Text: Esther 3
Understanding What You Read
- What order of the king did Mordecai refuse to obey? What reason did Mordecai give?
- How was Mordecai’s refusal similar to Vashti’s refusal?
- Why did Haman decide to destroy all the Jews?
- What did Haman do all year during Ahasuerus’ twelfth year in power?
- How did Haman convince Ahasuerus to issue a decree against the Jews?
- Did the king know what Haman ordered?
- How was the decree received by the people?
- What was the character of Haman like?
The story now moves ahead by five years to the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus’ reign. Ahasuerus appointed an Agagite named Haman to be the head of his government. “Agagite” probably refers to Haman being a descendant of Agag. “Agag” was a popular name for kings of the Amalekites, who were ancient enemies of the Israelites (Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 24:7; 14:45; Deuteronomy 25:17-19). One Agag was the king that Saul refused to slay and so was killed by Samuel (I Samuel 15:8-9, 32-33). It is this relationship that likely explains why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman despite the king’s command that Haman was to be so honored. When Haman’s servants asked why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, Mordecai only told them that he was a Jew.
After repeatedly telling Mordecai to bow to Haman over the course of several days, the servants reported the matter to Haman to see if being a Jew was a justifiable reason for not bowing.
Haman was a prideful man and Mordecai’s disrespect angered him. It was just one man, but Haman lacked confidence and would not allow someone to not acknowledge his position. Haman decided that he would not just punish Mordecai. He decided he would destroy every Jew in the entire Persian Empire.
To determine when would be the best time to execute his plan, Haman cast lots, called “pur” for each day of the year. He reached the twelfth month before the lot’s answered that it was a favorable time.
Haman did not delay in setting his plan into motion. Coming before the king, Haman told him that he learned that there were people, scattered through the empire, who were in rebellion to the Persian laws and followed their own laws instead that were different from everyone else. Notice that Haman neglects to mention which people he had in mind. He also inserts a lie by claiming that they are not keeping the king’s laws. The truth is that only Haman refused to obey one law of the king, but Haman generalized it to all laws and applied it to all Jews. Such rebellion by people who had not assimilated into the empire could not be allowed to continue, so he suggested that they be destroyed. Haman also offered to deposit 10,000 talents of silver (about 375 tons) into the treasury to finance the destruction. Estimates are that the amount was well over half what the empire took in during a year. Without checking further, Ahasuerus gives Haman permission to handle the matter. He even gave Haman his signet ring. This allowed Haman to write the decree any way that he wanted without a review by the king. The king also allowed him to use the offered money to do with the rebelling people as Haman desired.
By the thirteenth of the first month, the edict was copied and sent out throughout the empire. On the 13th day of the twelfth month, all Jews were to be killed regardless of age or sex. Anything they owned would belong to the killers. The edict was met with confusion by the populace of the capital. This indicates that the empire, as a whole, was not against the Jews. Meanwhile, the king was drinking with Haman. Either he was celebrating the completion of the deal or he was unaware of what was ordered in his name.
Pride can be a dangerous thing. Both Vashti and Mordecai exhibit some level of personal pride in refusing a king’s order. Both receive the anger of a ruler whose own pride cannot allow a lack of submission by another. Both Ahasuerus and Haman’s anger was extreme and lasted a long time. Both put their anger on display nationally by issuing official decrees.