Why did the writer of Esther mention the king’s gate so many times?

mordecai-at-the-gate-overhearing-the-plotHave you ever heard the phrase, “We started from the bottom and now we’re here”? It seems cliché, but this if this phrase existed during the time of Queen Esther’s life, her story could be summed up in that one sentence. Not only did Esther make it to the top, but her adopted father, Mordecai did too. They overcame so many obstacles, and even the threat of death, to reach the point of highest superiority in the land of Persia. When Esther was taken to the palace to spend a year preparing to meet the king, Mordecai spent much time around the gates of the king’s palace. Similarly, when she was chosen by King Ahasuerus, Mordecai seems to have set up camp right around the king’s gate. Any time an issue arose in the story of Esther, Mordecai was waiting at the gate with a plan. From the perspective of a reader, it is quite odd that the writer would include the mention of Mordecai sitting at the gate so many times throughout the short book. A question that I considered when I read through the book of Esther is why the writer mentioned that Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate over and over again in such a short amount of time.

First, in order to understand the purpose behind repeatedly mentioning that Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, it is beneficial to know what gates represent as a whole. According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, gates were incredibly important in cities and towns during this period in history. The three main purposes that the dictionary provides for gates can all be connected by one word: public. First, gates could be used as “places of public resort.” Many times throughout the Old Testament, examples can be listed of people who met at a city, temple, or palace gate for a personal or public reason that was opened for the community to see or hear. Secondly, gates can be “places for public deliberation, administration of justice, or of audience for kings and rulers or ambassadors.” Gates are a sign of power. Kings and their subordinate figures of power could make decisions and announce or implement them at the gate. This is where the people could meet to rise up and rebel against a decree or a ruler that they did not like. Gates were always being watched by both guards and by citizens of the city. Lastly, the dictionary’s last purpose of a gate essentially illustrates the point that a city gate could serve any purpose that was needed. It directly states that the area around a gate was often used as a space for public markets. As demonstrated in both the Old and New Testament, “the open spaces near the gates appear to have been sometimes used as places for sacrifices.” Since there are so many uses of gates in the Old Testament, it has been difficult to pinpoint the reason that Mordecai spent so much time there. However, by asking a few more questions and researching a little more, I was able to find a better answer.

Next, in light of what I learned about the uses of city gates, I asked what was accomplished by Mordecai’s presence at the gate. One source calls the entire story of Mordecai an illustration of the “reversal of fortunes.” In a time where Jews were being persecuted, Mordecai, a Jew, was able to escape his death and save the lives of his people all over Persia. His persistence at the king’s gate played a huge role in the outcome of Mordecai’s story. First of all, in the second chapter of Esther, Mordecai is cited to be at the king’s gate when he overhears a plan to assassinate King Ahasuerus. He immediately informs Esther of the plan and ultimately saves the king’s life. His motives are unknown. Mordecai could have been worried about Esther’s safety since she was the queen or he could have genuinely been concerned for the king’s well-being since he was Esther’s husband and king of his country. The major turnaround in Mordecai’s life is when he transitioned from being sentenced to the gallows to becoming one of the highest authority figures in Persia. If nothing else was accomplished by being at the gate, Mordecai saved his life and the lives of the Jews by being in a position of power. It seems as if he knew that the gate would lead to power since he faithfully remained near it for so long. When Queen Esther intervened in Haman’s plan to have Mordecai executed, the tables turned. Haman was the one who was hanged on the gallows that he had built for the sole purpose of executing Mordecai.

The third question that I researched to find the significance of Mordecai sitting near the king’s gate relates to how his position at the gate portrays his relationship with Esther. Does he stay there because that is the closest he is allowed to be to her? Is he trying to protect her? Does he not trust the people in the palace? Why does Mordecai feel the need to remain at the king’s gate if he cannot go inside? In the second chapter of Esther, Mordecai sits at the king’s gate so that he will be updated on Esther’s wellbeing. One source says that he “regarded Esther’s lot as very unfortunate.” It is apparent through Mordecai’s actions at the beginning of the book that he is extremely alert to his surroundings. For example, the men who were plotting to kill King Ahasuerus probably were not speaking loudly. Mordecai’s lack of trust in the leaders and fatherly concern for Esther created an increased sensitivity to his surroundings.

Lastly, like the previous point, as Mordecai was acting in protection for Esther, his actions were also done in a manner that would protect himself. It was not until the end of my research that I discovered and realized that Mordecai was not just sitting on the steps outside a gate as I had imagined during my reading. He was at the king’s gate because he was a member of the king’s court. Mordecai had been given the position of advisor to the king after saving his life. Another source affirms this assertion by stating, “Mordecai’s sitting in the king’s gate confirms his holding a high position in the civil service to the empire.” Some scholars suggest that Esther’s role as queen allowed her to push Mordecai into a position of power even while keeping her family background covered. Mordecai, the Jew, was basing his actions on obedience to his God. If his God is the same, omnipotent God of the Old Testament, it can be easily assumed that He was orchestrating the series of events in Mordecai’s life, even without Mordecai realizing it. From the beginning of Esther’s reign as queen until the time that Mordecai was given power over Haman’s region in Persia, he was acting to protect Esther and be an obedient servant to his God.
 

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