Book of Esther
Chapter 3 Part 6
May 7, 2012
“After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him” (Esther 3:1). “After these things” refers to the marriage of the king to Esther, the discovery of the plot against the king by Bigthan and Teresh, and the hanging of these men who would have killed the king. We are not given a specific timeline for how long after these things Haman was promoted, but speculation says around 5 years.
“After these things” were done then the king promoted Haman to a position above all the rulers in the land except the king and queen. The Bible doesn’t make it clear what Haman did to be promoted to such a high level, but it was the practice of kings to promote those in court who attended him and showed themselves loyal. Haman worked hard to be noticed, and it paid off.
Haman was the son of Hammedatha. The name is Persian and means “given by the moon.” Why this connection is mentioned is unclear as the relationship is not fleshed out any further.
“And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence” (verse 2). Every member of the king’s elite was expected to bow to Haman. Mordecai would not submit himself to this man.
Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries defines the word “bow” to mean, “to bend the knee; by implication to sink, to prostrate.” In other words, when a man bowed before Haman he was taking a position of submission to him. In general, to bow before one of high authority is not wrong, and Mordecai would certainly have bowed before a superior official. But Haman was filled with pride and had set himself up as a god among men who required worship, not just honor of position, which is why Mordecai refused to bow. Mordecai loved the Lord God and knew that to bow to Haman would be to dishonor his Father. As we’ll soon see, this was a dangerous position to take, but he did so fearlessly.
“Then the king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment?” (Verse 3) The men who sat at court with Mordecai daily could not understand why he would not bow to Haman as they did when he passed by. They asked him why he was breaking the king’s commandment, or law, or direct order. When he refused to bow before Haman, Mordecai was also snubbing the king who had written the directive to “bow and pay homage” to Haman. Not a good place to be in those days.
“Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew” (verse 4). The men Mordecai worked with every day could not understand why he continually disregarded the king’s law about Haman, so they asked him about it. I think there was a little of the, “If I have to do it, you have to do it,” mentality there too. They made sure Mordecai understood that anyone disobeying the decree could face harsh discipline. Mordecai’s only defense before the men was that he was a Jew. When they could not convince him to submit, the men reported his behavior to Haman to see what would happen.
As a pastor, I’m often asked if it’s always wrong to stand in defiance of certain national or local laws. Mordecai demonstrates the answer quite well. He disobeyed a direct order from the king. He did not “follow the crowd” but stood firmly upon his belief even under peer pressure. Although he was the minority of one among thousands of thousands, he stood straight as Haman passed by. If man’s law opposes God’s Law, take up the position of obeying God’s Law.
Mordecai was not the only biblical character who stood alone, very visibly, at the risk of retribution. Joseph refused to commit adultery with Pharaoh’s wife, which cost him years in prison. Daniel refused to eat of the king’s table and disobeyed the decree that no one could pray to anyone but Nebuchadnezzar for one month which resulted in his being thrown into the lions’ den. Hananiah (Shadrach), Misha'el (Meshach) and Azariah (Abenego) all refused to bow to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar and were thrown into the fiery furnace. (Daniel 3:19) The apostles continued to preach Jesus, and Him crucified and resurrected which brought severe beatings, imprisonment, and eventually death to each one, except John who died of natural causes and Judas Iscariot who committed suicide.
What is the moral of these stories about Daniel, etc…? Hard times will come to a believer’s life, but we will always succeed if we stand faithfully on Lord’s side.
“And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath” (verse 5). Apparently after the men reported Mordecai’s behavior to Haman, he took up a position from which he could observe Mordecai. He saw for himself the defiance in Mordecai and he took it as a personal affront. His anger (wrath) burned hot within him and his pride demanded that he do something to get back at this enemy.
“And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai” (verse 6). “…he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone” means he refused to punish only Mordecai for his crime. The men had told Haman that Mordecai was a Jew, and that set a fire burning in Haman’s loins to see the entire Jewish nation destroyed. His pride would not be satisfied by merely imprisoning or killing Mordecai. He was bigger and badder than that, after all. Again, he wasn’t satisfied to kill the Jews in his immediate area. He wanted the entire nation of the Jews wiped from the whole kingdom. We must understand that these, for the most part, were hard working, law-abiding citizens of the kingdom that Haman wanted to kill.
Why would Haman punish a nation for the acts of one man? Speculation suggests that Haman was afraid other Jews would follow Mordecai’s lead. This would undermine Haman’s great desire to be revered by all. What a man! Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). And that’s what drove Haman. Some people just can’t be placed in a position of authority and maintain humility. Haman would have profited from the knowledge that, “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
“In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar” (verse 7). In the first month of the year, Haman called out the men, probably the kingdom diviners, to “cast Pur” or lots for him, which is like us tossing the dice or flipping a coin. The people believed that their gods would cause the lots to turn in whatever way was best. The diviners cast the lot for each of twelve months, and each day of each month to determine on which month and day it would be best to begin Haman’s holocaust against the Jews. The fate of multiple thousands of Jews hung on the on the gamble of the dice.
The only time lots works out for the best is when God is directing the results. Joshua is a fine example of the right kind of casting. “You shall therefore survey the land into seven parts, and bring the description here to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the LORD our God” (Joshua 18:6). “And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the LORD: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions” (Joshua 18:10).
Christians don’t need to cast lots anymore because we have direct access to God through Jesus the Christ. We can hear in our spirit what the Lord God has for us.
“And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them” (verse 8).
The people Haman was speaking of are the Jews who, after the decree from Cyrus allowing them to return to Israel, stayed and continued to live out their lives in the kingdom where they had become established and raised their families.
Notice here how Haman deliberately sidestepped exactly which law these people were breaking. He didn’t say, “O, King Ahasuerus, this one man won’t bow and worship me, so kill him and his people.” He made it all about the king and how the people were rejecting his commands. A pride-filled man was speaking to a prideful man in the language he understood: ME!
“If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries” (verse 9). In order for a thing to become law in Persia, the king had to write a decree and signify it with his signet ring. The king didn’t actually write out the decree himself. He gave an order for it to be written, it was read to him, and whoever he gave his ring to sealed the scrolls that would then be delivered throughout the provinces. Only if the seal of the king was embossed on the wax seal would the people be held accountable to keep the law.
Notice that Haman didn’t offer to pay the soldiers or the people of the kingdom who would kill the Jews. He promised to pay the amount the king would lose the taxes once the Jews were dead. It’s doubtful, even in his high position, that Haman had such funds in his own account. His plan was to pay the king from the spoils he would glean form the belongings of the dead Jews. This helps us see that the Jews were prosperous living in the kingdom.
If Ahasuerus would have stepped out of his own shadow of pride and thought a minute, he would have realized that these people Haman wanted dead were people who had lived and worked in the kingdom for the entire 13 or 14 years of his reign, to date. But, all he heard was they were not listening to him, so, off with their heads! In some cases, this was literal, too. The king trusted Haman to the detriment of the Jewish population of the kingdom. This is a good lesson in learning who we can trust. Sometimes those we trust the most cause us the most harm.
Book of Esther
Chapter 3 Part 7
May 20, 2012
In our last study we saw that Haman’s pride was singed when Mordecai consistently refused to bow down to him when he walked by. Haman wanted the entire Jewish nation annihilated because Mordecai would worship him as everyone else did. It wasn’t pride that kept Mordecai from assuming this position of humility; it was more because of his love of God and his fear and reverence of Him. Mordecai knew that to bow before anyone but God in an attitude of worship was wrong. Mordecai knew that the first of God’s Ten Commandments was, “I am the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before me.” Bowing to Haman would have been breaking God’s commandment. Mordecai chose to break the king’s command about bowing to Haman instead. It was the wise choice.
The lesson I want us to come away with from verse 9, “If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries” (verse 9) is that we are to be very careful about taking advice or direction from others. The devil will use every opportunity to knock us down and drag us from the presence of God. He often uses those closest to us to achieve that aim. Jesus warned His disciples about such things in Matthew 16:6, when He said, “Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”
The disciples thought Jesus was angry because they hadn’t brought bread with them. After He explained to them about what the leaven was, we see that, “Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12). In other words, the company you keep will affect your walk with Jesus. If you hang around with godly people, you will become godlier. If you spend your time with people who swear, tell nasty jokes, and sin lavishly, you will be tempted, and oftentimes begin to act just like them. Distaste for nasty talking is not just my personal preference. Jesus warned us about it when He said, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:18-19).
Also understand this. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof" (Proverbs 18:20). This is a “reap what you sew” verse. If we speak well, we will be blessed. If you speak evilly, we are cursing ourself. Example: Oh, I’m so sick!” Or, “Praise You, God, for my healing.” Or, “God bless her!” Or, “God damn her.” Your words bring life or death to self and others.
Please understand that I’m not trying to teach you to mistrust those around you. Without trust there could be no relationship. Just be careful of the advice you take. Test the spirit of the advice in the Bible.
Ahasuerus trusted Haman so much he didn’t check to find out the truth of what was going on. He simply gave Haman full control in the situation.
“And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy. And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee” (Esther 3:10, 11).
Although what Haman spoke was half-truths, it got him what he wanted. The king’s ring gave him carte blanche to get out there, have the decree written in 69 of the 70 languages of the kingdom (excluding the Hebrew of the Jews), and sealed so that he could press that ring into the gooey wax, sealing the fate of all Jews in the kingdom. Oh how much bitter hate pride ferments in the hearts of men!
And that’s what is still going on today. The energy of the people in the Middle East countries, especially Iran, is focused on one thing, annihilating Israel. Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, hates the Jews so deeply he is working hard to have a nuclear bomb that he thinks will do away with Israel once for all. It won’t. God will never allow that to happen. Even if the bomb were to fall on Israel, God would save out a remnant of His people for Himself: He always does.
Ahasuerus didn’t only give Haman his ring and permission to kill the Jews. He told Haman to keep the spoils for himself. He didn’t want them for the treasury. Not taking Haman’s bribe is the one thing the king did right.
Life then was as it is now now: Cheap. It didn’t matter how many people were killed, they were dispensable. If Haman had been able to accomplish what he set out to do, it would have come close to ending the Jewish race for good. Jesus would never have been born! We’d all be heading for hell right now. Praise God that He only allows satan so much latitude, then He stops his wicked plans.
“Then were the king's scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring” (verse 12). Notice here; it was not the king commanding what must be written in the letter to the 69 nations, but Haman. Makes me think of the cartoon character, Dastardly Whiplash standing there twirling his mustache as he plans the next move he’ll make on the heroine he longs to have.
“And the letters were sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey” (verse 13). Once the letters were written, they were entrusted to the king’s runners. They were to carry this vile news all over the kingdom, which was basically the entire known world at that time. Some of the men had to run hundreds of miles on foot and others rode horses, sort of like the Pony Express we know of, for thousands of miles to make their delivery.
The principle content of the letter was a command that every Jew, no matter age, gender or station, was to be killed on sight all in one day. This would include Mordecai as he openly professed his Jewish heritage. So the letter was written in the first month of the year, Nissan, and was to be acted upon in the twelfth month, Adar.
Another thing to notice here is how people drag others into their sin. Haman wanted all Jews dead, so he dragged his drinking buddy, King Ahasuerus, into his plot. When the king granted Haman permission to carry out his evil, Haman involved all the people of the kingdom. It was the only way he could accomplish such a large task. Even the king’s army wasn’t capable of reaching and killing every Jew in one day. The people had to be enlisted, even though they could not understand why this thing was being ordered.
“The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day” (verse 14). The commandment, or orders drawn up by Haman wasn’t simply given to the governors and prefects of the nations, but copies of them were “published” in every city and town. That is, the ones who worked as town criers for the kingdom ran around attaching the commandments to posts and buildings for all the people to see and read. It’s likely the heralds read the letter aloud to anyone in hearing distance before posting it.
“The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed” (verse 15). As soon as the letter was written, it went out. Runners were commanded to carry it swiftly so that everyone would know to drop the Jews and on what day they were to complete the task.
Haman would not be deprived of even one Jew’s dead flesh. The letter was even posted within the palace so that anyone knowing one of Jewish descent could kill him at will, even in the palace, any way he wanted to.
Haman was shrewd. As soon as he got everything he wanted, he made a banquet for the king as a way to show his gratitude. “And the king and Haman sat down to drink.” They were celebrating before the actual carnage took place. It was also a way to keep Ahasuerus from doing any real thinking about it.
The people who lived in the royal city of Shushan could not understand the command. The crux of the letter for the people was that they be ready to participate in the upcoming slaughter of the Jews. I’m willing to bet you that many of these people were hesitant to take part in it because they had Jewish friends, or relatives that would fall under the death notice.
Let me give you a scenario. Each of you here considers me a friend, at least that’s what you tell me! Suppose the president of this country, say, George Bush sent a notice out that anyone who sees me is to kill me on sight, would you willingly do it? Now suppose that same notice comes with the stipulation that it’s me or you; would you then be ready to kill me? It’s impossible to give a real answer because we can’t imagine being placed in such a situation. That’s what was going on in Haman’s time. Kill indiscriminately, about sums it up.