Read the Passage: Esther 3
Mordecai’s Faith (3:1–6)
After a five-year break in the chronology between Esther 2–3 the anti-hero of the Esther narrative is introduced in Est. 3:1. The villain’s name is Haman, and he is described as being an “Agagite” (Est. 3:1). In the entire Old Testament, only Haman is referred to as an Agagite, and this term is applied to Haman five times in the book of Esther (Est. 3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:24). This repeated reference is given to emphasize the fact that Haman is a descendant of King Agag, the Amalekite king who was spared by King Saul and later killed by the prophet Samuel (cf. 1 Sam. 15). The current passage tells us that Ahasuerus promoted Haman above his other leaders or wise men. This is surprising, for Haman was not even listed among the wise men in Est. 1:14. Whatever the reason for Haman’s meteoric rise to power, everyone was ordered to bow down before him, which Mordecai refused to do.
Perhaps because of his pride, Haman had apparently not noticed that Mordecai refused to bow down and to pay him homage. Yet, on account of their jealousy, some of the king’s other servants informed Haman about Mordecai “to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew” (Est. 3:4). It is interesting that Mordecai had now disclosed his Jewish heritage, for earlier the text notes that Mordecai had instructed Esther to conceal her ethnicity (cf. Est. 2:10, 20). The depth of Haman’s pride is evident, as when he takes notice of Mordecai’s defiance, he is “filled with wrath” (Est. 3:5). Furthermore, rather than just report Mordecai’s violation of the king’s edict to pay him homage, Haman’s pathological egotism resulted in a murderous desire to kill all the Jews in Persia. Clearly, demonic spiritual forces were at work both behind and within Haman.
Haman’s Conspiracy (3:7–9)
In Est. 3:7 we learn that Haman and his advisors cast lots to determine the best—that is, (in their minds) the divine—time for the genocide of the Jews to occur. The text notes that they gathered to cast lots in the first month of the twelfth year of Ahasuerus’ reign. To review the chronology of the book of Esther thus far: the narrative begins in the third year of the king’s reign (cf. Est. 1:3), four years pass between chapters 1–2 (cf. Est. 2:16), and five years pass between chapters 2–3 (cf. Est. 3:7). Lots were then cast in the first month of the twelfth year and they fell on the twelfth month of the same year, which was eleven months in the future. While we tend to view the results of lot-casting as being random, Scripture teaches, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). Thus, the eleven months the Jews had to prepare was providential.
In Est. 3:8 Haman begins to address Ahasuerus concerning his desire to annihilate the Jews. Haman’s argument for the genocide is two-fold. First, negatively speaking, Haman informed the king that the Jews had their own law and did not keep the laws of Persia. This is a half-truth, for the Jews did have their own law (i.e., the Mosaic law), but no evidence exists that the Jews were breaking the king’s royal laws. Second, positively speaking, Haman promised to pay 10,000 talents of silver into the king’s treasury. Note that this is an astronomical number, as it was roughly 375 tons of silver, which was at least 70% of the king’s annual tax revenue. Clearly, this is not money that Haman personally possessed; rather, it represents money he planned on pillaging from the Jews. Given Ahasuerus’ costly and unsuccessful war against the Greeks, the promise of these funds would have been attractive to the king.
Ahasuerus’ Decree (3:10–15)
Either because he was interested in quelling rebellion, or because he was interested in the promised revenue, or for both reasons, Ahasuerus quickly granted Haman’s request. The king gave Haman his signet ring so that he could write a decree authorizing the genocide. The decree, which was penned in all the languages of the empire, gave permission to the citizens of Persia to “destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions” (Est. 3:13). By way of ironic contrast, after the decree was published, the narrator notes that “the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed” (Est. 3:15). No reason is given for this perplexity, but it does indicate that the people did not view the Jews as deserving of death.
- Why is antisemitism a reoccurring theme in world history? Is there anything special, important, or unique about the Jewish race or religion?
- How do you explain Haman’s disproportionate response to Mordecai’s refusal to bow down and to give him homage?
- What is the doctrine of providence (cf. Prov. 16:9, 33; 21:1; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 6:25–34; 10:29–31)? Are the ideas of luck or randomness valid concepts?
- Why did Ahasuerus grant Haman’s request so quickly? What is the proper way to make requests of those who are over us in authority?
- Is it more accurate to conclude that Haman misled Ahasuerus, or to say that Ahasuerus naively empowered Haman?