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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Esther 3

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-6

Esther 3:1-6

After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman.

The prosperous wicked man

Matthew Henry says: “I wonder what the king saw in man that was commendable or meritorious? It is plain that he was not a man of honour or justice, of any true courage or steady conduct, but proud and passionate and revengeful; yet he was promoted and caressed, and there was none as great as he. Princes’ darlings are not always worthies.”

The wicked man in prosperity. Haman is typical. He is the progenitor of a long line that by skilful plotting rise above the heads of superior men. In this world rewards are not rightly administered. Push and tact get the prize.

The prosperous wicked man is surrounded by fawning sycophants. “The king had so commanded.” A king’s commandment is not required to secure outward homage towards those in high places. Clothe a man with the outward marks of royal favour, and many are at once prepared to become his blind adulators. Imperialism is glorified in political, literary, and ecclesiastical spheres. Power in arms, push in business, skill in politics, success in literature, and parade in religion are the articles of the creed in which modem society believes.

The prosperous wicked man is surrounded by meddling sycophants. Even admirers may be too officious. If Haman had known and seen all, he might have prayed, “Save me from my friends.” The king’s servants, in their selfish zeal, frustrated their own purposes of aggrandisement. How often in trying to grasp too much we lose all.

The prosperous wicked man finds that false, greatness brings trouble. That greatness is false which is not the outcome of goodness. The course of wicked prosperity cannot run smooth. Haman meets with the checking and detecting Mordecai.

The prosperous wicked man may learn that an unrestrained nature brings trouble. Haman was intoxicated with his greatness. He was full of wrath. Wrath is cruel both to the subject and the object.

The prosperous wicked man unwittingly plots his own downfall. Haman’s wrath led him to dangerous extremes. Poor Haman! Already we see thee treading on a volcano. Thy hands are digging the pit into which thou shalt fall. Thy minions are preparing the gallows on which thou thyself shalt be hung. Learn--

1. Prosperity has its drawbacks.

2. “Better it is to be of a humble spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

3. That our greatest troubles often spring from our own depraved natures. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

Mordecai and Haman

The insecurity of earthly greatness. The king in this story was exposed to the plot of Bigthan and Teresh. From it he was saved by the intervention of Mordecai, though by and by to fall beneath the assassin’s blow. Great are the perils of the great. Their lives often, behind all the splendour that takes the public eye, a sad story.

The divine foresight of and preparation for coming evil. The plotters, Bigthan and Teresh, paid the penalty with their lives. But what had that plot to do with the great story of this book--Israel’s deliverance from Haman? Much, for mark, the plot was detected by Mordecai. The news was conveyed to Esther, and by her to the king. Thus God’s design for Israel’s deliverance precedes Haman’s design for Israel’s destruction Oh! the Divine preparations! How God goes before us! Does Jacob look round upon famished Canaan? Lo! by the hand of long-lost Joseph, God has prepared for him a house in Egypt. Do we come into peril? Before we reach it God has been preparing for us a way of escape. His love is older than our sin--than all sin.

The dignity of conscientiousness in little things. Mordecai would not bow to Haman. Not from disloyalty. He had stood by the king and saved him from the plotted death. Because--this is the reason he gave--because he was a Jew: and Haman, he knew, was the Jews’ enemy. Others bowed--he could not. A little thing, do you say, to bow to Haman? but s little thing may have much effect on others, as this had on Haman--on ourselves; and, often repeated, is not little in its influence. He had conscience in this matter, and to defile it had not been a little harm. Conscience can appear in little things, but it deems nothing little that affects it, that expresses it. The early Christians would rather die than cast a few idolatrous grains of incense into the fire. Many an English martyr went to the prison and the stake rather than bow down to the wafer-god of Romanism. In little things, as some would deem them, we can take a stand for Christ.

The wickedness of revenge. Had Haman a just grudge against Mordecai? Let him have the matter out with Mordecai alone? No; that will not suit him. He would punish a whole nation. The proud became the revengeful. If a man is humble and has a lowly estimate of himself, he will bear in silence the contempt and unkindness of men. But pride is easily wounded--sees slights often where none were intended. On a great platform we see, in the case of Haman, to what sin wounded pride will hurry a man. And to what a doom! We need to beware. Are none of us ever tempted harshly to judge a whole family because of the conduct of one of its members? to say, in the spirit of Haman, he is bad--the whole lot is bad? “Hath any wronged thee?” says Quarles, “be bravely revenged; slight it, and the work is begun; forgive it, and the work is finished.”

The patience of faith. The king’s life had been saved by Mordecai. But no honour had come to him for the service--no reward. And now an edict is out against him and his nation, dooming them all to death. And does he regret the stand that he has taken? Does he loudly complain of the king’s ingratitude? He keeps silence. God will think on him for good. Oh, troubled one I oh, darkened life! oh, soul tempest-tossed, “only believe.” The clouds will pass--will melt into the eternal blue! (G. T. Coster.)

Haman and Mordecai

1. It shows in a lurid but striking manner the diabolical character of revenge. Pride is pride, and revenge is revenge in quality, although they only show themselves in words with little stings in them, and by insinuations that have no known ground of verity. If we do not make it our business to chastise our spirits and purify them from the seeds and shadows of these vices, in the forms in which they can assail us, can we be quite sure that if we were on the wider stage, and had the ampler opportunity, we should not be as this devilish Amalekite?

2. A lesson of personal independence. What meanness there is in this country in bowing down to rank! in letting some lordly title stand in the place of an argument! in seeking high patronage for good schemes, as men seek the shadow of broad trees on hot days! in running after royal carriages! in subservience to power, and adulation of wealth! Rise up, Mordecai, in thy Jewish grandeur, and shame us into manliness, and help us to stand a little more erect!

3. Finally, a lesson of patience and quietness to all the faithful. Obey conscience, honour the right, and then fear no evil. Is the storm brewing? It may break and carry much away, but it will not hurt you. A little reputation is not you. A little property is not you. Health even is not you, nor is life itself. The wildest storm that could blow would only cast you on the shores of eternal peace and safety. But more probably the storm may melt all away in a while and leave you in wonder at your own fears. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Verse 2

Esther 3:2

But Mordecai bowed not.

Decision for God

But why did Mordecai not obey the commandment of the king? It may have been because he had a personal dislike to Haman, but that would not have justified him in contradicting the will of the sovereign. Or it may have been that, being a Jew, he regarded himself as exempted from doing honour to one of a race which God had cursed. “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.” But so long as Mordecai was a captive in Persia he could hardly be excused, on this account, from resisting the law of the land. The ground of this righteous Jew’s refusal must be sought for deeper than either of these things. There can be little doubt, we think, that the homage commanded to be paid to Haman amounted, in this Jew’s estimate, to that which should be rendered to God only. The stand which he took had its foundation in religion--a foundation which the men of the world have ever failed to comprehend. (T. McEwan.)

Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman

But on what ground did Mordecai refuse to bow to Haman and do him reverence? The only answer which comes clearly out of the chapter to that question is, that the position which he took was one that was common to him with all his people, so that it was sufficiently accounted for to others when he said, “I am a Jew.” It was a matter of religion with him. But, that being admitted, the question still arises, What was there in such a command as this of Xerxes to offend the conscience of a pious Jew? Some have answered that, as the Persian monarch was regarded as an incarnation of Ahura-Mazda, and therefore entitled to Divine honours, the act of prostration before him was understood to imply worship; and so homage paid to Haman as the king’s representative would be a virtual giving of Divine honour to a human creature. This is confirmed even by heathen writers--for Herodotus tells us that certain Greeks, on being pressed to prostrate themselves before the king, when they were introduced into his presence at Susa, declared “that it was not their custom to worship a man, nor had they come for that purpose”; and Curtius has said, “The Persians, indeed, not only from motives of piety, but also from prudence, worship their kings among the gods.” Now, if that explanation be adopted, the act of Mordecai takes its place beside the refusal of the early Christians to sacrifice to the Roman emperor, and puts him on the honour roll among those whose rule of life in all such cases was, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” But while it would fully justify Mordecai, this explanation is in itself not without difficulty. For did not Joseph’s brethren make similar obeisance to him? Would not Mordecai after his own elevation to Haman’s place be required to bow before the king? and must we condemn Nehemiah for rendering to Artaxerxes the homage which Mordecai here refused to Haman, though Xerxes himself had commanded that it should be rendered? It is possible, of course, that Mordecai was right, and that all the rest were wrong; but it is not absolutely incontrovertible that the reverence here required was of the nature of religious worship. Others, therefore, have sought for the reason of Mordecai’s disobedience to the royal mandate in the nationality of Haman. Taking Agagite as equivalent to Amalekite, they remind us that the Amalekites were the first to attack the Israelites after their escape from Egypt, and that after his victory over them on that occasion Moses said, “The Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” They recall to our remembrance, also, the fact that it was for sparing some of the Amalekites that Saul was first rejected by God from being king over Israel, and that the only time that Samuel wielded a sword was when he “hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord.” Now if Haman was indeed an Amalekite, it would be easy to find in that a reason for Mordecai’s conduct as well as for Haman’s purpose of revenge; for these descending feuds between races in the East are both undying and enve nomed, especially when they are rooted in religious differences. But then we have no other case in Scripture where a royal title like Agag becomes a public patronymic, so as to be the name of a tribe; and it is hard to account for the appearance of one of the hated race of Amalek here, at this late date, in Susa. So there are difficulties connected with both solutions, and it is not easy to choose between them. Perhaps the first, all things considered, is the more satisfactory. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Strong conviction

The commandment of the king was very express, and Mordecai manifestly exposed himself to imminent danger by disregarding it. If, indeed, his objection to pay homage to Haman was founded upon a conviction that such homage amounted to something like idolatry, then we might regard his refusal as ranking him with the three illustrious youths who braved the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar rather than they would submit to worship the image which he had set up. But we can scarcely take this view of the matter, as it is not likely that Mordecai would have withheld from the king himself the outward reverence which the law and usage of the country required. But if it was because Haman was of the seed of Amalek, that the Jew would not bow to him nor do him reverence, then intense must have been the detestation of that race, when he would rather run the risk of incurring the displeasure of the king than pay respect to one of them who stood so high in the royal favour. Yet we conceive that he might feel himself fully vindicated in his own conscience for acting as he did. It was, after all, a high religious scruple by which he was influenced. By the law of Moses the Amalekites were condemned to perpetual infamy. No earthly rank or station could blot out or modify that sentence. In this view of the subject, Mordecai would have supposed himself an apostate from his religion had he done reverence to Haman, and therefore he refused to do it, whatever might be the consequence to himself. We cannot but respect such a feeling as this, generated as it was by regard for the Divine law. It could not be appreciated by the other servants of the king, who may have attributed Mordecai’s conduct to a sullen and haughty temper; but, although the matter in itself was apparently unimportant, it was an evidence of real heroism of character in this man to obey the dictate of conscience at the hazard of personal suffering. True religion does not interfere with the discharge of the ordinary courtesies of life, nor does it forbid our rendering that honour to rank and station which is their due. But when vice and real infamy are shrouded under high rank, the Christian must beware of acting so as to make it supposed that the rank forms an apology for the vice and infamy, or renders them less hateful than they really are. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

A little matter

All was going well with this man. His rivals had been crushed, his seat had been set above the seats of all the noblemen at court, the king had made him his boon companion, and had issued orders that the palace servants should bow before him and do him reverence. He was as nearly happy as a man can be whose ruling passion is vanity; but such men hold their happiness by a very frail tenure. It does not look altogether well that Ahasuerus should have needed to give special orders about his servants bowing to Haman. Darius had not needed to do this in the case of Daniel. Had the favourite been respected and liked, men would have given him all seemly honour unbidden. “But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.” It does seem a very small matter; but when such a man as Mordecai attached importance to it we must pause and consider whether the matter was really so small as it seemed. For it is an unsafe way of reasoning to say about anything, “It is only one little act; why scruple over it? If it does no good it can do no harm”; and so forth. By such reasoning habits of untruth and intemperance have many a time been formed, and what was perhaps little in itself, if it had been possible to separate it from all else, has been found to be anything but little in its results. The truth is, we cannot separate any single action from the rest of our lives; so that the importance of an action depends not on its greatness or its littleness, but on many other circumstances, such as how often we do it; the effect it has on others, particularly its influence on our own consciences. In this case it so happened that what Mordecai did--rather what he determined not to do--proved to be of very great importance to the whole Jewish people and the whole Persian empire; but he could not know that. What he did know was that, if he had once bowed to Haman, his conscience would have been defiled, as surely as Daniel’s would have been if he had eaten the king’s meat; and polluted conscience is no trifle. A man has to carry it about with him all day, to go to sleep with it if he can, to encounter it again when he awakes, until God purges out the stain. But why should Mordecai have feared that, by bowing to Haman as the rest did, he would bring on himself this worst evil, a bad conscience? “We do not need to suppose that the homage enjoined was idolatrous; it may have been nearly so; but Mordecai knew the character of the prime minister, and he knew the fifteenth Psalm: in his eyes “a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord.” In addition to the knowledge Mordecai could not but have of Haman’s character, he knew him to be of the seed-royal of Amalek; and a man with the spirit of Moses and Samuel in him would not recognise the advancement of “the Jews’ enemy.” The point might be small in itself, but the principle involved in it was to Mordecai more important than life. The day was not far off when Ahasuerus and all Persia agreed with Mordecai in his estimate of Haman. But persons who act on high principle must be content to find that few on earth understand them at the time. Angels understand and smile on them, but the smiles of angels are not seen. Possibly some of Mordecai’s Jewish brethren might hint to him that his conduct was rather extreme (that terrible word!)--savouring more of bigotry than of pious charity. (A. M. Symington, B. A.)

The difference between right and wrong shown in little things

The difference between right and wrong may be shown in a little matter, but it is not therefore a little difference; and they who are determined to be thorough in their allegiance to God will make no distinction in their conduct between small things and great. Very noble, too, was Mordecai’s firmness in resisting the entreaties of his fellow-servants, for he shut up the whole controversy with the simple confession, “I am a Jew.” He will not needlessly publish his religion on the house-top, but neither will he be ashamed of it in the “king’s gate.” It might cost him much to make the confession, but he knew that sin would be still more costly, and so he did not shrink from saying, “I am a Jew.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Limits to the claims of official civility-

In Mordecai’s adherence to his religious principles we see that there are limits to the claims of social and official civility--bounds that duty does not allow us to pass in our respect for our superiors. The Word of God is the standard of respectability and manners as well as of faith, and it forbids all lying and deceit, all flattery and all mean compliances with the wishes of others, however exalted. It does not allow us to do anything that is contrary to good breeding and the chivalry of right. It does not allow us to neglect our duties, waste our time or injure our health, merely to please a friend or a potentate. Let it be remembered, to the honour of one of the Presidents of the United States, General Jackson, that he never allowed any visitors to keep him from the house of God on the Lord’s day. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Then the king’s servants, which were in the king’s gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment?--

Mordecai’s companions

But yonder come his fellow-servants of the palace; what have they to say? Why they Jay to him, “Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment?” And verily, aged man, why? Is it that all eyes may be turned upon you? It is true, indeed, that he is the observed of all observers who does not go with the multitude, even though they go to do evil. Any one that dares to think and speak for himself is sure to be condemned by the many that he differs from; for his position and principles are a running commentary of condemnation upon them. It has ever been so, and perhaps it will always continue to be so, for it is not for the man that lives in the cellar to say what he sees who dwells on the house-top. Some men are before their times, and some men never catch up with the age in which they live; and some men have not moral courage enough to hear themselves breathe honestly and freely. We see this daily as to the press and the pulpit. Is not the daily bread of the printer put in jeopardy if his journal does not meet the popular taste? And have we not seen large bodies of business men combine to starve newspapers to death by withholding their patronage unless the said papers would defend their conduct? And is it not true that if one pulpit has the courage to utter an honest opinion, that does not happen to coincide with the rest of the pulpits, that then all the pulpits and papers that have neither capacity to understand nor the moral honesty to comprehend the poor dissenter open their batteries upon him? (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Principle seems impolitic

And again his fellow-servants say, “Friend Mordecai, consider well what you are going to do. Remember, it is not Haman merely, but his master also, that you offend. Is it wise, then, for you to peril the forfeiture of your place and your life upon a question of mere etiquette or courtesy? It is extremely impolitic and dangerous for you not to do homage to so great a prince. And besides, if you will not bow with us, then you will have to suffer alone.” “Yes, friends,” says he, “I have considered all this; and I am content to meet the consequences. It is not a mere question of courtesy. I am a Jew. My religion is with me a glorious reality.” (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Cowardice cannot understand courage

Mordecai’s fellow-servants were not capable of understanding his principles. Cowards never apprehend the true character of a brave man. Little minds cannot see up into the magnanimity of a great and noble soul. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

For he told them that he was a Jew.

Fidelity to principle

We have in the case of Mordecai an example of fidelity to principle which is worthy of all study and imitation. He felt that it was wrong to do homage to Haman. In resisting the entreaties of his fellow-servants, he shut up the whole controversy with the simple confession, “I am a Jew.” Herein he gave an example which Christians might follow with advantage. Have the courage, young men, when you are asked to do what you know to be wrong, to reply simply, “I am a Christian.” Add to your faith courage--the heroism not of the warrior but of the man who has learned to run the gauntlet of ridicule and scorn, and to follow the dictates of duty “uncaring consequences.” To quote the words of the greatest wit of his age,--“Learn to inure your principles against ridicule. You can no more exercise your reason if you live in the constant dread of laughter than you can enjoy your life if you are in the constant terror of death. H you think it right to differ from the times, and to make a point of morals, do it, however rustic, however antiquated, however pedantic it may appear; do it as a man who wore a soul of his own and did not wait till it was breathed into him by the breath of fashion.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Verses 5-6

Esther 3:5-6

And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not . . . then was Haman full of wrath.

Vanity and cruelty

Haman manifests by his behaviour the intimate connection there is between vanity and cruelty.

1. Vanity is a form of magnified egotism. When a vain man looks out on the world it is always through the medium of his own vastly magnified shadow. Like the Brocken Ghost, this shadow becomes a haunting presence standing out before him in huge proportions. He has no other standard of measurement. The good is what gives him pleasure; evil is what is noxious to him.

(1) Egoism utilises the sufferings of others for its own ends. No doubt cruelty is often the result of sheer callousness. It is not so in Haman’s case; he is irritated, and vents his annoyance in a vast explosion of malignity that must take account of the agony it produces, for in that agony its own thirst for vengeance is to be slaked.

(2) Egoism promotes cruelty by destroying the sense of proportion. Self is not only regarded as the centre of the universe; like the sun surrounded by the planets, it is taken to be the greatest object, and everything else is insignificant when compared to it. What is the slaughter of a few thousand Jews to so great a man as Haman? It is no more than the destruction of as many flies in a forest fire that the settler has kindled to clear his ground. The same self-magnification is visibly presented by the Egyptian bas reliefs, on which the victorious Pharaohs appear as tremendous giants driving back hordes of enemies or dragging pigmy kings by their heads. It is but a step from this condition to insanity, which is the apotheosis of vanity. The chief characteristic of insanity is a diseased enlargement of self.

2. Vanity leads to cruelty through the entire dependence of the vain person on the good opinion of others. In this vanity differs from pride. A proud man is satisfied with himself, but the vain man is always looking outside himself with feverish eagerness to secure all the honours that the world can bestow upon him. While a proud man in an exalted position scarcely deigns to notice the “dim, common people,” the vain man betrays his vulgarity by caring supremely for popular adulation. Therefore, while the haughty person can afford to pass over a slight with contempt, the vain creature who lives on the breath of applause is mortally offended by it and roused to avenge the insult with corresponding rage. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

The misery of pride

A man of principle would have respected the conscientiousness of the act, even though he might have laughed at what he regarded the smallness of the scruple. A man of ordinary common sense would have treated the whole affair with indifference; but Haman valued his office just because it carried with it the right to such homage, and therefore what would have been a mole-hill, or hardly so much, to others, was a mountain to him. The proud man thus increases his own misery; and little slights, which other people would not so much as notice, are felt by him with great keenness. He whose arm has been recently vaccinated is very sensitive where the pustule is, so that a push which you would think nothing of is agony to him. Now, in precisely the same way the proud man is “touchy,” as we say; the slightest infringement on his dignity wounds him to the quick, and when other people are laughing he is vowing revenge; for, as this story illustrates, the passions are all near of kin, and one prepares the way for another. Brooding over the refusal of Mordecai to do him reverence, it became so magnified in his estimation that he determined to punish it; there was revenge. That he might gratify that revenge, it became necessary to bring the peculiarities of the Jewish nation before the king, and he requested their destruction on the ground that they were not profitable to the monarch, whereas the sole reason why he suggested their extirpa tion was that Mordecai had slighted him; there was falsehood. Then, in planning their massacre, there was murder. Here, therefore, were four sins all in a line, each rising above the other in enormity--pride, revenge, falsehood, murder. People think, sometimes, that pride is no great sin; some almost speak of it as if it were half a virtue; but, as this and other histories make plain, it is the germ of other evils that are worse than itself, and therefore we ought to be on our guard against allowing ourselves to become its victims. And how shall we best counteract it? I reply, by cultivating a sense of responsibility. That which we have, whether it be ability, or wealth, or exalted position, we have received as a trust, and we are to use it, as stewards for God, in the service of our fellow-men. Let us keep pressing the questions, Who hath made me to differ from others? What have I that I have not received? For what purpose have I been entrusted with these things? And the more we ponder these, the less we shall be inclined to plume ourselves on our possessions, and the more we shall be stirred up to the service of our generation by the will of God. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Injured vanity

“A man will forgive you anything,” Professor Huxley said, “if you do not injure his vanity. Once do that, and he will never forgive you.”

Evil passion its own penalty

Now, it may be thought by some that the case of Haman allowing himself to be so chafed and perturbed by a trifle as to be made miserable in the midst of so many advantages, is to be regarded as altogether extreme and without parallel; but we believe that on examination it will be found that the wicked always receive part of their punishment in the violence of some unhallowed passion which blinds them to all the real benefits of their lot. Is there not a gnaw ing disease in the heart of the covetous man, for example, which prevents him from enjoying the good things which are placed within his reach, just because he has not yet acquired all that he wishes to possess? And still, as he gets more and more, is he not as far as ever from being satisfied, since he has not yet reached the point at which he aims? Or again, look to the man who is the slave of envy, and mark how miserable this base passion makes him. He has ample means of enjoyment, which he can call his own; but his neighbour has something which pleases him better, and just because that one thing is awanting to himself, he can find no satis faction in the varied blessings which a kind providence has showered upon him. His neighbour’s good is to him what Mordecai at the king’s gate was to Haman. In like manner, I might advert to the working of the more violent passions of anger and revenge as a cause of intense torment to those who cherish them, and as altogether preventing them from taking advantage of many sources of happiness which lie open to them on every side. I might also allude to the misery which wounded vanity and affronted pride often bring to those who have high notions of their own importance, as when a trifling word or action will discompose them for many days together, and deprive them of their relish for the things that formerly pleased them, and made them happy. But enough has been said to show how by a just retribution the ungodly, following their natural tendencies and passions, work out their own passion. How different is the picture presented to us, where grace reigns in the heart. Although corruption is not altogether eradicated from the spiritual man, yet its power is subdued; the fierce passions are tamed, love takes the place of envy, malignity, and wrath; and the believer, seeking and finding his chief enjoyment in God, remains comparatively unruffled by those incidents which breed so much vexation and disquietude in the breast of the ungodly. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

Wounded pride

Wounded pride excites revenge, and this always burns hottest in the weakest minds. How insatiable is revenge, especially when it is associated with national and religious rancour! Haman learned that Mordecai was a Jew, a name that called up the bitterest recollections in the breast of an Amalekite, and he resolves at once on the total extermination of that people. (T. McCrie, D. D.)

A favourite lust

And it has always been one of the devices of the enemy to drive men into criminal excesses to their own ruin, through the instrumentality of some favourite lust or appetite. It was the covetous spirit of Judas that opened a way to the tempter to hurry him on to betray the Saviour. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

Then was Haman full of wrath.

The penalty of an evil passion

How dreadfully this wrath flamed in his bosom we learn from the method which he took to express it. We may observe, at present, what misery pride, by its own nature and inseparable consequences, brings upon men. No proud man ever received all that respect, or was treated with all that delicacy of regard, which he thought his due. Now pride mortified by neglect or contempt, kindles a fire in the soul which burns, and torments, and destroys. (G. Lawson.)

Verse 6

Esther 3:6

Wherefore Haman thought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom.

Plotting in vain

We proceed to consider the scheme of destruction which Haman arranged with the utmost craft. It seemed in its arrangement perfectly secure. Its accomplishment appeared certain and beyond resistance.

1. Haman’s malice was extreme, equal to any result to which it might lead. There was no reluctance, no holding back in the carrying out his purposes of wickedness to the utmost.

2. Haman’s plan was extremely crafty and determined. It involved many successive steps, and he faithfully persevered through them all. But what avails all this plotting against God? How mad and silly seem all the well-arranged plans of this scheme of wickedness when the providence and power of God are brought into the account! The secrecy of the plan is nothing. He that is higher than the highest regardeth it. An infinite power unseen is contending against him. Remember the story of Elisha, and his servant on the hill of Samaria (2 Kings 6:15).

3. We see the people whom Haman desired to destroy given entirely into his hands. The king makes him an unlimited grant. “The king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.” “Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and bitter cry,” etc. Alas, what extended sorrow among men the arbitrary wickedness of man is able to produce! Ambition deluges the earth with blood. The wicked covetousness of a few may doom myriads to misery, with no relief. The pride of this world will not stop to hear; the business of this world will not stop to consider; the prosperity and self-indulgence of this world will not be troubled with the griefs of the absent suffering; the indifference of this world cannot take the trouble to read, or think, or act, concerning them.

4. We see on the side of the Jews no power to resist. The highest human power was irrevocably pledged to their oppressor. Every advantage is on the side of the oppressor. But God has His own plans already laid and fixed.

5. We are ready to ask, in reference to the case before us, How could any one ever present greater difficulties? But God delights in overcoming difficulties, and in causing the faith of His people to endure in the midst of all discouragements. He allows the obstacles in their path to accumulate to the utmost. And God graciously honoured the faith which He imparted by fulfilling all its expectations in a manner the most complete. If you come to serve the Lord, you must endure your part of the trials which His people meet. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)


Justice is said to blindfold herself that she may hold the scales evenly, not knowing what has been put into each; but revenge shuts both eyes that it may see no scales at all. What monstrous disproportion between the offence and the penalty, to avenge a small personal affront received from one Jew by “causing to perish in one day all Jews, old and young”! To say nothing of Nero or Domitian, nor of Radama in Madagascar--for these, being heathen, had to that extent the same excuse as Haman--let me recall in a few words a well-known story. There were many Protestants in France after the Reformation, some of them nobles, all of them peaceful citizens. Their numbers and their growth vexed the Pope, and especially vexed the Pope’s “niece,” Catherine de Medici, queen of France, and mother of three of its kings. Suddenly, while one of her sons, Charles IX., was young, Catherine made peace with the Huguenots, and displayed great zeal in enforcing new laws in favour of her Protestant subjects. After two years, without any warning, on the eve of St. Bartholomew’s Day, there began a massacre in which six thousand persons perished in Paris alone, and fifty thousand in the provinces of France, within three days. When the joyful tidings reached Rome, public thanks were given in the churches. Haman would have rejoiced in the bloodshed; but he must have owned himself outdone in cunning and blasphemy. Catherine succeeded where Haman failed; her victims were effectually blindfolded, and she took the name of a holy God and a merciful Saviour to justify an act which even those of her own creed now blush to acknowledge. (A. M. Symington, B. A.)

Enmity to God’s people

We see how enmity to God’s truth and His people displays itself with restless activity for the accomplishment of its ends. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

Verse 7

Esther 3:7

In the first month, they cast Pur, that is, the lot.

The time of the lot

The drawing of the lot took place in the month Nisan, or about March of our year, and the day fixed by it was the thirteenth day of Adar, or February--a period of nearly twelve months intervening. The patience of Haman would be sadly tried by this result, but his superstitious fears would prevent him from acting contrary to the decision of “Pur.” In tracing the deep lines of providence in the whole narrative, however, we cannot help seeing a higher and more beneficent wisdom than that of chance. Had an earlier day been decided upon, sufficient time might not have been given to Mordecai to use the means which he did to frustrate the conspiracy. If the suspense of the Jews was a trial of their faith, and an incentive to prayer, the interval was also a boon in so far as it gave Mordecai leisure for deliberate action in view of the king’s subsequent decree. No doubt, in this instance, the disposing of the lot was of the Lord--a disposing of it very different from the intention of those who used it. So may the lot become in the hands of those who believe in its decisions the means for the accomplishment of the retributive purposes of God. (T. McEwan.)

The blind method of revenge

Revenge, when it becomes a master passion, is the worst madness.

Revenge is blind in its method. This is illustrated in the conduct of Haman. He caused the lot to be cast to find out the favourable day for the accomplishment of his purpose.

1. He was blind to the fact that there is no chance.

2. He was blind to the fact that so-called chance might as easily be against him as for him.

3. He was blind to the fact that “the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”

Haman persisted in his revengeful purpose. What a glorious revolution would soon take place, if the good were as persistent in the pursuit of merciful purposes as the bad are in revengeful projects. Every bad passion is injurious in its permanence.

Revenge is destructive in its patience. Haman was willing to wait twelve months in order that his revenge might be the more signally marked. But his very patience worked his ruin. Time is not on the side of revengeful waiters. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

Verse 8

Esther 3:8

And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus.

Listening to scandal

If we blame Ahasuerus for too readily listening to the invective of Haman, and condemning the Jews untried and unheard, we should be on our guard against committing the same sin, by giving heed to scandal in regard to others, without careful personal inquiry and observation, lest we should be only crediting the creations of the worst passions and distempers of our fallen nature. (T. McEwan.)

Half the truth dangerous

There is no notice taken of Mordecai. Not a syllable about his own injured pride. No reference made to the enmity of the Amalekites to the Jews. The real merits of the proposal are all kept back, and only those things are mentioned which were fitted to arouse the indignation of the king against the Jewish people. They were “a certain people”--a nondescript race, scattered abroad, like so many rebels against the government, and yet preserving their own unity; having their own laws, and despising constituted authority; contemning the king’s laws, and setting the example of insubordination; and sowing dissension and strife throughout all the provinces of the empire. For these reasons it was clearly not expedient that they should be tolerated any longer. How skilfully does the crafty conspirator conceal his malice and revenge under cover of the king’s profit. He did not ask for the destruction of this disaffected people as a favour to himself, but in making the proposal he artfully insinuated that he was doing the king a service. (T. McEwan.)

There is a certain people scattered abroad.

The destruction of the Jews

He stood high in the favour of his prince, but did he not risk the total loss of that favour by a proposal so evidently unjust and inhumane? Why did he not dread the wrath of the king, which is as messengers of death? Might he not have heard such words as these in answer to his proposal: “Audacious wretch! what hast thou seen in me that thou shouldst hope to make me the murderer of my people? Man of blood! thou scruplest not to seek the destruction, at one blow, of thousands of my subjects, upon a vague, unsupported charge which thou bringest against them! Wilt thou not another day follow the example of Bigthan and Teresh? Wilt thou be more afraid to lay thy hand upon one man, though a king, than upon many thousands of my subjects who have done thee no wrong?” (G. Lawson.)

Haman’s proposition

contained truth enough to make it plausible, and error enough to make it cruel, and enough personally agreeable to the king to make it popular with him. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Cunning malice

But observe the cunning malice of his address to the king. He does not say, “There is an old Jew that has offended me, and, through me, offered an affront to your sacred majesty; therefore let me execute vengeance upon him.” No, not a word of this sort. He feared to show his real character for rancour to the king, or courtiers. He professes to have no personal motives, but to be moved altogether by a desire for the public good. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

True and false accusations

Having formed so thorough-going a purpose, Haman took steps to execute it. We need not wonder at his lying about the character of the Jews; for it is often possible to use nothing but the language of truth, and yet to utter only the greater falsehood. It was quite true of God’s people, that their laws were “diverse from all people”: it is true of them to-day, and was equally true then, that, being bought with a price, they cannot be slaves of men; that, if any human law interferes with the will of their Saviour, they can give only the one answer, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” But it was false to say, “Neither keep they the king’s laws”; for, in respect of everything that man has a right to command, God’s people are the best subjects. To the fathers of these exiles the God of Israel had given this commandment: “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace”; and Haman could scarcely be ignorant that both the former empire and this one had profited by the private virtue and public faithfulness of pious Jews. God will answer Haman in His own way. But we ought to be fully prepared for the calumny, seeing it arises from two causes which remain always in force. The world cannot understand what it is that we owe to the love of God and to the blood of Christ, and how He must, therefore, reign supreme in the believing heart; and the world extremely dislikes to hear a claim advanced for liberty of conscience which reminds it of a power higher than its own. (A. M. Symington, B. A.)

Therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them.--


Worldly hearts are not led by good or evil, but by profit and loss; neither have they grace to know that nothing is profitable but what is honest; they must needs offend by rule, that measure all things by profit and measure profit by their imagination. How easy it is to suggest strange untruths when there is nobody to make answer! False Haman, how is it not for the king’s profit to suffer the Jews? If thou construe this profit for honour, the king’s honour is in the multitude of his subjects; and what people more numerous than they? If for gain, the king’s profit is in the largeness of his tributes; and what people are more deep in their payments? If for service, what people are more officious? No name under heaven hath made so many fools, so many villains, as this of profit. (Bp. Hall.)

No true profit in sin

It is, then, a question of profit or loss, not of right and justice. Never was there a scheme of villainy that was not gilded over with the plausible pretence of public utility. Nothing under heaven has made so many fools and so many heartless villains as supposed profit. The greatest good to the greatest number is indeed desirable, but such an object was never yet reached by a disregard of justice and right. Expediency is a fallacy. It is never allowed us to try the experiment of doing evil that good may come. How did it turn out in the case before us? The king is to get ten thousand talents for this execution. But instead of that his only profit was the blood and mangled bodies of thousands of his faithful subjects. Ah, cruel Haman! Are these the tender mercies of the wicked? Are these the profits of sin? What “if thou couldst have swum in a whole sea of Jewish blood, if thou couldst have raised mountains of their carcasses? What if thou couldst have made all Persia thy shambles, who would have given thee one farthing for all those piles of flesh, for all those streams of blood?”--Hall. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Haman’s murderous proposal

The commonness of it. In every age God’s people have been hated for the very reasons that are here assigned. They worship the one true and living God. David tells of confederacies formed to “cut off the Jews from being a nation.” The ten persecutions in the early ages of Christianity. At the present day private animosity is indulged as far as the laws of the land will allow. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

The impiety of it.

The folly of it. Haman with all his power could not prevail against the Jews, who yet in appearance were altogether in his hands. (C. Simeon.)

Verse 9

Esther 3:9

I will pay ten thousand talents of silver.

Haman’s wealth: ancient millionaires

Crassus owned a landed estate valued at more than one million and a half pounds sterling, and Ridorus, after having lost a good deal in the civil war, left an estate worth one million forty-seven hundred pounds. And Lentulus, the augur, died worth three millions, three hundred and thirty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three pounds sterling. Apicius was possessed of above nine hundred and sixteen thousand, six hundred and seventy-one pounds. His wealth, however, was by no means satisfactory or sufficient for him. For after having spent vast sums in his kitchen, he was so miserable that he put an end to his own life by poison. These rich old Romans were not bankers or mere merchants and traders. These amounts did not merely pass through their hands in the way of trade. They were worth so much in hard money. Nor were all the millionaires of ancient times Romans. Herodotus says that Xerxes, in going to Greece, the father of Ahasuerus--or as some say, Ahasuerus himself--found Pythius, the Lydian, possessed of two thousand talents of silver and four millions of gold darics; that is, about twenty-seven and a half millions of dollars (Lib. 7.). And Plutarch informs us, that after Crassus, the Roman general, had given the tenth of all he had to Hercules, he entertained ten thousand people at his tables, and gave to every citizen as much corn as would support him three months; and then had seven thousand one hundred Roman talents remaining; that is, about twenty-eight millions of dollars. Surely, then, there is nothing incredible in our history because it speaks of ten thousand talents of silver. The wealth and luxury of the old world, in many particulars, surpassed our own times. The enormous debts contracted in the days of Alexander and of the Caesars prove that the wealth of those times was great, although this is a way to prove one’s wealth by that is not at all to my mind, especially for a Church. Anthony owed, we are told, at the ides of March, £333,333 13s. 4d., which, however, it is said he paid before the calends of April, every penny of it. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Costly revenge

His revenge was so dear to him, that he would not only hazard the king’s favour by the horrid proposal of murdering a whole nation, but expose himself to a severe loss in his fortune, rather than suffer the hated race to live. What liberal sacrifices will men make to their passions! They will give a great part of the substance of their house to the gratification of their hatred or their lust. Why then should we think it a hard matter to give a part of our substance to God? If our desires are as eager for the advancement of virtue and purity, if we are as earnest in our wishes to have the wants of the poor supplied, and the afflictions of the unfortunate relieved, as revengeful men, like Haman, are to gratify their ill-nature, it will give us pleasure to honour the Lord with our substance, and to minister to the needs of our fellow-men. (G. Lawson.)

Verse 11

Esther 3:11

To do with them as it seemeth good to thee.

The danger of an easy temper

Ahasuerus appears to have been a man of an easy temper, and ready to confer the greatest obligations, without deliberation, on those whom he loved. But there is no true wisdom without judgment and steadiness. A thoughtless man, of an easy temper, is more likely to turn out a vicious than a virtuous character, because in a world where so many more bad than good men are to be met with, he is likely to give up himself to the guidance of those who will lead him out of the way of understanding; or if he should be led in the right path by some of his friends, there are others that will lead him out of it. Ahasuerus would have heaped favours upon the Jews, if Mordecai had been to him at this time what Haman was.

Many have not duly distinguished between an easy and a good temper. An easy temper is a very dangerous one, when it is not under the powerful restraints of wisdom. It is vain to boast of a ready compliance with every good motion suggested to us if we are equally ready to comply with bad motions. If we surrender our selves to the direction of our friends, we may soon find that we have given up ourselves to our enemies. He is not our friend who desires to be oar lord.

Please men for their good to edification. Be always ready to grant reasonable requests, and to follow good counsels. But you must judge for your selves, by the light which God has given you, what requests are lawful to be granted, and what counsels are worthy to be followed. (G. Lawson.)

The terrors of despotism

This history is an illustration of the danger of a one-man power--of an absolute despotism. The liberty that rests on the selfishness, or the inclination of one man, or of a hundred men, is suspended despotism, and if we must choose between the rule of one man, or of thirty, without a written constitution and laws, we should greatly prefer the one. In either case, our property and personal liberty are at the will of human caprice or passion.

We see how greatly we are blest, in having a government, not of men, but of just, mild, enlightened and equitable written and published laws, guaranteeing to us liberty in the worship of God, and in the pursuits of life and the enjoyment of our institutions. The King of Persia, in some instances, seems to have been surrounded by the restraints of precedents, yet, in other cases, he could do what he pleased with the lives and property of his subjects. There was no written constitution.

We are never to despair of the ark, even when it fall into the hands of the philistines. God will never forsake His people. It is no new thing for the godly to have to suffer persecution. The Jews were misrepresented. Even what Haman said of them that was true was so said as to give a fresh colouring to the whole picture. There is no proof that the Jews were factious under the Persian rule. On the contrary, from the lives of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah we should infer just the opposite. It is an old aspersion of God’s people, to charge them with singularity. Would to God there was more cause for the imputation than there is t The very thing, therefore, that constituted their glory was made their offence. But it is better always to fall into the hands of God than of men. This was David’s choice, and observation approves of it. The very reasons Haman gave for destroying the Hebrews are among the very reasons why God will not let them perish out of the earth. That which whets the sword of men moves the pity of the Almighty. God sometimes leaves His people to come into the greatest peril, that His power may be the more easily seen in their deliverance. Pharaoh was raised up to show His power, and so was Haman. “God taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and ensnares the wicked in the works of their own hands.” In the darkest hour it is our duty and our highest happiness still to trust in God. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)

Verses 12-15

Esther 3:12-15

Then were the king’s scribes called on the thirteenth day.

Fruitless preparations

Here is unseemly haste.

Here are inconsistent precursory measures. Wickedness renders a man inconsistent. Revenge impelled to action, but conscience still spoke in reproving tones. All must be done according to law. Obedience to the eternal law of right is the only method by which human lives can be rendered consistent and harmonious.

Here is a low estimate of human life, shown--

1. In the unmethodical nature of the slaughter designed.

2. In the indiscriminate nature of the slaughter designed.

3. In the rapacity after property. Life versus property. This decree is one of the unwritten decrees of modern civilisation.

Here is wickedness bolstered up by human authority. Learn--

1. Great men should try to get a true idea of the importance of human life.

2. Statesmen should remember that the true wealth of a community is its men.

3. All ought to remember that life is ignoble when passion is allowed to rule. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

Persian postal facilities

The postal service for that age was exceedingly good, but only the king could take advantage of it. Indeed, it was one of the means used by him for the government of the empire, and was very largely, according to Herodotus, the device of this same Xerxes. Along the chief lines of travel he established, at intervals of fourteen miles, post-houses, at each of which relays of horses and couriers were always in readiness. One of these messengers, receiving an official document, rode with it at his utmost speed to the next post-house, where it was taken onward by another courier with another horse, and in this way a proclamation like that here described would reach the farthest limits of the empire in five or six weeks. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Verse 13

Esther 3:13

To kill, and to cause to perish.

A wicked massacre

The wickedness of the intended massacre does not rest with Ahasuerus and Haman. Great multitudes of the king’s subjects must participate in the guilt. The governors and rulers of every province, and the people under their command, have letters written to them, sealed with the king’s seal, to contribute their part to the massacre. Let the great consider what they do. If they are wicked, they are not wicked alone. We ought to bless God that no man hath power to require us to do anything but according to the known laws of the land. And yet men of true virtue will not comply with the will of the most absolute monarchs when it is not consistent with the laws of justice and of mercy. At the famous Bartholomew massacre, when the King of France sent his orders to the commanders in the different provinces to massacre the Huguenots, one of them returned him this answer: “In my district your Majesty has many brave soldiers, but no butchers.” That virtuous governor never felt any effects of the royal resentment. It is to be feared that few of the Persian governors would have given such proofs of virtuous courage if the king’s edict had not been reversed. (G. Lawson.)

Verse 15

Esther 3:15

And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed.

Society broken into sections

Alas! how society is broken up into sections--one part caring little for another that is closest to it, and at the very moment pressing upon it for sympathy and succour. Stone walls were all that separated these two men from an agonising population, and yet they were as insensible to the sufferings which were without as though they had been hundreds of miles removed from that scene of perplexity and dismay. How many are in suffering in every great city! How many tears are being shed, groans of distress uttered, pangs of anguish, and remorse endured! But the world takes no notice of them--enjoys its ease, and dulls all sensibility to the pain of others by sensual delights. “What is that to us? see thou to that,” is still the reply of the world to those who have been its slaves. Happy shall be the time when the gospel shall have rectified this state of things; when each shall regard himself, like the Saviour, as a minister to others; when the wide breaches of fashion and caste shall be bridged over and healed; when priest and Levite shall disappear in the compassionate Samaritan; when every man shall look not upon his own things, but also on the things of others, and when society, from the highest to the lowest, shall be a holy, sympathising, loving brotherhood, possessed of the spirit and imitating the example of our Lord Jesus Christ! It was not the Jews only who were distressed and alarmed, but the whole community--some, because in the destruction of the Jews they would themselves suffer in friendship or outward estate--others from feelings of humanity at the prospective slaughter of good citizens and unoffending women and children--some through fear that a deed so cruel and horrible might lead to an insurrection in the provinces, and an indiscriminate plundering and murdering among the inhabitants--and others lest such an unrighteous decree might provoke the judgment of the Almighty. The city was panic-stricken. If the king was to act thus arbitrarily and unreasonably in one instance, might he not do so in many ways? (T. McEwan.)


How self-indulgence renders men callous to the distresses and sufferings of their fellow-men. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

The irregularities of human conditions

The inequalities of human conditions.

1. The most striking instance of inequality is that which is illustrated between the condition of the oppressor and the oppressed.

2. This is further illustrated by the contrast between the jollity of the palace and the perplexity of the city.

3. The indifference of one class of the community towards another and seemingly less favoured class is brought to view in this passage.

4. This indifference has its root in and is the outcome of selfishness.

The mysteries of human conditions. Haman feasting with the king, Mordecai mourning at the king’s gate.

The compensating forces of human conditions. The pleasure of Ahasuerus was not a permanent stream. The glory of Haman was soon tarnished. The sorrow of Mordecai was turned into laughter.

The sympathetic element in human conditions. Sorrow draws men and women more closely together than joy. When one part of a city suffers, the whole of the city should be perplexed.

The harmonising principle for human conditions. What principle is there that is to adjust in fit proportions the various parts and members of human society? The gospel rightly understood, broadly interpreted, and fully received. The gospel dethrones selfishness, and teaches the true brotherhood of humanity.

The true sustaining power for all human conditions: “Even our faith.” The true help in life’s difficulties is to go into the sanctuary of God. By faith and prayer the world’s true heroes have ever conquered. Here learn--

1. To keep away from sensuality, which hardens the nature.

2. To cultivate sympathy, which ennobles the nature.

3. To foster firm faith in an overruling power, which brightens life.

4. To have respect unto the harmonies of heaven amid the discords of earth. (W. Burrows, B. A.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Esther 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/esther-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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