Esther 3: Next March
Imagine you would hear the news that in just under one year you will be killed because you are a professing Christian. Whether you are a Christian man, Christian woman, or Christian child, it makes no difference; you have a sentence of death hanging over you. The edict reads: “To destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all...” People would take your houses, property, bank accounts, belongings, everything. You would be wiped off the face of the earth. That is exactly what the Jews throughout Persia territories heard one day. And it would all take place next March.
Consulting the Stars
It was sometime in or around April 474 BC, the first month of the Jewish calendar (v. 7). Haman, the head of the king’s princes, was setting the date to execute his plan. It would be in the month Adar, the twelfth month (v. 7), which would be similar to our month of March. That would be almost a full year away.
How did Haman arrive at that date? Scripture tells us that Haman “cast the lot (Pur)” (Esther 3:7). Casting the lot was not as simple as throwing some dice as we think of it today. Although it involved something like dice, it also involved intricate arts. The Persians were famous for their mixture of philosophy and astrology. Especially important and powerful people consulted the stars in order to make decisions that would be more favourable. Some rabbis have even thought that the ancient astrologers presented to Haman all the different things they thought the stars had in store in the coming year. They found that every month was to the advantage of the Jews except for the month of Adar, and that the thirteenth day in particular had nothing that looked favorable for the Jewish nation. And so Haman superstitiously selected it as the best opportunity to execute his plan.
This is only legend. However, we can be sure that the ancient Persians believed in fate. We know rulers used astrology and magic to guide their political decisions. In fact, these pagan people believed that the first month of the year was a good time to cast lots to decide the most favorable dates for the rest of the year. Haman did as well. The idea that fate directs all things might seem remote to our society, when many despise all things that cannot be tested in a laboratory. Yet, our age is as superstitious as any other. With all our science and technology, people are still craving something to guide and direct them. They need something to give them meaning and significance beyond the actuarial formulae of insurance companies or the chemical formulae of pharmaceutical substances. Thus the web and libraries are filled with speculations about spiritual beings and spiritualities that you can craft to your own exact taste and liking.
Standing in the Way of Stardom
What prompted Haman to devise such a monstrous plan? It might seem laughable; yet it is true: one man refused to bow before him. Haman had been promoted so that he was second only to the king. But on his way to “stardom,” there was something that stood in his path. It was a Jew, whose name was Mordecai. He stood firm and tall when everyone honoured Haman as the rising star in the empire. Even when people pressed him repeatedly to bow (v. 4), he refused.
This willingness to stand out is remarkably different from what we have seen so far in both Mordecai and Esther. Thus far in the story, they both attempted to hide in the masses, not revealing their identity as Jews. Something has changed, however, for Mordecai. The text does not tell us exactly why he refused. Elsewhere in the Bible people bowed before kings and superiors (2 Sam. 14:4; 18:28; even Esther 8:3), so it wasn’t that unusual in Bible times. Some have thought it was because Haman was an Agagite (3:1), a descendent of Agag, the king of the Amalekites, archenemies of the Jews. This may be part of it. Others think it was just a personal vendetta, or perhaps that Mordecai knew something about Haman that made him refuse to bow. I personally think the text suggests that it would have been idolatry. Note the way the text states with double emphasis “bow and do reverence” (3:2, 5). Haman was expecting to be treated as a god. Certainly, the way Haman reacted shows how much of a star he thought himself to be. Haman was furious at Mordecai’s failure to bow. Much like Nebuchadnezzar when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow to his statue, Haman’s fury could not contain itself. He set himself not only against Mordecai, but against Mordecai’s people, the whole Jewish race.
Sadly, the world is no freer from genocide today than it was during Moredcai’s day. Whole races and nations are the target of people’s envy and desire for revenge. We all know of Hitler’s gas chambers. We hear of Darfur and the ethnic cleansing that marked Serbia during the previous decade. Sadly, Christians have also been involved in hatred against the Jewish people, though in other cases, they too have been the target of persecution. “Their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them” (3:8), Haman explained to Ahasverus. Ahasverus was satisfied with Haman’s reasoning. He didn’t need any further explanation. He took off his ring, signed and sealed the decree, and the two went off to enjoy a drink (3:15).
Christians are the target of Satan. Satan desires their destruction today no less than Haman desired the destruction of the Jews in his day. His forces are arrayed against all servants of the Lord. He has issued his satanic decree. The reason for his fury is that they stand in the way to his stardom. Like their Master, they will not bow before him, though he dangles before them all the power of this earth (Matt. 4:9). The only thing is, the time of our destruction is not next March. It is now (1 Pet. 5:8). In fact, the serpent knows that “he hath but a short time” (Rev. 12:12). Shall we not cry out to our God, who holds the stars in His hands, and say: “Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old ... Arise, O God, plead thine own cause” (Ps 74:2 & 22). The truth is that for Christ’s sake – the day of doom will be a day of doom ... for Haman.
- What is the difference between belief in fate and the doctrine of providence?
- Why is our culture obsessed with lottery, gambling, and chance? What is a Christian’s response to these things?
- Our world has its “stars” and “idols,” often music or entertainment personas. How do our young (and older) people get swept up in this phenomenon? How can we be like Mordecai and stand up against these trends?
- Read Proverbs 16:33 and Esther 3:7. Read also Matthew 27:35. How should we think about God’s direction behind the lot in this chapter?
- Haman’s reaction against all the Jews was certainly very strong. But can we not in smaller ways show a similar spirit? How do we do that and how does God’s Spirit refashion people on this point.