Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.III.
(1) Haman . . . the Agagite.—Nothing appears to be known of Haman save from this book. His name, as well as that of his father and his sons, is Persian; and it is thus difficult to see the meaning of the name Agagite. which has generally been assumed to imply descent from Agag, king of the Amalekites, with whom the name Agag may have been dynastic (Numbers 24:7; 1Samuel 15:8). Thus Josephus (Ant. xi. 6. 5) and the Chaldee Targum call him an Amalekite. But apart from the difficulty of the name being Persian, it is hard to see how, after the wholesale destruction of Amalek recorded in 1 Samuel 15, any members should have been left of the kingly family, maintaining a distinct tribal name for so many centuries. In one of the Greek Apocryphal additions to Esther (after Esther 9:24) Haman is called a Macedonian.
And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.(2) Bowed not.—Perhaps, rather, did not prostrate himself, for such was the ordinary Eastern practice (see Herod. iii. 86, vii. 7, 34, 136, viii. 118). The objection on Mordecai’s part was evidently mainly on religious grounds, as giving to a man Divine honours (Josephus l.c.), for it elicits from him the fact that he was a Jew (Esther 3:4), to whom such an act of obeisance would be abhorrent. Whether Mordecai also rebelled against the ignominious character of the obeisance, we cannot say.
Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.(4) Whether Mordecai’s matters would stand.—This should be, his words: whether his statement that he belonged to a nation who might only pay such reverence to God, would hold good.
In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.(7) In the first month . . . the twelfth year.—In the March or April of 474 B.C.
Nisan.—The later name of the month, known in the Pentateuch as Abib. In this month the Passover had been first instituted, when God smote the Egyptians with a terrible visitation, the death of the first-born, and bade the destroying angel spare the houses with the blood-besprinkled door-posts. It was in the same month that the Passover received its final fulfilment, when “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us,” when no mere earthly Egypt was discomfited, but principalities and powers of evil.
Pur.—This is evidently a Persian word for “lot,” for both here and in Esther 9:24 the usual Hebrew word is added. It is doubtless connected with the Latin pars, portio. and the English part. The people who cast Pur were seeking for a lucky day, as indicated by the lots, for the purpose in hand. A lot was cast for each day of the month, and for each month in the year, and in some way or other one day and one mouth were indicated as the most favourable. The notion of lucky and unlucky days seems to have been prevalent in the East in early times. and iudeed has, to a certain extent. found credence in the West.
The twelfth month.—The lucky month is thus indicated, but not the day. The LXX. adds a clause saying that it was on the fourteenth day, doubtless an interpolation on the strength of Esther 3:13.
Adar.—The lunar month ending at the new moon in March. It was the twelfth month, so that nearly a year would intervene between the throwing of the lot and the carrying out of the scheme. Thus in God’s providence ample time was allowed for redressing matters.
And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them.(8) A certain people scattered abroad . . .—A certain part of the nation had returned with Zerub-babel, but (Ezra 2:64) these only amounted to 42,360, so that the great majority of the nation had preferred to stay comfortably where they were in the various districts of the Persian Empire.
Neither keep they . . .—The charge of disloyalty has been a favourite weapon in the hands of persecutors. Haman was not the first who had brought this charge against the Jews (see Ezra 4:13; Ezra 4:16). Our Lord’s accusers were those who knew no king but Cæsar. The early Christians found to their cost how deadly was the accusation of disloyalty to the Empire.
If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.(9) Ten thousand talents of silver.—This would be about two and a half millions sterling, being indeed more than two-thirds of the whole annual revenue of the Empire (Herod. iii. 95). Haman may have been a man of excessive wealth (like the Pythius who offered Xerxes four millions of gold darics (Herod. vii. 28), or he probably may have hoped to draw the money from the spoils of the Jews.
And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.(11) And the king said . . .—With indifference which seems incredible, but which is quite in accordance with what we otherwise know of Xerxes, the king simply hands over to his minister the whole nation and their possessions to do with as he will. The king perhaps was glad to throw the cares of government on his minister, and, too indolent to form an opinion for himself, was content to believe that the Jews were a worthless, disloyal people.
Then were the king's scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring.(12) On the thirteenth day of the first month.—From the next verse we see that the thirteenth of Adar was to be the lucky day for Haman’s purpose, which may have suggested the thirteenth of Nisan as a suitable day for this preliminary step. Bishop Wordsworth reminds us that this day was the eve of the Passover, so that Haman’s plot against the Jews strangely coincides in time with one five hundred years later, when the Jews themselves, aided by heathen hands and the powers of darkness, sought to vanquish the Saviour; and as the trembling Jews of Persia were delivered by God’s goodness, so too by His goodness Satan himself was overthrown and the Lamb that was slain did triumph.
Lieutenants.—Literally, satraps. The Hebrew word here (akhashdarpan) is simply an attempt to transliterate the Persian khahatrapa, Whence the Greek satrapes, and so the English word. The word occurs several times in this book and in Ezra and Daniel.
And the letters were sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.(13) Posts.—Literally, the runners. (See Note on Esther 1:22.)
The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day.(14) Copy.—Heb., pathshegen. A Persian word, only occurring here and in Esther 4:8; Esther 8:13.
The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed.(15) Perplexed.—The inhabitants of the capital were puzzled and alarmed, as well they might be, at so marvellously reckless an order. Their sympathies, too, were clearly with the Jews and against Haman. (See Esther 8:15.)