The courage of Ukrainian leader Volodomyr Zelensky in the face of Russia’s massive onslaught has echoes of Mordecai’s bravery when the Jewish people were threatened with extermination in ancient Persia.
Like Mordecai, Zelensky is Jewish and proud of it, and is standing up for his people against merciless oppressors, which re-enacts something of what the soon-to-be-celebrated feast of Purim is all about.
It was the hated figure of Haman who, in 400 BC, laid plans to massacre all the Jews living in the vast Persian Empire.
But Mordecai exposed the plot and challenged his Jewish niece, Queen Esther, not to remain silent, but to intervene with King Xerxes on behalf of her people, saying: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
She called a three-day fast, after which she approached the King, even though it was against the law to do so without invitation, defiantly exclaiming: “If I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
Like her, Mr Zelensky is risking his life in the face of a brutal dictator, defiantly declaring “I need ammunition, not a ride” when offered the chance of being evacuated.
Haman built a gallows on which to hang Mordecai for refusing to bow to him out of respect for his lofty position. But in the end it was Haman himself who was hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.
I have a hunch that the tables may also be turned on Vladimir Putin, who would no doubt love to see the obstinate Zelensky out of the way. Like Haman of old, Putin has surely over-stretched himself by launching an unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian people.
In comparing Russia to the Nazis as they attempt to ‘erase’ his people, Zelensky called on the support of international Jewry who, he said, had a special responsibility to speak up: “I am now addressing all the Jews of the world. Don’t you see what is happening? That is why it is very important that millions of Jews around the world not remain silent right now.”
The Nazi comparison is hardly an exaggeration in the light of several, not entirely veiled, threats indicating that Russia is holding nuclear warfare as an option.
A Ukrainian man speaking to Victoria Derbyshire on the BBC told her that Russian broadcasts had for some time been suggesting that, if there’s no place for Russia in the world, there’s no place for anyone. All of which takes suicide missions to a frighteningly new level.
The determined resistance of the Ukrainian people also has echoes of how the British people pulled together as a nation in the face of the Nazi threat. And we need to seriously examine whether we have the moral fibre to face up to a similar enemy now. Tragically, I believe we are more vulnerable to attack – both spiritual and physical – than ever. It appears we are more likely to join an anti-vaxx or climate change protest than sign up for army duty against an invader.
The only way to reverse such a scenario is through a mass turning to God in repentance and faith. It was particularly heart-warming to see the BBC’s Clive Myrie focusing on the prayer and faith in God among the Ukrainians in their determination to defeat the Goliath up against them. We are all praying for them.
The onset of troubles in our midst certainly changes our perspective. As even the late pop star David Bowie is reported to have said after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, “You don’t get any atheists on the battlefield.”
I was struck by the Ukrainian refugee who explained how one day she had been concerned about home improvements, and the next she was fleeing for her life!
Even the pandemic has challenged our consumerist culture. My wife Linda, who teaches Christianity at a number of different primary schools, was amazed by how priorities had changed for many of her pupils. As Christmas approaches each year, she often asks them what they are most looking forward to. And the answers have always revolved around the anticipation of shiny new toys. But this last year was very different. With only one exception, all the classes she visited expressed their hope of spending more special time with family.
Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.” (John 14:1) He is there for you and me, and for all our friends in the Ukraine in their darkest hour. Pray for them.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.