[Note: This is the prepared text for a message given to the United Church of God congregation in The Dalles, Oregon, on Sabbath, October 2, 2021.]
It might come as no surprise to you that you cannot find the word snitching in the Bible. It is perhaps more of a surprise that snitching is referred to in the Bible explicitly and described frequently over the course of both the Old and New Testaments. We have been discussing the ten commandments and this verse can be considered a follow-up message to the one on lying. In our first message on the Ten Commandments we talked about the limitations to the requirement to tell the truth by talking about when we are not obligated to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Today we will talk about the other side of the story. When are we obligated to tell on someone else, and when is it a bad thing when snitching takes place? This message will be divided into three parts. In the first part I will introduce some of the examples and stories we have of snitching in the Bible that provide both positive and negative examples of the practice. In the second part I will focus on the book of Esther and the role of snitching as a key driver of the plot of the book. In the third and final part of this message I will spend a brief bit of time discussing snitching in the church as a barrier and hindrance to reconciliation.
With that said, let us begin. Where do we find snitching in the Bible, and how is it named? Let us first turn to Deuteronomy 17:2-7 and look at how it is that the practice of snitching is both named in the Bible and how it is is embedded as an essential part of biblical law. This passage sets up a pattern that we will see repeated and that we will view as being an aspect of snitching in the Bible that helps it find its legitimate place and set its boundaries. Deuteronomy 17:2-7 reads: ““If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing His covenant, who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination has been committed in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones. Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you.”
Here we see, in a nutshell, both how snitching is described in the Bible and what its purpose was in the larger legal system of ancient Israel. What we call snitching is where relevant authorities are being told some sort of bad report about what someone else is doing, and here we see that the bad report that authorities receive is supposed to trigger an investigation to prove whether this report is or is not in fact true, after which there are penalties up to and including the death penalty depending on what sin or wrongdoing is involved. Snitching was the initial step which clued the authorities in that something was wrong, and that set the whole investigative and punitive aspects of the legal system in motion. Let us keep this thought in mind, because we will be returning to it.
Snitching was not only embedded in the legal process of ancient Israel as we have seen above, but one of its forms, that of espionage and intelligence reports, was also embedded in the military practice of ancient Israel. There are numerous famous examples of Israel’s spying that we could go to, including the stories of the twelve spies spent to look at Canaan, among whom ten gave an evil report and died because of the way that they discouraged the people of Israel, as well as the spying of Jericho that led to the salvation of Rehab the innkeeper and her family from the destruction of that city–an example we will return to later–but I would like us to go to a more obscure example that demonstrates the reputation for spying that Israel had. Let us look at 2 Samuel 10:1-4. This is an example in King David’s reign and it demonstrates that not only did Israel depend on receiving reports as part of its general military operations but was known to do so by its neighbors and potential enemies. As it is written in 2 Samuel 10:1-4: “It happened after this that the king of the people of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his place. Then David said, “I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent by the hand of his servants to comfort him concerning his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the people of Ammon. And the princes of the people of Ammon said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you? Has David not rather sent his servants to you to search the city, to spy it out, and to overthrow it?” Therefore Hanun took David’s servants, shaved off half of their beards, cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away. ” David, for all of his sincerity in honoring someone who had likely helped David because they had common enemies in Saul, was still an Israelite king, and as such was assumed by the foolish counselors to the young king of Ammon to be spying out the kingdom in preparation to attack it, and by their disrespect for David’s emissaries provoked a war that ended up destroying–at least for a time–the freedom and independence of their nation. The acquisition of information has always been vitally important to the leaders of Israel and the Bible makes it plain how vital this matter is.
The Bible is full of references to snitching, and I would like us to take a brief tour of various examples that detail how it is that this process took place. Let us start with a story involving Joseph. In fact, let us go to the beginning of the Joseph story in Genesis 37:1-4, because snitching is at the heart of what divided Joseph and his brothers. Genesis 37:1-4 reads as follows: “Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.”
It is interesting to note here that at the age of seventeen, Joseph was already a sufficiently observant person to defend his father’s interests by giving a bad report of his half-brothers to his father. The fact that Joseph was obviously aligned with his father’s interests and not with the interests of those brothers accounts in part for the fondness that Jacob felt for his eleventh son and also for the hatred that his brothers had for him. It is also telling that when Joseph’s older brothers sold him into slavery that no one snitched on the others and told their father that Joseph had in fact not died. Had they been more interested in his feelings and the interests of the truth than their own petty vendettas, they could have saved their father years of wasted sorrow and mourning. Let us us also note, because this point will become important later, that we have to consider that Joseph’s willingness to snitch also made him worthy as a servant of both Potiphar and Pharaoh and also accounted for his suitability for high office. This is something we will return to when we look at the example of Mordecai in the book of Esther.
Let us look at a different example of snitching and its repercussions, or lack thereof, in the case of 1 Samuel 2:22-25. Here we see the example of snitching as it happened with regards to the evil conduct of Eli’s sons and their resulting judgment by God. 1 Samuel 2:22-25 tells us: “Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them.”
Here again Eli brings to his sons the evil report that had been spread about them. To be sure, Eli’s own response is far too mild in light of the seriousness of the founded accusations that were made against them, but the fact that Eli listened to the bad report and took it seriously enough to warn his children about the seriousness of God’s judgment against those who perverted the priesthood was very worthwhile. It is unfortunate that Eli’s sons did not realize that their being reported on was for their own good, for they had purposed to do evil, and so the Eternal purposed to destroy them.
Snitching was such an institutionalized aspect of the Bible that it was assumed to be the reality for people to deal with, which would be good for us to understand as well when it comes to political matters. Ecclesiastes 10:20 gives us warning that many of us, myself included, would do well to heed. Ecclesiastes 10:20 says: “Do not curse the king, even in your thought; do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; for a bird of the air may carry your voice, and a bird in flight may tell the matter.” Here we see that the Bible warns us that speaking evil of the powerful may have repercussions because we are likely to be reported on to those authorities, and this prudential wisdom is something that we would do well to remember. Evil regimes are especially dependent on keeping the people under their misrule in fear, and a big part of that fear comes from the punishment dished out to those who speak out against their abusive rule and tyranny. Nazi Germany had its concentration camps, the Soviet Union had its gulags, and Communist China has its laogai, and all of them and other similar institutions of punishment are filled with people who were reported on by their friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and others. Given the state and trend of our own society, we would do well to pay attention to this warning from Ecclesiastes accordingly.
Let us also note, because it needs to be noted, that not all snitching in the Bible was positive. In Daniel 6:1-12, we see how it was that the satraps of the Persian Empire, who wanted to do away with the upright and godly Daniel, manipulated the ruler of Persia into making a decree that Daniel would disagree in order to obey God and thereby put himself under judgment. Let us examine how this happens in Daniel 6:1-12: “It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss. Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” So these governors and satraps thronged before the king, and said thus to him: “King Darius, live forever! All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.” Therefore King Darius signed the written decree. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king’s decree: “Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.””
Here we have a negative example of snitching, and what makes it bad is several elements. For one, the governors are themselves evildoers and are upset at Daniel because he is just and incorruptible. In addition to this, their snitching is unjust because they first manipulate the king into making a law that would ensnare Daniel and then they turn around and snitch on Daniel as breaking a law that they knew he would break, and one that Daniel breaks so openly that he opens his windows to pray before God in full and open awareness that he may be watched by others. Daniel is not sinning in secret, as it were, but remaining faithful to God despite the legal trouble he is doing and doing so openly. And so it is that God delivers him from the lions’ den but makes sure that the lions kill the wicked governors who plotted against Daniel instantly.
Having seen an example of negative snitching in the Bible, where instead of reporting on evildoers by the righteous, the evildoers seek to ensnare those who do what is right, let us now turn to an example of snitching that does not happen with predictable and lamentable consequences. I mentioned earlier that we would return to the context of Jericho and now let us look at what happened with Achan and his family after the fall of Jericho for their theft and their refusal to report on it to the leadership of Israel. We find this story in Joshua 7:10-25, and it is interesting to note here how the snitching happens that brings Achan to justice. Joshua 7:10-25 reads: “So the Lord said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you. Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the Lord God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.” In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the Lord takes shall come according to families; and the family which the Lord takes shall come by households; and the household which the Lord takes shall come man by man. Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.’ ” So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. He brought the clan of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. Then he brought his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.” So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it. And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the Lord. Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.
Let us note what happened here. Joshua and the rest of Israel’s leadership were not aware that someone had taken what had been prohibited to Israel when they placed Jericho and its property under the ban and had devoted it as a burnt offering to God. It is God who snitched on Achan by telling Joshua that someone had stolen from the property of Jericho and He determined by lot that Joshua and the leaders of Israel would know who it was who had been done wrong little by little, tribe by tribe and family by family, until it came upon the guilty party and he confessed his sin. It is of little wonder that he was punished for his theft, but it is also interesting that his entire family as well was put to death because no one reported on him to the relevant authorities. Had they reported, Achan would have suffered himself for his sins but they would have delivered their own lives. By their refusal to tell on the evil of their relative, they shared in his punishment. Anti-snitching codes, such as are common in criminal elements of our society, bring judgment to a wider section of society because to refuse to report on evil to relevant authorities is to condone and approve of that evil, and therefore to be worthy of the same punishment as those who commit those evils.
Having examined how it is that snitching appears in the Bible and is generally legitimate within certain boundaries–namely that it is the righteous snitching on the unrighteous to the proper authorities, and that it is assumed that snitching is going to be present in human institutions, let us now turn our attention to an extended example of the vital importance of snitching to the safety and well-being not only of rulers but also as loyal subjects of these nations. We will choose for our case study in snitching the book of Esther, which contains at its core the skillful exploration of both proper and improper forms of snitching in a way that demonstrates the way that it can be abused by those like the wicked Haman but also how it can serve the interests of the godly like Mordecai and Esther and how it ultimately serves our own interests if we are as shrewd and as wise as they are.
Though we might not think about it, the book of Esther begins with a story that provides the importance of snitching and also of framing the behavior of people in a framework that allows for political advancement. Let us look at what is written in Esther 1:12-22 and see what it says about the importance of politically astute conversation in the world of the Persian Empire, and by implication in our own world as well: “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him. Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom): “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?” And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath. If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small.” And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan. Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.”
Let us analyze this scene. First, we have a drunk Persian emperor seeking to show off his attractive wife, and she is uninterested in being paraded in such a fashion. While our contemporary generation may be inclined to be sympathetic to Vashti, the Bible views this as an offense against the authority of her husband, the Persian Emperor, and her refusal to come when her husband calls is what provides the opportunity for the virtuous and godly Esther to reach high position. Let us also note how this happens. First, we see that the refusal of the queen to come is communicated to the king, who is understandably upset, an anger that is fueled by her offense, by his inebriated state, and by his hotheaded nature, which we will see later. It is by a shrewd understanding of this nature that one of his counselors, the clever Memucan, frames Vashti’s personal (and perhaps at least partially understandable) offense against him as a larger feminist threat that will encourage women in general to be rebellious against the just and proper authority within the household of their husbands, which encourages Ahasuerus not only to put away Vashti (and open the path for Esther to become his queen) but also to write a law to bolster the authority of men within their own households. It is not the king coming to this by virtue of his (probably limited) personal intelligence, but rather that he has people who are skillful at communicating to him that which is in both his supposed interests as well as the interests of the speaker.
Immediately after this, we see that it is the servants of the Persian emperor who inform him about how to deal with the absence of female company in his life in Esther 2:1-4. I have to admit a bit of personal envy in how this is dealt with. Esther 2:1-4 reads: “After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s servants who attended him said: “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king; and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel, into the women’s quarters, under the custody of Hegai the king’s eunuch, custodian of the women. And let beauty preparations be given them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This thing pleased the king, and he did so.” As a historical note, the Russian emperors used to practice precisely this same method of having beauty pageants where likely brides among the noble boyar class were chosen to be Tsarina by unmarried Tsars. Here we see that the lonely Ahasuerus is informed by his servants of a likely way to find a replacement for Vashti.
After Esther wins favor first with Hegai, whose shrewd advice to her also allows her to win the favor of the Persian king, we see that snitching is vital in providing the means by which Mordecai and Esther would provide for their own well-being personally as well as that of their people as a whole. We find this at the end of Esther 2 in verses 19 through 23. Here we see the essential nature of snitching as providing for the well-being of both informant and ruler. Esther 2:19-23 reads: “When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate. Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him. In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name. And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.”
Here we find a situation that mirrors that of the law in Deuteronomy 17. Mordecai becomes aware of a report that two eunuchs intend to lay hands on the Persian emperor, and he passes the report along to Esther, who reports it to the king in Mordecai’s name, providing the opportunity (which would happen later on) for Mordecai to be properly rewarded for his loyalty to the Persian monarchy as expressed through his willingness to inform on evildoing and that evil report is then investigated, confirmed, and then results in the death penalty on those who have done evil in attempting to overthrow their ruler.
When Haman wishes to manipulate the Persian emperor in order to destroy not only his personal enemy Mordecai but also Mordecai’s people, the Jews, Haman frames it as an act of snitching against a disloyal and restive population. Esther 3:8-11 tells us how this is done. Let us now therefore look at Esther 3:8-11, which reads: “Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.” So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you.””
Let us take a bit of time to stop and pause and reflect upon this saying. We know that Haman was like the enemies of Daniel whom we read about in Daniel 6 in seeking to frame the religious devotion of godly believers as being an offense against the laws and ways of a Gentile monarchy. There is always tension between the behavior of godly people and ungodly realms and societies. Yet there is something that remains pointed about Haman’s argument. If it is indeed true that God’s people are hostile to the laws and ways of the nations we find ourselves in, then the rulers of those societies will see fit to destroy as best as they can believers like ourselves who are scattered within their realms. Mordecai and Esther expressed, by their willingness to seek the well-being of the ruler, demonstrated that Haman was lying in saying that they were disloyal to the regime. This is important to realize, because if we become too hostile to the authorities where we happen to live, we reveal that there is a contradiction between the laws of the land and the laws of God, and our loyalty to our higher citizenship in heaven will make us, to that extent, disloyal citizens of earthly realms. And that disloyalty, wherever and to whatever extent it exists, puts believers in danger of suffering persecution to the point of martyrdom accordingly.
It is perhaps unsurprising that in the very next chapter of the Bible there is yet more snitching, when Esther sends one of her eunuchs to report on Mordecai and Mordecai in turn reports on the machinations and plotting of the wicked Haman in Esther 4:1-9. Esther 4:1-9 reads: “
When Mordecai learned all that had happened, [a]he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. 2 He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes. So Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed. Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs whom he had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was. So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate. And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries to destroy the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people. So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.'”
Here we see an example of the way that snitching provides essential communication. Esther’s desire to know what was going on with Mordecai leads to Mordecai using this as a conduit to safely communicate a threat to their mutual survival and well-being, which allows Esther and Mordecai to fast and pray and plan to act in order to deliver their people from the treat of genocide. This can only happen when communication flows between those who know and those who need to know. Our societal hostility towards snitching prevents this vital communication from taking place, and reminds us that as we are beings who do not possess unlimited knowledge that we need to be informed, and being informed often occurs through snitching on the plans of evildoers that must be overcome and thwarted.
Let us now turn a few chapters ahead and look at how it was that Esther snitched–to the king and to Haman himself–about Haman’s wickedness, in Esther 7:1-6. Here we see that the communication between the godly allows for this information to surprise and ultimately defeat the schemes of evildoers. Esther 7:1-6 reads: “So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther. And on the second day, at the banquet of wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!” Then Queen Esther answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king’s loss.” So King Ahasuerus answered and said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing?” And Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!” So Haman was terrified before the king and queen.”
Now, Haman did not know that Esther was a Jew, and did not know that Mordecai was her closest living relative who had raised her as an orphan. This information–which would have been useful to Haman–was concealed from him, but it was the communication between Mordecai and Esther that allowed for this happy outcome to take place. Had they been less free in their own discussion, they would have not been as shrewd and wise in their dealings and not as able to seek the best interests of their people in dangerous times and circumstances. Indeed, how dangerous these times were can be examined by looking at the last example of snitching we will discuss from Esther today, which we see in the rest of Esther 7 from verses eight through ten. Esther 7:8-10 reads: “When the king returned from the palace garden to the place of the banquet of wine, Haman had fallen across the couch where Esther was. Then the king said, “Will he also assault the queen while I am in the house?” As the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, “Look! The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king’s behalf, is standing at the house of Haman.” Then the king said, “Hang him on it!” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s wrath subsided.” Here we see that snitching allowed Haman to reach the poetic end of being literally hung on his own gallows that he had made to destroy the righteous and godly Mordecai. And it was this Mordecai whose closeness with Esther, righteous conduct in general, and proven loyalty to Ahasuerus that allowed him to be chosen as the second command of the Persian empire, and a reminder of the political importance of snitching.
So far today we have seen over and over again that snitching is political. Every example of snitching we have seen so far deals with politics on some level, and often on several levels at the same time, and it is worthwhile to discuss these layers in order to better understand the place of snitching within God’s plan for institutions like the family, church, and state. Snitching is the means by which communication about things that should not be going on moves from those who witness of and who are bothered by such evil doings to those that have the authority and responsibility to do something about it. Giving an honest but bad report of those doing bad things is what allows evil to be punished in a timely manner. People can only act based on their knowledge, and that knowledge frequently comes to them from the secret informants all around them. These informants are present in families, congregations, workplaces, communities, and anywhere where people observe the conduct of others who are sometimes oblivious of how much they are being watched and placed under surveillance. Where no evil exists, snitching itself does not exist in a godly sense, because the godly limit themselves to delivering a true faithful report of what they see and experience. In that sense snitching is closely tied as an act of intelligence gathering that is a form of spycraft, albeit once that is usually exercised in one’s own normal surroundings.
Similarly, it important to note, as we have already commented on at several points, that snitching is a means by which ordinary people demonstrate their loyalty to those who are in authority. A child who snitches on the bad behavior of siblings, as Joseph did, demonstrates his or her loyalty to parental authority in stark contrast to the unrighteous siblings. Similarly, Mordecai and Esther proved their loyalty to the Persian emperor, and thus demonstrated that the attempted bad report from Haman was a lie. Had Mordecai or Esther heard of the threatened assassination attempt from two of the Persian eunuchs and kept silent about it, they would have been viewed as being in sympathy with the assassins. It was their willingness to report what they saw and to demonstrate their open loyalty to the Persian throne that preserved their lives and safety in the face of Haman’s machinations and plots. Absent this loyalty, the Persian king would have had no reason to reward Mordecai or to react the way he did to the threat that Haman’s plotting had on his beloved and very loyal queen. We can see this from the example of Achan, against whom God Himself had to bring a report because none of Achan’s family or neighbors or associates, who could have seen and reported on his shady dealings and therefore avoid the defeat of Israel in the first battle of Ai. Just as snitching reveals the loyalty of people to their rulers and leaders, so to the refusal to report on what one sees or hears to authority demonstrates one’s ultimate lack of identification and loyalty to those authorities, which can have dire consequences.
What does all of this mean for us as believers here and now? How can we distinguish in our conduct whether we are being godly informants like Joseph and Mordecai and not like the ungodly Haman or the governors who tried to overthrow Daniel? For one, we should note that to the extent that we are informing on someone’s evildoing with largely disinterested motives, we are providing necessary information to those authorities on what is going on wrong that they need to know about and respond to. We should remember, though, that we are not to pursue snitching as a means of pursuing our own personal and private vendettas. One of the areas that both Haman and Daniel’s fellow governors fellow short in was their use of misleading information in order to pursue their own private hostility against a godly person and to manipulate authorities in order to seek their own interests and not the interests of those authorities (and all law-abiding people) in genuine peace and safety that results from the suppression and punishment of evildoers.
Viewed in this light, let us look at what is written about informing on our fellow brethren in Matthew 18:15-17. Here we see an order of operations when it comes to dealing with a fellow member of God’s church who sins against us. Let us note that if snitching is the first step in the larger criminal proceedings that exist against evildoers that it is the last step of our own attempt to deal with those who have wronged us. Matthew 18:15-17 reads: ““Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
If one wants a very detailed discussion of reconciliation with those who have wronged us in the church, I can wholeheartedly recommend a six-part sermon series by Mr. Gary Petty on the Ministry of Reconciliation. But more briefly it is worthwhile to mention that snitching is not the way that we should be dealing with our problems with others. To the extent that others are willing to listen to us and to repent of their offenses against us, we should always first go to the offending brother or sister rather than to authorities. And before we move up to authorities we should seek those in good faith who can help encourage reconciliation. Once we have reported someone to the authorities, whether or not a person repents of their evil deeds determines whether they are to be restored as a brother or sister or whether they are to be treated as a heathen and tax collector and enemy. And this is not a small step to take.
That said, when we are dealing with what we witness among our neighbors and community, it is entirely appropriate that believers should have a reputation as seeking the establishment and maintenance of a just law and order by the reporting of criminal conduct to the appropriate neighborhood watches. We should not have a reputation as believers for being evildoers ourselves or being the sort of people who are trusted by those who are actively defying the laws of God and man. And, furthermore, to the extent that we do not believe that we have sufficient loyalty to those who are in authority over us to report on that which we witness and hear, because our loyalties are with those who are hostile to what we view as unjust and corrupt and evil authorities, we need to think very hard about whether or not we wish to continue being under such authorities in light of our estrangement from and discontent with them. Snitching is a political act, and by the communication we provide and refuse to provide about what we see and hear, we provide evidence of our political stance, and the choice to communicate or refuse to do so can have deep and serious consequences.
Excellent! I have often pondered the issue of the 18 soldiers who were slain in the first foray against Ai. They could have been the ripple effect of Achan’s sin or–more importantly–they may have witnessed Achan’s theft and not reported it. Soldiers were crawling around everywhere after Jericho crumbled, and Israel’s army was massive. No one was an island in such a circumstance. Even if he tried to be furtive in his actions, he was bound to be seen. I reference Moses’ killing of the Egyptian guard in secret. No one was around, but there was at least one witness who snitched on him.
Yes, Moses’ example was a good one. He certainly thought he was behaving secretly but he was still recognized and someone told on him.
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