All the king’s servants who were in the king’s gate bowed down, and paid homage to Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai didn’t bow down or pay him homage. — ch. 3:2.
Despite repeated attempts to explain his behavior, Mordecai’s refusal to bow before Haman remains a mystery. There are a number of explanations, with little or no evidence to support them. Certainly, within the story as we have it, Mordecai and Haman represent the Jews and the enemies of the Jews, respectively. In fact, four times the text will refer to him as “Haman, the Jews enemy.” It’s possible the author of this story intends us to see this as another re-enactment of David and Goliath, with Mordecai as the lowly David, and Haman, with his power as viceroy, as a boastful and arrogant Goliath. If that is correct, then Mordecai’s defiance of Haman’s vanity by refusing to bow mirrors David’s willingness to challenge Goliath’s boasting and arrogance. Without doubt, it initiates a struggle between the two men, with Israel’s safety hanging in the balance.
Then the king’s servants, who were in the king’s gate, said to Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s commandment?”
Now it came to pass, when they spoke daily to him, and he didn’t 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.—vv. 3, 4.
Wherever an absolute monarch reigns, palace intrigue surrounds the throne. Power corrupts, and the appetite for power corrodes the character and erodes friendship. Perhaps Mordecai’s fellow servants found him pleasant enough, personally. Perhaps they held no animus against Jews. But when Haman took offense at Mordecai’s defiance, the others saw opportunity. Haman stood second only to the king, so he could do much to aid anyone he favored. And clearly, he would favor anyone who could find a way for him to avenge himself on Mordecai. That Mordecai was Jewish simply supplied an excuse for his fellows to single him out, a convenient reason to suggest he was arrogant. From their perspective, two birds, one stone: to curry favor with Haman and eliminate a potential rival.
So they tell Haman, as we shall soon see, and the effect of this knowledge reveals the depth of his depravity.
When Haman saw that Mordecai didn’t bow down, nor pay him homage, Haman was full of wrath.
But he scorned the thought of laying hands on Mordecai alone, for they had made known to him Mordecai’s people. Therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even Mordecai’s people.
Exacting punishment for wrongdoing is one thing; wreaking vengeance on a man’s family is quite another. But even that will not salve the wound to Haman’s immense pride. He must destroy an entire people! We tend to think of genocide or ethnic cleansing as evils peculiar to our own day. In ancient times such heinous acts were commonplace. In fact, throughout the history of mankind, extermination of one’s foes was something to boast about. Even in that context, Haman’s ambition was shocking. After all, he was not King. Mordecai and his people had not murdered innumerable members of Haman’s kin or clan. He had offended Haman’s pride! So Haman’s reaction was literally diabolical, devil-like.
He cannot, however, tell Ahasuerus that. Kings are allowed great personal pride, but not their viceroy. The second-in-command is supposed to be concerned with the dignity of the King, not his own. If Haman wants the King to bless his extermination of the Jews, the King has to believe that Haman is protecting the royal interest, not settling his own personal scores. And Haman demonstrates the skills that propelled him to such lofty heights of power, as he presents the case to Ahasuerus.
Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their laws are different than other people’s. They don’t keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not for the king’s profit to allow them to remain.
If it pleases the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who are in charge of the king’s business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.”
Haman’s appeal demonstrates his skill at court politics. He portrays the Jews—though he doesn’t mention them by name, “a certain people scattered and dispersed”—as dangerous rebels, disobedient to the Kings decrees, and ‘unprofitable’ to the kingdom. So Haman suggests that this dangerous group be destroyed, and then offers to pay for it! Haman does not mention how the plunder of this operation will be divided. No doubt he planned to take pleasure in their extinction, and profit by it at the same time.
The king took his ring from his hand, and gave it to Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy. The king said to Haman, “The silver is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.”
Then the king’s scribes were called in on the first month, on the thirteenth day of the month; and all that Haman commanded was written to the king’s satraps, and to the governors who were over every province, and to the princes of every people, to every province according to its writing, and to every people in their language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus, and it was sealed with the king’s ring.
The King’s signet ring would be pressed into hot wax on the copies of the royal decree, to authenticate it as a legal decree of the Persian Empire. Throughout the vast Empire—from modern day Lybia, Egypt, and Macedonia in the west, to India in the East—the king’s decree would be posted and read.
Letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to plunder their possessions.
The plan was as simple as it was diabolical. On the appointed day, it would be open season on Jews. Besides the King’s command for them to be killed, there was additional incentive: plunder. If envy wasn’t enough to ensure their deaths, greed would finish the job.
Read other posts in the “Matriarchs and Prophets” series.