Esther Chapter 3
Can God take your mess and use it for his plan and purposes? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he walks us through Esther 3 and helps us see God's hand in uncertain circumstances.
When God sovereignly places you in a chaotic situation that seems hopeless, what will you do? Will you give up in fear or go forth with faith? It’s a question you might be facing right now in your dysfunctional family, in the office where you work for a two-star, on a complex team project you were recently promoted to, or in a company buy-out where you’ve kept your job but are now under a very unpleasant, unprincipled manager. Will you be courageous for truth, your faith, and your Lord when given the opportunity?
Someone once rightly said that the courage of one leads to the courage of others. Sometimes, you get the courage you need by looking to a model of someone who lived well in wicked times. For our purposes, Mordecai is that living illustration. Once his cousin, Esther, became the Queen of Persia, things radically changed in his life and career and seemed to be looking up. But then, with the entrance and elevation of another man in the empire, things went terribly south. How Mordecai behaved when the chaos unfolded around him is a living example of how we should live as followers of the living God.
Since this part of the historical narrative begins at 2:19 and ends at 3:15, we will treat this as one study. As usual, we will methodically move our way through the paragraph divisions of the story, seeking to glean wisdom and insight into the adversity we either will face or are currently dealing with. From my study, there are seven divisions of this recounting of what happened to Mordecai after Esther’s amazing elevation as Jew to the role of Queen.
First, there is what I’ll call . . .
The Revolution (Esther 2:19-23)
These verses reveal that things were not well in the political inner workings of the superpower, Persia.
19 And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai sat at the king's gate. 20 Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther did what Mordecai told her as she had done when under his care. (Esther 2)
This second gathering of the virgins was probably to give Xerxes one last glimpse of the young ladies he had passed over in his final choice of Esther for his new queen. Seeing them, he could rest assured he had made the right decision. Esther, of course, wisely kept her Jewishness under wraps as Mordecai advised her, for this would have probably precluded her from being chosen in the first place. Had she compromised? Yes. Did the ends justify the means? No, because I don’t think she was forced to be a “contestant,” as I’ve stated earlier. Did her sin hamstring the providential movements of God? By no means. Your sinful choices don’t thwart His lofty purposes in your life, either. Dr. Tony Evans once told us in class at Dallas Seminary in 1981, “Gentlemen, our God can hit a target every time with a crooked arrow.” Esther and Mordecai had fired a crooked arrow called deception; however, God ensured it hit the mark He deemed necessary. Have you fired any crooked arrows lately?
Before we move on, I want to analyze the clause briefly: “Then Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate.” The Hebrew is most instructive:
וּמָרְדֳּכַ֖י יֹשֵׁ֥ב בְּשַֽׁעַר־הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃
A conjunction, waw (or “and), when wedded to a non-verb, viz. Mordecai grammatically creates an emphatic statement designed to arrest your attention. This should be classified as an introductory use of the waw disjunctive. Ostensibly, this means a new story is being presented and is one full of surprises.
Here, the surprise is Mordecai “sitting at the king’s gate.” The participle “sitting” should be classified as an iterative, meaning he did this frequently. This statement seems unimportant to Westerners but not to an ancient person. In city gates, business deals transpired, various gods were worshipped as folks entered the city, kings dispensed justice from thrones established here, and judges made judicial decisions. Here is a picture of the location of the king’s throne that I took in 2004 at the entrance of the city of Dan. Isaiah 29:21 is one text that validates the importance of the city gate:
20 For the ruthless will come to an end, and the scorner will be finished, Indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off; 21 Who cause a person to be indicted by a word, and ensnare him who adjudicates at the gate, and defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments. (Isa. 29)
One of the reasons Israel fell as a nation was their Department of Justice became corrupt insofar as it was used to inflict punishment on innocent people using trumped-up charges. Sound familiar? In any event, Mordecai wasn’t just sitting in this location playing chess with all the older men and exchanging stories while sipping a latte. Esther must have used her new power to thank him for raising her and putting her in a position to become the Queen by giving him some judicial job in the empire. I’m sure that didn’t settle well with the surrounding Persians.
“In those days” is a temporal marker denoting the passage of time. Hence, in time, Mordecai just (sovereignly) “happened” to hear about an impending assassination plot against King Xerxes.
21 In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's officials from those who guarded the door, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.
What door did these two men guard? The door to the royal residence. I remember the first time I went to the Executive Eisenhower Office Building next to the West Wing of the White House to pray with Vice President Pence’s staff. The presence of four muscular, well-dressed young men in suits standing outside his office door informed me I was at the location. As they were here to protect Pence, these two men were supposed to protect the king. But they didn’t like the king and secretly wanted him removed so they, or others, could run the country in a supposedly better fashion. There's nothing like a coup d’état to get things moving in another political direction.
The insurrection didn’t go as planned for Bigthan and Teresh.
22 But the plot became known to Mordecai, and he told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai's name. 23 Now when the plot was investigated and found to be so, they were both hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king's presence (Est. 2).
We don’t know how Mordecai heard of the plot, but he did. What did he do with the intel? He did the right thing. Somehow, he slipped the intel to Esther, who told the king. The king launched an investigation into the veracity of the charge. Both men were quickly executed on the gallows, and the whole sordid, sinister incident was placed for all time in the public record.
From this, we get a picture of Esther's story. Irony drips all over the account. A man who was supposed to be killed wasn’t. This echoes what will happen between Mordecai and Haman later. An evil plot was exposed, and justice was rendered. Again, this is another irony, for eventually, the evil plot of Haman to exterminate all the Jews will be brought to light, and swift justice will fall on him, not them. Gallows for two will become the gallows for one, Haman. Their deaths for daring to deceive and oppose the king merely foretell what will happen to Haman in the future.
Historically, please understand these gallows had nothing in common with what you’d see in an old western. The word in Hebrew is just the plural for “trees.” What does this mean? It means the Persians, who invented the first form of crucifixion, skinned a tree of its branches, formed a sharp tip out of one end, and then impaled the guilty person on it. The lengthy, lofty pole was finally dropped in a hole, and the criminal was exposed to the elements for what proved to be a gruesome, slow death. Everyone who passed by quickly learned it wasn’t wise to attempt to overthrow the king. Talk about a deterrent. This short, fast-moving episode sets the tone for the book by demonstrating how God works in and through complex, chaotic events to stretch and protect us. As He does this, ironic reversals occur we never dreamed would transpire.
Moving to the following central section, the story takes an unexpected and radical turn. Just when you’d think Mordecai would be rewarded for his courage in bringing for the assassination plot, that did not occur. It should have. According to Herodotus, the Persians were known for lavishly rewarding those who supported them. Overlooking Mordecai’s actions was unconscionable; however, the slight merely sets the stage for God to use this in Mordecai’s life later. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Have you been overlooked for a bold, morally right decision you made? Does this personal slight stick in your craw a bit, even though you didn’t do what you did for praise and elevation? God knows what you did, and in due time, all the threads of your life choices to advance righteousness will be woven into a final tapestry.
Now, back to the shocking reversal in the story:
The Reward (Esther 3:1)
The reward should have gone to Mordecai, but it didn’t. Enter Haman, a vile, wicked, and cunning politician. He did something the King so enjoyed; he elevated this man to the number two spot in the empire:
1 After these events King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him. (Est. 3)
I’m sure you’ve encountered this in life. When you should have received a promotion, it went to someone who really didn’t deserve it. You have character, and they didn’t. Yet, when it came time for a promotion, they, of all people, got it, and they just passed over you like you never existed. If this has occurred in your life, realize that God is the God of injustices like this.
Who was Haman? He is an Agagite. No big deal, you say? Oh, quite the contrary. Agagites were descendants of the Amalakites, and the Amalakites were Israel's ancient enemy from their departure from Egyptian bondage. While the two million Jews trudged through the sands of the desert of Sinai, the Amalekites ruthlessly picked off the elderly, the sick, and the disabled, who drifted to the back of the massive line. Concerning them, Moses declared:
17 Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, 18 how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget. (Deut. 25)
Some 960 years later, Mordecai knew and followed God’s commandments, as we shall see. He, a descendant of King Saul, will do what Saul didn’t do when he dealt with an Amalekite politician. Saul was commanded by the prophet Samuel, some 400 years (who says God doesn’t remember to bring justice?) after the Exodus, to use his military power to eradicate the Amalekites for their ruthless anti-semitic behavior (1 Sam. 15). He, on the contrary, disobeyed God and showed mercy that was founded in greed. Mordecai, who lived some 565 years after Saul, was positioned by God to finish Saul's job and protect Israel from harm. It’s a calling he embraced.
As a side note, you must take stock of your life and ask yourself: Has God strategically placed me so I will be privy to intel that should be used to bring an unjust person to justice? Has God strategically placed me near an evil, godless, vile person to unseat them so people are protected? Have many years of angst with a person and their kin finally evolved to a point where I can, and should, take definitive action to establish justice and erect a flag of peace? Such were questions I’m sure crossed Mordecai’s mind.
The Rebuke (Esther 3:2-3)
With the verses before us, we readily see the stage is set for conflict between a righteous Jew, Mordecai, and a godless, anti-semite named Haman:
2 And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage. 3 Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, "Why are you transgressing the king's command?" (Est. 3)
The story sounds much like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Bow or Die. Courage and faith in their living God motivated them to stand. Day after day, everyone bowed low to the ground when “mighty” Haman passed by with his extended entourage. But one man boldly stood while everyone else put their faces in the dust. Even when warned by his Persian counterparts to stop his flirting-with-death activity, he still stood. Why did he stand? Because he was a Jew and because he would not bow before the avowed historical enemy of God’s people, Haman. No way.
Note to self: When God places you in a complex, chaotic circumstance, you can stand or stoop. When asked to look the other way on a business deal, will you? When progressive teachers and leaders bully your child at school over sex and gender issues, will you speak up? When you are privy to explosive intel and told to bury it, will you do the right thing by standing up for what is right and moral? In my view, we Christians have stooped for far too long. It’s time to stand, like Mordecai, in the face of a seemingly implacable, powerful, and well-connected enemy of righteousness.
When warning Mordecai to fall in line, or else didn’t work, the Persians showed their anti-semitic hearts by going straight to Haman with the cold, hard facts about Mordecai’s insubordinate, obstinate ways. I call this . . .
The Revelation (Esther 3:4)
This is how the subjects of a dictator function. Knowing the importance of obeying the party line, no matter how ridiculous, illogical, or immoral it is, so as not to feel the wrath of the dictator, these men gave their intel to Haman:
4 Now it was when they had spoken daily to him and he would not listen to them, that they told Haman to see whether Mordecai's reason would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew. (Est. 3)
You can hear them, “O wise one, Haman. We were just wondering if it is all right with you if Mordecai, a Jew, chooses not to hit the ground when you, in your awesomeness, pass by?” Another note to self: Those who embrace evil, bow before the altar of false teaching, and elevate a mere man because they are afraid of retaliation will waste no time ratting you out. When, not if, this happens, do not be shocked, nor should you let your feelings get hurt. It is just darkness seeking to destroy the light threatening their power and existence. In the long run, God will reward you and judge them. So, hang tight and continue standing when given the opportunity.
The Response (Esther 3:5-7)
With potential masses of people lining the streets when Haman rode by, he was so caught up with the egotistical moment he hadn’t seen a lone male figure defying him. But in an instant, these Jew-hating Persian judicial workers brought him up to speed concerning the threat to law and order:
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage.
In a word, Haman went utterly ballistic! “How dare a Jew defy ME, the great Haman.” “Who does this puny, insignificant Jew think he is?” Can you hear the voice of Satan? How about the voice of the Anti-Christ?
What did Haman do with his rage? He used it to devise a sinister plan to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish nation.
6 But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him who the people of Mordecai were; therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. 7 In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar. (Est. 3)
Interesting. Instead of just immediately taking out Mordecai, Haman decided, like Hitler did, to slowly unroll a sinister plan to destroy all of the Jews from the Persian empire. And you thought the anti-semitism you see today from Hamas, a Sunni terrorist organization, and Hezb’allah, a Shittie terrorist organization, is of recent origin. Think again. Hatred of God’s chosen people, the people who gave us the true Messiah, Jesus, goes way back. After all, think about Haman’s pernicious plan from Satan’s viewpoint: if you eradicate the Jewish people, then a prophesied and promised Messiah/Savior couldn’t come (Gen. 3:15). Satan, who must have been inspiring Haman, couldn’t have been more misled and twisted in his thinking.
Haman’s plan was based on soothsaying/divination, or what we’d called witchcraft. Put differently, he looked for the approval of the gods (or his religion) for his genocidal, insane, and ruthless plan. Hence, he rolled the Persian version of dice for eleven months to discover what the gods (i.e., demons) what day would be a perfect one to destroy all of the Jews in the empire. He failed to realize that the living God controls even the roll of the dice (Prov. 16:33). He started his dice divination in the month of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish religious calendar (March-April). In his mind, this was a perfect time to do all this because, in Babylonian mythology, the gods assembled at the New Year to determine the fate of mankind. He started this sinister process in the 12th year of the reign of Xerxes, or 473 B.C., which meant Esther had been Queen for five years.
Now, the timing this divination is simply jaw-dropping. Haman started his plan in Nisan, or in the month when Jews observed Passover (E. 12:2; 13:4; 23:15; 34:18; Deut. 16:1; Ne. 2:1). If he knew this information, he was saying, “You so-called God cannot deliver you from a man like me.” He should have studied what happened to Pharaoh when he pridefully opposed Israel and their god. If he didn’t know this info, then he started his plot in the very month God had miraculously worked to deliver His chosen people by selectively killing the firstborn of Egypt. I think the presence of Nisan is God’s covert way of simply saying, “I delivered my people before, and I will deliver them again.” Haman didn’t get the memo, and neither do anti-semites today.
With the timing of his plan in place, Haman next went to Xerxes for approval:
The Request (Esther 3:8-9)
How Haman brought his genocidal plan to the unsuspecting king would have made Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist for the Nazi party, proud:
8 Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people, and they do not observe the king's laws, so it is not in the king's interest to let them remain. 9 "If it is pleasing to the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king's business, to put into the king's treasuries." (Est. 3)
He built his case for extermination on truth, half-truths, and outright lies. This is what he had to do to demonize the Jews to Xerxes. This is how propaganda functions to dupe the masses and motivate them to support the designs of a dictator. You use or misuse language to create a false reality.
First, he didn’t identify the people. He conveniently left that data point out. Why? The Jews benefited the kingdom, and the wealth they required demonstrated that. Second, was an ethnic group scattered around the vast empire? Of course, and in all reality, it wasn’t composed of just Jews, either. Third, was it true this people group had their laws? Sure, they had the Torah, studied it, and observed all the religious feasts from their holy book. Fourth, was it true they disrespected and defied the laws of the Persians? No, there was no proof of this claim. Haman just threw it out there and hoped it would stick. Voltaire once remarked, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Yes, get people to believe a lie one day, and you can get them to kill over it as if it were stone, cold truth in the future. This is how the godless have constantly rolled, especially against the Jews and the Church as well.
Money is also a motivator in genocide, and Haman knew it. He offered the King 10,000 talents of silver. A talent in OT times was 75 pounds. At a current rate of $25,000 for a pound of silver, in our terms, he offered Xerxes the equivalent of $19 billion for the “pleasure” of erasing the Jews from the Persian empire.
Don’t think money still doesn’t come into play in the current hatred of Jews today. To take their land is to take their wealth. And just as Haman wedded half-truths and lies to bribery, the same sinister spirit exists today. Hamas protestors chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This is the genocidal spirit of Haman speaking. “Jews are guilty of genocide.” Those facts don’t support the lie. There are more Palestinians alive today in Gaza than ever before. “The Jews are occupiers.” Study history and you’ll quickly realize Palestine has been their land since the time of Joshua in 1406 B.C. Those who accuse them of occupying are the ones who desire to occupy land that isn’t theirs.
How did Xerxes respond to this insane, illogical, and diabolical plan proposed by his number two man? Well, he didn’t do any investigation to determine the veracity of the charges:
The Rule (Esther 3:10-15)
Let’s read the decree and then make a few comments:
10 Then the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 And the king said to Haman, "The silver is yours, and the people also, to do with them as you please."
12 Then the king's scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and it was written just as Haman commanded to the king's satraps, to the governors who were over each province, and to the princes of each people, each province according to its script, each people according to its language, being written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king's signet ring. 13 And letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to seize their possessions as plunder. 14 A copy of the edict to be issued as law in every province was published to all the peoples so that they should be ready for this day. 15 The couriers went out impelled by the king's command while the decree was issued in Susa the capital; and while the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was in confusion. (Est. 3)
Question. Why did Haman call for waiting almost a full year before launching his genocidal plan?
- A year gave the Persians time to discover where the Jews stored their wealth so they could seize it.
- A year of fear of impending doom would cause many Jews to flee the country.
- A year would give the politicians time to use propaganda to dupe and deceive the masses into thinking the Jews were a major national problem.
- A year would position them to purchase property from Jews at below-market prices as they fled.
- A year would give the government time to write and establish anti-semitic laws and whip up national boycotts.
- A year would be needed to assemble the killing machine.
Hitler must have read the genocidal playbook of Haman. He should have moved past Esther 2 and kept reading the rest of the story, for he, like all haters of God’s chosen people, missed the part concerning how God’s over-arching providence to protect and bless His people cannot be thwarted by menacing mankind. You might need to read that again, especially if you are in a position of Mordecai. When asked to stoop in fear, you stand in faith because you know God’s plans are for you, not against you. Evil might look like the order of the day, but we are all challenged by Mordecai’s example to exude courage in the face of evil, trusting our souls to the God of the coming great reversal.
And, yes, courage counts. One man’s courage becomes the courage of the many. Will you be the first to stand where God has sovereignly placed you? Will you repent today for stooping for far too long?