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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Esther 3

 

 

Verse 1

HAMAN’S PROMOTION, AND THE EDICT AGAINST THE JEWS, Esther 3:1-15.

1. Haman the son of Hammedatha — “The name Haman is probably the same which is found in the classical writers under the form of Omanes, and which in ancient Persian would have been Umana, or Umanish, an exact equivalent of the Greek Eumenes. Hammedatha is, perhaps, the same as Madata or Mahadata, (Madates of Q. Curtius,) an old Persian name signifying ‘given by (or to) the moon.’” — Rawlinson.

The Agagite — Perhaps a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite. 1 Samuel 15:9; 1 Samuel 15:32. It was no impossible thing for a descendant of the royal family of Amalek to become an officer in the court of Persia. Some, however, suggest that the Agagite is an epithet which Jewish hatred has applied to Haman, with the design of associating him with the hated Amalekite.

Set his seat above all the princes — Made him his chief favourite and prime minister. Thus Nebuchadnezzar and Darius honoured Daniel, who was also a foreigner.

Daniel 2:48; Daniel 6:1-3.


Verse 2

2. The king’s servants… bowed — This was but a mark of respect to any officer of high rank, and is a common custom in all courts.

Reverenced Haman — The Hebrew involves the idea of prostrate reverence as to a superior being — bowing on the knees, and touching the forehead to the ground. משׁתחוים. Septuagint, προσεκυνουν, fell prostrate, worshipped. Vulgate, Flectebant genua et adorabant — bowed their knees and adored. The Chaldee paraphrase has it that they bowed down to a statue which had been set up in honour of Haman. This at once explains why Mordecai bowed not. Haman required worship like a god, and this would have been idolatry with a Jew. Mordecai is represented in the apocryphal Esther (xiii, 12) as praying: “Thou knowest, Lord, that it was neither in contempt nor pride that I did not bow down to Haman; for I would have been glad, for the salvation of Israel, to kiss the soles of his feet. But I did this that I might not glorify man more than God; neither would I worship any, O God, but thee.”


Verse 3

3. Why transgressest thou? — Mordecai answered this question, as we learn from the next verse, by confessing that he was a Jew, and the rules of his religion would not allow him to offer the semblance of divine honours to a mortal.


Verse 4

4. He hearkened not unto them — He would not be persuaded from his purpose to remain true to the principles of his religion. His course was dictated, not by obstinacy, but by firmness of religious principle. Herodotus (vii, 136) relates the case of certain Spartans who visited Shushan in the time of Xerxes, and, when ushered into the royal presence, refused to prostrate themselves and worship the king, on the ground that it was contrary to their customs to worship a man.

They told Haman — Until they told him, Haman seems not to have noticed that Mordecai did not bow down to him.

Whether Mordecai’s matters would stand — Whether the religious scruples of a Jew would be tolerated in opposition to Persian laws and customs.


Verse 6

6. He thought scorn — Literally, it was contemptible in his eyes. To punish Mordecai alone was too little a thing, in his estimation, to reconcile his offended honour. The whole nation or race of Mordecai must perish to make atonement for this his sole offence. Such wholesale massacres were not uncommon in the East. For the offence of the pseudo-Smerdis the Persians sought to destroy all the Magi, and even celebrated the event by a festival called Magophonia — “the slaughter of the Magi.” — Herod., 3:79. Such a tyrant as Xerxes, with such a minister as Haman were just the men to cause such slaughter upon slight provocation.


Verse 7

7. The first month… Nisan — Corresponding nearly with our April. It was the first month of the Jewish year, the month of the passover.

Exodus 12:2. It was called also Abib. Exodus 13:4; Exodus 34:18.

They cast Pur — Pur is a Persian word, and, according to our author, signifies the lot. Haman’s diviners cast lots before him in order to determine a favourable or lucky day for carrying out his fierce design against the Jews. “The practice of casting lots,” says Rawlinson, “to obtain a lucky day, remains still in the East, and is probably extremely ancient. Assyrian calendars note lucky and unlucky days as early as the eighth century B.C. Lots were in use both among the oriental and the classical nations from a remote antiquity.

From day to day — We are not to understand that they spent a whole year in casting lots. On the first month they cast lots for each day of the month, and for each month of the year, and then, comparing all together, decided which was the most lucky day for their purpose. They fixed upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. Esther 3:13; Esther 8:12; Esther 9:1.

To the twelfth month — Literally, from month to month the twelfth. The twelfth month was called Adar, and corresponds nearly with our March. We should not fail to observe the providence that so disposed the lot in this case (Proverbs 16:33) as to defer the execution of Haman’s bloody design for nearly a year, thus affording time for Mordecai and Esther to secure its defeat.


Verse 8

8. A certain people scattered abroad — Emphatically such were the Jews at this time. From the fall of Samaria, (2 Kings 17:6,) the tribes of Israel had become more and more dispersed among the people in all the provinces of the East, until their tribe divisions could be now but faintly recognised. Many had returned to Jerusalem, as the Book of Ezra shows, and others returned afterwards, but thousands more continued to dwell in the various countries whither they had become dispersed.

Their laws are diverse from all people — The Jews were, unquestionably, “a peculiar people,” and adherence to their customs brought Mordecai and Haman into conflict.

Neither keep they the king’s laws — Mordecai’s offence was not the first instance of a Jew’s refusal, from religions scruples, to keep the laws of the heathen kings. Instance the case of Daniel and his companions, (Daniel 1:8; Daniel 3:16-18; Daniel 6:10,) and compare the charge of the Samaritan chiefs, Ezra 4:12-16.


Verse 9

9. Ten thousand talents of silver — Nearly $1,700,000. Haman doubtless expected to pay this amount from the Jewish spoils. Compare Esther 3:13.

Those that have the charge of the business — Namely, the business of superintending, receiving, and depositing the revenues of the kingdom.

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Verse 10

10. Took his ring… and gave it unto Haman — This was done for the purpose of sealing with irrevocable authority the letters which Haman designed (see Esther 3:12) to send to all the rulers of the provinces; “for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring may no man reverse.” Esther 8:8. Many ancient signet rings have been discovered, some made of gold, others of various kinds of stone. Those made of stone are usually cylindrical. The signet cylinder of Darius Hystaspes bears a trilingual inscription which reads, “Darius the Great King,” and also a picture of the king hunting lions in a palm grove.


Verse 11

11. The silver is given to thee — Instead of bringing the spoil of silver into the royal treasury, Haman is permitted to keep it for himself. Xerxes was the only Persian despot whose favouritism, vanity, and prodigality would readily allow such a loss from his own treasury.


Verse 12

12. The king’s scribes — See note on 2 Samuel 8:17.

The thirteenth day — Having fixed on the thirteenth of Adar (Esther 3:13) for the execution of his bloody design, he seems to have purposely selected the corresponding day of the first month for the beginning of his work.

Lieutenants — Satraps. See note on Ezra 8:36.

Governors — Or prefects. On this word, which is rendered deputies in Esther 8:9; Esther 9:3, see notes, Ezra 5:3 and 2 Kings 18:24.

Rulers — Or princes.

The writing… their language — See note on chap. Esther 1:22.


Verse 13

13. Sent by posts — See note on Esther 1:22 for the Persian system of letter carrying.

To destroy… in one day — Some have thought that eleven months’ previous notice of such a decree would have frustrated Ha-man’s design, since it would have afforded the Jews opportunity to escape from the dominions of Xerxes. But the procedure was by no means incredible. We know too little of the exact circumstances of the dispersed Jews of that time, and the extent of country through which they were dispersed, to form a positive judgment in the case. Multitudes may have been in such a state of bondage as to make it impossible for any great number of them to escape; and as for others, it may have been expected and desired that some of them would leave the kingdom. But such as Mordecai, whom Haman especially wished to destroy, could not leave the kingdom any more than Nehemiah (compare Nehemiah 2:6; Nehemiah 13:6) without permission from the king. It was also in keeping with Haman’s character to cause all the anguish and horror possible to the Jews in anticipation of the dreadful day of slaughter. Then we must remember, as observed above on Esther 3:7, that a wise Providence so overruled this whole procedure as to bring to naught the plans of the Jews’ enemy, and make his malignant hatred of the Jews the occasion of his ruin.


Verse 15

15. The king and Haman sat down to drink — Like the most cool and bloodthirsty tyrants.

Shushan was perplexed — There were many Jews in Shushan, as we may infer from Esther 9:12, and these would at once be filled with horror and dismay. And with this feeling every thoughtful citizen would naturally sympathize, and wonder what would be the end of such a system of wholesale slaughter. No such massacre could be carried out without incalculable danger to many others besides the Jews.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Esther 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/esther-3.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 1st, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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