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Bible Commentaries
Esther 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

A. Background Considerations 2:21-3:6

At this point in the narrative the writer introduced us to the villain, and we learn the reasons he hated the Jews.

Verses 1-6

2. Haman’s promotion 3:1-6

The events we read in chapter 3 took place four years after Esther became queen (cf. Esther 2:16; Esther 3:7).

Agag was the name of an area in Media that had become part of the Persian Empire. [Note: Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 421.] However, Agag was also the name of the Amalekite king whom Saul failed to execute (1 Samuel 15:8; cf. Numbers 24:7). By mentioning both Kish, Saul’s father, and Agag, the Amalekite king, the writer may have been indicating that both men were heirs to a long-standing tradition of ethnic enmity and antagonism. [Note: Bush, p. 384. Cf. Baldwin, pp. 71-72; and Longman and Dillard, pp. 221-22.] King Saul, a Benjamite, failed to destroy King Agag, an Amalekite; but Mordecai, also a Benjamite (Esther 2:5), destroyed Haman, an Amalekite. This story pictures Haman as having all seven of the characteristics that the writer of Proverbs 6:16-19 said the Lord hates: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. [Note: Wiersbe, pp. 716-17.]

Mordecai’s refusal to bow before Haman (Esther 3:2) evidently did not spring from religious conviction (cf. 2 Samuel 14:4; 2 Samuel 18:28; 1 Kings 1:16) but from ancient Jewish antagonism toward the Amalekites. [Note: Bush, p. 385; Wiersbe, p. 718.] Mordecai did not have to worship Haman (cf. Daniel 3:17-18). Not even the Persian kings demanded worship of their people. [Note: Paton, p. 196.] Nevertheless, Ahasuerus had commanded the residents of Susa to honor Haman (Esther 3:3). So this appears to have been an act of civil disobedience on Mordecai’s part. Probably people knew that Mordecai was a Jew long before his conflict with Haman arose (Esther 3:4).

"While the fact that he was a Jew (4) would not preclude his bowing down, the faith of the exiles tended to encourage an independence of judgment and action which embarrassed their captors (Daniel 3; Daniel 6)." [Note: Baldwin, pp. 72-73.]

Haman might have been successful in getting Mordecai executed. However, when he decided to wipe out the race God chose to bless, he embarked on a course of action that would inevitably fail (cf. Genesis 12:3).

Verse 7

1. The casting of lots 3:7

Haman cast the lot-pur is the Persian word for "lot"-to determine the day most favorable to wipe out the Jews. In the pagan ancient Near East, it was unthinkable to make plans of this magnitude without astrological guidance. The lot supposedly revealed the day most propitious for this act. [Note: The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Magic and Sorcery," by Kenneth A. Kitchen.] The official casting of lots happened during the first month of each year to determine the most opportune days for important events. [Note: W. W. Hallo, "The First Purim," Biblical Archaeologist 46:1 (1983):19-27.] This may explain why Haman cast lots in the first month and chose a date so much later to annihilate the Jews. However, God controlled the lot-casting (Proverbs 16:33) and gave the Jews almost a year to prepare for conflict with their enemies. Archaeologists have found quadrangular prism type dice at Susa, and perhaps it was this kind of device that Haman used to make his decision on this occasion. [Note: Wood, p. 409.]

"Though determined by lot, the day chosen seems maliciously ironical. The number 13 was considered unlucky by the Persians and the Babylonians, while the thirteenth day of the first month, the day on which the edict decreeing the Jews’ destruction was dispatched (Esther 3:12), is the day preceding Passover, the commemoration of the deliverance from slavery in Egypt." [Note: Bush, p. 386.]

Verses 7-15

B. Haman’s Proposal 3:7-15

His pride having been wounded, Haman set about to take revenge, not only on Mordecai, but also on all of Mordecai’s relatives.

Verses 8-9

2. Haman’s request 3:8-9

Perhaps Haman did not mention the Jews by name since Ahasuerus’ predecessors, Cyrus and Darius I (Hystaspes), had issued proclamations favorable to them (Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 6:3-5; Ezra 6:8-12). In any case, his failure to mention them by name, set him up for Esther’s revelation that it was her people whom Haman planned to destroy (Esther 7:4). The Jews did indeed live a separated life, as Haman said (cf. Numbers 23:9), but they were not a dangerous, rebellious element within the empire, which he claimed (cf. Jeremiah 29:7).

The 10,000 talents of silver Haman offered to pay into the king’s treasury amounted to about two-thirds of the entire empire’s income. [Note: Herodotus, 3:95. Bush, p. 387, considered this figure satiric hyperbole. He believed Haman wanted the king to understand that the benefit that would come to him by executing the Jews would be extremely large.] Bush considered this figure satiric hyperbole. He believed Haman wanted the king to understand that the benefit that would come to him by executing the Jews would be extremely large. [Note: Bush, p. 387.] Perhaps Haman could have afforded to do this because he had plans to confiscate the Jews’ possessions (Esther 3:13). Undoubtedly he planned to make a large profit personally as well.

"The planned massacre, gruesome though it was, was not without precedents. In 522 BC, at the time of King Cambyses’ death, Smerdis the Magus usurped the throne. When he was put to death in a conspiracy every Persian in the capital took up his weapons and killed every Magus he could find. [Note: Herodotus, 3:64-80.] If darkness had not put an end to the slaughter, the whole caste would have been exterminated." [Note: Baldwin, p. 74.]

Verses 10-15

3. The king’s permission 3:10-15

The imprint of an official’s signet ring (Esther 3:10) was the equivalent of his signature in ancient times (cf. Genesis 41:42; Esther 8:2; Esther 8:8; Esther 8:10). Ahasuerus gave permission to Haman to confiscate the Jews’ wealth and to put them to death (Esther 3:11; cf. Proverbs 18:13). Merrill suggested that Ahasuerus viewed the Jews as a scapegoat to blame for his humiliating losses to the Greeks. [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 502.] The words "to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate" (Esther 3:13) probably translate the legal formula used in the decree that would have been as specific as possible. Probably the government officials and army were those who were to seize the Jews’ property (Esther 3:13) and then send some of it up the line to Haman.

"There is a skillful use of contrast in the last sentence of the chapter. While the collaborators celebrate, the city of Susa is aghast. The author is sensitive to popular reactions and notes that the ordinary citizen asked himself what lay behind such a drastic scene." [Note: Baldwin, p. 76.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Esther 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/esther-3.html. 2012.
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