For four years, things have been peaceful in Shushan. Esther has reigned as queen, and Mordecai has tended to the king’s business at the gate. Then everything changed, and all the Jews in the empire found themselves in danger of being killed—just to satisfy the hatred of a man named Haman! This chapter explains to us why Haman was such a dangerous man.
- Haman’s People (Est. 3:1a)
Haman was an “Agagite,” which could mean he came from a district in the empire known as Agag. But it could also mean that he was descended from Agag, king of the Amalekites The story goes back to the time of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Ex. 17:8-15), when the Amalekites attacked God’s weary people in the rear ranks of the marching nation (Deut. 25:18).
It was Saul, the first king of Israel, whom God commanded to destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15); and he failed in his commission and lost his own crown. (It was an Amalekite who claimed he put Saul to death on the battlefield. See 2 Sam. 1:1-10.) Because Saul didn’t fully obey the Lord, some Amalekites lived; and one of their descendants, Haman, determined to annihilate his people’s ancient enemy, the Jews. It’s worth noting that King Saul, a Benjamite, failed to destroy the Amalekites; but Mordecai, also a Benjamite (Est. 2:5), took up the battle and defeated Haman.
Haman’s attitude we will see was very prejudiced: He hated a group of people because of a difference in belief or culture. Prejudice grows out of personal pride—considering oneself better than others.
- Haman’s Power (Est. 3:1b)
At some time between the seventh and twelfth years of the reign of Xerxes (v. 7; 2:16), the king decided to make Haman chief officer in the empire. Think of it: Mordecai had saved the king’s life and didn’t receive a word of thanks, let alone a reward; but wicked Haman did nothing and was promoted! There are many seeming injustices in this life; yet God knows what He’s doing and will never forsake the righteous or leave their deeds unrewarded.
Haman probably fawned and flattered his way into this powerful new position because that’s the kind of man he was. He was a proud man, and his purpose was to achieve authority and recognition. As we have seen, Xerxes was, susceptible to flattery and anxious to impress people; so Haman’s task wasn’t a difficult one.
It’s easy to see that Haman an illustration of the “Anti-Christ or “man of sin” who will one day appear and ruthlessly rule over humanity (2 Thes. 2; Rev. 13). Haman was given great authority from the king, and Satan will give great power to this wicked world ruler we call the Antichrist (Rev. 13:2, 4). As Haman hated the Jews and tried to destroy them, so the Antichrist will usher in a wave of worldwide anti-Semitism (12:13-17). At first, he will pretend to be friendly to Israel and will even make a covenant to protect them, but then he will break the covenant and oppose the very people he agreed to help (Dan. 9:24-27). As Haman was ultimately defeated and judged, so the Antichrist will be conquered by Jesus Christ and confined to the lake of fire (Rev. 19:11-20).
What people do with authority is a test of character. Do they use their authority to promote themselves or to help others? Do they glorify themselves or glorify God?
- Haman’s Pride (Est. 3:2-6)
Not content with merely having a high office and using it, Haman wanted all the public recognition and honor that he could secure. Although the ancient people of the Near East were accustomed to giving public displays of homage, the king had to issue a special edict concerning Haman, or the people would not have bowed down to him. Haman was a small man in a big office; and the other nobles, more worthy than he, would not willingly recognize him. This fact is another hint that Haman got the office not by earning it but by stealing it. If he were a worthy officer, the other leaders would have gladly recognized him.
Pride blinds people to what they really are and makes them insist on having what they really don’t deserve.
Haman’s promotion may have brought out the worst in Haman, but it brought out the best in Mordecai; for Mordecai refused to pay homage to Haman.
Why did Mordecai refuse to bow down to Haman? What was there about being a Jew that prohibited him from doing what everybody else was doing? Was it that he didn’t violate the First and Second Commandment? Exodus 20:1-4
The officials at the gate questioned Mordecai about his behavior, and it was then that Mordecai openly announced that he was a Jew (Est. 3:3-4). For several days, the royal officials discussed the matter with Mordecai, probably trying to change his mind; and then they reported his behavior to Haman. From that time on, Haman watched Mordecai and nursed his anger, not only toward the man at the gate, but also toward all the Jews in the empire.
Keep in mind that the extermination of the Jews would mean the end of the messianic promise for the world. The reason God promised to protect His people was that they might become the channel through whom He might give the Word of God and the Son of God to the world. Israel was to bring the blessing of salvation to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:7-18). Mordecai wasn’t nurturing a personal grudge against Haman so much as enlisting in the perpetual battle God has with those who work for the devil and try to hinder His will in this world (Gen. 3:15). Mordecai is not the only person in the Bible who for conscience’ sake practiced “civil disobedience.” The Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders and refused to kill the Jewish babies (Ex. 1:15-22). Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the king’s food (Dan. 1), and the three friends also refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Dan. 3). The apostles refused to stop witnessing in Jerusalem and affirmed, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). That statement can be a wonderful declaration of faith or a cowardly evasion of responsibility, depending on the heart of the person saying it.
Mordecai may have had shortcomings with reference to his religious practices, but we must admire him for his courageous stand. Certainly God had put him and Esther into their official positions so that they might save their people from annihilation. Their neglect of the Jewish law is incidental when you consider their courage in risking their lives.
Like a cancerous tumor, Haman’s hatred for Mordecai soon developed into hatred for the whole Jewish race. Haman could have reported Mordecai’s crime to the king, and the king would have imprisoned Mordecai or perhaps had him executed; but that would not have satisfied Haman’s lust for revenge. No, his hatred had to be nourished by something bigger, like the destruction of a whole nation. As with Judas in the Upper Room, so with Haman in the palace: he became a murderer. Mark Twain called anti-Semitism “the swollen envy of pygmy minds.” And he was right.
- Haman’s Plan (Est. 3:7-15a)
Follow the steps that wicked Haman took as he executed his plan to destroy the Jewish people.
He selected the day (Est. 3:7). Haman and some of the court astrologers cast lots to determine the day for the Jews’ destruction. This was done privately before Hainan approached the king with his plan. Haman wanted to be sure that his gods were with him and that his plan would succeed.
The Eastern peoples in that day took few important steps without consulting the stars and the omens. A century before, when King Nebuchadnezzar and his generals couldn’t agree on a campaign strategy, they paused to consult their gods. “For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the road, at the fork of the two roads, to use divination: he shakes the arrows, he consults the images, he looks at the liver” Ezek. 21:21, nkjv. The Babylonian word puru means “lot,” and from it the Jews get the name of their feast, Purim (Est. 9:26).
It’s interesting that Haman began this procedure in the month of Nisan, the very month in which the Jews celebrated their deliverance from Egypt. As the astrologers cast lots over the calendar, month by month and day by day, they arrived at the most propitious date: the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (v. 13). This decision was certainly of the Lord, because it gave the Jews a whole year to get ready, and because it would also give Mordecai and Esther time to act. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” Prov. 16:33, kjv.
Was Haman disappointed with this choice? He may have wanted to act immediately, catch the Jews off guard, and satisfy his hatred much sooner. On the other hand, he would have nearly a year in which to nurse his grudge and anticipate revenge, and that would be enjoyable. He could watch the Jews panic, knowing that he was in control. Even if the Jews took advantage of this delay and moved out of the empire, he would still get rid of them and be able to claim whatever goods and property they would have left behind. The plan seemed a good one.
He requested the king’s permission (Est. 3:8-11). Like Satan, the great enemy of the Jews, Haman was both a murderer and a liar (John 8:44). To begin with, he didn’t even give the king the name of the people who were supposed to be subverting the kingdom. His vague description of the situation made the danger seem even worse. The fact that these dangerous people were scattered throughout the whole empire made it even more necessary that the king do something about them.
Haman was correct when he described the Jews as a people whose “laws are different from those of all other people” (Est. 3:8). Their laws were different because they were God’s chosen people who alone received God’s holy law from His own hand. Moses asked, “And what great nation is there that has such statues and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” Deut. 4:8, nkjv and the answer is: “None!”
The fact that one man, Mordecai, disobeyed one law was exaggerated by Haman into the false accusation that all the Jews disobeyed all the laws of the land. The Prophet Jeremiah had instructed the Jews of the Exile to behave as good citizens and cooperate with their captors (Jer. 29:4-7), and the evidence seems to be that they obeyed. If the Jews in the Persian Empire had been repeatedly guilty of sedition or treason, Xerxes would have known about it by now. And even if some Jews in a few towns did disobey the king’s laws, why should the whole nation of Israel be destroyed for the crimes of a few?
Hainan’s coup de grace came at the end of his speech when he offered to pay the king 10,000 talents of silver for the privilege of ridding the empire of these dangerous people. According to the Greek historian Herodotus (Book III, Section 95), the annual income of the entire Persian Empire was 15,000 talents of silver. In effect, Haman was offering the king an amount equivalent to two thirds of that huge amount. Haman must have been a fabulously wealthy man. Of course, he hoped to recoup some of this amount from the spoils taken from the Jews.
In Esther 3:11, the king’s response (“The silver is given to thee,” kjv) gives the impression that Xerxes rejected the money and offered to pay the expenses himself. In typical Oriental fashion, the king politely rejected the offer (“Keep the money,” niv), fully expecting Haman to insist that he accept it. Haman knew that the Greek wars had impoverished the king’s treasuries, and he would never have offered so much money to so mighty a ruler if he didn’t really intend to pay it.
Without asking any questions, the king gave Haman his royal signet ring (see 8:2), which granted him the authority to act in the king’s name. He could write any document he pleased and put the king’s seal on it, and the document had to be accepted as law and obeyed. It was a foolish thing for Xerxes to do; but true to character, he acted first and regretted it afterward. “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” Prov. 18:13, nkjv.
He immediately spread the word (Est. 3:12-14). Unknown to the Jews who were getting ready to celebrate Passover, Haman was busy with the king’s secretaries, writing out the new law and translating it into the various languages of the peoples within the empire. The official document was given to the royal couriers, who quickly carried it to every part of the empire.
The work was done quickly because Haman didn’t want Xerxes to change his mind. Once the law was written and sealed, the doom of the Jews was also sealed; for the laws of the Medes and Persians could not be altered (Est. 1:19; 8:8; Dan. 6:8). Haman’s subtle plan had worked.
- Haman’s Pleasure (Est. 3:15b)
Haman could send out the death warrants for thousands of innocent people and then sit down to a banquet with the king! What a perverted heart he had! However, in the end, it was his own death warrant that Haman had sealed; for within less than three months, Haman would be a dead man (Est. 8:9).
In contrast to the happiness of the king and his prime minister were the heaviness and bewilderment of the people in Shushan, Gentiles and Jews alike. What had caused this sudden change in policy? Why were the Jews suddenly targeted as enemies of the empire? Was there any way of escape?
The situation was not hopeless, however, for God had two people prepared and in place—Mordecai and Queen Esther—and He was ready to act.
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