Ahasuerus was accepted to have been the autocratic ruler of the vast Medo-Persian empire. He was infamous in secular history for his outbursts of senseless anger and outrageous, impossible demands. Like many despots, he probably claimed divine status and expected to be worshipped and feared. This may help explain Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman, 3. 2, and the fear Esther had of approaching the king uninvited, 4. 10, 11.
Queen Vashti was renowned for her beauty, 1. 11.
She lost her position as queen when she refused to present herself before Ahasuerus and his guests at the end of seven days of drunken banqueting, 1. 10-21.
Described as ‘a certain Jew‘, Mordecai first appears in chapter 2 verses 5 to 7, as cousin and guardian of Esther, and in the context of Ahasuerus’s command that a replacement be sought for Vashti. Mordecai’s credentials as a Jew, linking him in his genealogy to Benjamin, are listed. And, like Daniel, Mordecai was carried away captive from Jerusalem; hence, the reason why he is found in Shushan.
We see that Mordecai is a man of deep principle, as he would not kneel and reverence Haman, 3. 2, who probably claimed directly, or by association with the king, divine status.
Mordecai is the leading character in the book, whose early joint actions with Esther prevented genocide of the Jews. His ultimate elevation to replace Haman, 8. 2, as second to the king is remarkable. It is testimony to his reputation and character, echoing both Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon.
Named both Hadassah (myrtle) and Esther, we encounter this Jewess first in chapter 2 verse 7, as an orphan under the care of her cousin Mordecai. Recorded as ‘fair of form and good of countenance’, 2. 7 Newberry margin, she finds herself caught up in the unseemly quest for Vashti’s replacement, and eventually is ‘made … Queen instead of Vashti’, 2. 8-18.
A remarkable heroine, she is motivated by the plain-speaking of her cousin Mordecai, 4. 14-16, to put her life on the line and go uninvited before Ahasuerus to plead for the lives of the Jews, see chapters 5, 7 and 8. Her bravery is also notable, for it involved isolating the cruel, wicked, and scheming Haman and exposing him before Ahasuerus, 7. 6.
In his challenge to her in chapter 4 verse 14, Mordecai asks Esther, ‘who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ Esther’s subsequent actions and ultimately the survival of the Jews gives a clear answer to that question. There can be no doubt that Esther had become Queen under the sovereign direction of God.
Haman appears in chapter 3 verse 1, as son of Hammedatha the Agagite, on his promotion by Ahasuerus ‘above all the princes that were with him’. There is a possibility that Haman was descended from the Amalekite King Agag, 1 Sam. 15. The outcome of the conflict with King Saul, from whom Mordecai certainly was descended, may explain the origins of the deep hatred Haman had towards Mordecai.
Quickly, we see Haman’s bruising ego and his towering arrogance, as he rages at Mordecai who ‘would not kneel down or pay him honour’, 3. 2 NIV. He is ‘full of wrath’, 3. 5, and later ‘full of indignation against Mordecai’, 5. 9. His wrath quickly escalates to plotting the slaughter of all the Jews in the kingdom, 3. 6, which he persuades Ahasuerus to order, resulting in the decree Haman crafted and then issued, 3. 8-14. Four times in the book he is named as ‘the Jews’ enemy’ or adversary.
Haman’s animosity towards Mordecai was not lessened by the decree to slaughter all Jews, and, on the advice of his wife and friends, 5. 14, he planned Mordecai’s immediate execution on gallows he had specially prepared. It is likely this involved crucifixion rather than hanging, and the gallows was a pole on which the victim was impaled. Making them fifty cubits high, about 23 m (75 ft), was to ensure Mordecai’s death would be a public spectacle, 5. 14.
Esther’s intervention, however, results both in Haman being hanged on the same gallows, and in the failure of his scheme to destroy the Jews.
It is interesting to note the comparison between the meaning of Haman’s name (magnificent), and that of Mordecai (little man), in the context of how things ended up for both of them.
In the third and final part of our study we will look at further key lessons from the book.
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