The Jews living in Persia are saved from complete extermination – Esther 9:1
Haman was a man who was a serious threat to the Jewish people. As a result of his hatred, he tried to convince the King of Persia to exterminate all the Jews. However, by a series of events this changed and Haman was brought to justice for his crimes.
Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them. Esther 9:1
What happened? How did Haman become such a threat to the Jews at that time?
The history of the Jews in Persia
Around 600 BC King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured Judah and brought the Jewish captives down to Babylon. In 539 BC, Persia’s King Cyrus conquered Babylon. This action liberated the Jews from captivity. Some of the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. But at the same time there was a large migration of Jews to the lands that were then Persia, and are now Iran.
As time moved on, many of the Jews were enjoying the way of life in prosperous Persia. Many had attained positions of influence in their Gentile surroundings. As a example, three Jewish people did very well:
1. Ezra held a position in Persia roughly equivalent to the Secretary of State for Jewish affairs.
2. Then there was Nehemiah. He was the cupbearer to the King Artaxerxes.
3. The third Jew to come to prominence in ancient Persia during those early years of Jewish settlement was Esther.
Esther was a Jewish woman who married a Persian king. You may have heard of the modern “fairytale” of a Australian woman marrying a Danish prince. Mary Donaldson of the Australian state of Tasmania had a romance with Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark and they eventually married..Well, back in ancient Persia there was a case of a Jewish orphaned woman marrying a Persian King. As to whether Esther saw it as a “fairy tale” is debatable!.
Modern day Jews in Iran look with a lot of affection to this woman called Esther. The Iranian Jews of today see themselves as the children of Queen Esther. They look back at Esther with pride, for they see her as saving the Jewish people from persecution in the fifth century BC.
Reading the Bible, it is certainly clear that Esther did play a important part in saving the Jewish people. But there was another who also played a central part in this great drama and his name was Mordecai. He was yet another Jew who had risen to an important position in the ancient Persian government.
Who is the King of Persia that Esther married?
The book of Esther tells us that she married King Ahasuerus. Some scholars identify King Ahasuerus as King Xerxes I but not all scholars are in agreement on this (his son, Artaxerxes I, is also a possibility as is Artaxerxes II). The name Ahasuerus is the Hebrew equivalent of the Persian word khshayarsha. It is similar to the name Xerxes as recorded in Greek and Babylonian languages. Xerxes I was king of Persia from 485BC to 465BC. His mother was Atossa, who was the daughter of Cyrus the Great (r. c. 550-530 BCE) who founded the Achaemenid Empire.
The photo at the start of this article and the photo to the right are reliefs of Xerxes I found by archaeologists in Iran. This may have been the man Esther married.
The story of Esther
Before we go any further, let me tell you the story of Esther, very briefly.
The king of Persia, Ahasuerus, was angered by his queen Vashti’s disobedience, and so he banished her from his presence and commenced a search for someone to fill her position. The most beautiful young girls of his empire were brought into the palace to be considered.
A young Jewish girl, Esther, was among those taken into the palace to receive one years preparation and to be then presented to the King for his appraisal. Esther’s God-given beauty caused her to be taken into the palace.
Now, there was a man named Mordacai who was an assistant to the Persian King. Mordacai was also Esther’s cousin and guardian, so he instructed her not to divulge her nationality to the king. And this advice was critical, for even though Mordacai and Esther didn’t know it at the time, God was protecting her in preparation for the saving of her entire Jewish people. So eventually, being the most beautiful and desirable, Esther was chosen by the King to be his Queen.
After Esther had married the king, some time past, until one day the king’s assistant, Haman, was angered when Mordacai refused to bow down to honor him. Haman knew that Mordecai was a Jew so he used his influence to persuade the King to issue a decree that all Jews of Persia should be killed in a single day. Queen Esther intervened and the decree was reversed and all the Jews were saved. Haman was hanged for his treachery. And that very briefly is the story of Esther.
The contrast between Haman and Mordecai
When we look deeply into the book of Esther, we see that there are great parallels and contrasts between Haman and Mordecai.
Both men are symbolic of types of men. Haman represents those in mankind (men and women) who do not live their lives by the principles of God whereas Mordecai represents Jesus. Both men are given glory and honour; both are given power to rule and control. But the amazing thing is, look at how differently they exercise that power!
Haman the worldly one
If we firstly look at Haman you can’t help but see that he represents worldliness – it couldn’t be more obvious. In other words, he was devoted to this world and its pursuits rather than to God. Haman was more interested in worldly possessions and pleasures.
To give an example of his worldliness have a look at the type of ambitions this man had. This is what is recorded in Esther chapter 6 and verses 1 to 9.
On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king's young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.” And the king said, “Who is in the court?”
Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for him. And the king's young men told him, “Haman is there, standing in the court.” And the king said, “Let him come in.” So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?”
And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king's most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’”
Haman was indeed a ambitious man but nowhere is the emptiness of this ambition better illustrated than in the verses we just read. King Ahasuerus asked him what should be done to the man whom the king delights to honour. His own ego so dominated his own thinking that he could not conceive of the possibility that the king would want to honour anyone but him. So in his own mind he reinterprets the question to mean ‘What would you really like, more than anything else in the world?’
Haman really wanted to play the king, even if it is only for a few short hours. To pretend and parade under the illusion of having that which he does not have. To wear the king’s clothes, to ride the king’s horse, to wear the king’s crown, to be led by one of the king’s mighty princes — to rise above himself and be for a moment that which he can never be.
Yet the whole experience, his greatest wish in the world, will be over in a matter of hours! It is amazing that this is the best that he can think of, that this is the best that Persian culture and excess can offer him!
His ambition was truly empty and foolish, and yet how many in the world follow in his path. We see every day, in this current world, people striving for rewards that are empty and don’t really give them any lasting happiness. We see and hear of people getting into huge amounts of debt to buy things which at the end of the day only give them fleeting happiness – yet the debt they used to buy these things stays with them for many years to follow.
This is indeed a lesson to those who wish to draw close to God. It shows, that the rewards that many people of this world are looking for, are brief. One moment the reward is here and next it is gone. One day the people of the world receive their reward and the next day that reward has gone and they have to start all over again striving for another reward.
God offers a reward that last forever. It is not brief reward lasting for a short time. He is offering each one of us not only immortality but also a place in the kingdom he has promised for this earth.,
However. There is unfortunately a trap that we can fall into. We can sometimes change our focus from the long-term rewards that the kingdom offers to some short-term worldly reward which in the end will mean absolutely nothing and be forgotten. This is what Haman did. You may have regret as you think – why did I waste so much of my time on that, when I should have been devoting my time to God. Praying to Him, working for Him, worshipping Him. Spending my time with God in his service.
Who does Haman represent ?
Who is Haman ? Haman represents sin and all that goes with sin, like the world and worldly ambitions. Haman is ‘the enemy of all the Jews,’ and the enemy of all men and women who would seek a relationship with God.
For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them. Esther 9:24
Haman was granted power for a limited time, but he used it against God’s people, and in particular, he sought to destroy Mordecai, and in symbol, Christ. But instead of destroying Mordecai he was forced to honour him, and was finally executed on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
Therefore, Haman represents sin.
Who does Mordecai represent?
Who is Mordecai? Mordecai represents Christ. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, as Christ refused to bow to sin.
He took upon himself the salvation of the people, instructing Esther how she should conduct herself in the face of danger. He was figuratively brought to the cross by Haman, but was delivered from it along with all his people. And finally, he was subsequently elevated throughout the worldwide empire as the royal representative, as was Christ.
So, Mordecai represents Christ.
What about us ?
And what about us – where do we fit in ?
Well, in this struggle between Mordecai and Haman, it almost is like watching a great drama being enacted out on the stage. It is tense drama where the powers of good and sin fight it out, and at the end of the drama we know one party must eventually die.
But in this great drama we can’t just sit back like a audience would at a play and watch the drama unfold on the stage before us. We have to be up on that stage playing a part in this drama. We also have to do battle with Haman. And the result will be the same, the one that is defeated will die…..for ever.
We need to be sitting on that wall next to Mordecai and not bowing down to Haman.
If we want to finish with a glorification similar to what Mordecai achieved, then we must also remove Haman from our life before he puts our chance at everlasting life at risk. As Mordecai fought and overcame Haman, we must also through our life, fight and overcome Haman.
How do we do that?
Well, first we must identify who Haman is. He is the side of our nature prone to sin. Where is he ? He is in our mind. Therefore, we must on a daily basis do battle with those thoughts which belong to the world. If we do that, then, like Mordecai, like Christ, we will receive that glorification which is going to be offered to those who have overcome.
The summing up of Mordecai’s exemplary character is found at the end of the book. The book of Esther closes with an accolade of Mordecai which is a great pointer forwards to our Saviour the Lord Jesus. We can read this in Esther chapter 10 and verses 2 and 3.
And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.
The man who Mordecai represents is the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us, be -like him:
Firstly, obey the commands of God the first time. We shpuld overcome sin, for if we don’t, it will surely in the end kill us. In other words, we will permantly lose our life.
Second, avoid focusing on short-term goals of this world, but rather focus on that great long term goal of the kingdom. That Kingdom will soon be set up on this earth.
A memorable event
The memorable event as recorded in Esther chapter nine and verse one tells of Haman conspiring to have all the Jews in Persia killed. Yet, his evil plan did not work and instead he was held accountable for his treachery.
We have been encouraged by the story of these two men to obey our Heavenly Father for if we fail to do this then we may pay a much higher price further down the line. The second lesson we have received is that the things of this world are meaningless and empty compared to what is offered as our hope by our Heavenly Father. God’s rewards will last forever.