Poor Mordecai

A Short Story Inspired by Ecclesiasted 9:13-18

Jeff Bell
10 min readAug 3, 2021

13 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:13–18

The Story

There was a vibrating thud; the sound of a large wood beam crashing upon the earth. The thud was immediately followed by a long, laborious creak, and then two additional thumps.

The old man rose to his elbows from his tattered mat, wiping the sleep from his eyes, and shaking the rust off his weathered limbs. He knew immediately what caused the sound. All he waited for now was to see why it came at this unexpected hour.

The answer was instantly revealed with the accompanying sound of hoof claps stomping along the hardened path. In a flash, a giant silvery horse with its armed rider bound past the old man. Immediately following, there was another long creak and two more thuds. The city gate was once again closed.

His eyes were not what they used to be, but he had a good suspicion who was on the horse and what sort of errand he was on. This was no ordinary soldier; this was a high-ranking sentinel, who was obviously hurrying to relay a dire message back to his commanding officer.

Pulling himself onto his rickety feet with the help of a knotted staff, the old codger continued to watch the disappearing path of the horse and its rider. Mordecai (this was the old man’s name) then slipped back into the shadows and slowly made his way towards the inevitable destination.

At morning’s first light, Joab the army commander, along with Abner, the soldier who raced into the city a few hours earlier, entered into an impressive room with a grand table, which could easily seat 40 men, at its centre. Within a couple of minutes they were joined by another half-dozen highly decorated men of war. Together with lowered voices, they were hurriedly trying to come up with an action plan to present their sovereign, but before much could be accomplished, the door swung open to make way for the final guest. First, eight crimson and gold, gowned guards marched into the room creating two parallel lines, four on each side, facing one another and standing at attention. Once in position, between the royal guards walked in the King. Immediately everyone else rose to their feet.

“At ease, at ease,” said the king to his guards, and to the men standing up from the table, as he moved towards the head position.

“Your, Majesty, the reason we have called to meet with you so early in the morning,” began Joab.

“Please! Now is not the time for pleasantries, and polite explanations.” The brash young king interrupted.

He continued confidently: “It is before six in the morning, and I know I am not brought forth for council because of some trifling issue. I am young, and I may be new to the throne, but please be assured, I have enough wisdom to know when serious trouble is at hand! Do not waste my time — share what you know and what plans you have to deal with it!”

Over the next few minutes, all that was known was explained to the king. As more and more details were delivered, his majesty’s confident expression was soon replaced with the pale face of horror. Here is a brief summary of the terrifying news given to the king on this solemn morning.

For some years king Amalek of the nearby nation of Aram had been threatening war on the land. Neither the king, nor his father before him had taken Amalek’s threats seriously. Never believing Amalek had either the military strength or the personal courage to follow through with his intimidations. The grim reality was now sinking in; this was no bluff. It was apparent, Amalek had been secretly amassing his forces and armaments, and was currently advancing towards the royal city in the hopes he would overwhelm the unsuspecting and unprepared kingdom.

Abner filled in some of the specifics of what he and his men had discovered. He estimated Amalek was marching with 25 to 30,000 strong, with at least 600 chariots, and figured they would reach the city gates by nightfall of three days.

The king’s voice cracked when asking the commander, “How many soldiers are combat ready within the city, and how many additional troops will be available before the onslaught?”

Joab replied, “Hardly enough, six to eight-thousand at the most. Nor do have ready the arms and supplies to equip for a battle of this magnitude.

After the commander finished sharing the stark reality, his voice lowered, and with an expression of humiliating defeat uttered, “My Lord, we have little hope. I am afraid, our end is nigh.”

Upon these words, the great chamber filled with a foreboding silence. It took a subtle cough from a dark corner of the chamber to finally break the hush. In an instant, all the men, with the exception of the king, were on their feet. With a quick nod of Joab’s head, two guards swiftly subdued the one responsible for the interruption.

With a prompt little chuckle, the accosted man began to speak-up. “He-he! I am no threat; just a frail old man; the one the city folk call, ‘Poor Mordecai.”

Joab was about to order poor Mordecai’s immediate execution, when the king raised his hand to stay the blow. The king beckoned, “Let’s hear him out. See if he has anything to add to our predicament. Whether he dies today, or in three days by the hand of our enemies is of little matter.” He then asked, “How did you get into this chamber? And what do you have to say old man to all you have no doubt heard?”

Mordecai, shuffled himself away from the drawn blades, and settle himself into the chair farthest from the king. taking a moment or two before looking up, as if intentionally bowing his head in silent prayer. When he finally lifted his gaze, he stroked his gnarly grey beard, saying, “My lads, ‘Wisdom is far better than weapons of war.’ If you choose to fight this battle with muscle you will lose, but if, and only if, you choose to battle with wisdom; well then, you might have half a chance of victory!”

Mordecai, continued, “A very wiseman once said, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’ Lads, you ask me how I came to be in this room? I came in, by knowing where I ought to be, and when I ought to be there. I came in by being seen, but by never being observed. And I suspect, if you want to win this battle, you will employ the same strategy. You are worried, you don’t have enough soldiers, my worry is, you have too many.”

After Mordecai spoke these words, even Joab lowered his blade moving closer to listen more intently to this unlikeliest of new field commanders.

The king beckoned Mordecai to continue. Over the next hour, poor Mordecai devised a plan even the most suspicious were beginning to believe might actually give them a sporting chance.

With grandfatherly patience, He shared with these men of action: “You understand, once the army arrives, they cannot attack right away. They will need to set-up camp and siege works, as well as offer their conditions of surrender, giving us the necessary time to consider.” Then with a gleam in his eye, he added, “No doubt powerful; this army still runs on the same fuel we all require — they will need water.”

The king looked puzzled, until Mordecai explained: “There is only one source of water coming into our city, and it will be the only source of water our enemy will have access to. Over the next two days. Get everyone to take in as much clean water as they can. Make sure all the cisterns are overflowing and every barrel to the brim. Then we will temporarily contaminate the water source before they arrive. They will never think we would poison our own well. This way, it will be those little bugs in the water who will do the fighting for us.”

Then with a wide grin, and a little chuckle Mordecai finished, “You see, it is very hard for any man, no matter how strong, to fight effectively when he is bringing-up his breakfast!”

With great interest the king and his leading men, listened to every detail of Mordecai’s plan. They were struck with how simple and ingenious it was. Realizing there was far more to the old beggar than anyone had imagined and with no alternative options they agreed on Mordecai’s strategy, and quickly began the implementation, which they carried out to perfection.

As predicted, three days later, with all his pomp and power, King Amalek arrived with his vast army at the city’s gates. There Amalek made his demands and bellowed his threats. Ironically, within two days, the same proud King found himself pitied and powerless with his army lying defeated on the hillside, and himself sharing an infested cell with the dungeon rats.

After the shocking victory, there was a week of exuberant celebration. The climax of the celebration was a grand parade that wound its way through the city streets leading towards the steps of the royal city’s holy temple. There was a throng of applause as General Joab led the procession with his valiant men in arms following inline. Finally, there were shouts of, “Long live the King!” As the people’s ruler was carried through the streets as the great hero; bringing a climactic conclusion to the procession.

After the parade was over, the king ascended the marble steps, so all could see and hear. Once in position, the clatter of praise stilled as the loyal citizens waited in anticipation to hear the words of their brilliant leader, who successfully delivered them through one of the nation’s darkest hours.

With great confidence the king began to speak. He expressed admiration for the bravery of his people, the heroism of his army, and the steadfast faith of all those who carried out his brilliant plan. As he neared the end of his tribute, he welcomed two military men to join him for special accommodation. The king first commended Abner the sentinel, who observed the enemy’s movements, and then raced as fast as the wind to share the horrifying news. Secondly, the king extoled Joab, the army general, who brilliantly carried out the humiliating defeat of their dysentery-depleted foes. To each of these men, the king pinned a medal of honour to their chests, and a garland of flowers around their necks to eruptions of applause. The two men then descended the stairs as the king concluded his speech.

The king promised his people, he would continue to lead them into prosperity and success through his great wisdom and humility, if only they would continue to trust in him. Upon finishing, the people continued to celebrate and cheer well into the night, continuously crying out, “Long live the King!

Everyone seemed mesmerized by the dignity and confidence of their beloved leader. Everybody but one. Near the finale of the king’s oration, there was one soul who was no longer looking to the king, instead he was scanning the crowd. He was looking for someone. Someone who was not part of the parade, and someone who was curiously absent from any special honour. Suspecting he wasn’t among the masses, he silently slipped away to begin his search. Guessing correctly, he continued toward the city gate. It was inside the gate’s inner chamber where he discovered the one he was looking for.

On a wooden bench lay the tattered mat, and resting peacefully on top was a weathered old soul. The gentleman bent down to awaken the slumbering saint, who he knew was the unsung hero of the day. It was as he knelt down to tug on the man’s shoulder, he realized the beggar’s body was cold and lifeless. The man turned the body over respectfully, crossing the arms reverentially against his chest. After a moment, he once again stood over his fallen comrade. Turning back a moment, he listened to all the whoop and holler going on in the distance, shaking his head in sorrow. Then looking down towards the departed sage; wiping moisture from his eyes, he removed the medal of honour from his own chest, and Abner gently clasped it into the hands of poor Mordecai.

The End

13 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:13–18