Haman's Plot to Destroy the Jews
Commentary for Study 2
Memory Verse 3:6
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I. Mordecai Uncovers a Conspiracy (2:19-23)
1. Where was Mordecai seated? (19) Why was he there so often? (11) What was special about his relationship with his cousin? (7, 20) How does his love for his cousin reflect God's love?
2. What kind of people sat at the gate in those days? (Deut. 21:18-21, Jos. 20:4, and 2 Sam. 19:8) What does this say about Mordecai position? How can we see God's hand in this? How do people often interpret the reason for this kind of a change in their position in life?
Esther 2:19-20 "When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate. But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai's instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up."
* "When the virgins were assembled a second time" -The enlargement of the harem apparently continued unabated. Perhaps there is a causal connection between the second gathering of women and the assassination plot; some have suggested that it reflects palace intrigue in support of deposed Vashti.
Just because Xerxes (in Hebrew, Ahaserus) married Esther, a women of God, queen does not mean the king had suddenly got religion. He continued his hedonistic ways. The evidence of history is that drunkenness and sexual excess marked the remainder of his life. Alcohol and immorality weakened him and brought him to a place where parts of his life were out of control and he was easily manipulated by self-motivated advisers. Xerxes' life shows the downfalls of pleasing the flesh with overindulgence.
* "Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate" -Sitting at the king's gate meant holding a high position in society because the gate of an ancient city was its major commercial and legal center. Markets were held in the gate; the court sat there to transact its business (Deut 21:18-20; Jos 20:4; Ruth 4:1-11; Ps 69:12). A king might hold an audience in the gate (2 Samuel 19:8; and 1 Kings 22:10). Daniel (a generation before Esther and living in the same region) was at the king's gate as ruler over all Babylon (Daniel 2:48-49).
Mordecai's sitting in the king's gate confirms his holding a high position in the civil service of the empire (5). It is suggested by some that Esther, because she was queen, help to elevate Mordecai to that position. This seems to make sense in light of the next sentence; it seems to be saying she help elevate him and yet kept her family background and nationality.
In all this God was working out his plan for the Israelites. He made Esther queen, who help put Mordecai in a place where he could hear the plot, which got his name written in the book of the king, which was later reread by the king, who saved Mordecai and all the Israelites from Haman's plot. God is working even when I don't realize it.
* "just as Mordecai had told her to do" -This shows Esther's remarkable humility. Even though she was made queen she still respected Mordecai so much that she still did what he said.
* Also it shows that she kept her promise to him, which as made when she was taken from his house (2:10).
* Mordecai's advice does not presuppose that he knew what God was going to do.
* "as she had done when he was bringing her up" -One of the reasons that Esther had an inner beauty that surpassed her outward beauty was that she was raise up with proper morals, ethics, and mannerisms. Mordecai was a good step father.
3. What did Mordecai find out? Who did he report it to? What happened when it was found out to be true? What does it mean that it was recorded in the book of the annals? Was Mordecai rewarded for his loyalty? How would you feel if you were Mordecai?
Esther 2:21 "During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes."
* "two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway" -Oriental kings were dependent on many personal attendants for their comfort and security.
* "became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes" -When Bigthana and Teresh became disenchanted, the ruler found himself in danger. Some say it was because of the new virgins coming in.
Esther 2:22-23 "But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king."
* "But Mordecai found out about the plot" -Jewish sources outside the Bible suggest that an unfaithful slave of one of the conspirators told Mordecai about the plot. Another Hebrew tradition says Mordecai spoke several languages-often understanding what others supposed was secret as they talked in his presence.
* "and told Queen Esther" -obviously Mordecai had contact with Queen Esther while still hiding her identity.
* "giving credit to Mordecai" -Queen Esther's good character gave credit where credit was due. If she would have been like a lot of people she would have taken the credit for herself.
* "hanged on a gallows" -Among the Persians this form of execution was impalement, as is confirmed in pictures and statues form the ancient Near East and in the comments of the Greek historian Herodotus.
* "annals" -The concern of the author of Esther with rhetorical symmetry is seen in the fact that the annals are mentioned in the beginning (here), middle (6:1), and end (10:2) of the narrative.
* "in the presence of the king" -The king kept these annals personally so as to reward faithful service. But apparently nothing was done to reward Mordecai, the hero who had uncovered the plot and blown the whistle. Again God's hand is seen, for later God would use this on behalf of Mordecai and the Jews.
Mordecai may have wondered why his alertness and loyalty went unrewarded. The king's memory was short. It may have been difficult for Mordecai to believe that even God remembered. But nowhere does it say that Mordecai complained to God or the king or even Esther. Most likely this is because he believed in God's hand and the eternal reward of God.
II. Haman's Plot to Destroy the Jews (3:1-15)
4. Who did King Xerxes honor? What is he called? Who was King Agag and whom were his people? (1 Sam. 15) What relation did they have with God's people? (Exodus 17:8-16, 1 Sam. 14:4:47-48, Ex. 17:16, Dt. 25:17-19, and 1 Ch. 4:42-43) Saul was a Benjamite, as was Mordecai (2:5), what then would Haman represent to Mordecai? How does this explain Mordecai's actions? (2)
Esther 3:1 "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."
* "After these events" -Four years have elapsed since Esther's selection as queen (7;2:16-17).
* "King Xerxes honored Haman" -The fact that no reason is given for the promotion of Haman provides an ironic contrast between the unrewarded merit of Mordecai and the unmerited reward of Haman.
* "son of Hammedatha, the Agagite"-Nowhere does any book talk about the Agagites. But most believe that this is referring to the Amalekites whose leader was the famed Agag. The Amalekites had attacked Israel after she fled from Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16; 1 Samuel 14:47-48); for this reason the Lord would "be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation" (Exodus 17:16). Israel was not to forget, but must "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Dt. 25:17-19). Saul's attack on Amalek (1 Samuel 15) resulted in the death of King Agag and most, though not all (1 Ch 4:42-43), of the city's population. In Esther, about 500 years after the battle lead by the Benjamite Saul, the Benjamite Mordecai (2:5) continues the war with the Amalekites.
Esther 3:2 "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."
* "knelt down and paid honor to Haman" -In Hebrew "knelt down" is "kara". It is a prime root meaning; "to bend the knee; by impl. to sink, to prostrate:-bow (down, self), bring down (low), cast down, couch, fall, feeble, kneeling, sink, smite (stoop) down, subdue, X very." In Hebrew "paid honor" is "shachah". It is a prime root meaning; "to depress, i.e. prostrate (espec. reflex. in homage to royalty or God):-bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship."
* "But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor"-At this point Mordecai, who had been so careful to keep his and Esther's Jewish heritage secret, boldly takes a stand as a Jew. Why should being Jewish cause Mordecai to take the risks he must have known were involved in refusing to honor Haman? Jews were forbidden to bow before other gods. (Exodus 20:5, which says this, uses the same word "shachah" as this verse does.) However there were no such prohibitions against bowing to human authorities, and Jews often did it (1 Sam. 24:8; 2 Sam. 9:8; 1 Kings 2:19). Then whey did Mordecai refuse? Several possible explanations have been suggested:
1) Mordecai's own pride;
2) Mordecai's ethnic hatred of Amalikites;
3) What God said in Ex 17:16 (see notes on "the Agagite");
4) Haman himself expected a level of reverence meant for God.
The last two seem the most reasonable, 3 being the most of these two.
5. What was the advice given to Mordecai? (3-4) What does the phrase "day after day" suggest? What would not accepting this advice mean? Why might a Jew's response to the verdict be tolerated? (4, Ex. 20:5) What does Mordecai's actions show about his faith and convictions?
Esther 3:3-4 "Then the royal officials at the king's gate asked Mordecai, "Why do you disobey the king's command?" 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."
* "day after day" -At first they were tolerant and hoped to persuade Mordecai, but they could not do so.
* "to see whether Mordecai's behavior would be tolerated" -(First see notes below titled, "for he had told...") According to this verse Mordecai's fellow workers told Haman that Mordecai's Jewishness was the reason for his refusal to bow. They wanted to see if his reason would "stand." ("Stand" is the meaning of the Hebrew word here "amad" which the NIV has as "tolerated".) Several commentators interpret these words in this verse to indicate that the co-workers wanted to see if Mordecai's Jewishness would be tolerated. Basically what we are dealing with here is racism.
* "for he had told them he was a Jew" -The "he" here is Mordecai. Mordecai's answer for why he didn't bow down to Haman was because he was a Jew. (See "but Mordecai would not pay him honor" above.)
6. How did Haman respond to Mordecai's actions? (5-6) How did his feellings sway his actions? What does this say about him? What would happen in history if all the Jews were killed?
Esther 3:5 "When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged."
* "When Haman saw that Mordecai"-Either Haman checked out to see if the report was true by going past Mordecai to see what he did, or this verse is pointing out that Haman had already noticed that Mordecai was not paying him honor.
* "he was enraged"-Just the fact that Mordecai did not pay him honor enraged him. It was not the fact that Mordecai was not obeying the king's order. However later, when Haman reported to the king, he made his story sound like his desired actions was solely to hold up the king's commands (3:8). This is exactly what the Jews would do to Jesus when they reported him to the Roman, Pilate (John 18-19).
Esther 3:6 "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."
* "Yet having learned who Mordecai's people were" -This phrase shows that Haman had always hated the Jews. It is clear that hatred of the Jews was set deep in Haman's psyche even before Mordecai's insubordination.
* "Instead" -Haman saw this as an opportunity to do what he, and all his people, wanted to do with the Jews. And he had the power to do it.
* "throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes" -The threat against the Jews here is a threat against the ultimate issue of redemptive history for Jesus is of the Jews. All the Jews were living only in the kingdom of Xerxes which was vast (See Lesson 1).
7. When was the fate of the Jews decided? (7) How long would it be until it was executed? What could the Jews do during this time?
Esther 3:7 "In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, they cast the pur (that is, the lot) in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar."
* "In the twelfth year of King Xerxes" -The Fifth year of Esther's reign.
* "in the first month, the month of Nisan" -There is irony in the fact that the month of the Jew's celebration of the Passover deliverance form Egypt is also the month that Haman begins plotting their destruction (Ex. 12:1-11)
* "they" -Haman was not alone in this plot.
* "cast the pur (that is, the lot)" -To decide when to kill they Jews. "Pur" is found in Akkadian texts with the meaning "lot". the celebration knows as Purim takes its name form the plural of this noun.
* "fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar" -God gave the Jews almost a year to prepare.
8. What was the reason that Haman gave to the king for his advice? (8-9) Was this true? Why would he offer to pay money for iits execution? By his words, what was Haman trying to do? What did the king decided? (10-11)
Esther 3:8-9 "Then Haman said to King Xerxes, "There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.""
* "a certain people" -Haman kept the fact that the object of his suggested genocide was the Jews. This is because King's Xerxes' great-grandfather Cyrus, and father Darius I, had favored the Jews. I note that Daniel was high in command of the Medes and the Persian empire.
* "whose customs are different from those of all other people" -Many things can be said of this verse.
* Many Jews in captivity had not melted into Persian society before this time.
* Haman's words were meant to stir up racism in the king. This racism would be used to stir of fear in the kings heart, which would motivate him to kill all the Jews.
* "who do not obey the king's laws" -This was not true in fact Jeremiah 29:7 says, "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
* "ten thousand talents of silver" -Herodotus records that the annual income of the Persian empire was 15,000 talents. If this figure is correct, Haman offers two-thirds of that amount-a huge sum. Presumably the money would have come form the plundered wealth of the victims of the decree. Verse 13 implies that those who would take part in the massacre were to be allowed to keep the plunder, perhaps adding financial incentive to the execution of the decree since Xerxes disavows taking the money (11). On the other hand, 4:7 and 7:4 may imply that the king had planned on collecting some of the money.
Esther 3:10-11 "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. "Keep the money," the king said to Haman, "and do with the people as you please.""
* "So the king took his signet ring...and gave it to Haman"-As if not wanting to get involved. What ever was imprinted with the mark of that ring would be considered signed by the king himself.
* "the enemy of the Jews" -being an enemy of God's people makes one an enemy of God.
9. What did the edict say? (12-14) What does "destroy, kill, and annihilate" show about Haman's motivations? How and where was the edict distributed?
Esther 3:12-14 "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. 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 little children--on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 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."
* The Persian had an elaborate mail system similar to the old west Pony Express.
* "to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews" -This shows the level of Haman's hatred and the intensity of his commitment.
* "on a single day" -see notes on "to destroy..." above.
* "and to plunder their goods" -How many people today would do this if it was legal? Many!
10. After the edict was sent out, what did Haman and the king do? (15) How did the city respond to the edict? What might they think of such an edict? What would it mean for the security of others, not only the Jews?
Esther 3:15 "Spurred on by the king's command, the couriers went out, 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."
* "sat down to drink" -get drunk. It was not big thing to him. After his defeat by the Greek's between chapter 1 and 2, King Xerxes indulged in immorality as I have said before.
* "the city of Susa was bewildered" -Persia was made up of many nationalities. No doubt they wondered which would be next.