Question:

In Esther 7:8 it reads, "As the word went out of king's mouth, they covered Haman's face."  Does this mean that his face was covered because he laying on her bed and was much too close to Esther, or that he was now marked for death?  Was the covering of someone's face a custom then? Was it done to anyone else in the Bible?


Answer:

It appears that covering the face of a person condemned to die was a widespread custom. Adam Clarke quoted a statement by Livy ascribed to Tullus Hostilius, a Roman judge, when he condemned a man to death as saying, "Go, sergeant; cover his head, and hang him on the accursed tree." The British Family Bible also mentions that it was a practice in Egypt. And Barnes mentions that it was a custom to do so in Macedonia. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states, the "covering of the (head and) face of a criminal condemned to death (with a large black cap) (Esther 7:8-9) occurs in the Shahnamah also."

A number of symbolisms are ascribed to the act, though it appears mostly guess work. It could mean that the men condemned to death is no longer worthy to be seen, that he no longer exists in the eyes of society, that a condemned man is not worthy to see the king's face, or that there can be no appeals for mercy. John Walton in IVP Bible Background Commentary notes that "In Assyrian elegy covering the face was seen as a treatment of the dead." In other words, Haman was seen as a dead man so he was immediately treated as one.