If you love James Bond movies or follow the American TV series Burn Notice, the real-life, continuing news story about the January 19th assassination in Dubai of the Hamas intelligence (terror) chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh makes for fascinating reading and viewing to both Middle Easterners and Westerners. Who hasn’t been fascinated to watch the hotel CCTV tapes broadcast worldwide by the media that purportedly show the hit squad stalking their kill.
Most everyone assumes the hit squad is Israeli. Like everyone else, Israel doesn’t publicly acknowledge its secret ops successes or failures—at least not for a generation or two. I’ve known a couple of people connected to intelligence work and truly mum’s the word.
Right now a variety of governments are expressing indignation publicly that the assassins dared to use their nation’s passports (British, Irish, Australian, French) issued under false identities to carry out the assignment. Like who hasn’t watched Roger Ludlum’s Bourne Identity spy thrillers! Creating false identity papers is what every nation’s intelligence service does to facilitate dirty work.
Meanwhile, the mystery just grows deeper. Who really sent Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to his own private hell? The Israelis truly had cause. Al-Mabhouh used to boast about his killing of two Israeli soldiers in the mid-1980s and even posed for pictures standing on one Israeli’s corpse.
Al-Mabhouh also directed the purchase and smuggling of arms into Gaza for Hamas. Arms smuggling involves lots of cash, lonely docks or landing strips, and a rather unsavoury circle of contacts. A double cross or did somebody not get fully paid? At least two of the suspected members of the hit squad escaped from Dubai by taking the boat across the Persian Gulf to Iran! Israeli secret agents fleeing from Dubai to Iran??? Go figure.
Now Hamas’ man in charge of its Iranian ties, Mahmoud Nasser, who worked closely with al-Mabhouh, asserts that Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence services tracked his dead boss prior to the hit. Perhaps another example of the age-old Middle Eastern proverb that says, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Or maybe this is just disinformation to cover up some sort of internal settling of accounts! Who knows?
What we do know is this—the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures has a way of settling up with each and every one of us, including Mahmoud al-Mabhouh! This past weekend was Purim, which is a Jewish holiday celebrated yearly on the 14-15th of the Hebrew month of Adar. The backstory for Purim is recounted in the book of Esther, which is part of the Hebrew Bible or Old Covenant.
In short form, the story is about a bad guy named Haman who wanted revenge. He was the prime minister of ancient Iran (Persia) during the reign of King Xerxes I (ca. 486-465 B.C.). As an Amalekite, Haman’s people had been enemies of the Jews for almost 1,000 years by that time. The people on the opposite side of this story are Esther and Mordecai. Esther became Xerxes’ queen via a competitive beauty contest but because of enemies concealed her ethnic Jewish identity by adopting a common Iranian name. Mordecai was Esther’s uncle, and adoptive father. He worked as a low-level bureaucrat in Xerxes palace.
Using his powerful position, Haman deceptively persuaded the king to allow an ethic cleansing from the Iranian empire of a “troublesome” people whom he conveniently refrained from identifying to the king. But in his orders to the empire’s leaders Haman specifically targeted all Jewish men, women, and children living in an empire that covered all the ancient Middle East from India to Greece, including Egypt.
For a Christian this is scripturally crucial because the whole story of the New Covenant and Jesus being born in Bethlehem would never had occurred if Haman’s “final solution” had been successful.
But Haman’s plot was not successful due to a remarkable series of “coincidents” and the actions of a brave young woman and her uncle as well as a small group of the palace’s servants who decided to assist Esther and Mordecai in getting rid of Haman and his fellow co-conspirators.
Most of the conflict and strife in our present world would end if we focused on these words of the Apostle Paul:
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:18-20 NKJV).
Esther and Mordecai were willing to live peaceably with all men in the multi-cultural Iranian empire of their day. But then, as today, there are men like Mahmoud al-Mabdouh who prefer using the tools of terror and war to achieve their ends. Such men forget the One who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”
We as individuals should never take the law into our own hands to resolve our personal grudges. Rather we should show kindness and patience to all men. Heaping coals on a neighbour’s head was performing a good service to another. In the days before matches and lighters, if your fire went out starting a new one was a laborious affair. It was always easier to go to a helpful neighbour and ask for some live coals from his cooking fire. They would put the burning hot coals in a clay jar, wrap up a piece of cloth in the shape of a donut, putting this on the head as an insulator/stablizer and on that you carried the jar with the hot coals. See, no hands to get burned when you carry the coals of fire on your head!
Sovereign states are different, however, from individuals. States are charged with the protection of their people. Ancient Israel was actually commanded to deal on God’s behalf with terrorists and aggressors. Should we be surprised if modern Israel successfully deals with bloody hands in a way that reminds us of God’s ironic intervention in the downfall of Haman. Haman, the duplicitous prime minister, who Xerxes ordered to be hung on the 75 foot high gallows that Haman had built the previous day for the purpose of hanging Mordecai. Talk about the biblical “ falling into a pit of your own making!” The celebration of Purim recounted in the book of Esther some 2,400 years ago, reminds us of God’s judgment and vengeance, and a brave woman who was willing to lay her life on the line in order to save her people from destruction, at the hands of the genocidal Haman.