Esther 3 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Esther 3
Pulpit Commentary
After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.
Verse 1. - After these things. Probably some years after - about B.C. 476 or 475. Haman, the son of Hammedatha. "Haman" is perhaps Umanish, the Persian equivalent of the Greek Eumenes. "Hammedatha" has been explained as "given by the moon" (Mahadata), the initial h being regarded as the Hebrew article. But this mixture of languages is not probable. The Agagite. The Septuagint has Βουγαῖος, "the Bugaean." Both terms are equally inexplicable, with our present knowledge; but most probably the term used was a local one, marking the place of Haman's birth or bringing up. A reference to descent from the Amalekite king Agag (Joseph., 'Ant. Jud.,' 11:6, § 5) is scarcely possible.
And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.
Verse 2. - All the king's servants. Literally, "the king's slaves" - the lower officers of the court, porters and others, of about the same rank as Mordecai. Bowed and reverenced Haman. i.e. prostrated themselves before him in the usual Oriental fashion. For the king had so commanded. No reason is assigned for this order, which was certainly unusual, since the prostration of an inferior before a superior was a general rule (Herod., 1:134). Perhaps Haman had been elevated from a very low position, and the king therefore thought a special order requisite. Mordecai bowed not. Greeks occasionally refused to prostrate themselves before the Great King himself, saying that it was not their custom to worship men (Herod., 7:136; Plut., 'Vit. Artax.,' § 22; Arrian., 'Exp. Alex.,' 4:10-12, etc.). Mordecai seems to have had the same feeling. Prostration was, he thought, an act of worship, and it was not proper to worship any one excepting God (see Revelation 22:9).
Then the king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment?
Verses 3, 4. - The king's servants, which were in the gate with Mordecai, were the first to observe his disrespect, and at once took up the matter. Why were they to bow down, and Mordecai not? Was he any better or any grander than they? What right had he to transgress the king's commandment? When they urged him on the point day after day, Mordecai seems at last to have explained to them what his objection was, and to have said that, as a Jew, he was precluded from prostrating himself before a man. Having heard this, they told Haman, being curious to see whether Mordecai's matters (or, rather, "words") would stand, i.e. whether his excuse would be allowed, as was that of the Spartan ambassadors who declined to bow down before Artaxerxes Longimanus (Herod., 1. s. c.).
Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.
And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.
Verse 5. - When Haman saw. Apparently Mordecai's disrespect had not been observed by Haman until the "king's servants" called his attention to it. Then, naturally enough, he was greatly offended, and felt exceedingly angry at what seemed to him a gross impertinence. Mordecai's excuse did not pacify him - perhaps seemed to him to make the matter worse, since, if allowed, it would justify all the Jews in the empire in withholding from him the respect that he considered his due.
And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.
Verse 6. - He thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone. If Haman had simply said to Ahasuerus, "There is one of your menials who persistently disobeys a royal edict, and at the same time insults me," Ahasuerus would, as a matter of course, have told him to put the menial to death. But the revengeful temper of the man was such that this seemed to him insufficient. Mordecai had insulted him as a Jew, and the Jews should pay the penalty. Mordecai should be punished not only in person, but in his kindred, if he had any, and in his nation. The nation itself was contumacious and troublesome (ver. 8); it would be well to get rid of it. And it would be a grand thing to wipe out an insult offered by an individual in the blood of a whole people. Haman therefore sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. Massacres on a large scale - not unknown in the West, witness St. Bartholomew's - are of frequent occurrence in the East, where human life is not held in much regard, and the caprices of absolute monarchs determine the course of history. There had been a general massacre of the Magi upon the accession of Darius Hystaspis, the father of Xerxes (Herod., 3:79), and one of Scythians about a century before (ibid. 1.106). These were examples which might occur to Haman. A later one is the Roman massacre of Mithridates in B.C. 88.

CHAPTER 3:7-15 HAMAN CASTS LOTS TO OBTAIN A LUCKY DAY FOR HIS ENTERPRISE, AND OBTAINS A DAY IN THE MONTH ADAR, THE LAST MONTH OF THE YEAR (Esther 3:7). Having determined on a general massacre of the Jews on a given day, as the best mode of ridding the empire of them, Haman thought it of supreme importance, to select for the massacre a propitious and fortunate day. Lucky and unlucky days are recognised generally throughout the East; and it is a wide-spread practice, when any affair of consequence is taken in hand, to obtain a determination of the time for commencing it, or carrying it into effect, by calling in the arbitrement of Chance. Haman had recourse to "the lot," and by means of it obtained, as the fight day for his purpose, the 13th of Adar, which was more than ten months distant. The long delay was no doubt unpalateable, but he thought himself bound to submit to it, and took his further measures accordingly.
In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.
Verse 7. - In the first month, the month Nisan. See the comment on Nehemiah 2:1. This name was first given to the month by the Jews after the return from the captivity. It was the Babylonian name of the first month of the year, and superseded the old Jewish name, Abib. The twelfth year of... Ahasuerus - B.C. 474, if Ahasuerus be Xerxes. They cast Pur, that is, the lot. The superstitious use of lots has always been prevalent in the East, and continues to the present day. Lots were drawn, or thrown, m various ways: sometimes by means of dice, sometimes by slips of wood, or strips of parchment or paper, and also in other manners. Even the Jews supposed a special Providence to preside over the casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33), and thought that matters decided in this way were decided by God. Haman appears to have cast lots, first, as to the day of the month which he should fix for the massacre, and secondly as to the month in which it should take place. Apparently the lot fell out for the thirteenth day (ver. 13), and for the twelfth month, the last month in the year. The word "Pur" is not Hebrew it is supposed to be Old Persian, and to be connected with Mod. Pers. pareh, Lat. pars, Greek μέρος μοῖρα. To the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar. Adar is, like Nisan, a Babylonian word, perhaps connected with edder, "splendour." The month so named corresponded nearly with March, when the sun begins to have great power in Western Asia. HAMAN PERSUADES AHASUERUS TO PUBLISH A DECREE COMMANDING THE DESTRUCTION OF ALL THE JEWS IN HIS KINGDOM ON THE ENSUING THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADAR (Esther 3:8-15). Having formed his own resolve, it remained for Haman to bring his proposal before Ahasuerus in such a shape as should secure his acquiescence in it. For this purpose he thought it best, first, to raise a prejudice against the Jews by representing them as bad subjects, causing trouble through the peculiarity of their own laws, and still more through their unwillingness to render obedience to the Persian laws (ver. 8). In support of this last statement he would no doubt, if questioned, have adduced the conduct of Mordecai, who persisted in "transgressing the king's commandment," and gave as his only reason that he was a Jew, and therefore could not obey it (ver. 4). As, however, he doubted the effect of this reasoning on his royal master, he held in reserve an argument of another kind, an appeal to the king's cupidity, which constituted his main reliance. If the king gave his consent to the destruction of the Jewish nation, Haman undertook to pay into the royal treasuries, out of his private means, a sum which cannot be estimated at much less than two millions and a quarter of pounds sterling, and which may have amounted to a much higher figure (ver. 9). The effect of this argument upon Ahasuerus was decisive; he at once took his signet-ring from his finger, and made it over to his minister (ver. 10), thus enabling him to promulgate any decree that he pleased, and he openly declared that he gave over the Jewish nation, their lives and properties, into Haman's hands (ver. 11). Haman "struck while the iron was hot." The king's scribes were put in requisition - a decree was composed, numerous copies of it made, the royal seal am,ca to each (ver. 12), and a copy despatched forthwith to each governor of a province by the royal post, ordering the complete destruction of the Jews within his province, young and old, men, women, and children, on the thirteenth day of the month Adar, and the confiscation of their property (ver. 13). The posts started off with all speed, "being hastened by the king's commandment" (ver. 15); and the two men who had plotted a nation's extermination, as if they had done a good day's work, and deserved refreshment, "sat down to drink." But the Persians generally were less satisfied with the decree than their monarch and his minister; it surprised and startled them; "the city Shushan was perplexed."
And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them.
Verse 8 - There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed. It is not always borne in mind how large a part of the Jewish nation remained in the lands to which they had been carried away captive, after the permission had been given to return. Josephus notes that the richer and more influential of the Babylonian Jews were very little inclined to quit Babylon ('Ant. Jud.,' 11:1). There was evidently a large Jewish colony at Susa (infra, Esther 9:12-15). The Book of Tobit shows that Israelites, scarcely to be distinguished from Jews, were settled in Rhages and Ecbatana. The present passage is important as showing the early wide dispersion of the Jewish people. Their laws are diverse. A true charge, but a weak argument for their destruction, more especially as the Persians allowed all the conquered nations to retain their own laws and usages. Neither keep they the king's laws. Important, if true. But it was not true in any broad and general sense. There might be an occasional royal edict which a Jew could not obey; but the laws of the Medes and Persians were in the main righteous laws, and the Jews readily observed them. They were faithful and loyal subjects of the Achaemenian monarchs from first to last from Cyrus to Darius Codomannus. For the king's profit. Rather, as in the margin, "meet" or "fitting for the king." To suffer them. Or, "to let them alone."
If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.
Verse 9. - If it please the king, lot it be written that they may be destroyed, and I will pay, etc. This startling proposition, to which the king might well have demurred, for even Xerxes could scarcely have regarded such a massacre as a light matter, is followed immediately, and before the king has time to reflect, by the tempting offer of such a bribe as even a king could not view with indifference. Xerxes had once, if we may trust Herodotus, declined to accept from a subject a gift of money equal to about four and a half million of pounds sterling (Herod., 7:28); but this was early in his reign, when his treasury was full, and he had not exhausted his resources by the Greek war. Now, in his comparative poverty, a gift of from two to three millions had attractions for him which proved irresistible. To the hands of those that have the charge of the business. Not the business of the slaughter, but the business of receiving money for the king, i.e. the royal treasurers. To bring it. i.e. "for them to bring it," or pay it, "into the royal treasuries." On the multiplicity of the royal treasuries see the comment on Ezra 7:20.
And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy.
Verse 10. - The king took his ring from his hand. Rather, "took his signet from his hand." This may have been a ring, for signet-rings were known to the Persians, but is perhaps more likely to have been a cylinder, like that of Darius, his father, which is now in the British Museum ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 4. p. 182). And gave it unto Haman. Thus giving him the power of making whatsoever edicts he pleased, since nothing was requisite to give authority to an edict but the impression of the royal seal (see Herod., 3:128). For similar acts of confidence see Genesis 41:42; Esther 8:2. The Jews' enemy. Rather, "persecutor."
And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.
Verse 11. - The silver is given thee, the people also. Not "the silver which thou hast given me is given back to thee," for the 10,000 talents had not been given, but only offered. Rather, "the silver of the people is given thee, together with the people themselves, to do with both as it pleases thee." Confiscation always accompanies execution in the East, and the goods of those who are put to death naturally escheat to the crown, which either seizes them or makes a grant of them. Compare ch. 8:11, where the property of those of the Jews' enemies who should suffer death is granted to those who should slay them.
Then were the king's scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring.
Verse 12. - Then were the king's scribes called. "Scribes" (in the plural) are spoken of as attending on Xerxes throughout the Grecian expedition (Herod., 7:100; 8:90). Such persons were always near at hand in the palace, ready to draw up edicts. On the thirteenth day of the first month. It is conjectured that Haman cast his lots on the first day of the year (Berthcau), as an auspicious time for taking anything in hand, and having obtained a thirteenth day for the massacre, adopted the same number as probably auspicious for the necessary appeal to the king. Having gained the king s consent, he sent at once for the scribes. The king's lieutenants. Literally, "the king's satraps." The actual Persian word is used, slightly Hebraised. And to the governors. The word used has been compared with pasha (Stanley), and again with beg or bey, but is probably distinct from either. It designates a provincial governor of the second rank-one who would have been called by the Greeks ὑποσατράπης. The number of these subordinate officials was probably much greater than that of the satraps. And to the rulers of every people. i.e. the native authorities - the head men of the conquered peoples, to whom the Persian system allowed a considerable share of power. In the name of king Ahasuerus was it written. All edicts were in the king's name, even when a subject had been allowed to issue them. See the story of Bagseus in Herodotus (3:128), where the edicts, of which he alone was the author, have the form of orders from the king. And sealed with the king's ring. Or "signet" (see note on ver. 10).
And the letters were sent by posts 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 upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.
Verse 13. - And the letters were sent by posts. The Persian system of posts is thus described by Xenophon, who attributes its introduction to Cyrus: - "Stables for horses are erected along the various lines of route, at such a distance one from another as a horse can accomplish in a day. All the stables are provided with a number of horses and grooms. There is a post-master to preside over each, who receives the despatches along with the tired men and horses, and sends them on by fresh horses and fresh riders. Sometimes there is no stoppage in the conveyance even at night; since a night courier takes up the work of the day courier, and continues it. It has been said that these posts outstrip the flight of birds, which is not altogether true; but beyond a doubt it is the most rapid of all methods of conveyance by land" ('Cyrop.,' 8:6, § 17). To destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish. The writer quotes from the edict, which appears to have had as many surplus words as a modern English law paper. Young and old, little children and women. "To take the father's life and spare the child's" was thought to be an act of folly in ancient times. Wives and children of criminals were, as a matter of course, put to death with them. This was anciently even the Jewish practice (Joshua 7:24, 25; 2 Kings 9:26; 2 Kings 14:6), and was quite an established usage in Persia (Herod., 3:119). The thirteenth day. The Septuagint has "the fourteenth day" in its professed copy of the decree, but confirms the Hebrew text here by making the thirteenth the actual day of the struggle (Esther 9:1). The fourteenth and fifteenth are the days now kept by the Jews; but it is suspected that an alteration has been made in order to assimilate the Purim to the passover feast, which began on the 14th of Nisan.
The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day.
Verse 14. - The exact import of this verse is uncertain. Some suppose it to be a mere heading to a copy of the decree, which was originally inserted in the text between verses 14 and 15. In this case the translation should be Ñ "A copy of the writing for giving commandment to every province, published to all peoples, that they should be ready against that day."
The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed.
Verse 15. - The posts went out, being hastened. Though there was ample time, since the remotest part of the empire could be reached in a month, or two at the most, yet the posts were "hastened," Haman being impatient, lest the king should change his mind, and decline to publish the edict. The king may himself also have wished to have the matter settled past recall. The king sat down with Haman to drink. This touch seems intended to mark their hardness of heart. As Nero "fiddled while Rome was burning," so these two, having assigned a nation to destruction, proceeded to enjoy themselves at "a banquet of wine." But the city of Susa was perplexed. The Jews had enemies in Susa (Esther 9:12-15); but the bulk of the inhabitants being Persians, and so Zoroastrians, would be likely to sympathise with them. There might also be a widespread feeling among persons of other nationalities that the precedent now set was a dangerous one. Generally the people of the capital approved and applauded what. ever the great king did. Now they misdoubted the justice, and perhaps even the prudence, of what was resolved upon. The decree threw them into perplexity.

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