Esther 3

Esther Chapter 3

Mordecai Will Not Honor Haman

    • Some time later, King Ahasuerus honored Haman the Agagite, who was Hammedatha’s son, promoting him to a position higher than all the other officials who were with him. As a result, all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate were bowing down and paying homage to Haman, because the king had so commanded. Mordecai, however, did not bow down or pay him homage.

      • NET Bible writes, “The reason for Mordecai’s refusal to bow before Haman is not clearly stated here. Certainly the Jews did not refuse to bow as a matter of principle, as though such an action somehow violated the second command of the Decalogue. Many biblical texts bear witness to their practice of falling prostrate before people of power and influence (e.g., 1 Sam 24:8; 2 Sam 14:4; 1 Kgs 1:16). Perhaps the issue here was that Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites, a people who had attacked Israel in an earlier age (see Exod 17:8-16; 1 Sam 15:17-20; Deut 25:17-19).”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible elaborates, “These names [Haman…Hammedatha] are Persian. Agagite [is] rendered as a Gentile noun, i.e., and indication of ethnic origin. Ancient interpreters universally understood the text to mean that Haman was a member of the race of Agag, or the Amalekites…During the reign of King Saul, God ordered Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites and to take no plunder from them (see 1 Sa 15:2-3…) But Saul saved some of the loot and took the Amalekite king, Agag, as a captive (1 Sa 15:7-9). The prophet Samuel killed Agag, but not before informing Saul that his disobedience would cost him his throne (1 Sa 15:26-33). Since Mordecai is associated with the house of Saul…, the clash between Mordecai and Haman is set up as a ‘rematch’ of the Saul-Agag affair.”

    • Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command?” They spoke to him day after day, and he still wouldn’t comply. Therefore, they told Haman about it to see if Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, because he had told them he was a Jew.

Mordecai refusing to bow before Haman. From Hutchinson.

      • NET Bible says, “Mordecai’s position in the service of the king brought him into regular contact with these royal officials. Because of this association the officials would have found ample opportunity to complain of Mordecai’s refusal to honor Haman by bowing down before him.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “According to Herodotus, the Persians were very conscious of social class, observing strict protocols. They would greet equals with a kiss, but would always bow and make obeisance before those of higher standing. Such prostrations were foreign to the Greeks but common throughout the Near East. Ancient Near Eastern peoples often knelt before one another as a sign of respect. Israelites generally had no qualms with such demonstrations (e.g., Ge 33:3; 42:6; 1 Sa 20:41; 24:8). Given that prostration was such a common sign of respect, Mordecai’s refusal to kneel down or pay Haman honor…is a mystery. The rabbis invented a story that Haman carried an idol with him, and it was before this image that Mordecai refused to bow. But this story was moralistic rather than historical, with no textual support. A more likely explanation may be found in Mordecai’s assertion that he will not bow to Haman because he (Mordecai) is a Jew…It is probably ethnic antagonism between Jews and Amalekites that lies behind Mordecai’s refusal to pay Haman the required homage…”

Haman’s Plot Against the Jews

    • Haman became filled with rage when he saw that Mordecai didn’t bow or pay him homage. Yet, having learned Mordecai’s ethnic identity, he decided that doing away with Mordecai alone wasn’t enough. Instead, he set out to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout Ahasuerus’s kingdom.

      • ESV Study Bible writes, “Mordecai’s refusal to bow gave Haman the opportunity to reveal his hatred of the Jews by setting out to destroy them all. The whole kingdom of Ahasuerus…included Jerusalem and the surrounding area with its mainly Jewish population (see 1:1; cf Neh 1:1-3).”

    • In the first month, the month of Nisan, in the 12th year of King Ahasuerus’s reign, they cast Pur (meaning they cast lots) before Haman in order to determine a day and month. It turned out to be the 12th month, Adar.

      • NET Bible says, “This year would be ca. 474 b.c. The reference to first month and twelfth month indicate that about a year had elapsed between this determination and the anticipated execution…The term (pur, ‘lot’) is an Akkadian loanword; the narrator therefore explains it for his Hebrew readers (‘that is, the lot’). It is from the plural form of this word (i.e., Purim) that the festival celebrating the deliverance of the Jews takes its name (cf. 9:24, 26, 28, 31)” The same source notes that before the last sentence, the LXX includes the following text, “in order to destroy in one day the race of Mordecai, and the lot fell on the fourteenth day of the month.”

      • ESV Study Bible adds, “Nisan [is] the first month of the Jewish religious calendar, which began in spring with the Passover (Ex 12:1-2). While the Jews prepared to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt, Haman plotted their destruction.” On casting lots, the same source continues, “A traditional way of seeking divine guidance (Josh 18:6; Prov 16:33), or, as here, finding the most opportune time to do something.”

      • Also on the casting of lots, ESV Archaeological Study Bible points out, “Herodotus and Xenophon attest to this method’s being used in Persia. A ninth-century-BC Assyrian baked clay square inscribed with a prayer has been found; it was likely used for this purpose.”

    • Then Haman informed King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain group of people that is dispersed and scattered among the inhabitants throughout all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from everyone else’s, and they don’t obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 375 tons of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”

      • NIV Cultural Background Study Bible writes, “The Persians regularly allowed subject peoples to follow their own laws and customs, so long as these did not interfere with the peace of the empire. The Jews did, indeed, have unique customs, such as keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher foods, but these presented no danger to Xerxes. More troublesome was the charge that the Jews would not obey the king- i.e., they were rebellious (cf Ezr 4:14-15). Xerxes had dealt with the revolt in Egypt in the first year of his reign (485 BC), and he ferociously suppressed revolts in Babylon in 484 and 482 BC. In the course of this action, Xerxes showed none of the mollifying tendencies for which Cyrus had been famous. He had no compunctions about using ruthless tactics to secure the compliance of his subjects. The size of the bribe that Haman offered was fantastic. According to the standard established by King Darius, it equaled about 375 tons of silver. Based on the figures given in Herodotus, Haman’s bribe has been estimated to equal about two-thirds of Persia’s annual revenue.”

      • ESV Study Bible adds that Haman’s statement that the Jews didn’t keep the king’s laws was, “An allusion to Mordecai’s refusal to bow…with the false implication that all the Jews behave similarly.” The bribe was, the same source continues, “A clever tactic by Haman. The remission of taxes (2:18) and the unsuccessful war with Greece…may have left the royal treasury low on funds.”

      • NET Bible says, “Doubtless this huge sum of money was to come (in large measure) from the anticipated confiscation of Jewish property and assets once the Jews had been destroyed. That such a large sum of money is mentioned may indicate something of the economic standing of the Jewish population in the empire of King Ahasuerus.”

    • So the king took the signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman the Agagite, Hammedatha’s son, the enemy of the Jews. Then the king said to Haman, “Keep the money and do as you please with the people.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible points out, “The Hebrew reads lit. ‘The money is given to you.’ Many translators follow the Septuagint…in understanding that Xerxes told Haman that the king would fund the Jews’ destruction himself rather than accept Haman’s offer of silver. But since Mordecai states later that Haman’s promised funds would go into the royal treasury (4:7), the Hebrew reading seems preferable…”

      • HCSB remarks, “Some critics doubt that the king would approve the eradication of an entire race of people within his kingdom. However, there is historical evidence from this period of just such acts. Herodotus records an event some time before Darius became king, in which a group known as magi became some reviled by Persians that the Persians killed all of them they could find. Then the Persians instituted an annual festival known as Magophonia or ‘Killing of the Magi,’ during which no Magus was to show himself in public for the entire day (Her 3:79).”

    • So the king’s scribes were summoned on the 13th day of the first month. Everything Haman had commanded was written to the king’s satraps and governors of each of the provinces, and the officials of each ethnic group, and written for each province in its own script and to each ethnic group in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with his signet ring. Letters were sent by runners to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews- young and old, women and children- and to loot and plunder their possessions, on a particular day: the 13th day of Adar, which is the 12th month.

      • ESV Study Bible says, “Because of the extent of the empire, it took almost twelve months to notify and prepare all those responsible for putting the edict into effect.”

      • HCSB notes, “Critics doubt that the king would have issued an order of this magnitude that wouldn’t be carried out for eleven months. However, it 193 BC Antiochus III issued a decree for a similar action that had a fourteen month delay.”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Haman’s choice of the day before Passover began (Exod 12:6) was probably calculated to terrorize and demoralize the Jews. But as he did at the Exodus, God would deliver the Jews miraculously from a tyrant who was trying to destroy them.”

      • NET Bible notes, “The LXX does not include the words “on the thirteenth day.”

Addition B (located between verses 13 and 14)

The King’s Letter

    • The following is a copy of the letter:

      • The Great King, Artaxerxes,writes the following to the governors of the 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia and the officials under them:

      • Having become ruler of many nations and master of the whole world (not elated with the presumption of authority but always acting reasonably and with kindness), I have decided to settle the lives of my subjects in lasting tranquility, and in order to make my kingdom peaceable and open to travel throughout its entirety, to restore the peace desired by all people.

      • When I asked my advisers how this might be accomplished, Haman- who excels among us in sound judgment, and is distinguished for his unchanging goodwill and steadfast loyalty, and has attained the second highest rank in the kingdom- pointed out to us that there is a certain hostile people group who are scattered among all the nations in the world. Their laws are contrary to those of every other nation and continually in disobedience to the king’s laws, preventing us from carrying out our honorable intention of unifying the kingdom. We understand that this people, and it alone, constantly stands in opposition to every nation, perversely following a strange way of life and laws, and is antagonistic to our government, doing all the harm that they can to prevent our kingdom from attaining stability.

      • Therefore we have decreed that the people indicated to you in the letters written by Haman, who is in charge of affairs and is our second father, shall all- wives and children included- be utterly destroyed by the swords of their enemies, without pity or restraint, on the 14th day of the 12th month, Adar, of this present year, so that those who have been and remain hostile, may in one single day go down in violence to Hades, and leave our government completely secure and untroubled hereafter.”

        • It is unanimously agreed that Additions B and E were composed in Greek. Moore explains this in terms of both external and internal evidence. He explains that versions based on the Hebrew text lack the Additions, while those versions based on the LXX include the Additions. Overall it is their rhetorical style that gives them away: ‘their literary style, which is best characterized as florid, rhetorical, and bombastic, is free of all Hebraisms and is quite unlike Greek translation of other Semitic decrees in the Bible.’ In other words, the Greek of Additions B and E reads unlike any other portion of Esther.”

        • It is universally agreed that Additions B and E were original Greek compositions, while the rest were written in either Hebrew or Aramaic. At the surface level, it seems a safe assumption that Additions A, C, D and F, originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, were written before the Additions in Greek (B and E).”

End Addition B

    • A copy of this document was to be presented throughout every province as law, and made known to all the peoples so that they would be prepared for this day. The runners went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in the citadel of Susa. While the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.

      • NET Bible points out, “This final statement of v. 15 is a sad commentary on the pathetic disregard of despots for the human misery and suffering that they sometimes inflict on those who are helpless to resist their power. Here, while common people braced for the reckless loss of life and property that was about to begin, the perpetrators went about their mundane activities as though nothing of importance was happening.”

      • ESV Study Bible adds that the statement that the residents of Susa were thrown into a confusion is, “Reassuring evidence that many of Susa’s citizens did not share Haman’s intense hatred of the Jews.”

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