Devotional: Esther Chapter 3 – A Plot

 

Haman’s Plot to Destroy the Jews

 1) After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman, son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.

Agagite is often thought to be referring to King Agag of the Amalekites that King Saul did not kill in disobedience to God and Samuel killed instead. Mordecai earlier is said to be from the house of Benjamin and a son of Kish, which is the same house as King Saul was from. The Amalakites and the Isealities have animosity that goes all the way back to when the Israelites were escaping Egypt and fought with the Amalekites in the wilderness under Moses. There would have been a generational dislike between Haman and Mordecai that went farther back than just a conflict of personalities.

There is no reason given for Haman’s rise in power. It could have been for a good act, or it could have been political maneuvering in a not so ethical way.

2) All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

Some commentaries said that the reason Mordecai didn’t bow was religious, but it seems that he does bow to the king. Esther later also bows to the king. In other books of the Bible, Israelites bow to foreign kings, just not to idols or images of the king in worship. I would say that there is not a religious reason for Mordecai not to bow, but one of personal conflict. Mordecai does not see Haman as worthy of honor and as an enemy of the Jews. 

 3) Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?”

4) Day after day, they spoke to him, but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.

It is remarkable how often we take a stance on something important to us that we are then told we are being difficult. Mordecai has already been depicted as a good and honorable man loyal to the king and saved the king’s life. Even though we are not given the reason for Mordecai’s refusal to bow, we are lead to believe that it must be for a good reason. Whatever the reason, he apparently feels very strongly about it and creates the conflict here.

Have you ever had this happen to you when you tried to stand up for something and were called difficult?

5) When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged.

6) Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.

This would seem over the top for just a conflict between two men to escalate to killing all the Jews, but we see the generational animosity playing out. Apparently, Haman sees Mordecai’s behavior as the typical behavior of all Jews. We see this happen to the Jewish people throughout history over and over again. They are often despised for being arrogant, self-serving, and stubborn, so people want to “put them in their place.” When someone is extremely good at what they do, often, instead of being celebrated, insecure people point out their flaws, put them down, and make sure they know that they aren’t better than anyone else. This is why bullies in workplaces often target highly accomplished people who are kind and good. They try to step on those people because they see them as competition. Have you been bullied for being good at something or for being confident in a situation?

 7) In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur(that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.

The 12th year means Esther has been Queen for five years now.

The pur is like rolling dice, but it was often done by priests, magicians, or astrologers. This a common practice in Persia. It was leaving a vital choice up to the gods depending on who was rolling the lots. The idea was that if the gods choose the day, then they will have favor on it. 

 8) Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.

 9) If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”

 10) So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.

11) “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.”

Haman does some very artful persuasion. He started with a truth, “a people who are dispersed,” then a half-truth “whose customs are different,” and then a lie “who do not obey the King.” He tops it all off with an appearance of virtue and earnestness by offering to pay for this decree himself, but he would have gotten all his money back in plundering the Jews anyways.

 12) Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring.

This decree was issued on the 13th, but the 14th day was the first day of Passover for the Jews. Ironically, this decree would have been heard during a festival celebrating the Jew’s deliverance from Egypt. Perhaps this was God’s reminder to them to not worry. It is interesting how many modern Jewish holidays consist of “they tried to get us, we escaped, now let’s eat!”

Purim, which is March 12 this year (2017), celebrates Esther’s story and the day they were delivered. Passover is just a month away, around the time of Easter. The Jews had almost a whole year to fret about this decree coming to pass.

 13) Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

14) A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

15) The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.

This last verse is interesting. Apparently, the people of Susa didn’t hate the Jews so much that they would have seen this command as reasonable. Perhaps other small people groups were worried that this would happen to them too. The king did not seem to be really paying attention to what is going on. He is ruling a colossal empire and probably has trust in many people to help him run it. He most likely sees this decree as putting down a revolt in some distant land since uprisings and riots were common in many empires throughout history. Keeping an empire together was often a constant task of dealing with rebellions over and over again, but the people of Susa seem aware that the Jews hadn’t done anything wrong and are puzzled.

As Christians, there are times when people do just lie about us and plot against us for no good reason. I often find myself first looking to see what I did wrong. It is good to do this first, but sometimes it is our Christian faith and Christian behavior that causes this hatred. Jesus says that the world is not hating us, but Him.