Have you ever been put in a situation where you were prepared to consider compromising what you believe? What did you do? Was anyone else affected?
Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews
3 After these events, King Xerxes honoured Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles. 2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honour to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour.
3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behaviour would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour, he was enraged. 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.
7 In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.
8 Then Haman said to King Xerxes, ‘There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.’
10 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. 11 ‘Keep the money,’ the king said to Haman, ‘and do with the people as you please.’
12 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. 13 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 children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 14 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 that they would be ready for that day.
15 The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, 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.
Whenever I’ve told this story in primary school assemblies, I’ve encouraged the children to boo and hiss at this point! Haman is launched into the story by the king’s honouring of him (v 1). And he expects the respect now due to him from everyone, bar none. So, who is this man who won’t kneel down and bow to him (vs 5,6)?
This episode resonates with other exilic stories such as those we find in Daniel 3 and 6. Mordecai holds the same values as Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel himself; he refuses to compromise his beliefs in any way by – in effect – worshipping Haman (v 2). When Haman discovers Mordecai’s identity – which he has not (interestingly) kept secret – his fury expands from Mordecai himself to all of the Jews in the whole of Xerxes’ kingdom (v 6). He creates his plan to destroy them and is not completely honest with the king about who exactly he wishes to destroy (vs 8,9). He gets the king’s approval, messages are dispatched, and the plot is set to happen. Result? While the leaders were celebrating their achievement, ‘the city of Susa was bewildered’ (v 15).
Give thanks for those who have been able to stay faithful to the Lord in difficult situations. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and lead your own words and actions in every situation, especially when under pressure to conform (see for example, Luke 12:11,12).
Deeper Bible study
‘He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.’1
In 3 John 9, we find that Diotrephes ‘loves to be first’. Throughout history, both outside and inside the church, there have been leaders who have seen their priority as demonstrating their own importance! Haman was clearly one of these. He was given total royal backing and everyone was expected to bow before him. It was dangerous to disobey, but Mordecai didn’t care. The text gives no indication whether he acted from religious conviction, following the example of the heroes of Daniel, or whether it was simply a political rebellion. Readers must decide which they think fits the whole story best. But Haman was absolutely furious that one man had refused to ‘pay him honour’ (v 5). Discovering that Mordecai was Jewish, he decided that the offence was so great that the whole ethnic group must be destroyed. Perhaps there was some remnant of a justice system, since he had to convince the king that Jews deserved killing – not because Mordecai had scorned him, but because they were ‘different’ and ‘do not obey the king’s laws’ (v 8). The king, influenced perhaps by the bribe, accepted his word without question and provided the authority for Haman to take action on the chosen day. The edict was sent out.
Perhaps the most significant verse is the last: ‘The king and Haman sat down to drink [having demonstrated their unquestionable authority!], but the city of Susa was bewildered’ (v 15). The implication here is that the citizens in general did not have any idea why Jews should be targeted. There is no indication that they were viewed as a threat in any way and no sign of a desire to kill them. Haman and the king who backed him could be seen as at fault but not the whole people. Corrupt leadership has a lot to answer for!
‘Fake news’ is a big theme in today’s media. Think about how we can and should see evidence before believing things said about those who we might see as ‘different’.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Jeremiah 13,14; John 6
Pray for Scripture Union
Pray for the SU Council as it meets on Saturday to think about important issues in the contemporary world and how they impact on our presentation of the good news of Jesus.