Esther 3:2b But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage.
Esther 3:4b for he had told them that he was a Jew.

Does the Old Testament forbid respecting authority by bowing?

Is this principle different in the New Testament? In the light of the New Testament (Rom. 13:1, Titus 3:1, 1 Pet. 2:13,18), can we take Mordecai as a pattern in this matter?

  • It is not good to accept the person of the wicked. Proverbs 18:5. – Nigel J Jul 19 '18 at 14:00
  • If you are asking strictly about a text allowing or prohibiting bowing, would examples of Israeli's bowing to David, Solomon, etc., work? Genesis 47:31 He said, “Swear to me.” So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed. 1 Samuel 24:8 - Now afterward David arose and ... saying, “My lord the king!” ... David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself. ... etc. You have to recall - God is nowhere mentioned in Esther, for a reason. And, there are very good reasons that God called Israel the "Daughter of Babylon", and "Babylon the Great". – elika kohen Jul 20 '18 at 4:10

The fact is, we do not know why Mordecai refused to bow given that numerous Bible characters bowed before superiors (eg, 1 Sam 24:8, Gen 23:7, 27:29, 33:3, etc). However, here is a suggestion that is based on the story and is at least plausible. It is possible that Mordecai was aware of the real character of Haman as a narcissistic megalomaniac (on the basis that he was later able to discover brewing treason in the court and reported it). If this is true, then it might have been that Mordecai could not bring himself to bow before such an undeserving and corrupt person. However, this is an assumption! The truth is, we do not know at the reason for Mordecai's refusal to bow is unstated.

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  • Does this principle continue in the New Testament? If a person of authority is a narcissistic megalomaniac or has another abnormal personality or corrupt character, should believers respect his position? Peter says that we should be subject to authority even if they are crooked (1 Pet. 2:18). Would this not apply if the master is too crooked? Is this principle different in extreme cases? – RobV Jul 25 '18 at 17:18
  • @RobV - There two subtleties here - (1) the fact that a person did something in the Bible does not necessarily make it a principle that we should emulate, and, (2) Mordecai recognised the authority of Haman (by obeying) but would not show honour by bowing - a personal choice for unstated reasons. – user25930 Jul 27 '18 at 22:47

Here are some answers:

Rashi suggests that Haman had considered himself a god, and therefore, Mordechai refused to bow to him as per the commandment not to bow to "other gods". (See Josephus and Esther Rabbah 7:5)

Ibn Ezra suggests that Haman had idols hanging off his clothing, so that the people bowing to him would be essentially bowing to idols. (See Talmud Bavli Megilla 19)

According to these views, the reason he did not bow was because he was Jewish.

Alternatively, the fact that he had told them that he was a Jew was unrelated to why he didn't bow, and he didn't bow for other reasons. Bowing is traditionally a sign of respect, so one easy interpretation would be that Mordechai may have felt that Haman did not deserve his respect. This is not contingent on any other presumptions or extra-biblical material.

According to this understanding, the fact that Mordechai was a Jew was unrelated to his refusal to bow, something which is also a plausible reading of the narration here.

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  • 1
    These are useful (and possible) suggestions but are all based on either extra-biblical material or what is unknown (presumptions) about the text or story. – user25930 Jul 21 '18 at 23:30
  • @DrPeterMcGowan thanks. Edited accordingly. – רבות מחשבות Jul 23 '18 at 4:00

Another plausible explanation would be that Haman the Agagite (Esther 3:1) was a descendant of King Agag who was an Amalekite (1 Samuel 15:8). The Amalekites, historically, were the persistent enemy of the Israelites and later the Jews after the northern tribe of Israel went into captivity and dispersed. The Bible shows many encounters between these two peoples (1 Samuel 15:2; 30:17-18; 2 Samuel 1:1; 1 Chronicles 4:41-43).

It could go back further and even stem from the clash between their two predecessors, Jacob and Esau (Genesis 36:12), and may explain some of the ongoing conflicts that exist in the Middle East against Israel.

To me this would go to show the animosity between the two of them as well as why Haman very quickly went from wanting kill Mordecai to wanting to destroy all the Jews (Esther 3:6).

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  • The Amalekites were wicked and made themselves enemies of God and Israel. Like you said he was a descendant of king Agag, Agag was excecuted by Samuel (1 Samuel 15:33.) God condemned the Amalekites(Deuteronomy 25:19) +1 – Ozzie Ozzie Mar 24 '19 at 19:02
  • Agree with the OP's answer as being quite plausible, but would like to add: "We also read of King Saul’s failure to fulfill God’s decree when he preserves the life of Agag, the Amalekite king (1 Sam. 15 as the Haftorah). Mordecai, a descendant of Saul’s line, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin (Est. 2:5, cf. 1 Sam. 9:1-2), must then finish off the job, so to speak." thetorah.com/why-did-mordecai-not-bow-down-to-haman (Just more meat on an already juicy bone. <s>) – tblue Mar 25 '19 at 21:05

In examining the history of the Jews during their captivity in Babylon from the book of Daniel, it could very well be that the reason is simply because Mordechai was a Jew. It is pointed out in Esther 3:4-6 that the reason that Mordechai refused to obey the decree of the king was "he was a Jew". The Jews did not follow the kings decrees as stated in verse 8, which is strange unless you consider the history of the Jewish captivity. It is very possible that after the events of Daniel in the Lions' den and the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo, that the Babylonian kings, and the Persian kings that followed, realized that exempting Jews from decrees requiring worship of anyone or anything other than their God was better than the rebellion that they faced due to their zealousness for the God of Israel. Both the Babylonians and Persians were super religious peoples and saw how God blessed the Jews for their obedience. As history would prove out, when the Greeks overthrew the Persians and conquered Judah, you can plainly see the difficulties and ultimate failure that they had as the Jews overthrew them because they refused to allow the Jews to worship God. The Romans learned from the Greeks and they allowed the Jews to worship and exempted them from certain laws. So Mordechai's refusal could have been his legal right based on not bowing down to anyone but his God. This would explain Haman's request that ALL Jews, not just Mordechai, be wiped out.

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