King Xerxes was known to be a tyrant and not always a good judge of character. Some time after the plot to kill him was discovered by Mordecai, Xerxes promoted Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite to a very high position in his government. Haman was to be higher than all the other nobles. The Agagites were descendants of the enemy of Israel, Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were the ones who harassed the Israelites during their Exodus from Egypt and attacked them at Rephidim near Mount Sinai. They were eventually defeated by Joshua. The Amalekites were also among the nomadic raiders who were defeated by Gideon. They were condemned to annihilation by Samuel, and their final defeat came at the hands of Hezekiah. We read in 1 Samuel 15 these words of the Lord, “This is what the Lord Almighty says, I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them.” God had instructed king Saul to eliminate all of the Amalekites, but Saul failed to obey this command fully. Haman was married to a woman named Zeresh and they had 10 sons. Haman’s promotion went right to his head and as he entered the kings gate, he would slow down to allow everyone there to bow down to him. It was common practice to bow to superiors. Mordecai served at the king’s gate and Mordecai entered the kings court through the same gate. It gave Mordecai plenty of opportunities to bow to Haman, but he never did. This caused Haman much consternation.
Over time Haman came to hate Mordecai. He did not want justice. He wanted revenge, and revenge against Mordecai grew to become hate for and revenge against all the Jews because Mordecai was a Jew. Haman was determined to do everything in his power to crush Mordecai, including eliminating his people. Haman despised a man with integrity who would not obey laws that were against his convictions. His charge against all the Jews was what he hated about Mordecai: they did not assimilate with other people, they had unique laws and customs, and they did not obey some of the laws of the king. No other ethnic hatred in scripture compares to the hatred of Haman toward the Jews. Haman had selfish pride, a desire to maintain power, and a hatred for all those who stood in his way. Many people have died over the centuries because of such hatred. Think the Spanish inquisition (1400) and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. These are just two examples but there are many more. God disapproves of such hatred against any ethnic or religious group, and He will eventually hold those accountable who attempt to carry out such plans. Not only has God saved the Jews and defeated their enemies but God is faithful to all of His promises. He will similarly preserve His church through all persecution.
Because the king was always sheltered from anything negative or upsetting, he had no idea about Mordecai and Haman. But the day came when Haman had reached his breaking point and he went to the king with a proposal. There were people living in Xerxes’s empire who were like no one else. Haman laid out his case for their disposal, even offering to add a large sum of money to the king’s coffers for these people’s disposal. In fact, the sum Haman offered was equivalent to two thirds of Persia’s annual income. Lots were cast and the date was set, nearly a full year from when the lots were cast. After Haman made his proposal to the king, Xerxes took off his signet ring and gave it to Haman. This meant whatever edict Haman drafted would go out to the empire with the king’s seal on it. After the edict was written and copied into all the languages of the 127 provinces of the empire the edicts would be rolled up, a dab of clay or mud would be placed on the fold and the king’s signet ring would be used to make a mark in the wet clay or mud. This signified that the edict came from the king. Haman’s edict played on the king’s fears, just like Memucan did. However, intolerance toward any particular group of people ran against the general Persian tendency to be respectful of other people’s cultural and religious differences. The fact that Haman offered a large sum of money should have made the king suspicious of Haman’s motives. Perhaps the king was preoccupied or maybe he didn’t listen carefully to Haman’s proposal, but he asked no questions of Haman. Xerxes looked very irresponsible and easily manipulated here. Giving up his signet ring meant he had given up control over all his official policies and by giving the ring to Haman the king signaled he was giving full control to Haman.
Haman now has a new title in the author’s eyes, the enemy of the Jews. Once the edict was written, the foolish king and the wicked Haman sat down to celebrate the occasion. Jews all over the empire were perplexed and saddened, even to weeping and wearing sackcloth and ashes in grief and mourning. And the people in the citadel of Susa were beyond confused by such a ruthless and unjust decree. Mordecai’s dramatic response showed extreme grief and mourning. Again we see evidence that God’s people are calling out to Him but His name is never mentioned. The lamenting and fasting implies a call for God to intervene and save His people. It seems every Jew in the empire knew of Haman’s evil plan, everyone but Esther. However, her maids and servants knew everything that was going on. That is how they survived the cut throat life in the palace. Esther’s maids came to tell her about Mordecai, his sackcloth and his wailing. Because she had no idea about the edict she thought Mordecai needed clothes, so she sent him some. He refused the clothes and the maids dutifully reported that to Esther. The next servant up the food chain was the eunuch Hathach, and Esther sent him out to speak with Mordecai. Mordecai told Hathach the whole story, even the amount of money Haman promised to pay Xerxes. There is no way Mordecai would have known the amount of the money if he hadn’t been appointed a high official at the king’s gate. This gave him access to all sorts of information that was useful. And like Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, Mordecai was put in the right place at the right time. This is one of the many ways God used the descendants of Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. He even had a copy of the decree for Hathach to show and explain to Esther. The copy with the kings seal on it would show Esther the seriousness of the situation. Mordecai recognized the edict as a threat to the very existence of his people so he boldly commanded Esther to go to the king and beg for the people’s lives. Scholars argue as to whether Mordecai knew the inherent risks involved in just showing up wanting the see the king. But Esther knew the risks. Going to see the king without a specific invitation, was an invitation to be killed immediately. That person would be looked at as a direct threat to the king and his safety.
Access to the king was strictly controlled by his armed guards who wielded long handled axes. If someone got too close they would be hacked to death. The guards kept the king from trouble makers, complainers, and those with petty complaints that would waste the kings time. It was clear to Esther that Mordecai was asking her to risk her life. It seems that she had ruled out sending a request for a meeting to the king for fear she would have to disclose the reason for the meeting. Going to the king by itself was daunting enough but she had not been asked into the kings presence for a month. She had no idea if she had fallen out of favor with him or if he had just been busy. And there was no one she could ask. There was absolutely no guarantee she would receive a favorable response from Xerxes if she went to him. Hathach had no idea the role he was playing in God saving His chosen people. He was merely being an obedient messenger between Esther and Mordecai.
Mordecai did not mince words in his response to Esther. Do not think for a moment you will be safe in the palace if you do nothing now. Haman knew Mordecai was a Jew and if he figured out Esther and Mordecai were related if wouldn’t be long before Haman would hunt Esther down. Mordecai reminded Esther it would be more dangerous for her if she said nothing than if she went to the king. She could say nothing but Mordecai was 100% confident that God was going to save His people. If Esther didn’t step up to the plate, God would use some one else. Mordecai’s final salvo to Esther was this; “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” It was not a mistake Mordecai had a position of influence at the kings gate. And it was not a coincidence that Esther had been chosen Queen when she was. Mordecai told Esther she was where she was for a specific reason. Now she needed to act. Esther was to be God’s agent in delivering the Jewish people.
The tables now turned. For the better part of her life Esther had been taking orders from Mordecai but now she took charge and gave Mordecai orders. She agreed to intervene on behalf of her people but first there were some things that needed to be accomplished. Jews shall over the empire were already mourning, fasting and wearing sackcloth. Esther commanded Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Susa and fast for her. She had made up her mind but she wanted as many people as possible praying for her as she made her preparations. They were to join she and her maids and servants for a three day fast. That meant no food or drink for three days. Typically a total fast lasted one full day, but this was serious and Esther felt the absolute need for God’s intervention. Still we do not see God’s name used. Esther was seeking the support of the Jewish community by asking them to join in this fast. She understood fully that she was breaking the law of the land and there could well be dire consequences. Her comments that if she perished, she perished was not a sigh of resignation. Esther was a person of character who was willing to do whatever was necessary in spite of great personal danger.
The Hebrew root word for fast simply means to abstain from food. At times fasting meant abstaining from drink, bathing, anointing with oil, or sexual relations. In essence, fasting acknowledges human frailty before God and appeals to His mercy. Fasting was a common practice in the ancient world and was often associated with mourning for the dead, intercessory prayer, repentance and contrition for sin, and times of distress. It was required for the Day of Atonement. Fasts varied in length from one day to seven days and could even last up to 40 days on extraordinary occasions. The strictest fast lasted from sunset to sunset while a more lenient fast went from sunrise to sunset. There are many reasons to fast. You can fast from anger, fear, judging others, overspending, complaining, discouragement, resentment, and a host of other things.
Each one of us may find ourselves faced with a difficult decision that will affect not only our lives but the lives of others. Some of us may not be open to fasting but all of us are called to be open to what God has for us. And each of can call on the Lord in the way that draws us to Him the best. The point is, we need to go to the Lord to seek His guidance and leading. He will not let us down. And He will walk every step of the way with us.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt. W