During the years that I lived in South Africa, my pastor always taught us that we must correctly give the historical background before we teach the Bible – otherwise the true meaning of the text is lost. One can draw hundreds of applications from a text, but the true meaning to the people it was originally written to is the most important meaning!
Esther is a beautiful piece of literature with Esther being the lead protagonist (hence the book bearing her name) and Haman being the antagonist. Esther was an orphan and Mordecai, the other protagonist in the story, was her older cousin that had adopted her as his own daughter. (Esther 2:7) The king of Persia, Ahasuerus, had appointed Haman as the Prime Minister and had given him great power. Esther 3:2: “all the king’s servants that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.” Haman became incensed at Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him and obsessed with how to get even. His negative feelings towards Mordecai quickly escalated to all of the Jewish people when Haman discovered that Mordecai was Jewish: “wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.” (Esther 3:6
Haman pledged to King Ahasuerus the equivalent of $3.8 billion USD to the King’s treasuries if he would sign the evil decree guaranteeing the destruction of all the Jewish people in the entire kingdom of Persia on the 13th of the month of Adar (the last month in the Hebrew Biblical calendar). Haman is specifically called “the Jews enemy” (Esther 3:10) It sounds like the headlines from today’s newspaper as very powerful, anti-semitic rulers in Persia (known today as Iran) are still plotting to destroy the nation of Israel and are very blatant with their threats! [Note: Haman’s evil decree was signed into law by Ahasuerus on the 13th of Nisan (the first month on the Biblical Hebrew calendar) – which is one day before Passover Eve. (see Esther 3:12) So on the Eve of celebrating the birth of the nation, the Jews of Shushan are told that in exactly 11 months (the 13th of Adar) they will all be destroyed.]
Was Haman’s hatred of Mordecai (and the Jews) only because Mordecai would not bow to him? Esther chapter 3 introduces us to Haman, “After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite.” (Esther 3:1) The Agagites were descendants of King Agag, the Amalekite king that King Saul had spared, by disobeying God, approx. 600 years earlier. (see 1 Samuel 15:8) Because of his disobedience, God took the kingdom from Saul and gave it David. Why was God’s punishment so severe? The Amalekites had been a constant security threat to Israel since the time of Moses: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Ex. 17:14) Why were the Amalekites so opposed to Israel? They were the descendants of Jabob’s twin brother Esau: “And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau’s son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek.” Genesis 36:12 God knows all things of course, and He told Rebekah, even before Esau and Jacob were born, that they would always be in conflict: “the elder [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob].” (Genesis 25:23) Later God gave Isaac a prophetic blessing concerning the relationship between the descendents of the two brothers: “Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” (Genesis 27:29)
So, ultimately, Haman is a descendant of Esau. The first time we are introduced to Mordecai (Heb: מָרְדֳּכַ֥י) is Esther 2:5: “Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.” So now we understand the enmity between Haman and Mordecai is a fulfillment of the prophecies that God foretold would exist between the descendents of Jacob and Esau. We also see that if Saul had obeyed God and killed king Agag, there would be no Haman 600 years later to threaten the Jewish nation.
God Gives Second Chances
How would God save the Jews from Haman’s evil decree? Miracles? Armies? Sometimes even miracles and armies are “in disguise” – as is the case in Esther. Just one person is sufficient when that one person is in God’s hand! God had been working behind the scenes and had all the players in place – like a great chess match! Since a Benjaminite (King Saul) was responsible for this mess to start with, God was going to use two Benjaminites to ‘right the wrong’ because Mordecai and Esther were of the tribe of Benjamin. Most people know the story how that Queen Esther went before King Ahasuerus, at the risk of her own life, revealed that she was indeed Jewish and that fulfillment of Haman’s evil decree would mean the destruction of both her and her people. Because of his great love for Esther, King Ahasuerus listened to her and evil Haman was hung on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
Overcome Evil with Good
Persian law, however, was very strict! Once a decree was signed by the king, it could never be reversed. (Esther 1:19; 8:8) Therefore although Esther went before Ahasuerus, and Haman was now dead, his evil decree was still in effect and the death sentence still loomed upon the Jews unless … For the first time in the story, Ahasuerus does a good deed. He gave to Mordecai and Esther, Haman’s estate, and he gave to Mordecai, Haman’s position as Prime Minister of Persia. Then he instructed Haman to write a new decree that would override Haman’s evil decree and would permit the Jews to defend themselves if attacked on the 13th of Adar. So in one stroke, God turned certain annihilation into a day of deliverance and salvation and, “The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.” (Esther 8:16) The 13th and 14th of the month Adar, which Haman had chosen to be days of destruction for the Jewish nation, became instead days of “gladness and feasting” and became the holiday of Purim. (Esther 9:19) Esther and Mordecai overcame Haman’s evil decree with a ‘good decree’ that saved the Jewish people. Sometimes bad decisions simply cannot be ‘undone’. However we can make new decisions that are greater than the bad ones. The apostle Paul summarized this idea very well: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)