Devotional # 80. 3/31/14. Esther 3:1-15.
Introduction. Last week we read about Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, who raised her. In an amazing Disney-like turn of events, this little Jewish girl became queen. Now this week we are introduced to the villain of the story: Haman.
vv. 1-6. The chapter starts out “After these things” which actually was 4 years after the end of chapter 2. King Ahasuerus promotes Haman to a position similar to today’s Prime Minister (Source 1, p. 199). We are given a little background on Haman, of particular interest is that his nationality was “Agagite.” In 1 Samuel 15:8 we see that Saul was commanded to wipe out the Agagites who were the royal family of the Amalekites. If Saul had obeyed God this guy would never have been born to cause a problem but, as always, God is in control.
The king had commanded that everyone bow down to Haman. But Mordecai was a Jew and had learned Scriptures like Deuteronomy 5:8-10 where you don’t bow down to anybody but God. So Mordecai doesn’t kneel and his co-workers rat him out. They suck up to Haman and tell him that Mordecai won’t bow down. Of course this makes Haman mad because he is a proud narcissist. But Haman is smart. He holds the anger in and develops a plan. He knew that killing Mordecai wouldn’t stop the problem; that would be like chopping off a finger. He needed to kill the whole body (v. 7) then once every Jew was dead no one would dare disobey the command to bow down to him.
Haman is one among many persons (Hitler, Pharaoh, Nasser, etc.) in history who have tried to annihilate the Jews. The problem (or, more accurately, the blessing) is that God has his hand over them, protecting them.
vv. 7-11. Haman is trying to figure out when he can kill the Jews. So he goes to his magicians immediately, which was in the first month called “Nisan.” This would have been around this time (our calendar months of March and April). “Ironically, the Jews should have been celebrating the Passover to remind them of a former deliverance” (Source 2). So Haman’s magicians cast lots which they called “Pur.” In Persian the word means “lot” and was something like rolling dice (Source 3). Interestingly the Hebrew language adopted the word after these events in Esther unfolded. In the Hebrew “Pur” means “lot or piece” and is the singular of “Purim” (Source 4). Israelis to this day celebrate Purim. Back to the story. Haman seeks when the gods will bless him killing the Jews but the “pur” tells him to wait until the “twelfth” (and last) month of the year. So he has to wait a year, which must have been really frustrating for him but shows us that God was in control. God’s divine timing gave the Jews a year to prepare for this fateful day.
Haman goes to step 2 in his plan: poison the king’s mind against the Jews and get him to decree that the Jews must be killed. Haman even sweetens the deal by offering to pay “ten thousand talents of silver…to bring into the king’s treasuries.” Again, Haman was crafty! Remember how the king had just lost a costly war (look on the notes from Devotional 79, under vv. 1-4)? Also the government might object to the “loss in its revenues by the destruction of so many of its subjects” (Source 5). The king signs off on the plan. Notice that Haman says to the king, “as seems good to you”; the morals of Haman and what he thought were “right” and “wrong” are grievously out of sync with reality. Often we can make mistakes if we don’t base our decisions on the foundation of God’s Word.
vv. 12-15. So the decree that all the Jews would die went out to the entire kingdom. It went “to every people in their language.” This would mean every person in the kingdom, not just the Jews would be aware that they were to be annihilated. McGee says that there were at least 127 different languages (along with multiple dialects) across this vast kingdom. It would have taken a lot of time to translate the law and get it out to all the provinces (Source 1, p. 204). But Haman is cunning and he writes into the law that the Jews will have their possessions plundered. So he is going to make back the money that he has just promised the king, plus much more!
Did you see that verse 15 ends with the land being “perplexed”? No wonder! Can you imagine hearing a law that for no given reason an entire nationality was going to be murdered? Both the Jews and their compassionate neighbors would be grieving during this time (Source 5).
Conclusion. The story takes a turn for the worse in this chapter. We learn that although Mordecai obeys God’s command he is betrayed by his fellow judges, he ends up condemning all of God’s chosen people just for being stubborn and Haman is in an exalted office showing no signs of stopping. How many of us would give in at this point? We don’t face persecution like this in the United States. But we see God’s hand in all of this. My prayer is that you can’t wait the week to find out what happens and that you read the rest of the book on your own! The best part about it is that this really happened. We don’t just get encouragement from some nice ideas, instead we learn from others’ lives: the pains that they go through and the courage that God gives them to handle evil men like Haman. I hope that you persevere through adversity this week to give God the glory.
Source 1: J. Vernon McGee, Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther, 1977.
Source 2: John MacArthur, John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 687.
Source 5: Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary, OT, p. 507.