The king could not sleep.
He lay on his bed, arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling. Something was tugging at the back of his mind but he couldn’t exactly say what. He hated it when that happened.
He considered sending for the queen but he immediately rejected the idea. He was in no mood for any feminine company. He thought of sending for wine, to drink himself to sleep, but the thought of the headache he would nurse the next day held him back. Moreover, he resented the fact that he needed help falling asleep. Then an idea hit and he quickly embraced it. He was going to go swimming.
After doing several laps at the pool, he returned to his bedroom. Thirty minutes later, he was still wide eyed and now restless. The idea of an alcohol induced sleep was beginning to get more appealing. He had had a very busy day, going through reports from all the provinces and having series of meetings with the rulers of the provinces and the council members. His head had been heavy by the time it was over and he had been looking forward to a quiet evening of music and then a long night rest. He couldn’t fathom why sleep was eluding him.
Could it be something about the reports he had read earlier that was bothering him, he wondered. He tried to remember if there was any inconsistencies he had detected while going through the reports but he couldn’t remember any.
Music. That was the answer, he surmised. He had always found out that music soothed him and he was surprised that he hadn’t thought about it sooner. He called for the guard and sent for the palace musician. To his chagrin, the music rather than soothe him ended up grating on his nerves. Each tune struck on the harp jarred his nerves and he sent the musician away almost as soon as he came.
‘Oh but you love reading too’ his mind whispered. He nodded gently. He has always loved reading, especially books about history and chronicles of acts of the great kings that have ruled before him and even in other lands. One of his favorite books of history has been that of the Israelite kings, and he particularly enjoyed reading about king David, Israel’s second king. He had even fantasized about meeting David face to face. Maybe he was going to read about David tonight.
His thought strayed to the Israelites and all the things he had heard and read about them and he wondered what was special about them. In all his studies of world history, he had never come across any nation with such great wonders said about them. The Jews had always held a fascination for him and he had wished he could talk with any of their greatest scholar.
He was familiar with the peculiarities of their worship and how they claim to serve only one God, the creator of the heavens and earth. This God had no image and they claim He was unseen. He had always wondered how people can worship a God that they do not know how he looked like.
The Israelites too were peculiar in the manner of their defeat too. One minute, they were winning a battle were they were the underdog and doing so in mind boggling ways and the next they were in captives to nations that one wouldn’t expect to defeat them. But somehow, they always seem to bounce back and reclaim their land despite desolation and exile from their land. There was something about the Jews that fascinated him.
Is there not a Jew in all his province that he could summon, he wondered. He remembered vaguely that some months back, he was told about a Jew who had done something worth commendation and he had asked his scribes to write it down in the book of chronicles of the kings. He couldn’t remember exactly what now and his curiosity was piqued. Since he couldn’t sleep, he decided to look it up. He summoned for the book of chronicles to be brought to him and read before him.
After a few minutes of reading he was getting bored and he ordered the scribe that was reading to look for the part that had a Jew mentioned. After a few moments of shuffling pages, the scribe located the page and began to read.
The story was about a plot on the king’s life by two of his chamberlains. They were Bigthana and Teresh, two of his most trusted guards that guarded the door to the king’s private quarters. Their plot was thwarted by Mordecai the Jew, who made the report to the head of the king’s guard.
The king ordered the scribe to stop. He closed his eyes as waves of anger and disappointment washed over him again at the remembrance of the incident. When the head of his guard had told him of the plot he had disbelieved it. But it had proven to be true and he had felt sad at how fickle the human mind was. He couldn’t fathom what had made their loyalty to falter, and what was most confounding was that there had been no political undertone to their murder plot. No one had sponsored them in a bid to get to the throne. It was bizarre.
He opened his eyes and told the scribe to continue the rest of the story. He was surprised to hear that the story was over.
“No record of the reward for the Jew?” the king asked in astonishment. He would need to read all the other parts of the chronicles in the last one year, he concluded, surprised at the failure of the scribes to attend to details. He couldn’t afford for incomplete accounts to be written about his reign. Maybe he needed to make an example of the scribe that recorded that event.
The scribe noticed that the visage of the king had changed and his reply was in a very low tone and a slight tremble could be heard in his voice when he replied the king “My Lord, no reward was given to Mordecai the Jew for his act of valor and that is why there is no record of it”
“It can’t be” Xerxes the King bellowed “it is impossible”
The scribe did not reply and averted the king’s eye. Nobody wanted to be the recipient of the king’s anger. It was like a roaring inferno. Even the queen was not spared the king’s wrath.
Queen Vashti had been dethroned in a moment of anger when she had flouted the king’s summon at the feast which he hosted in the third year of his reign. It was on the seventh day of the feast when king Xerxes had summoned the queen to come to the banquet hall. He had wanted to show off her beauty to the whole council of one hundred and twenty seven rulers. She had felt debased and considered it dishonorable to be summoned by the king to be ogled by drunken men. She hadn’t foreseen the king’s wrath and it had spelt her doom. She had been banished immediately with a royal decree that could not be reversed.
The king stood up and left the scribe quivering on his seat. He paced the room and after a while he called for the head of his guard to confirm the scribe’s story. He was left puzzled when the head of his guard corroborated the story.
“This is a great mistake” he thought aloud. “How will such a great act of bravery and loyalty be left unrewarded and for so long?” he turned and addressed the scribe “what message are we trying to pass across to the people if I the king do not reward loyalty and someone who saved my life?! I am mortified”
“The king can still rectify this” the scribe offered “it is not too late to offer Mordecai the reward”
“you are right” the king nodded “I would need to do something really substantial to rectify this wrong and I would need my most senior adviser on this” speaking to the guard, he said “go to the throne room and see if there is any official around”
“My lord, Haman the son of Hammedatha has just arrived now” the guard told the king on his return.
“Send him in” he replied
Now, Haman had come to the palace to ask the king’s permission to kill Mordecai. He hated Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow to him like the other people that sat at the gate of the king’s court and that riled him. After due consultation with his friends, Haman had decided to wipe out the entire Jewish race starting with Mordecai who he was going to hang from the gallows he had dug specially.
When Haman was brought before the king, he bowed low as was the custom.
“What reward do you think is worthy for someone whom the king desires to honour?” the king asked Haman when he was seated
“If the king really wants to honor any man in his kingdom” Haman began and paused. He had to think deep about this. In the last three years he had enjoyed tremendous favor with the king and he had been promoted to head the council. He couldn’t think of anyone else the king might want to honor specially and he thought it was the king’s way of asking him what he wanted.
“Go on” the king barged into his thoughts
“If the king really wants to honor any man” he started, drawing out each word while searching for the perfect honor that he would want. And then it hit him “I would recommend that the king should order that such a man be dressed in the king’s official garment complete with the crown and staff of office, and that the man should be made to ride in the king’s official chariot and taken throughout the whole capital city. Not only that, the highest ranking official in the council should walk in front of the chariot as it drives through the city and shout ‘this is what the king does to someone he wishes to honor’”
Haman smiled satisfactorily as he finished. He could already see the procession in his mind’s eye and how he would be the talk of the whole province for years. Then afterwards, he would hang Mordecai and his day would be made.
The king was smiling too. “Brilliant!” he said, clapping his hands together “I absolutely love the idea Haman”
Haman bowed low “thank you my Lord”
“There is no better person to execute this plan than you the originator”
Haman frowned. “My Lord?”
“You are to do exactly as you said to Mordecai the Jew”
“You mean, it is Mordecai the Jew that you want to honor?” Haman was stammering. Reality struck and with such vendetta too. Mordecai! His arch enemy!
The king was getting irritated as he dismissed him “Yes, it is Mordecai the Jew that I want to honor” and as Haman was leaving he added “Make sure that you do not leave any details out, do it exactly as you have said” his tone carried an undercurrent of a threat.
Haman left the king’s chambers stunned. Hot tears pricked at his eyes and he had to summon all his will power not to break down in tears.
Mordecai was sitting in front of the king’s gate as usual. He was surprised to see Haman come to him and speak to him. Haman took him to the king’s chamber and dressed him in the king’s royal garment and gave him the staff of office. When he was done he bowed low before him and led him to the king’s chariot. Then he walked on foot and shouted “this is what is to be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor”.
The drive through the city lasted till evening. All through the drive, Mordecai was speechless. It was all surreal and he pinched himself severally to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
One question kept niggling at his mind: ‘what have I done to deserve this honor?’ it had never happened before then that any man would be honored thus, to be dressed in the king’s garments and ride in the king’s chariot! The highest reward was marrying the king’s daughter and inheriting a large estate. This here was mind blowing.
I will set him on high, because he has known My Name
Yahweh has decided to honor him. Everywhere he went that day, the people came out to see him and they bowed before him, and gave him gifts. For that day, he was the king, the emperor of the whole one hundred and twenty seven provinces. It was the greatest honor.
Once the parade was over, Mordecai rushed to his house and lay before Yahweh in worship. Only the God of heaven could give this honor to a man.
Haman rushed home with tears blinding his eyes. He had been humiliated and by no other than Mordecai! How had that happened? What twisted fate had made him arrive at the king’s court when the king decided to do such outlandish thing to a common Jew?! What folly had seized him from not asking who the king wanted to honor? How had he offended the gods that they had chosen to bring such dishonor to him?
When he got home, his friends were all present. They had gathered to hear how his request to hang Mordecai had gone. They were shocked to see him in tears. After much persuasion and consolation, he narrated his ordeal to them.
There was silence as everyman was stunned. It was a wicked twist of fate.
“So what do I do now?” Haman asked in between sobs
“This is a sign from the gods” his friend who was also an astrologer answered “this Mordecai is too powerful for you to bring down and you will never be able to prevail against him”
Haman was aghast. “Is there nothing I can do to appease the gods?”
“I am afraid that this is just the beginning of your many woes as far as this Jew is concerned”
Just then, a messenger from king Xerxes arrived and summoned him to the feast that was hosted by Queen Esther.
And true to the words of his friend, Haman’s woes had just begun.
Story adapted from the biblical account in Esther.