10 Est 3-4 Esther Chooses to InterveneEzra, Nehemiah, & Esther: Restore, Rebuild, & Redeem
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Once again, I have extensively used and copied from the Truth for Today Commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, written by my friend and former colleague at Heritage Christian University, Coy D. Roper, Ph.D. I highly recommend it!
10 Est 3-4 Esther Chooses to Intervene
The historical beginning of the drama played out between Mordecai (a Benjamite descendant of Saul—2:5) and Haman (an Agagite—3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:24) goes back almost 1,000 years when the Jews exited from Egypt (ca. 1445 BC) and were attacked by the Amalekites (Ex 17:8–16), whose lineage began with Amalek, grandson of Esau (Ge 36:12). God pronounced His curse on the Amalekites, which resulted in their total elimination as a people (Ex 17:14; Dt 25:17–19). Although Saul (ca. 1030 BC.) received orders to kill all the Amalekites, including their king Agag (1Sa 15:2, 3), he disobeyed (1Sa 15:7–9) and incurred God’s displeasure (1Sa 15:11, 26; 28:18). Samuel finally hacked Agag into pieces (1Sa 15:32, 33). Because of his lineage from Agag, Haman carried deep hostility toward the Jews.
The time of Esther arrived 550 years after the death of Agag, but in spite of such passage of time, neither Haman the Agagite nor Mordecai the Benjamite had forgotten the tribal feud that still smoldered in their souls. This explains why Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman (3:2, 3) and why Haman so viciously attempted to exterminate the Jewish race (3:5, 6, 13). As expected, God’s prophecy to extinguish the Amalekites (Ex 17:14; Dt 25:17–19) and God’s promise to preserve the Jews (Ge 17:1–8) prevailed. – John MacArthur
Esther 3 – Haman’s Plot Against the Jews
Est 3:1 – Haman’s Promotion to Prime Minister
Esther became queen in the seventh year of Ahasuerus, about 479 B.C. (2:16-17), and the edict authorizing the slaughter of the Jews was issued in the twelfth year of the king, about five years later in 474 B.C. (3:7).
Haman: his name means “magnificent.” Imagine growing up and being called “magnificent” all your life! The term “Agagite” could indicate that he was a descendant of Agag, an Amalekite king. The Amalekites’ lineage began with Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Ge 36:12). Almost 1,000 years before Esther’s time, when the Jews exited from Egypt (ca. 1445 BC), the Amalekites attacked them (Ex 17:8–16).
God pronounced His curse on the Amalekites, so that they were eliminated as a people (Ex 17:14; Dt 25:17–19). Although Saul (ca. 1030 BC) received orders to kill all the Amalekites, including their king Agag (1Sa 15:2, 3), he disobeyed (1Sa 15:7–9) and incurred God’s displeasure (1Sa 15:11, 26; 28:18). Samuel then hacked Agag into pieces (1Sa 15:32, 33).
The events recorded in Esther occurred some 550 years after Agag’s death. However, if this Haman descended from Agag, that fact would account for the deep hostility he carried toward the Jews.
Est 3:2-6 – Mordecai’s Refusal to Honor Haman
The ancient animosity between the Jews and the Amalekites would also account for Mordecai’s refusal to bow before Haman. Mordecai’s defiance was an act of faith and an act of civil disobedience. To submit himself to this hostile leader would have been an abhorrent abomination to him. Mordecai was in the world but not of the world. He lived in Persia, but his heart and life belonged to the God of his fathers.
The king’s servants asked Mordecai day after day, “Why are you transgressing the king’s command?” He would not listen to them, but he did tell them that he was a Jew. That provided the reason for his noncompliance. His response reminds me of the way that Peter and the apostles would later respond in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”
It seems quite apparent that Haman was a narcissist, cherishing inflated ideas of his own importance. He was indignant, enraged over Mordecai’s snub. How dare he? Learning that Mordecai was a Jew, Haman would not be satisfied with arresting only Mordecai. He determined instead to commit genocide, a massacre of all the Jews, comparable to the Holocaust that Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich would later bring about.
Unchecked anger grows exponentially, as we see in various “road rage” incidents and acts of violence, destruction, and death. Note in Mark 6 that Herodias nursed a grudge against John the Baptist and wanted to put him to death. When her daughter said to her, “What shall I ask [Herod Antipas] for?” Herodias answered, “The head of John the Baptist.” It was brought to her on a platter as a horrible, disgusting demonstration of hateful anger that is allowed to grow.
Est 3:7-11 – Haman’s Scheme to Annihilate the Jews
The first month of Nisan corresponds to March/April. The twelfth year of the king was ca. 474 BC. “Pur” is Hebrew for the lot, similar to modern dice which were cast to determine future decisions (cf. the Hebrew lot, 1Ch 26:14; Ne 10:34; Jon 1:7). Proverbs 16:33 states that God providentially controlled the outcome of the lot.
However, in this case it was not the Jews but Haman who used the lot to indicate when he should plan to carry out his dastardly scheme. The twelfth month of Adar, corresponding to February/March, was indicated. So, there would be an 11-month interval between Haman’s decree and its expected fulfillment.
As we will note again in our study Esther 9, Mordecai and the Jews instituted the Feast of Purim (“lots”) after their deliverance to commemorate that great event (Est 9:16–32). In the apocryphal (non-inspired) book of 2 Maccabees (15:36), that day is called the Day of Mordecai. It was celebrated on the fourteenth day of Adar (March) by those in villages and unwalled towns and on the 15th day by those in fortified cities (Esther 9:18–19). No mention of any religious observance is connected with the day; in later periods, the book of Esther was read in the synagogue on this day. It became a time for rejoicing and distribution of food and presents (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
As Roper notes, Haman used two primary elements in order to persuade the king. First he told the king that “these people” (he did not specify that they were the Jews) were distinct and did not fit in with Persian culture. What a compliment! Further, he said that they followed laws that were different from the king’s laws. Also notable! Of course, Haman pictured them as a nuisance to be removed.
Second, Haman promised the king ten thousand talents of silver. This was an enormous sum, which one writer indicated was equivalent to two-thirds of the annual budget of the Persian central government. Though Haman was a wealthy man (Est 5:11), he likely intended this money to be confiscated from the Jews when they were attacked and murdered. Note the plan to seize the Jews’ possessions as plunder (3:13).
As the word “signet” suggests, the king’s signet ring signified his authority. Sealing a letter with wax, with the stamp of this ring, represented the king’s personal signature. The text indicates next (3:12) that Haman used this ring in just this way, to show that his proclamation was approved by Ahasuerus.
When the king said, “the silver is yours,” it was with the assumption that Haman would repay the treasury and then some. The plundering of the Jews would more than compensate for whatever expense may have been involved.
Est 3:12-15 – Haman’s Proclamation to Authorize His Plan
The king’s scribes were summoned eleven months prior to the date of Haman’s intended massacre of the Jews (3:13). The letters. Written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring, were sent out to the princes and the provinces in the language appropriate to each. Roper notes that the Persian empire had a very efficient postal system, as also seen in Est 1:22; 8:10, 14.
No detail was omitted. So as to be clearly understood, Haman included the words “destroy,” “kill,” and “annihilate.” He included all the Jews, regardless of age or gender. He specified the day and the month. He authorized the killers to plunder all the possessions of the Jews.
The people in the capital city, Susa, were perplexed, perhaps because of the good character and prominence of many Jews around them. By contrast, Ahasuerus and Haman peacefully enjoyed themselves. Each had what they wanted. The king would be freed from the reported trouble that “these people” posed, and his treasure chest would be enriched at the same time. Haman would be able to carry out his narcissistic hatred of Mordecai and all his people and to enjoy his prominent position and personal influence with the king.
Takeaways from Esther 3
Providence – Though Haman sinned in what he did, and he would suffer for it, God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him (Rom 8:28). As a result of these events, the Jews were saved and elevated, faith was strengthened through testing, the evil Haman was put to death, and lowly Mordecai was promoted to become the prime minister of Persia.
Promotion – Being granted a higher, more prominent role can certainly expand one’s influence for good. On the other hand, such an advancement can bring with it added pressures, temptations, and frustrations. Seeking first place selfishly can have disastrous consequences. Note what Jesus said about such things (Matt 23:1-12; Luke 14:7-11). Remember John’s evaluation of Diotrephes as one who loved to be first (3 Jn 9).
Praise – It’s flattering when others commend us and congratulate us. It feels good to be awarded and recognized for our accomplishments. However, if we allow ourselves to become inflated by praise, if we allow it to go to our heads, we will suffer greatly. Each honor we receive is a test that we may either pass or fail. We read in Prov 27:21, “The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and each is tested by the praise accorded him.”
Pride – It was Haman’s pride, along with Mordecai’s threat to it, that caused this wicked man to react as he did and ultimately to lose his own life. God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6). Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov 16:18).
Pressure – It is remarkable to see the ripple-effect impact of one person’s determined purpose. Haman’s hatred influenced the king and through him all of Persia’s scribes, officials, couriers, and citizens. Haman’s animosity threatened to cause genocide, the extermination of all Jewish people.
Esther 4 – Esther’s Determination to Intervene
Est 4:1-2 – Mordecai’s Intense Sorrow
When the news reached Mordecai, he mourned visibly, loudly, and publicly. Remember how Jacob, when he thought his beloved Joseph was dead, “tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days” (Gen 37:34).
Mordecai was quite willing for all of Susa to see and hear the evidence of his distress. Rather than weeping in private, he wailed loudly and bitterly in the midst of the city. He might have even entered the king’s courtyard, except that the Persians would have prevented him. The Persians also knew the significance of sackcloth, ashes, and loud wailing.
Est 4:3 – The Jews’ Widespread Misery
Though the words “God” and “Yahweh” do not appear in the book of Esther, the Jews’ fasting proved their faith in His existence and power. In fact, Esther herself will say in Est 4:16 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way …” Also, Est 9:31 notes that the Feast of Purim would incorporate times of fasting.
Est 4:4-6 – Esther’s Concerned Response
Queen Esther was distraught when she learned that her cousin / foster father Mordecai was obviously upset. Not knowing the full reason for his behavior, she tried to comfort him by sending him garments to replace his sackcloth.
When he refused those garments, she knew that the situation must be dire. So, she sent the trusted eunuch Hathach, whose name means “good one,” to ask Mordecai, right in front of the king’s gate.
Est 4:7-9 – Mordecai’s Urgent Report
It may seem ironic that Mordecai knew more about what was going on than the queen herself and her eunuch. Keep in mind, however, that Mordecai was the “man on the street,” whereas Queen Esther was secluded in the palace and therefore disconnected from these events.
Mordecai shared a copy of the text of the edict, which may have been posted publicly or in some way easily acquired. More than that, he knew what was not publicized, that is, the exact amount of money that Haman had offered. Such news may have been leaked by those who overheard the conversation between Haman and the king.
Though Esther was the queen on the throne, to Mordecai she was his “adopted” daughter whom he had raised. On that basis, then, he could tell Hathach to “order” her to follow his instructions and try to save her people.
Hathach was trusted here with very sensitive information! Remember that Esther had not yet revealed her ethnicity as Jew. Haman had no idea. Hathach took Mordecai’s news only to Esther.
Est 4:10-12 – Esther’s Realistic Assessment
Esther’s response was not necessarily one of cowardice or a lack of faith. Rather, it simply reflected the truth. There were two parts to it. For one thing, to enter the king’s inner court without an invitation was to risk death. For another, it had been thirty days since the king had summoned Queen Esther.
What could that mean? One might conclude that the king was unhappy with Esther, especially considering what he had done with his previous queen, Vashti (Est 1:10-22). However, as the following events indicate, such a conclusion would be false.
The king’s not summoning Esther for thirty days is an example of what may be called “ambiguous behavior.” In other words, its significance could be any number of things. For example, maybe he was simply preoccupied with other matters. To assume that one knows the motive for another person’s unexplained behavior is dangerous and faulty indeed. We must constantly resist jumping from what we know a person did to our own unfounded interpretation of the reason that he did what he did.
Est 4:13-14 – Mordecai’s Powerful Appeal
Rather than responding subjectively or emotionally, Mordecai replied rationally. His logic in reasoning with Esther was unassailable. It followed these lines.
First, Esther could not avoid risking her life, whether she approached the king or not. If she did nothing, and all the Jews were annihilated, she would be also, by royal decree. Here position as queen would not necessarily immunize or protect her.
Second, if she remained silent, the Jews as a whole could still be delivered by other means, but she and her father’s house would die. Her silence would jeopardize her own life and the lives of Mordecai and others among her relatives, even when the Jews’ rescue came through other means. Here is very likely a subtle reference to God, who had repeatedly delivered the Jews and promised to do so again.
Third, Mordecai raised the possibility that this was Esther’s moment to serve a unique purpose. He asked her, “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Again, the presence and providence of God are implied. Roper writes, “Implied is the belief that it was God, not fortunate circumstances or mere chance, that had made Esther queen—and that He had caused this to happen just so she could intercede with the king in behalf of God’s people in this time of crisis. Mordecai was telling her that this was her moment to stand up for God and make a difference.”
Est 4:15-17 – Esther’s Courageous Decision
Esther had to choose between the risk she faced and the truth Mordecai declared. Whichever of the two seemed greater to her would determine her course of action. Caught between a rock and a hard place, her faith overcame her fear.
She demonstrated her faith by calling for the assembly of the Jews and the three-day fast in which she and her maidens would also participate. Having committed her cause to God, she would present herself to the king. Even so, she knew that she had no guarantee. She could perish, but so be it. She would in that case die having acted faithfully, courageously, and responsibly.
Up to this point, it was Mordecai who was giving instructions to Esther. Here, for the first time, it was Esther who commanded Mordecai. Her decision to do the right thing, the hard thing, gave her fresh strength and confidence to face what was coming next.
Takeaways from Esther 4
Position # 1 – Never underestimate the impact you can have on others since you are not in charge at the top. Mordecai was not the king, but he had a family relationship with the woman who was married to him! As her father figure and mentor whom she respected, he was able to affect her behavior and save the Jewish people through her.
Position # 2 – Though only Mordecai could do what he did, only Esther could do what she was to do. If you are not in charge, remember Mordecai and exert your influence where you are. If you are in charge, step up and do the right thing, the hard thing, that no one else can do. Do not default or abdicate your role. James Burton Coffman credited Esther with the following attributes: (1) “sheer courage,” (2) “faithful acceptance of an assignment fraught with mortal danger,” (3) “filial obedience to her beloved foster-father Mordecai,” (4) “patriotic zeal,” (5) “determination to rescue her people from massacre,” and (6) “evident trust in God, and confidence in his blessing.” Coffman added, “Esther’s action here equals or surpasses anything ascribed in the literature of all nations to the greatest heroes of the human race.”
Persuasion – When emotions and tensions are high and pressures are great, we must think through the issues at hand and address them as fairly and logically as possible. Mordecai presented Esther’s options clearly and reasonably, and he helped her reach the right decision.
Participation – Esther called for others to fast for her, not eating or drinking for a full three days and three nights. Not only is it biblical to fast individually when seeking God’s help and deliverance. It is also quite scriptural to join with others in fasting, as the leaders of the New Testament church did (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23).