The Futility of Anti-Semitic Schemes
History documents numerous attempts to annihilate the Jewish people whom God continues to preserve as a vibrant and identifiable people group in the 21st century. Even though it would be instructive, nations and individuals intent on harming the Jewish people disregard a consequential principle noted in the first pages of the Bible (Gen. 12:3).
The futility of anti-Semitic schemes is revealed in the historical account recorded in the Old Testament book of Esther (Est. 3:1-15). Like anti-Semitism today, Jewish people were targeted in ancient Persia simply because of their ethnicity.
“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws.
Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.’
So 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. And the king said to Haman, ‘The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you’” (Est. 3:8-11).
While the author is unknown, some believe the protagonists are responsible. Although never mentioned by name, it is obvious God was working behind the scenes to orchestrate events that elevated a young Jewish woman to a place of influence in the Medo-Persian Empire. Her name was Esther, queen consort to Xerxes, the king of Persia.
Raising her from childhood, Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, was a government official in Susa (Shushan). You may remember that shortly after Esther was taken to the women’s quarters near the palace in Susa, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king (2:21-23). Because of his intervention, the conspirators were arrested and executed, thus saving Xerxes’ life. For whatever reason, Mordecai was not recognized or rewarded for his service to the king.
THE PLOT THICKENS
In close proximity to this incident and without previous introduction, the text describes Xerxes’ promotion of another government official named Haman. Now in a position of high-ranking status over the princes of the kingdom, there are no other details concerning Haman’s sudden promotion.
Haman—Descendant of Amalek
There is, however, an ominous tone in the description of Haman as, “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” (Est. 3:1). Stated like a premonition of impending danger, Haman is clearly identified as the, “enemy of the Jews” (vv. 3:10; 8:1).
Haman’s lineage and hatred of the Jewish people were not coincidental. That Haman was an Agagite linked him to the royal family of the Amalekites who were descendants of Esau through his grandson Eliphaz (Gen. 36:1). The Amalekite animus for Jacob’s descendants was passed down and intensified from one generation to the next mutating into an identifiable characteristic of Esau’s descendants (Amos 1:11).
Infamously, the Amalekites were the first significant threat Israel faced after crossing the Red Sea. Remember how they ambushed Israel from behind targeting the tired and weary? (Deut. 25:17-18). Consequently, God cursed Amalek declaring that Israel would, “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (v. 19).
Some four hundred years later, Saul was instructed to do that very thing, but only partially obeyed choosing to spare Agag. Although Samuel was forced to dispatch the king of Amalek, there is no accounting of the rest of the royal family in Scripture (1 Sam. 15:2-3).
Readers of the book of Esther will be quick to grasp the significance. Persian Jews were in peril. Haman was an existential threat. Upon promotion, Haman’s hatred of the Jewish people intensified when Mordecai refused to bow in his presence.
The author of the book of Esther assumes that readers understand Mordecai’s refusal to pay homage to Haman and gives no further clarification.
When confronted about his indifference to Haman, Mordecai informs he is Jewish (Est. 3:4). Hearing the reason for his insubordination, Haman determined to not only destroy Mordecai, but annihilate the entire Jewish population in the Persian Empire.
The text records that five years after Esther became queen Haman went directly to Xerxes with an anti-Semitic scheme (v. 7). Using divination to set the date, Haman convinced Xerxes to approve a plan to kill the Jewish people throughout the kingdom (vv. 8-10). The king presented his signet ring as authorization for Haman to execute his evil scheme.
Letters were immediately sent to all the provinces,
“to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions” (v. 13).
With approval in hand, the genocide of Persian Jews seemed a foregone conclusion. Haman then focused rancor on his personal vendetta against Mordecai. Every time Haman saw Mordecai standing in his presence, his rage grew. His position, power and wealth meant nothing as long as Mordecai refused to bow before him (5:13).
Conferring with his wife and friends, the edict giving him power to destroy all Jews wasn’t enough for Haman. The following day, he determined to obtain the king’s specific permission to hang Mordecai on a gallows (v. 14).
AN UNAVOIDABLE CLIMAX
In an ironic turn of events that same night, a sleepless Xerxes remembered he had never rewarded Mordecai for saving his life (6:1-3). As Haman entered the palace the next morning to seek permission to hang Mordecai, the king was looking for an appropriate means to honor Mordecai!
When Xerxes asked how he would reward someone he wished to honor, Haman believed he was the worthy honoree. Haman’s answer betrays his narcissism.
“For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head.
Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor.
Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’” (vv. 7-9).
Instead of obtaining permission to hang Mordecai, the king then charged Haman to,
“Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king’s gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken” (v. 10).
Humiliated by the turn of events and angered that he was now compelled to convey Mordecai through the city with honor, Haman returned home infuriated. Expecting consolation from his family and friends, he was not prepared for their response to his public humiliation.
The consensus as Haman recounted what had transpired was unanimous.
“If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him” (v. 13b).
The confidantes gathered in Haman’s home grasped the significance. Enemies of the Jewish people today, however, seem unaware of this realty. No one can harm the Jewish people with impunity. Haman was about to discover the consequences of his anti-Semitic schemes (Gen. 12:3).
With the current spike in anti-Semitic incidents, the Old Testament book of Esther provides a graphic reminder that those who devise plans to harm the Jewish people do so at their own peril.
1) Queen Esther, “And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). By Edwin Long. Used for illustrative purposes/Public domain/Wikimedia/Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Haman and Mordecai. (circa. 1884). By Paul Alexander Leroy. Used for illustrative purposes/Public domain/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
3) Haman Exalts Mordechai. By Pieter Lastman. Used for illustrative purposes/Public domain/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
4) Bas relief detail: Limestone Magen David, Capernaum. Copyright © Charles E. McCracken Archives.
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.