SATAN’S GOAL IS NOTHING LESS THAN THE EXTERMINATION OF GOD’S PEOPLE
The age-old conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is manifested here in the anti-Semitism of the Agagite Haman. Satan is acting behind the scenes in this conflict initiated by the prideful refusal of Mordecai to bow down to his nation’s arch-enemy. The tension mounts as the king becomes an unwitting pawn in Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews. But God is still in sovereign control and working behind the scenes to eventually turn the tables on this arrogant foe.
Spurgeon: The Lord’s wisdom is seen in arranging the smallest events so as to produce great results. . . Everything, the most minute, as well as the most magnificent, is ordered by the Lord who has prepared His throne in the heavens, whose kingdom rules over all. The history before us furnishes proof of this.
Karen Jobes: Whether we like it or not, we often feel caught in circumstances beyond our control. Life is full of seemingly insignificant events that in retrospect we recognize as changing the course of our lives. Every new day brings circumstances and decisions, and we cannot know how one event will lead to another. Only God knows the end of a matter before it has even begun. The author of Esther is demonstrating the workings of divine providence. God works mysteriously, patiently, and inexorably through a series of “coincidental” events and human decisions, even those based on questionable motives and evil intents. All of the “chance” events in life are really working toward the end that God has ordained.
Deffinbaugh: Whitcomb comes very close to saying that Mordecai is a stubborn, willful, rebellious Jew, whose refusal to show deference to Haman is nothing less than sin:
Although later writers have asserted that ‘Persian kings assume divine honours . . . no such claim on the part of the kings is found in the Persian monuments.’ (Paton, p. 196) Daniel had no problem saying to Darius the Mede: ‘O king, live forever!’ (Dan. 6:21; cf. Neh. 2:3 for Nehemiah’s homage to Artaxerxes). It is therefore preferable to conclude that Mordecai’s actions be seen ‘as an expression of Jewish national spirit and pride rather than adherence to Exod. 20:5.’
I believe this is what the author wants us to conclude. There is nothing pious about Mordecai’s attitudes and actions. Neither he nor Esther are model saints. They are much more like Jonah than like Daniel. God does not spare His people because of Mordecai or Esther’s faith or faithfulness. He does so in spite of their willfulness and sin. To sanctify the actions of Mordecai and Esther, we must distort the text. . .
I. (:1-6) THE CONFLICT LEADING TO HAMAN’S COMMITMENT TO EXTERMINATE THE JEWS
A conflict develops when two parties react in antagonism to one another
A. (:1-2) Mordecai Reacts in Antagonism to Haman
1. (:1) Elevation of Haman to Prominence in the Kingdom
a. Promoted Him
“After these events King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite,”
When it seems that you have been overlooked like Mordecai who was passed over for this promotion; just remember that God is still at work.
Frederic Bush: Whatever its origin and original sense may have been, the term Agagite is here intended as a most significant ethnic identification. Agag was the king of the Amalekites defeated by Saul and put to death by Samuel (1 Sam 15), and the OT tradition univocally stressed the bitter and unrelenting enmity that existed between the two peoples. Amalek is presented as the preeminent enemy of Israel. Thus, the conclusion of the story of the attack of the Amalekites upon Israel in the wilderness (Exod 17:8–16) notes, “Yahweh will have war with Amalek from generation to generation,” and the book of Deuteronomy avows, “… you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget” (25:19; cf. also 1 Sam 15:2–3).
Further, not only were the Amalekites Israel’s ancient and inveterate enemies, but Agag himself is so portrayed in Num 24:7. This ethnic identity of Haman is doubtless also intended by the narrator to be connected with that of Mordecai, for Mordecai’s patronymic identifies him as a descendant of the Benjaminite Kish, and Saul, another direct descendant of Kish, defeated Agag, king of the Amalekites. The patronymics of these two protagonists, then, subtly indicate that both men are heirs to a longstanding and bitter tradition of ethnic enmity and antagonism. Indeed, the manner in which Haman is identified in the book signals him to be the pre-eminent enemy of the Jews.
Breneman: Thus Haman became a prototype of all anti-Semitic leaders who want to destroy the Jewish people.
b. Advanced Him
“and advanced him”
Constable: This story pictures Haman as having all seven of the characteristics that the writer of Proverbs 6:16-19 said the Lord hates: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. Nevertheless, Ahasuerus advanced Haman to the highest government position in the empire—under the king.
c. Established His Authority
“and established his authority over all the princes who were with him.”
2. (:2) Exception in the Respect Shown to Haman
a. Universal Homage
“And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman;
for so the king had commanded concerning him.”
b. Lone Exception = Mordecai
“But Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage.”
Frederic Bush: But, why would the fact that Mordecai was a Jew be sufficient reason for either Mordecai’s refusal or Haman’s monstrous pride? Clearly, the former cannot relate to Mordecai’s religion or temperament, and that the latter results from Haman’s ethnic hatred is made clear by the reason the narrator gives (“they had told him who Mordecai’s people were”). The only thing in the context that makes both these reactions reasonable is the subtle allusion to the ancient tribal enmity between Jews and Amalekites. Mordecai’s action is one of ethnic pride. He simply would not bow down to a descendant of the Amalekites (cf. Deut 25:17–19). Haman’s reaction is unmistakably motivated by racial hatred so callous and senseless that, beside it, Mordecai’s pride pales to insignificance.
Karen Jobes: Interpreters throughout the ages have offered explanations for Mordecai’s refusal. It is known from other sources that in general, Jews did bow to pagan officials of the Persian court. It was not a religious act but one of court protocol, much as moderns still curtsey or bow to the British queen. This suggests that Mordecai’s refusal was not religiously motivated, but personal and specific to Haman. However, interpreters have been quick to exonerate Mordecai’s behavior by ascribing a religious motivation. In the Greek version of the story, Mordecai explicitly says that it was not from hybris or arrogance that he refused to bow to Haman, but that he might not give the glory due to God to any man. Some interpreters have suggested that Haman, being a pagan, wore an emblem of an idol on his garment to which Mordecai refused to pay homage.
Breneman: We should conclude that Mordecai had both religious and political reasons for adamantly not bowing down to Haman.
B. (:3-6) Haman Reacts in Antagonism to Mordecai
1. (:3) Reason Requested for Refusal to Show Respect
“Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why are you transgressing the king’s command?’”
Frederic Bush: In this context it is much more a challenge than simply a question;
Duguid: Mordecai presumably recounted the history of his people to the other servants of the king when they challenged him over his repeated refusal to bow to Haman. This rationale explains why, when they finally reported him to Haman for his insubordination, Mordecai’s Jewishness was a key element of their report.
Laniak: Esther 3, then, presents a pitting of ancient rivals against each other. It is clear that the conflict that is about to erupt is one rooted in ethnic rivalry—a rivalry that is understood biblically to date back to the earliest days of the conquest (Exod. 17:8–16). That passage ends ominously: “The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” (Exod. 17:16). The two rivals in Esther represent their respective communities as federal heads. Ethnic hostilities begin to boil in ways that the other members of the court half expect (3:4). Mordecai has explained his behavior in terms of his Jewishness.
2. (:4) Report to Haman of Mordecai’s Position
“Now it was when they had spoken daily to him and he would not listen to them, that they told Haman to see whether Mordecai’s reason would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew.”
Mordecai does exactly what he told Esther not to do – disclosed that he was a Jew – by the providence of God
McConville: Mordecai’s action, then, is probably to be explained by his refusal to be subservient, as a Jew, to the ancient enemy. The point is, in any case, that he perceived obeisance to Haman to be impossible in view of his higher loyalty. He was thus in the same position that Daniel was in when an embargo was laid upon prayer to God (Dan. 6:6–9). Daniel must yet pray (Dan. 6:10); and Mordecai must be faithful too to the God of his fathers, and the present generation of his people.
3. (:5-6) Reaction of Haman
a. (:5) Rage
“When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage.”
Joyce Baldwin: Until the question was put Haman had not noticed Mordecai, but he reacted with furious resolve, and could tolerate no insubordination. Though filled with fury Haman calculated that he could wreak vengeance not only on Mordecai but also on all his race, who could turn out to be equally stubborn in their opposition to him. The narrator plays on the similarity of sound between Haman and hēmâ, ‘wrath’.
Borgman: “filled with rage” – one commentator notes: “Hell has no fury like an Amalekite scorned.”
b. (:6a) Restraint
“But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone,
for they had told him who the people of Mordecai were;”
c. (:6b) Revenge
“therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews,
the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.”
Constable: Evidently Haman was anti-Semitic even before Mordecai offended him, and he used this offense as an excuse to exterminate the Jews.
II. (:7-11) THE CONNIVING TO DEVELOP A CAMPAIGN TO EXTERMINATE THE JEWS
“conniving” – Calculating, scheming, shrewd; cooperating secretly, especially with harmful or evil intent;
A. (:7) Ascertaining the Timing of the Campaign
“In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar.”
Frederic Bush: He begins by relating the casting of lots to determine the most propitious day for the annihilation of the Jews. Though determined by lot, the day chosen seems maliciously ironical. The number 13 was considered unlucky by the Persians and the Babylonians, while the thirteenth day of the first month, the day on which the edict decreeing the Jews’ destruction was dispatched (v 12), is the day preceding Passover, the commemoration of the deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Karen Jobes: To determine the propitious time for an attack on the Jews, Haman consults the pur (pl., purim) or lot. Archaeologists have unearthed samples of purim, which were clay cubes inscribed with either cuneiform characters or dots that look almost identical to modern dice. “Casting the lot” literally meant throwing the dice. But unlike their modern use, the ancient lot was used not for gambling but for divination. It was a way of asking the gods for answers to questions about the future. . .
Passover commemorates the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the event that constituted the founding of God’s covenant people as a nation. It celebrates the existence of the Jews as a people and their special relationship to God. The joy of this holiday is turned to sorrow in Persia when the decree is delivered on Passover, calling for their annihilation simply because they are Jews. The coincidence of the decree with Passover is tragically ironic, but serves to heighten the glory of the subsequent deliverance and links it to the ancient covenant of Sinai. . .
To the Jewish reader, Haman’s casting of the pur and the resulting edict of death on Passover eve would be profoundly ironic, suggesting the critical question: “Would God still deliver his people, now in exile in Persia, even though they had violated the very covenant in which he promised protection?” In other words, the knowledgeable reader would be asking whether the covenant with Yahweh, celebrated by Passover, was still in effect for the Jews of Persia. Because the remnant of Jews who had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple were nevertheless still under Persian rule, their fate, too, was being cast in faraway Susa.
Ray Stedman: This is nothing but the rankest superstition! All superstition is a form of fear, and fear is the enemy of faith. Fear is the opposite of faith. Superstition, then, is a sign of distrust of God. Why is it that whenever we acknowledge that our business has been good, or our health has been good, we like to knock on wood? We really do it to frighten away the jealous spirits which we think may take our prosperity away. We distrust the gods. It’s strange, isn’t it, how many Christians resort to these superstitious practices? They smile and joke when they do them, but down underneath there is a lingering suspicion that they had better do them or they might bring bad luck. This is simply fear of the jealousy of God. The tempter has planted in our hearts the feeling that God is not really interested in our welfare, that we must take care of all things ourselves. We have begun to distrust the goodness of God.
B. (:8-9) Argument to Obtain the King’s Consent to the Campaign
1. (:8) Case for Extermination
a. Vague Identification of the Target Constituting Them as a Threat to the Kingdom
“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom;’”
b. Irrelevant Information Designed to Raise Suspicion
“their laws are different from those of all other people,”
Breneman: Today God’s people are different and must recognize their distinctiveness. “Their customs are different,” or “their laws are different,” explains that their emphasis on the law, God’s revelation in the Mosaic Torah, made them different. Our basis of authority and our priorities mold our customs. If we take seriously the authority of God’s Word and allow his ethical principles to form our customs, we will be different from those who live by different authority (e.g., human reason, humanism) or ethical principles.
c. Outright Lie Claiming Insurrection
“and they do not observe the king’s laws,”
d. Unjustified Conclusion Seeking Extermination
“so it is not in the king’s interest to let them remain.”
Frederic Bush: Here Haman reveals himself as a shrewd, clever, and malignant slanderer. He begins by suppressing the identity of the people, speaking simply of “one people,” a usage that insinuates that this people (or the issue of their annihilation) is insignificant. Yet they are “scattered and unassimilated among the peoples in all the provinces” of the empire. “Scattered … in all the provinces” is not only hyperbole but is made into an accusation by the addition of the word “unassimilated, separate,” referring to their different social and religious customs; i.e., they are everywhere, a different, sinister, and ubiquitous presence. From innuendo and half-truth he moves to outright, yet blatantly false, accusation (8c–d). . . Haman is able to slide from the charge that the Jews’ dâtîm, “laws/edicts,” i.e., their religious and social regulations / customs, are different to the charge that they do not obey the king’s dâtîm. The first is true, but also true about every other people group in the empire, a diversity upon which the Persians prided themselves. The second, as a generality, is a blatant lie, for the actions of the Jews as a people throughout the book are thoroughly law-abiding. By using the same word, Haman implies that the first provides the grounds for the second. Haman then appeals to the king’s racial superiority and fear, “It is not in the king’s interest to let them be,” implying that their very existence is detrimental to the king’s honor and welfare. Thus, with a series of innuendos, half-truths, and outright lies, Haman has made the case that this unnamed people is omnipresent and lawless, and hence constitute an insidious threat to the king’s welfare. Finally, before the king can even conjecture whether it really is not in his interest to let this people continue to exist, he learns that it will be immensely in his interest to have them destroyed. Haman blatantly appeals to the king’s venality and greed with an enormous bribe: if the king will issue a decree for their destruction, he will pay ten thousand talents to the royal treasury (indeed, a figure so large that it can only be satiric hyperbole).
McConville: The attack is a masterly propaganda exercise. Haman has persuaded the king of three major untruths:
– that he is best fitted to be Prime Minister, though we know Mordecai is;
– that the Jews should be destroyed, though we know the queen herself is Jewish;
– that the Jews do not benefit the king, though we know that they do.
The one who is committed to untruth utterly convinces the dull and credulous king, who wields the power.
2. (:9) Call for Action
a. Issue the Decree
“If it is pleasing to the king,
let it be decreed that they be destroyed,”
b. Intake the Bribe
“and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king’s business, to put into the king’s treasuries.”
Huge sum = 60% of the annual revenue of the kingdom
Karen Jobes: Haman then appeals to the king’s need to replenish the treasury depleted by Xerxes’ disastrous war with Greece. Herodotus reports that the annual revenue of the Persian empire under Xerxes’ father, Darius, was 14,560 thousand talents. This revenue was generated by receiving tribute (i.e., taxes) from the satrapies. Haman’s offer to provide ten thousand talents of silver (about 300 tons) represents a substantial contribution to the royal coffers. Haman may have thrown out an exaggerated figure of ten thousand talents to sell his idea. Presumably, whatever revenue he promises will come by plundering the possessions of those killed (cf. 3:13).
Constable: This sum could not have come out of Haman’s pocket; it was too large. He must have meant that the plunder taken from the Jews would be huge.
C. (:10-11) Authorization for the Campaign
1. (:10) Authorized via Royal Delegation of Decision-Making Power
“Then the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.”
Borgman: presidential pen; blind to Haman’s agenda; does not ask: Who are they? Why are they dangerous? What have they done?
Joyce Baldwin: The king, presuming that the scattered people in question were distant aliens, hostile to his cause, handed over his royal authority to Haman. His signet ring was the seal of executive power, recognized throughout the empire. Haman had a free hand to put into effect his far-reaching plot. The author ominously repeats his full title, but adds the enemy of the Jews.
2. (:11) Authorized via Royal Mandate to Conduct the Campaign
“And the king said to Haman, ‘The silver is yours, and the people also, to do with them as you please.’”
III. (:12-15) THE COMMUNICATION THROUGHOUT THE EMPIRE OF THE CAMPAIGN TO EXTERMINATE THE JEWS
A. (:12) Drafting the Campaign Instructions in All Necessary Languages
“Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and it was written just as Haman commanded to the king’s satraps, to the governors who were over each province, and to the princes of each people, each province according to its script, each people according to its language, being written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring.”
B. (:13) Delivering the Documents Spelling Out the Destruction and Plundering of the Jews
“And letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to seize their possessions as plunder.”
Tomasino: The combination of three words of destruction is certainly designed to convey a sense of utter annihilation.
C. (:14) Designating the Day to Implement the Campaign Kingdom-Wide
“A copy of the edict to be issued as law in every province was published to all the peoples so that they should be ready for this day.”
Frederic Bush: The edict is an order for the destruction, slaughter, and annihilation of all the Jews, young and old, women and children, and the plundering of their property on one day, the thirteenth of the twelfth month (v 13). But to discover the agency of this extermination we must read between the lines, for it is presented only indirectly through the command that the edict is “to be promulgated as law in every province and publicly displayed to all peoples, so that they might be ready for this day” (v 14). With this, the invidious and horrific extent of Haman’s evil plan finally becomes clear. He will use the general background of human tribal and racial enmity, dislike, and suspicion, prompted by the specific motivation of greed in the prospect of plunder and booty, to set the whole general populace to the task of exterminating the whole Jewish race. Furthermore, the genocide will not take place for eleven months. This will both prolong the agony of the Jews (there is no possibility of escape within the Persian empire, for it effectively comprises the known world [Bardtke, 325]) and permit ample time for the intensifying of anti-Jewish feeling (Clines, 298) and preparations for the attack (v 14c).
D. (:15) Disseminating the Communication
1. Coordinating the Proclamation
“The couriers went out impelled by the king’s command
while the decree was issued in Susa the capital;”
2. Contrasting Reactions
a. Unconcerned Reaction of the King and of Haman
“and while the king and Haman sat down to drink,”
b. Confusion and Consternation of the City of Susa
“the city of Susa was in confusion.”
Tomasino: Here, four different scenes are cleverly woven together: the couriers hastening to deliver their message; the decree being published in the Citadel of Susa; the king and Haman sitting down to banquet; and the lower city (probably where a larger population of Jews resided) in a state of confusion. The hastening has nothing to do with a need for alacrity, since the decree is not to be enacted for nearly a year; rather, haste is due to the fact that the couriers are doing the king’s business, and must carry it out with their best ability (cf. 1 Sam 21:8). The decree was formally proclaimed in the citadel, where the more prominent and connected people lived. In the rest of the city, there were apparently rumors that left people with questions and uncertainties. Surely this was no groundswell of sympathy for the Jews, but the response of the populace to rumors that seemed nearly unbelievable. In stark contrast with the commotion all around, the king and Haman have settled down for another banquet. Once again, the cluelessness of the monarch is highlighted without a word being explicitly said about it.
Laniak: Verse 15 dramatically illustrates the effect of this pronouncement on its authors and its objects. Haman and the king sat down to drink (note the banquet motif) with an obvious sense of satisfaction that yet another vexing problem had been solved (so also in Gen. 37:25). In contrast to the callous calmness in the court, the city of Susa was bewildered (anxious and agitated). This is a very alarming edict in the capital, for apparently relatively few of its inhabitants share the anti-Semitism that the edict calls for (9:15). How easy it is for those in power to make a decision in a moment that permanently alters the lives of those in their control.
The inhabitants of the capital do not understand the meaning or context of this new edict. Neither does the king. Even Haman does not realize what he has just done. The next time he sits with the king to drink, it will be at a feast prepared by Esther—a feast that will begin to overturn his wicked plans.