Scripture reading – Esther 3
Our first devotional from the Book of Esther introduced four key characters: Ahasuerus, king of Persia (also known as Xerxes in the Scriptures and history). He reigned over Persia 21 years (486 to 465 BC). Vashti, queen of Persia, whom the king banished from his kingdom when she refused to be paraded in front of men at a drunken feast (Esther 1). Hadassah [Hebrew for “myrtle or fragrance”], whose Persian name was Esther [meaning “star” in Persian]. Her father and mother died in her youth, and she was adopted by her elder cousin Mordecai, a powerful, influential citizen of Shushan (Esther 2:5-6).
Ahasuerus sought for a queen, and gathered the most desirable maidens of his realm (Esther 2), among them Esther. Wisely heeding Mordecai’s counsel, she did not disclose to the king or his servants that she was of Jewish descent. Blessed by the LORD with beauty and favor, Esther was chosen by the king and became queen of Persia (2:20).
Notice Esther 3 begins with the phrase, “After these things” (3:1), and gives us pause to consider what “things” preceded Esther 3. The closing verses of Esther 2 recorded a plot to assassinate the king (2:21a). Having learned of the plot to kill the king, Mordecai informed Esther, who then, went to the king (2:22). An inquisition was made into the matter, and the two conspirators were hanged (2:23).
So, it was “after these things,” that the king promoted “Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him” (3:1). The cause for Haman’s promotion was not given, however, we learn he was an Amalekite by birth, and of royal lineage (“Agagite” was the title of Amalekite kings, Numbers 24:7).
Consumed by public adoration, Haman proved to be a political opportunist who would stop at nothing to advance his political interests. Second only to the king, Ahasuerus commanded all the people of his realm to bow and reverence Haman (3:2). One man, however, would not violate his integrity and refused to bow to Haman: “Mordecai bowed not, nor did him [Haman] reverence” (3:2).
Confrontation: A Wicked Opportunist vs. A Man of Integrity (3:3-6)
All men, but Mordecai paid homage to Haman, and he became infuriated for the slight he suffered (3:2). The king’s servants took notice of Mordecai’s unbowed posture, and demanded, “Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment?” (3:3). Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman continued until he was provoked to tell the king’s servants “he was a Jew” (3:4).
Haman was outraged by the slight, and plotted against Mordecai and “all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai” (3:5-6). For one year, Haman and others confederated with him, plotted a time most advantageous to urge the king to purge Persia of Mordecai and his people (3:7). Casting “pur” (lots), Haman believed fate would guide him to the day he could approach Ahasuerus and seek revenge. Twelve months later, “Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and 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 [permit; allow] them” (3:8).
Haman did not reveal his vendetta against Mordecai, but portrayed his cause was that of the king’s (3:8). Offering silver to enrich the royal treasuries (3:9), Haman petitioned the king should grant him authority to destroy all the Jews (Esther 3:9). Foolishly, the king heeded Haman’s counsel, and sealed the fate of the Jews with an irrevocable decree (3:10-12).
Closing thoughts (3:13-15) – Provoked by one man’s desire for revenge, all Persians were encouraged “to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day” (3:13). Would Persia turn upon one people of its diverse population? Tragically, the answer was yes, for the people of Persia were enticed to enrich themselves at the sacrifice of the Jews, “and take the spoil of them for a prey” (3:13). While news of the murderous decree spread throughout Persia’s 127 provinces, “the king and Haman sat down to drink” (3:14). Haman did not know his hatred of Mordecai, and his plot to eradicate the Jews would threaten the queen of Persia, and become his own undoing.
As we shall see, Mordecai’s spiritual integrity would provoke a national crisis, and reveal God’s providence in the lives of His people (4:1-3).
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