Read Esther 3
Haman’s Plot to Destroy the Jews
After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.
3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.
7 In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.
8 Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
10 So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.”
12 Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. 13 Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 14 A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.
15 The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.
Today’s reading opens with the events that unfold after Mordecai uncovers the plot against King Xerxes’ (or King Ahasuerus’, depending on your translation of Scripture) life. Xerxes replaces the men behind the plot on his life with a man named Haman. When Haman asks that the whole of the royal court bow and pay him honor, Mordecai refuses to do so, and in response, Haman conspires to have Xerxes kill all of the Jews in the kingdom.
We learn something interesting about the backdrop of Esther’s story here. Verse 1 tells us that Haman is an Agagite. So, Haman descends from the Amalekites, God’s enemies who Saul was supposed to (but didn’t completely) destroy in 1 Samuel 15. Mordecai is a member of the tribe of Benjamin—the same tribe from which King Saul descends (Esther 2:5; 1 Samuel 9:1-2). This leads us to a couple of conclusions.
First, this story is not a contained narrative separate from the broader story of the Scriptures. It contains a picture of the conflict between Israel (represented by Mordecai and Esther, two Benjaminite nobles) and those outside of the family of God (represented by Haman the Agagite, a native of the land of Canaan). Biblical scholars refer to this narrative device as a type, a smaller story or conflict that illustrates a larger conflict or tension in the broader scriptural narrative.
Secondly, the text shows how God’s commands always have purpose—had Saul been faithful to destroy all of Amalek in 1 Samuel 15, Haman might not have had the noble standing he ascended to, or perhaps may not have even been born at all, and Israel would have been protected from a madman trying to enact genocide on her people. As confusing as a command to wipe out a city might seem, we see here that God is deeply intentional to protect His people in all His commands.
This chapter also serves as a reminder about the nature of living as exiles. When we live as foreigners in a foreign land, there will be people and cultural pressure asking us to bow down and worship anything but God—be it a person, a political philosophy, or a cultural value. But Mordecai teaches us that when we are asked to bow before anything but God, don’t. This resolve to stand in the face of oppression, to refuse to bow before idols, is a weighty, challenging calling. It could have cost Mordecai his life, but he didn’t budge. Let’s remember we are still called to wholehearted worship to God alone today, even when the world disapproves.
- What does this chapter teach you about the character of God?
- Is there a time God asked you to do something that didn’t make sense, but you later realized His instruction protected you from a particular hurt?
- What idols are asking you to bow down to them? Are you standing firm, or have you worshiped an ideology, a behavior or preference, or a person before God?
Did You Know?
Depending on the translation of Scripture you read, your Bible may call the King of Persia either Xerxes or Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name originally used in the text, but Bible scholars deduced over time that it seems to be a folk name for King Xerxes.
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