Esther 3 – Haman’s Devious Plan
Read: Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19; 1 Samuel 15:1-19a Sing: Ps. 37:1,3,5,16; Ps. 38:8,10
The first two chapters of Esther introduce the main theme of this book: the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That struggle still determines the history of this world. We are unable to make sense of all that happens unless we see the events in the light of Genesis 3:15. All that takes place on the stage of this world either serves the Lord’s purpose or promotes the devil’s agenda. From the quiet assurance of faith we know that no matter how things develop, the Lord will be victorious and the outcome will not remain a perpetual question mark.
The opposition against God and his church and the God-ordained enmity between the believers and the unbelievers has not changed in the 2500 years since this book was written. Also today the church of Christ is persecuted in many parts of this world. Satan has not changed his mind one little bit about harassing believers and destroying the people of God. Our God has not changed either! That is why we do not lose heart. Jesus Christ will preserve his church; not necessarily against violence, persecution, and martyrdom but he will preserve it by granting us eternal life. After all, death is not our greatest enemy – sin is! Death was conquered when Jesus died and rose again. It is now the gateway into glory for every child of God. Sin remains a constant danger, especially the sin of compromise – the desire to secure our future by going along with the flow.
Esther teaches us there is a fundamental difference between God’s people and his enemies. This difference is not due to the nature of the people, but because of God’s grace and faithfulness which he extends in order to preserve his church, first and foremost because of his holy and glorious Name.
Why Haman wanted a Plan (Esther 3:1-6)
When Esther 3 opens, roughly five years have elapsed since Esther became queen. We are introduced to someone new in the person of Haman, the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite. The names Haman and Hammedatha are Persian names which leads many commentators to the conclusion that there’s no connection at all to Agag, the king of the Amalekites. They either ignore the reference or explain it as just a name without any special importance. This is not the case. After all, “Esther” is also a Persian name, yet she was of Jewish descent. Just as with Mordecai, who was introduced with regards to his descent in the previous chapter, the Lord does not fill his Word with information that serves no purpose. Since the addition “the Agagite” is definitely not Persian, the author of the book wants us to take special notice.
We are not told anything about Haman’s past. No doubt, he was one of Xerxes’ palace officials who was well liked by the king. So well liked in fact, that he was given a place above all other servants. Today we would say Haman was appointed Prime Minister. Next to Xerxes, he held the highest position in the great Persian Empire. The man did not suffer from low self-esteem; his arrogance and pride oozed through at every opportunity. He used every chance to trumpet his own importance. All the other king’s officials were commanded by Xerxes to bow down before Haman, to pay him great honour and esteem.
Mordecai was the only person who did not bow before Haman. His colleagues were surprised, perhaps upset, and maybe even jealous. Most likely they could not stand Haman with his tremendously inflated ego. Why else did Xerxes have to command them to bow? Was that not the normal way of acknowledging men of great authority? Whatever the case, they kept questioning Mordecai as to why he disobeyed the king’s command. Mordecai could not be swayed, but when pressed for the reason why, he told them it was because of his Jewish heritage.
Once again, many Bible commentators jump to a conclusion that holds no water in the light of Scripture. They claim that the Lord forbade his children to bow before people. However that’s not the case at all, as we read that Abraham bowed before the Hittites, Jacob before Esau, Bathsheba before David, and Solomon before his mother! The Lord demands in the 5th commandment that his people honour the authorities; that includes paying respect by bowing or making a curtsy. Why did Mordecai refuse to do so? Was it national pride or just stubbornness? The text gives us no information, but we may safely conclude that Mordecai’s refusal was more than pride and stubbornness. After all, he risked death by disobeying the king’s order.
All of this sheds a little more light on Mordecai. The book does not tell us how committed he was to the Lord, nor provides any details about his religious life. We do know that Mordecai knew the history of his people, especially relating to the Amalekites. God had cursed them, telling Israel to destroy them completely. How could he bow before such an enemy and pay homage to such a man? Mordecai’s fellow-officials rushed off to Haman; no doubt they wanted to see if Mordecai could get away with such an attitude. Haman listened, and the next time he paraded himself through the palace precincts, he kept a close eye on Mordecai. Indeed, he had been well-informed. There stood Mordecai, ramrod straight while everyone else kissed the ground! The gall of the fellow! Haman was enraged. He bristled with anger: who did Mordecai think he was, to insult him publicly? Mordecai wouldn’t get away with this; for this he would die.
However, Haman was not satisfied with killing only Mordecai. When he heard that the man was a Jew, he got a brilliant idea – he would get rid of all those detestable Jews. His evil mind worked overtime devising a plan. So Satan used a personal conflict between Mordecai and Haman as an opportunity to eliminate God’s chosen people. Would he succeed?
The Approval of Haman’s Plan (Esther 3:8-15)
Haman developed a plan which included telling half-truths and outright lies. This identifies him as a true son of the devil, whom Jesus once called “a murderer from the beginning… and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) Haman’s superstition forced him to use divination to pick the most suitable day for such a colossal undertaking. The time appointed by “the gods” was the 13th day of the month of Adar, the last month of the year.
To execute his evil plan, Haman needed the king to give him the green light. He approached Xerxes immediately and couched his personal hatred against Mordecai and his people in diplomatic language that supposedly had the wellbeing of the empire in mind. He started by telling a truth – always the best way to make others swallow the lies that follow. “O king”, he said, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom.” Well, that was nothing new. The Persian Empire included many conquered nations that were scattered across its vast expanse. Next came the half-truth: This people’s “customs are different from those of all other people.” Was that really true? Which customs exactly? Certainly some of them were different, for example, reading the Torah (the five books of Moses), or serving a God who must not be represented by an image. But what about praying? Or fasting? Was that not done by all religious people? What was wrong with those customs anyhow? Was the Persian realm not known for allowing its subjects freedom to serve whichever god they preferred?
Then came the lie; a vicious lie! It was a monstrous falsehood made to persuade the king to give Haman full authority on the matter: These people “do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” In essence he says: The peace and welfare of the Empire are in great danger! If you do not take decisive measures this disobedience will lead to an open rebellion and your throne is at stake, Xerxes! Give me a free hand and I will take care of it. Why don’t you issue a decree to destroy these potential rebels? I will see to it that the treasury won’t suffer. I will personally vouch for ten thousand talents of silver to finance this gigantic undertaking.
How did the king react, that spineless playboy and womanizer? He didn’t even ask who the people were, and Haman was smart enough not to tell. In response to Haman’s words Xerxes took off his signet ring and gave it to Haman, so that the decree could be authorized and made irrevocable with the imprint of the king.
Haman must have been elated – it could not have gone better. The king was so impressed with his new Prime Minister’s dedication to the welfare of the realm that he did not even want the money. Little did he know that Haman’s love of himself was the immediate reason for this evil plan. “You go ahead, Haman”, Xerxes said, “and do with the people as you please.”
Once again Haman acted immediately and put the civil service to work. That same day the royal decree was sent by couriers to all the governors and other officials who were responsible for its execution. No mercy was to be shown; all Jews were to be exterminated. Haman turned out to be a terrible predecessor of Adolf Hitler (who had six million Jews killed). Haman commanded that the possessions of the Jews be plundered. No doubt that’s where Haman intended to get the ten thousand talents of silver which he had promised the king. It is easy to be generous with other people’s assets! Do not forget this decree had become a law, and all of Xerxes’ subjects were forced to participate in this plunder and killing orgy. They were to make sure everything was ready for the 13th day of Adar.
What was the immediate result? In Susa, the winter capital of the Persian kings, the population was bewildered and afraid. “What next?” they must have said to each other. “What is going on? The Jews this year – who next?” While Susa was in uproar, Xerxes and Haman toasted this grandiose plan. They drank on its propitious result, each for his own reasons. Xerxes drank because it would benefit his empire and Haman because of his hatred for the Jews. This hatred was not just the result of Mordecai’s insult, but went far deeper. It had its roots in redemptive history and was related to the enmity that God proclaimed already ages ago. It was also connected to the curse God had pronounced on Amalek.
The Background to Haman’s Plan (Esther 3:1,10)
Let us focus our attention on the first and tenth verse of our chapter where Haman is introduced as an Agagite. Why? What does that have to do with the main contents of this book? Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews finds its source in this description. Agag, as we read in 1 Samuel 15, was the name of an Amalekite king. Whether it was a personal name or a title is not certain; most Bible scholars believe it’s the latter. Just as Pharaoh was a title for the Egyptian kings, Agag was a name of honour for the Amalekite rulers.
Who were these Amalekites? In one way they didn’t differ much from the other nations of the past. They were all Gentiles and enemies of Israel, God’s chosen people. However, the Amalekites were one of the worst and their hatred of Israel knew no bounds. From Genesis 36 we learn that Amalek was a grandson of Esau and that gave an extra flavor to their hatred of the Jews. Although Jacob and Esau were brothers, God had made it very clear that the promised Saviour would hail from Jacob and not from Esau. The Lord had said that “the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) That is what Esau refused to accept. As a child of the covenant he rebelled against God’s sovereignty and as a result he rejected the Lord and his service. Yes, he came to hate God and that makes his sin so much greater. It is especially in the Amalekites that we witness this hatred. Were they not the first nation that attacked the Jews just after fleeing Egypt? They snuck up from the rear and as the Israelites were weary and tired, the Amalekites attacked the stragglers first. That shows their devious ways and reminds us of their spiritual father Satan, who also would bruise the heel of the coming Redeemer.
What’s more, “they had no fear of God.” (Deuteronomy 25:18) Why is that mentioned? Did any Gentile nation fear God? No, but the Amalekites knew about God’s covenant and the covenant promise and rejected them because it was God’s sovereign good pleasure to make Jacob the forefather of the promised Redeemer. They couldn’t stand it that Esau was bypassed and Israel was chosen to bring the Saviour into the world. That is why they became Israel’s arch enemies. So much so, that the Lord said “[I] will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:16) That is why Israel was told to destroy them utterly! When Saul did not carry this command out completely but spared Agag, God was so angry that he rejected Saul as Israel’s king.
It is this historical background which explains the hatred of Haman. Why else would a man, who felt insult and contempt from one person, devise a plan to kill all the Jews? You’d think he would have simply eliminated Mordecai and then kept busy boosting his ego in every possible way. But Haman was filled with hatred against all the Jewish people and saw a glorious opportunity to take revenge. That’s why verse 10 calls him “the enemy of the Jews”. The devil must have chuckled. What a marvelous turn of events! With one bold idea of his wicked genius, he not only used Haman’s vanity but also his simmering hatred against God’s covenant people to destroy them all. Now it would only be a matter of time before the Jews would be totally eliminated. What does that mean? That Christ could not come and God had been checkmated! Then the devil would be victorious and the whole world would sink away into the abyss of sin and every kind of wickedness. Worst of all, God’s glory would never be sung by a church chosen to everlasting life.
This is what lies behind the events of our chapter. It was not Haman against Mordecai, or the remnant of the Amalekites against the Jews; it was Satan against God. It was the serpent against the seed of the woman, and unbelief against faith. All because the devil and his followers couldn’t stand the love of God, and the enemies of the Lord and his people hated the gospel of grace. Today, that is still the case! That is what is behind the violence and persecution, the discrimination and mockery, the torture and murder of God’s children. That is what the Hamans of this world hate with a passion. They are not against religion. As a matter of fact they like to pride themselves on their dependence on a higher being, but they refuse to honour the sovereign God. They will give you the room to serve anyone you like, as long as it’s not the God of grace, the God whom we know as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That makes the opposition and hatred against the Lord and his church so much more serious in our days. The God of grace no longer binds himself to one particular nation but he has his gospel proclaimed all across this world. The promise of salvation comes to every one indiscriminately so that all who are called are earnestly called, as we confess in the Canons of Dort, III/IV, Article 8. Yet, how many do not reject that call? Can you understand that the most blessed news that’s ever been proclaimed in this world is ignored, dismissed, and hated with a passion? Does that not reveal the horror of sin? Is that not proof that people have no time for God and his Christ but prefer to enjoy the fleeting pleasures which sin provides and the devil promotes at every opportunity?
Haman the Agagite’s hatred against God and his people was terrible, though the enmity was his own doing. As an Amalekite, he refused to submit to the sovereign good pleasure of God. As a grandson of Esau, he boasted in his own abilities and claimed that the blessing of God should have been his. The hatred of our times is far worse and more inexcusable – fancy rejecting the grace of God and despising him for no other reason but his goodness! Haman wanted to rid this world of God’s people, but that would not happen. The Lord watches over his children and he will preserve his church, then and now.
The Guidance of Haman’s Plan (Esther 3:7)
We still have to deal with verse 7. There we read that the lot was cast when Haman made up his mind to kill all the Jews. Why did he do that and what did it involve? Apparently Haman was a religious person, which goes to show that the most wicked people are not necessarily atheists (c.f. Adolf Hitler who referred to Providence very often). Deep down every human being is aware that there is more to life than what he sees and feels. We know very little about Haman’s religious convictions but the fact that he had the lot cast tells us enough. In the Persian Empire there was a whole caste of astrologers who claimed to be able to read the future from the stars. Just think of the Magi who travelled to Canaan at Jesus’ birth and came from the same region. Had they not consulted the stars to tell them of the newborn king? In that situation the Lord used their superstitious beliefs to get them to worship the Christ, and here we witness the same. The Lord rules over all and that includes the false religions and superstitious beliefs of this world.
Somehow Haman must have felt that with such a formidable plan he needed help. There was too much at stake! He didn’t want to rush the matter. “Better be cautious”, he must have thought, “and get all the support I can muster”. That’s why he approached the Persian priests and asked for their co-operation. He would not have divulged his plan to them. Imagine if Xerxes would not have agreed; it could have cost him his head or at least a demotion. All he would have requested was to be told the most propitious time for a very important matter, and that’s what happens. How it exactly went, we don’t know, but that’s not important either. What is important is the outcome, for the lot fell in the month of Adar, the last month of the year. When you consider that the casting of the lot took place in the month of Nissan, the first month of the year, we see that the lot provided the greatest possible time-span. Eleven months would elapse before the momentous day would arrive.
Do you see the Lord at work here? Everything went so smoothly! Xerxes not only agreed to Haman’s wicked plan but he even drank to a successful outcome. The decree was sent out immediately and within a matter of weeks the entire empire would be informed and the Jews would be devastated. What a terrible future to look forward to!
The Lord was present. It may sometimes look as if he wasn’t, but he was there nevertheless! Why else did the lot fall on the 13th of Adar? Why else would there be a span of eleven months between the plan and its execution? God rules also over the schemes of Satan and his followers. He directs even the most gruesome assaults that are plotted against his church. He would not let this evil happen, not just because of his covenant people the Jews, but because of his own glorious Name and his faithfulness to his redemptive promises! God would also stop this evil because of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of his church, the seed of the woman, who would not only redeem his people but also destroy his enemies.
It is like the Bible says “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33) God gave his people time to prepare and he himself used that time to bring about an unexpected outcome. It was the 13th of Nissan when the decree was written and sent out. On the 13th of Nissan the death of the entire Jewish nation was sealed. The 13th of Nissan was also the night before the Passover Feast, commemorating the night before Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. This time there was no blood on the Jews’ doorposts causing the angel of death to pass over them. No blood this time? No literal blood as at the Passover Feast of yore, but the blood of Jesus Christ!
It would still be centuries before Christ arrived, and even then it would take thirty years before he shed his blood to set his people free. Yet Jesus’ blood was Israel’s deliverance already in Esther’s time, and it’s only because of that blood that the Lord rescued his people. Things have changed a lot since the book of Esther but what has not changed is the enmity and hatred of Satan and his followers against the Lord and his church. As a matter of fact, it has increased, says the book of Revelation (ch. 12). Satan knows that his time is running out. He could not prevent Christ’s birth, death or resurrection and that’s why he vents his hatred against the church in whatever way seems best to him.
Many times it looks as if he will succeed. The opposition grows and many Christians compromise rather than staying faithful to the Lord and his Word; many others are fearful. What will the future bring? How will the church be able to continue? Worst of all, they cry “Where is God, why doesn’t he intervene?” He will, not first for our sakes, but for his own sake. The Jews of Esther’s days did not merit God’s intervention and yet the Lord had mercy on them because of his covenant promises. That is also our only hope and that is why we should pray:
“Lord God and heavenly Father, come to our aid. Save us from the claws of the devil and his many friends who are out to destroy us. Do it for your own name’s sake, oh Lord. Do it for the sake of Christ and his precious blood. Open our eyes so that we may notice your presence. You will never forsake us and that is why we are able to go on. We look forward to the day the war will be over and the enmity gone and we will sing the praise of your faithfulness for ever and ever. Amen.”
1. In this outline we read: “Death is not our greatest enemy – sin is.” Do you agree? Don’t we tend to fear death much more than sin? Why is that?
Why Haman wanted a Plan
2. How do we know that at the beginning of our chapter Esther has been queen for about 5 years?
3. We are called to show respect to those set in authority over us. (Romans 13:7) Mordecai did not do so in our text, on the basis of the enmity between Israel and Amalek. Does that justify his actions? Would it ever be appropriate for us to act in a similar way?
The Background to Haman’s Plan
4. Who were the Amalekites descendants of? When did the enmity between Israel and Amalek begin? When and why did God command their total destruction?
5. The outline draws a parallel between the Amalekites attacking the Israelite stragglers and Satan bruising the Redeemer’s heel. (Genesis 3:15) How are these two connected?
6. Can you give some examples of “religious” people who deny God, or even a higher being?
The Guidance of Haman’s Plan
7. Haman cast the lot in the first month, and was told to act on the 13th of Adar. (Esther 3:7) How can we see God’s providence at work in that?
8. The fate of the Jews was sealed to Haman’s satisfaction on the 13th of Nissan, the day before Passover. Why is this divine irony?
9. There is an underlying theme in this book of God using his providence to control world events. How do we see that in this chapter as well?