The Word Made Fresh
1Some time after this King Ahasuerus promoted a man named Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, to a position above the other officials. 2All the attendants at the king’s gate scraped and bowed to Haman because the king ordered them to do so. But Mordecai refused to acknowledge him. 3The king’s attendants at the gate asked him why he disobeyed the king’s orders, 4and day after day pressed him about the matter. When he wouldn’t listen to them, they told Haman. Mordecai had revealed to them that he was a Jew, and they wanted to see if he could get away with ignoring Haman’s orders. 5When Haman realized that Mordecai refused to acknowledge him he was furious. 6But when he learned who Mordecai’s people were, he decided it wasn’t good enough to punish just Mordecai. He wanted to eliminate all the Jews throughout the entire kingdom of Ahasuerus.
7In the twelfth year of the reign of King Ahasuerus, in the first month of the year, the month of Nisan, Haman had his attendants cast the lot – known as “the Pur” – for the day and the month, and the Pur fell on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. 8Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a particular race of people scattered around among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from all the other people, and they don’t keep the king’s laws. The king should not tolerate them, 9and if it pleases the king, have a decree published to do away with them. I will give three hundred seventy-five tons of silver to the king’s officials who are in charge of the king’s funds, and they may put it to use in the king’s treasuries.”
10The king agreed and took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11The king said to him, “The money is yours, and the people as well. Do with them whatever seems best to you.”
12Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and they drew up an edict according to Haman’s directions. It was sent to all the governors of all the provinces and all the officials of the realm, to every province in its own official script and to every group of people in their own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s seal. 13Letters were sent by courier to all the provinces under the king’s rule, and orders were given to destroy and kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, women and children, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, with permission to take all their goods. 14A copy of the decree was to be issued in every province by official proclamation, calling on the populace to be ready for that day. 15Messengers were sent quickly by order of the king, and the decree was issued from the capital city of Susa.
The king and Haman sat down to eat and drink, but there was widespread confusion in the city.
1-6: A fellow named Haman is promoted to second-in-command of the Persian government. He is identified as an “Agagite,” which immediately signals trouble. Remember that Mordecai is a Benjaminite, of the tribe of King Saul of Israel. “Agagite” refers to King Agag of the Amalekites. The Amalekites are ancient enemies of the Jews (see Exodus 17:8-16, Numbers 24:20, Deuteronomy 25:17-19), and Agag specifically is the cause of Saul’s fall from grace (see 1 Samuel 15:7-33). The implication is that Mordecai and Haman are natural enemies to begin with. This would explain Mordecai’s refusal to bow down to him like everybody else. There is no law that forbids Jews to bow to foreign authorities, so Mordecai’s refusal has to be a personal one. Perhaps it is also because, since he saved the king’s life in the last chapter, Mordecai thinks it unnecessary to bow to anyone else. In any case, when Haman is told that Mordecai the Jew refuses to do obeisance, he determines to destroy not only Mordecai, but the entire Jewish race.
7-11: Esther has been queen for about five years when Haman finally decides to act on his genocidal inclinations. Persian officials used diviners to advise them on courses of action. One method of divination was to cast “Pur.” We think this is a reference to stones that were cast to determine the will of the gods, in much the same way as the Hebrew high priests cast Urim and Thummim to determine God’s will. In this case the stones point to a certain day as having particular promise for action against the Jews; the casting takes place in the Persian month of Nisan which corresponds to the Jewish month of Abib and the Passover. Haman seizes on this as a sign that it is time to act against the Jews. He approaches the king and promises 10,000 talents (about 375 tons) of silver to commit genocide against a race of people whom he accuses of causing trouble in the land. It is not clear whether Haman is offering to pay from his own wealth, or whether he is estimating the amount of silver that will come from the Jews who are going to be eliminated. Notice that he does not ask the king to personally issue the decree, but only that a decree be issued, thus absolving the king of any direct personal guilt. The king is frighteningly apathetic, asks no questions at all, and gives Haman his signet ring and permission to proceed.
12-15: Royal secretaries are summoned to fashion the decree in all the languages of the vast empire. Haman uses the king’s signet ring to stamp the wax that seals each copy, and copies are carried by courier throughout the kingdom on the 13th day of the first month. The decree orders the extermination of the Jews on the 13th day of the twelfth month. The king and Haman are having a drink together when the decree arrives at the citadel of Susa where Mordecai’s office is located.
God is not mentioned in the book of Esther; a curious thing, since belief in and worship of God is the one thing that makes the Jews different from all the other people under the rule of the Persian king. The purpose of the story of Esther is clearly to elevate the Jewish people among the other people and races of the vast Persian empire. And, of course, to explain the annual observance of Purim, so named after the casting of the lots known as the Pur.