In preparing parish Bible studies, I get to revisit portions of Scripture that I haven’t visited in a long time. For the book of Esther, it’s been decades. It’s easy to see the same kinds of events play out today as I get deeper into Esther.
Haman is a high government official in ancient Persia, perhaps a chief-of-staff for the king. Prestige and wealth are not enough. Every single person must acknowledge in public their devotion to the man. Celebrities of today don’t demand identical treatment, but they still see themselves above the law, be it bribery to get children in to college, or refusing to cooperate with lawful investigation. Tuition and detective work are for the 99%.
Earlier in the book, the author drops a hint that Haman may have been involved in an assassination plot foiled by Mordecai. Exacting revenge on a lower official wasn’t satisfactory for this member of the 1%. He wanted to wipe out an entire culture:
When Haman observed that Mordecai would not kneel and bow down to him, he was filled with anger. But he thought it was beneath him to attack only Mordecai. Since they had told Haman of Mordecai’s nationality, he sought to destroy all the Jews, Mordecai’s people, throughout the realm of King Ahasuerus. In the first month, Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, the pur, or lot, was cast in Haman’s presence to determine the day and the month for the destruction of Mordecai’s people on a single day, and the lot fell on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar. (3:5-7)
Did you know that the holiday Purim comes from the casual random event of casting lots for the day of genocide? So nice to be able to assign a chance event to the decision of a fickle god.
Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus: “Dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, there is a certain people living apart. Their laws differ from those of every other people and they do not obey the laws of the king; so it is not proper for the king to tolerate them. If it please the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them; and I will deliver to the procurators ten thousand silver talents for deposit in the royal treasury.”
The king took the signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. The king said to Haman, “The silver is yours, as well as the people, to do with as you please.” (3:8-11)
All throughout the book, the king ties himself up in knots with the “irrevocable royal decree.” He loses his first queen because of a drunken fit. He cannot undo an order to massacre, and must set up a civil war within his own borders.
It’s not just politicians who find they have no will to undo wrongs, even when they can see the consequences. Often enough, parents, teachers, pastors, and others do or even say things on a whim that, to be undone or healed, requires a significant humility. Too many fail the test.
On the larger world stage, we see the powers=that-be conjure and spread the most vile lies on the most fickle of justifications to persecute and punish those outside the circle of their reach. About many leaders in politics, business, and celebrity we can ask: is it not enough you bother your own families, friends, workers, and fans? Do you have to make things miserable for those beyond your orbit and concern?
The above painting is by the French Paul Alexander Leroy.