“After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.
3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.”
(Esther 3:1-6 NIV)
Looking at the story timeline again, chapter 2 ends with Mordecai exposing a plot to kill the king. Chapter 3 opens sometime later (“after these events”, meaning after the murder plot was foiled and over, and life had gotten back to normal). We only have two relative time markers to go by. In Esther 2:16, the author records it was the 7th year of the kings reign. In Esther 3:7, the author records it was the 12th year of the kings reign. So the plot against the king happened after Esther was named queen, and before Haman was promoted to his current position, all within 5 years.
As this story opens, we meet the villain of the story, a man named Haman. Jewish lore indicates that the book of Esther was often taught as either a dramatic reading or a theatrical play, where Mordecai was seen as the hero, Esther as the heroine, and Haman as the villain. When Mordecai’s or Esther’s name was mentioned or they appeared on stage, the audience clapped and cheered. When Haman’s named was mentioned or he appeared on stage, the audience booed and hissed.
So what made Haman the villain? In verse 1 of chapter 3, Haman is identified as an Agagite (an Amalekite). If you remember your Old Testament history, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites as they came out of Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16). The Amalekites and Israel had a long history of battles, and Haman knew this history well – he had not forgotten his ancestors’ arch enemy.
So what was the issue between Haman and Mordecai? The king had appointed Haman as his top noble, basically making him second in command under the king. The king issued a command that all should show respect for Haman, which meant that everyone was supposed to bow down as Haman went by.
And therein was the rub. Verse 2 tells us that everyone obeyed the king’s orders except Mordecai. And people noticed. The other nobles at the king’s gate ( the business center of Susa) watched day after day as Mordecai defied the king’s orders and did not bow down when Haman passed by. The other nobles reported Mordecai’s defiant behavior to Haman, probably out of jealousy, and also to obtain favor with Haman, the number two man in the country. Haman, as we shall see later, had a huge ego to go with his position, and this made him mad.
On top of Mordecai’s refusal to honor Haman, Haman then found out that Mordecai was Jewish. This fact alone threw him into a full rage against Mordecai. So instead of plotting to kill just Mordecai, Haman began planning something so much more sinister – the destruction of all the Jews in the Persian kingdom. The was not just deportation or exile that Haman was planning – this was genocide, the deliberate and systematic murder of an entire group of people.
Thankfully, the story is not over yet. Over history, we see many who have warred against God and against God’s people. Some have given their lives to follow the Lord. Even in our day, the enemies against God and God’s people seem larger than life, as if they are an unstoppable force. But yet, God’s justice prevails.