As historian Lord Acton observed, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Haman was a powerful man, but how did he intend to use his power? Esther 3 sets a grim scene.
Esther’s Connections to the Bible
Haman was promoted to a high position at court, and he reveled in this power. His position was so lofty that the king’s servants “bowed down and paid homage” as the king had commanded them to do. However, “Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage” (v.2).
The king's servants obeyed the command and questioned Mordecai “day after day” (v.4) about his rebellious choice, but Mordecai continued to shun the command. Haman plotted to use this as an excuse to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in Persia.
Around 60 years earlier, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego enraged King Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to bow down to the gods of his nation. “He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. [...] Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” (Daniel 3:19,22).
Mordecai is not seen to be praying to the Lord, only refusing to worship Haman. But he was a Jew, and “their laws are different from those of every other people” (Esther 3:8).
Like Daniel and his friends, Mordecai would give his devotion to only one King: God Almighty. And, as in the Book of Daniel, the ruling authorities of the day expected there to be dire consequences, but Haman’s intentions went “next level.”
When Power Corrupts
Haman’s fall from power was initiated by pride, which, as Proverbs 16:18 warns, “goes before destruction.” Haman let a desire for personal revenge evolve into a plan for wholesale slaughter. Had he acted on his anger right away and killed Mordecai, he would not have bought the Jewish people time for rescue.
The irony was that as Haman’s greed for bloodshed increased, he played into God’s hands to thwart his intentions. The order was extreme: to “destroy, kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day” (v. 13).
Meanwhile, as “the king and Haman sat down to drink, [...] the city of Susa was thrown into confusion” (v.15). The whole city suffered this confusion, not just a certain group of people.
It’s like the scene in Daniel, where the fiery furnace was heated to such an extreme that the flames killed the men who were sending Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego into the fire.
Unrepentant pride leads to anger — our perceived needs aren’t being met — and then we have no control over the damage it will cause. There are unexpected casualties.
Power and Purpose
Haman had convinced Ahasuerus that the Jews were breaking his laws, but it appears that only one man was breaking one law, which was that all people would bow before Haman who used one tiny infraction to justify his blood lust. The purpose of the decree to kill the Jews was simple: restore and satisfy Haman’s pride.
The king’s purpose? Was it to restore order or to mollify Haman? Was Haman that scary friend who, if crossed, is likely to wreak havoc? Better friends tell us “don’t trust that guy. He’s using you,” but we don’t listen because he is an exciting charmer.
Maybe Ahasuerus just didn’t care. By the look of the chaos they caused in Susa while Haman and the king sat down to drink (Esther 3:15), the two certainly lacked empathy for the people in general. They were less concerned with the responsibilities of leadership than with its privileges.
The Lord was sometimes angry with his people, and he brought about consequences. He responded to chaos, but not before sending prophets to speak to his people.
He gave them the means by which they could live with order and peace: laws, warnings, manna, water: he tried to help his people at every turn. God never snuck up on Israel with unexpected or unrighteous judgment.
And God has the right to promote his position as Lord Almighty because he is the Lord Almighty, creator of the universe, Father of his people. We brought disorder into his immaculate creation with our disobedience; this was not his doing. The Lord’s purpose in the Exodus and later at the cross was restoration.
We owe him our very lives, and he loves us with such great love. He took responsibility for our sin and denied himself the privileges of Lordship as the Son of Man: Immanuel. Jesus refused to sit back and drink his wine while the people were walking away from God into the fiery furnace.
Haman and Ahasuerus reacted to a slight against personal pride and sent the entire community of Susa into disarray while they sat and drank. There was no hint of a larger purpose except: here was an opportunity to wipe out an entire race of people. The damage would be far greater, but the purpose would still have been just as small: satisfying one man’s agenda.
Thoughtlessness and Power
The irony is that the Jewish people worked hard and tried to live life according to the commandments of their God, who called for his people to “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Behave yourselves. Serve without grumbling.
Work hard and love one another. Love God above all else. I’m sure there were Jewish rabble-rousers as there were in every society, but as a cultural group, they lived to a high standard; they were set apart and were expected by God to reflect his glory.
Ahasuerus and Haman were their masters, and the Jews would work as they were directed to work; come as they were called; fulfill their duties, even to the extent that Mordecai sent Esther to court.
If there was a law-abiding cohort within any province of the Persian Empire, the Jews were “it.” If Haman’s plan had come to fruition, I wonder what would have happened to that society?
It looks likely that everyone would have suffered, all of Susa. They were all thrown into confusion, not just the Jews. And what would the limits of Haman’s power have been? How would it have played out against others who didn’t do what he wanted?
That’s the problem with bullies: once they get rid of a target, they always find another one. It wouldn’t have been long, perhaps, before Haman sought to rule the empire. After all, this is what he desired.
We see it in Esther 6:8 when Ahasuerus asks what should be done with one whom the king favors. “Let royal robes be brought which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set.” Haman wanted to be king, but he had no right to that title.
Our Power in Christ
Haman was able to use the name of the king for his evil purposes. “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces,” which means thousands of people were affected. Is there an application in our modern-day, as followers of Christ?
Yes — always — and I think one application is this: whatever we do in the name of King Jesus, we must never abuse our power. “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and overall the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:19).
Why did Jesus give his disciples this special power? It wasn’t so they could lord it over the people but so that they could do as Jesus had done: give up the throne in order to serve the people by sharing the Good News.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10). The fact is our weakness is power; it’s what God uses to fulfill his plans.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.
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