In the second part of Esther 5, Haman’s wife painted a picture of how Mordecai should be executed. She fed her husband’s pride, perhaps because she felt prideful by association; maybe as a matter of bloodlust; perhaps to appease his unpredictable temperament.
He was excited to think of killing Mordecai and proud to be invited to dinner by Esther, but then he saw Mordecai refusing to bow to him and he was upset again.
Was Zeresh trying to protect herself or was she sharing some wishful thinking out loud? Why are her comments even recorded in the Bible?
“Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart.” He was joyful because Esther had invited just him and the king to dinner. He felt special, favored.
Even though Mordecai’s continued law-breaking was in his face, Haman could afford to boast. He sent for his wife and friends so he could tell them what had happened, both at court and with Mordecai.
His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.” This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.
They were all carried away by the prospect of seeing Mordecai not only executed but in a grand way, which would have made his supremacy and Mordecai’s humiliation highly visible.
Such a construction would have underlined how important he was and how helpless the Jews were, adding an element of psychological torture to his plans for exterminating them.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Perhaps Zeresh relished the coming violence. Maybe she could have said and done little else without risking her neck, especially since she wasn’t alone in goading him on.
Potential mob influence might have silenced her too, or even aroused bloodlust in Zeresh’s own heart. Mob violence is insane.
Often, people caught up in riots wonder how they found themselves throwing rocks through store windows, slashing tires, or punching people. In ordinary life, they were always peaceful and easygoing. It’s like a frightening disease overtook them and they lost their minds.
Pride and Purpose
Pride can also make us a bit nuts. It’s like building a gallows in ourselves from which we might ultimately swing. When we think more highly of ourselves than we ought, our focus is dangerously skewed.
Haman ostensibly served the king, but really, he served himself. Tim Keller says in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: “the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
God does not love us so that we will have better self-esteem; our purpose is to hold Him in the utmost esteem and acknowledge him, follow him, as the head of our lives. Haman was supposed to love Xerxes, serve the king, and serve the people of Persia.
Nothing could have been further from his mind. He was easily whipped up into emotions, which see-sawed wildly because his foundation was brittle pride.
Haman’s sinister selfishness was bad enough, but the darker his plans became for the destruction of others and glorifying his own name, the more terrible his punishment would become.
An Opportunity Missed
When Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai (5:9).
If Haman’s status hadn’t meant so much to him, he might have wondered at Mordecai’s bravery, his audacity, and even about the God Mordecai served.
Surely there were others in the crowds who bowed to Haman, and yet also worshiped their various gods, and yet this one man was bold enough to reject Persian law in the matter of worship, even though he was risking his life.
If Haman had allowed Mordecai to make an impression upon him, Haman might have given more thought to the God of the Jews. His thoughtfulness might have led to repentance and trickled down into his family, even to the court, and into the mind and heart of the king.
All of Persia might have benefited from Haman’s curiosity and reasonableness. Instead of a mob mentality, he might have inspired revival.
Think about the Roman centurion, holding high station and authority in the military; a proud man accustomed to bloodshed.
He witnessed Christ’s crucifixion, heard his last words, and watched him take his last breath. Commentators point out that he endured the darkness and probably heard what had happened at the temple where the veil was torn.
He was moved by the way Christ behaved while he suffered and willing to let the events of that day sink into his head and heart.
Jesus’ death would have seemed nothing short of lunacy and provided (at best) short-lived entertainment, at least to the masses. Yet, the centurion was moved to consider that there was more to Jesus’ life and death than met the skeptical eye of the crowd.
How did this change his life? He might have become a believer. This centurion put his pride aside long enough to truly consider what was going on, both from an empirical and an emotional angle, and it’s possible he was saved. If so, then he potentially led his family and maybe some friends to salvation as well.
Haman’s Superficial Happiness
As Keller says in his book, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person.” I think Haman hated Mordecai at that particular moment because Mordecai would not honor him.
Later, jealousy would stoke the fire of his hatred, but at this point, Haman’s fragile ego could not be satisfied. One man stood in the way of his superficial happiness. Here is another unfortunate fact about pride: it is easily undermined.
Someone else has what you have; maybe they have more (or less, if we’re talking about body fat). Keeping up appearances takes constant work. As Keller says in his book, “The problem with self-esteem — whether it is high or low — is that every single day, we are in the courtroom.”
I wonder about celebrities who make a living out of being beautiful. Do they feel like human beings or slabs of meat? There must be so much more to them as people, and yet they are valued for superficial things like designer eyelashes and firm triceps.
How long can a regular human being keep those up and not long to be seen and valued for worthier characteristics, like compassion, intelligence, or creativity?
It’s hard to give up the easy “win” and the benefits that come with it such as compliments and kindness and open doors.
Perhaps that’s what Zeresh felt — she had an audience with her husband — why risk that by saying what he didn’t want to hear? Especially now that Haman was going to dinner with Esther.
When there’s competition, it’s difficult to give up that status even though, suddenly, it takes work just to be “as good as.” But that’s not good enough either; not anymore. Once you taste first prize, nothing else will do. You get anxious and crazy unless your focus changes.
The Other Wife
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Zeresh had acted as wisely as Esther. She might have found some way to interject a note of caution without causing Haman to explode. Sharon Wilharm remarked that Zeresh was a fortunate woman because her husband sought her counsel.
She didn’t have to ask to approach him, he called for her. Compare her approach in a tight spot to Esther’s who risked her life to approach the king.
Is it possible Zeresh could have steered Haman away from his own execution by tempering his — uh — temper with some well-chosen words? Even if she didn’t have Esther’s compassion, surely, she would have prevented the coming events for her own sake?
Or Maybe Not…
There is also a strong possibility that I’m reading between the lines. I tend to see the social history within Scripture. (I also look for trap doors and secret panels in every old house I visit, by the way).
Maybe Zeresh went along with the bloodthirsty tone of conversation because that’s what an ancient Persian wife was expected to do while her husband was still in a position of power. Who knows?
If you ever spot me in a historic house, maybe we can talk about it. You’ll know who I am, I’ll be knocking on all the walls and pulling on everything that looks like it could be a lever.
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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.