esther. Now in our circles, I am aware of a common reading of the text that says Mordecai was in the wrong for refusing to bow before Hamaan. Here are just a couple quick reasons why I can’t see it.
The reversal of Mordecai’s and Hamaan’s fortunes is a driving theme in the plot of this book (8:2). Mordecai does not appear as an overscrupulous fusser at all — the whole thing appears to me to be covenantally personal. Hamaan is descended from Agag, the king that Saul disobediently refused to kill, and Mordecai is descended from Kish, of the house of Saul. They both appear to know, throughout the book, that there are outstanding accounts remaining to be settled.
First, there is no explicit or implicit condemnation of Mordecai’s action by the writer. Second, Mordecai’s refusal to pay homage to Hamaan (3:2) comes immediately after Mordecai reported (2:21-22) a threat to the king’s life. Thus, Mordecai is clearly not refusing to bend out of some kind of misguided Jewish zealotry. Third, Mordecai is willing to receive from Hamaan what he would not render to Hamaan (6:10-11). Thus, the refusal to bow was not a principled objection to a human being receiving civil honors. It was an objection to giving homage to a skunk, an objection which God vindicated throughout the remainder of the book.