Thursday, February 21, 2013

The book of Esther, part 2

In part 1 we saw Esther win the king’s favor and get crowned queen. Now there is a conspiracy being plotted by a man named Haman. The conspiracy is to annihilate the Jews (3: 1- 7):

1 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. 

7 In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar. 

We need to clarify some things here. King Xerxes may be identified as King Ahasuerus in your translation. Actually, Ahasuerus is the Hebrew translation for his Persian name and Xerxes is the Greek translation, the one he is better known by in history. Do you want to know his Persian name? Don’t ask me how to pronounce this: Khshayarsha. He was the Persian king who ruled an empire that ran from India to Ethiopia. Haman was one of his counselors, a wicked one at that. In fact, since he is identified in verse 1 as the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, some scholars think this implies that he was a contemptible, hateful man because Agagite literally means “fiery one”. We see in the passage above that Haman really got ticked when Mordecai (who had raised Esther) refused to kowtow to him. Hence he seeks revenge.

Haman cast the lot—pur is the Persian word for "lot"—to determine the day most favorable to wipe out the Jews (3:7-11). In the pagan world of the time it was unimaginable to make such big plans without astrological guidance. The lot was supposed to disclose the most favorable day for this act. The official casting of lots happened during the first month of each year to determine the most suitable days for important events. Haman cast lots in the first month and the lot fell on the 12th month, hence there was almost a year for preparation. God controlled the lot-casting (Prov. 16:33). Archaeologists have found quadrangular prism type dice at Susa which may be what they used. It is also thought that they may have used broken pieces of pottery.

Meanwhile, lots of stuff happens: Mordecai learns of the evil plan and asks Esther for her help. Haman, still ticked at Mordecai, builds a gallows to hang him. The king, sleepless, reads the chronicles and discovers that Mordecai had done a great service to the king and had not been rewarded. Esther plots to set Haman up by inviting him and the King to her own banquet.

Results? Find out Sunday in part 3.

(parts taken from Crossing the Scriptures, kindle edition or  paperback)

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