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Bible Commentaries
Esther 3

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Esther 3:0


Haman's Conspiracy Against the JewsHaman and MordecaiHaman Plots to Destroy the JewsMordecai and Haman(Esther 2:19-6)
Esther 3:1-7Esther 3:1-6Esther 3:1-6The Decree of Extermination Against the Jews
Esther 3:7-11Esther 3:7Esther 3:7-9
Esther 3:8-11Esther 3:8-9
Esther 3:10-11Esther 3:10-11
Esther 3:12-15Esther 3:12-15Esther 3:12-14Esther 3:12-13
Esther 3:14-15a
Esther 3:15
Esther 3:15b

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Esther 3:1-6 1After these events King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him. 2All the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage. 3Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, “Why are you transgressing the king's command?” 4Now it was when they had spoken daily to him and he would not listen to them, that they told Haman to see whether Mordecai's reason would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew. 5When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage. 6But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him who the people of Mordecai were; therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.

Esther 3:1 “After these events” The UBS Handbook on the Book of Esther, p. 88, says that this phrase is a regular literary device used by the author of Esther to signal the beginning of the next part of the story (e.g., Esther 2:1).

“promoted” This VERB (BDB 152, KB 178, Peel PERFECT) is also used in Esther 5:11. It means to make great or powerful. The reason for Haman's promotion is not stated.

There is a parallel relationship between this VERB and

1. “advanced him” (BDB 669, KB 724, Peel IMPERFECT)

2. “established his authority over all the princes” (BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal IMPERFECT)

This was a major political promotion into the second most powerful position of authority at the palace, if not the realm. The irony is that Mordecai's efforts in saving the king's life went unnoticed (cf. Esther 2:19-23).

“Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” The exact etymology of the term “Agagite” (BDB 8, KB 10, “violent” or “angry”) has caused much discussion. It is either an unknown geographical location (cf. NJB, from an inscription of Sargon, a district of Persia-Agag) or a family name, or it may be related to Agag (cf. TEV), the king of the Amalekites (Talmud, Targums, and Josephus' Antiq. 11.209), the traditional enemy of the Jews (cf. Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 24:20; Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Judges 6:3, Judges 6:33; 1 Samuel 15:8; 1 Chronicles 4:42, 1 Chronicles 4:43). This third option is more plausible when Mordecai's Benjamite ancestry is contrasted to Haman's (literary foil).

The Jewish Study Bible mentions that Jewish tradition (the Targums) takes the rivalry between Israel and the Amalekites back to the rivalry between Jacob and Esau (cf. Genesis 36:12).

Esther 3:2 “bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him” This was simply polite court etiquette (cf. Herodotus 1.134; BDB 502, KB 499, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE and BDB 1005, KB 295, Hithpael PARTICIPLE. Both mean “bow down,” but the second implies prostration). Some have assumed that since the king commanded (BDB 845, KB 1010, Piel PERFECT) it that Haman was a non-Persian. For whatever the reason, Mordecai would not bow down and pay homage to Haman. There have been many theories concerning his refusal:

1. bowing down involved worship and he refused because he was a Jew (cf. Daniel 3:0 and Esther 3:4)

2. older Jewish commentators assert that Haman wore an idol (winged disk symbolic of Ahura Masda) around his neck and Mordecai would not bow down to the idol

3. others assume that Haman was a descendant of Agag (the Agagite or Amalekite), the enemy of Israel who was attacked by King Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 15:0), and Mordecai would not bow down to an enemy

Esther 3:3-4 From these two verses it is obvious that Mordecai's continuing refusal to pay homage to Haman was connected to his being a Jew (cf. Esther 3:4, Esther 3:6). By wilfully disobeying a royal command, he was putting his job and his life in jeopardy. By angering Haman he was putting every Jew in the empire at risk!

Esther 3:5 “Haman was filled with rage” The plot develops around this man's “being filled (“filled [BDB 569, KB 583, Niphal IMPERFECT] with rage” [BDB 404, KB 326]) at this one Jew from which he extrapolates an irrational hatred for all Jews (as Saul had attempted to kill all Amalekites, Josephus, Antiq. 11.211). An element of anti-Semitism is obvious (cf. Esther 3:8). This is the first of several mood swings. Haman is depicted as rapidly moving from elation to fury!

The term “rage” (BDB 404, KB 326) is used several times in Esther:

1. of the king, Esther 1:12; Esther 2:1; Esther 7:7, Esther 7:10

2. of Haman, Esther 3:5; Esther 5:9

Haman's anger develops into the king's anger.

Verses 7-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Esther 3:7-11 7In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar. 8Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king's laws, so it is not in the king's interest to let them remain. 9If it is pleasing to the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king's business, to put into the king's treasuries.” 10Then the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11The king said to Haman, “The silver is yours, and the people also, to do with them as you please.”

Esther 3:7 “the first month, which is the month of Nisan” See Special Topic: ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN CALENDARS.

“in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus” Esther would have been queen now for approximately four years. This would be 474 B.C.

“Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and month to month” This term “Pur” (BDB 807, KB 920) seems to be related to the Feast of Purim (BDB 807, cf. Esther 9:32). It is now known that it is an Akkadian loan word which denoted a means by which one could know the best timing for future events (cf. Esther 3:13). This was an ancient way to know the will of a deity. It is used in the OT for the dividing of the Promised Land in Joshua (i.e., the Urim and the Thummim of the High Priest); notice two uses in Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 10:34; Nehemiah 11:1) and in the NT for the filling of the place of Judas Iscariot (cf. Acts 1:26). Apparently Haman had the magi or sorcerers (cf. Esther 6:13; Herodotus 3:128) cast these stones in order to know the specific date on which he would (1) revenge himself on the Jewish nation or (2) approach the king about their destruction. He was obviously looking for divine sanction for his evil plans. The lot fell on a date about eleven months in the future.

In this verse both the Akkadian term (BDB 807) translated “Pur” and the parallel Hebrew term (BDB 174) translated “the lot” are used together as in Esther 9:24.

Esther 3:8 “their laws are different from those of all other people” Here is another example of “different equals bad.” This is also flagrant exaggeration and stereotyping. Haman takes Mordecai's refusal to bow down to him because he was a Jew and extends his actions to all Jews in all provinces.

NASB, NKJV“scattered and dispersed” NRSV“scattered and separated” TEV“scattered” NJB“a certain unassimilated nation scattered”

There are two Pual PARTICIPLES. They are parallel, but not synonymous. The first (BDB 808, KB 921) means distributed through the Persian empire (because of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles). The second (BDB 825, KB 962) means “self-imposed separateness or exclusiveness,” Anchor Bible, vol. 7B, p. 39. This meaning is seen in the NJB translation. The next phrase characterizes one aspect (“their laws are different”) of this separateness. It is the very separateness that allowed the Jews to maintain their culture and tradition while in exile. The chief mechanism of the preservation of culture was the local synagogue.

Esther 3:9 “Let it be decreed” This VERB (BDB 507, KB 503) is a Niphal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense (cf. Esther 1:19).

“and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king's business, to put into the king's treasuries” This is a stupendous amount of money. We know from history that it equals two-thirds of the annual budget of the Persian empire (cf. Herodotus, Histories 3.95). Whether Haman was personally very wealthy or if he planned to use the plunder of the slain Jews is uncertain. Obviously the king was interested in this kind of arrangement since his coffers had been drained by the Greek war. The amount of money shows the intensity of the hatred of Haman.

Esther 3:10 “the king took his signet ring from his hand” The signet ring was a sign of the king's authority. It is amazing that the king checked Mordecai's story in Esther 2:23, but does not check Haman's story!

Esther 3:11 “and the king said to Haman, 'The silver is yours'“ Literally this is “the silver is given to you,” which is a Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLE. It seems from the context that this is the beginning of an Oriental bargaining section (similar to Genesis 23:0), not simply the king saying to Haman to keep all the money (i.e., silver) yourself (cf. Esther 3:9; Esther 4:7). The king was allowing him to pay those who would destroy the Jews and turn in their property to the crown.

The term “silver” was used in the sense of money, not always for literally weighing out the metal itself (e.g., 1 Kings 20:39; Isaiah 55:2).

Verses 12-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Esther 3:12-15 12Then the king's scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and it was written just as Haman commanded to the king's satraps, to the governors who were over each province and to the princes of each people, each province according to its script, each people according to its language, being written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king's signet ring. 13Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to seize their possessions as plunder. 14A copy of the edict to be issued as law in every province was published to all the peoples so that they should be ready for this day. 15The couriers went out impelled by the king's command while the decree was issued at the citadel in Susa; and while the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was in confusion.

Esther 3:12 “on the thirteenth day of the first month” The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament, has a great comment about this date.

“Passover, the greatest celebration of deliverance of the Israelites, was celebrated on the fourteenth of Nisan. The edict was written on the thirteenth of Nisan, so it began to be distributed on the fourteenth. Thus, just as the Jews were celebrating deliverance from their great enemy of the past, the Egyptians, they were learning of a new plot from a new enemy” (p. 488).

“satraps. . .governors. . .princes” These are the three levels of Persian administration. The highest being the satraps, which numbered about thirty.

“sealed with the king's signet ring” This phrase is parallel to “being written in the name of King Ahasuerus.” The ring was used as an official seal. It was pushed into a blob of hot wax, not to seal a document, but as a sign the document was from the king (cf. Esther 8:8; Genesis 41:42).

Esther 3:13 “to destroy, to kill and to annihilate” The author of Esther regularly uses several VERBS in parallel (cf. Esther 7:4):

1. “to destroy” (BDB 1029, KB 1552, Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT)

2. “to kill” (BDB 246, KB 255, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT)

3. “to annihilate” (BDB 1, KB 2, Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT)

The object of this attack is “all Jews”:

1. young and old

2. children and women

This legal terminology clearly spells out the extent of the slaughter!

Esther 3:14 The interpretive question is, to whom is this decree addressed?

1. all citizens

2. the military

The answer probably lies in the compensation given to those who kill the Jews. Do they get part of their property? If so, then #1, but if not, then #2. If #2 Haman's offer of money was to pay for the military operation.

“for this day” Literally “in one day.” The interpretive question is, does this mean

1. all Jews were to be killed on one day, or

2. that the attacks were to be coordinated through all the provinces on one day?

From Esther 9:11-15, option #1 seems best.

Esther 3:15 “the city of Susa was in confusion” The VERB “was in confusion” (BDB 100, KB 115, Niphal PERFECT) is used of Pharaoh thinking that evasive movement of the fleeing slaves was confusion (cf. Exodus 14:3). There have been two theories related to this phrase: (1) had a higher moral sense than the king, which seems to be implied from Esther 8:15 or (2) citizens of Susa were planning how and who to kill in order to get their property.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Mordecai not bow down to Haman?

2. Are we certain that Haman is a relative of Agag, a king of the Amalekites?

3. How were lots cast and what was their purpose? Are there other examples in the OT?

4. How large a sum of money is ten thousand talents of silver and how does it relate to the economy of the day?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Esther 3". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/esther-3.html. 2021.
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