Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 7 2019 - Esther 3 – Haman hatches a plot

In today's reading we are introduced to another of the key players in the drama of the book of Esther. His name is Haman and, for reasons of which we are left unaware, he was given a seat of high honour in the court of King Xerxes. And it would seem that Haman was very proud of his high position. It was not enough for him to know that the King had honoured him, he wanted everyone else to know and to acknowledge his high status. And it seems that he was effective in imposing his wishes for we read that, "All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honour to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him" (v. 2).

Now it should be remembered that Mordecai spent his days at the royal gate, seeking news of Esther. When all the royal officials bowed down to Haman, Mordecai remained standing, or sitting; he made no attempt to acknowledge the exalted status of Haman. We have seen that Mordecai was a loyal subject of the king and had ensured that he was saved from assassination; he had respect for those in authority. Nevertheless he would not bow down to Haman. Like Daniel before him, he refused to offer worship to any but the living God – even if that refusal should get him into trouble.

It is not always easy for us to decide when submission to those in authority becomes a form of idol-worship. Some years ago, while I was working at Bible Society, we had a visiting delegation from the religions department of the government of China. We were told that when Chinese officials leave a place it was custom and etiquette for those in the building to see them out with hand-clapping. Many of us felt deeply uneasy about this and were debating together what we should do. What would you have done? To be discourteous to these guests could have detrimental consequences for the church and for Bible distribution in China. Thankfully, in this instance, the decision was taken out of our hands as the delegation left quietly and without any applause. But it illustrates the difficulty of making God-honouring decisions relating to submission to civil authorities.

Back to the book of Esther: Haman was furious at Mordecai's refusal to honour him in the way he thought was due to a man of his status. When he learnt that Mordecai was a Jew, and probably understood that it was Mordecai's Jewish faith that was at the root of his conduct, he decided that it was not enough to vent his anger on Mordecai, he wanted the entire Jewish race living within the Persian Empire to be exterminated. This would have been practically the entirety of Judaism.

Lots were cast to determine a propitious day for such political action and, in the providence of God, the lots suggested a date which was nearly a year away. Haman persuaded King Xerxes that the Jews in his realm were a people, "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" (v. 8). He gained the agreement of the king that a decree should be sent throughout the empire with orders to the governors of the provinces to kill all Jews within their jurisdiction on the set day. The chapter ends by stating that, "The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered" (v. 15). It would seem that neither Haman nor the king were troubled about the planned slaughter, but the people of the city seemed to feel no antagonism towards their Jewish neighbours and were puzzled and perplexed at the decree.

Jews have always stood out from their neighbours because of their distinctive customs, diet and uncompromising worship of the one God. For this reason they have often been subjected to prejudice and even to persecution and attempts at annihilation. Christians also should stand out in the society where they are placed – stand out by their integrity, honesty, kindness and concern for others, whether or not those others are fellow Christians. Christians' uncompromising devotion to the living God and to the Lord Jesus Christ may often make them also the subjects of state opposition and persecution, even when they maintain a good relationship with their neighbours.

Father God, we pray that you would give your people wisdom to live well before neighbours and before those in authority. Be especially with those who face opposition and persecution today.

Peter Misselbrook