Esther 3:1
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.

Esther

THE NET SPREAD

Esther 3:1 - Esther 3:11
.

The stage of this passage is filled by three strongly marked and strongly contrasted figures: Mordecai, Haman, and Ahasuerus; a sturdy nonconformist, an arrogant and vindictive minister of state, and a despotic and careless king. These three are the visible persons, but behind them is an unseen and unnamed Presence, the God of Israel, who still protects His exiled people.

We note, first, the sturdy nonconformist. ‘The reverence’ which the king had commanded his servants to show to Haman was not simply a sign of respect, but an act of worship. Eastern adulation regarded a monarch as in some sense a god, and we know that divine honours were in later times paid to Roman emperors, and many Christians martyred for refusing to render them. The command indicates that Ahasuerus desired Haman to be regarded as his representative, and possessing at least some reflection of godhead from him. European ambassadors to Eastern courts have often refused to prostrate themselves before the monarch on the ground of its being degradation to their dignity; but Mordecai stood erect while the crowd of servants lay flat on their faces, as the great man passed through the gate, because he would have no share in an act of worship to any but Jehovah. He might have compromised with conscience, and found some plausible excuses if he had wished. He could have put his own private interpretation on the prostration, and said to himself, ‘I have nothing to do with the meaning that others attach to bowing before Haman. I mean by it only due honour to the second man in the kingdom.’ But the monotheism of his race was too deeply ingrained in him, and so he kept ‘a stiff backbone’ and ‘bowed not down.’

That his refusal was based on religious scruples is the natural inference from his having told his fellow-porters that he was a Jew. That fact would explain his attitude, but would also isolate him still more. His obstinacy piqued them, and they reported his contumacy to the great man, thus at once gratifying personal dislike, racial hatred, and religious antagonism, and recommending themselves to Haman as solicitous for his dignity. We too are sometimes placed in circumstances where we are tempted to take part in what may be called constructive idolatry. There arise, in our necessary co-operation with those who do not share in our faith, occasions when we are expected to unite in acts which we are thought very straitlaced for refusing to do, but which, conscience tells us, cannot be done without practical disloyalty to Jesus Christ. Whenever that inner voice says ‘Don’t,’ we must disregard the persistent solicitations of others, and be ready to be singular, and run any risk rather than comply. ‘So did not I, because of the fear of God,’ has to be our motto, whatever fellow-servants may say. The gate of Ahasuerus’s palace was not a favourable soil for the growth of a devout soul, but flowers can bloom on dunghills, and there have been ‘saints’ in ‘Caesar’s household.’

Haman is a sharp contrast to Mordecai. He is the type of the unworthy characters that climb or crawl to power in a despotic monarchy, vindictive, arrogant, cunning, totally oblivious of the good of the subjects, using his position for his own advantage, and ferociously cruel. He had naturally not noticed the one erect figure among the crowd of abject ones, but the insignificant Jew became important when pointed out. If he had bowed, he would have been one more nobody, but his not bowing made him somebody who had to be crushed. The childish burst of passion is very characteristic, and not less true to life is the extension of the anger and thirst for vengeance to ‘all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.’ They were ‘the people of Mordecai,’ and that was enough. ‘He thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone.’ What a perverted notion of personal dignity which thought the sacrifice of the one offender beneath it, and could only be satisfied by a blood-bath into which a nation should be plunged! Such an extreme of frantic lust for murder is only possible in such a state as Ahasuerus’s Persia, but the prostitution of public position to personal ends, and the adoption of political measures at the bidding of wounded vanity, and to gratify blind hatred of a race, is possible still, and it becomes all Christian men to use their influence that the public acts of their nation shall be clear of that taint.

Haman was as superstitious as cruel, and so he sought for auguries from heaven for his hellish purpose, and cast the lot to find the favourable day for bringing it about. He is not the only one who has sought divine approval for wicked public acts. Religion has been used to varnish many a crime, and Te Deums sung for many a victory which was little better than Haman’s plot.

The crafty denunciation of the Jews to the king is a good specimen of the way in which a despot is hoodwinked by his favourites, and made their tool. It was no doubt true that the Jews’ laws were ‘diverse from those of every people,’ but it was not true that they did not ‘keep the king’s laws,’ except in so far as these required worship of other gods. In all their long dispersion they have been remarkable for two things,-their tenacious adherence to the Law, so far as possible in exile, and their obedience to the law of the country of their sojourn. No doubt, the exiles in Persian territory presented the same characteristics. But Haman has had many followers in resenting the distinctiveness of the Jew, and charging on them crimes of which they were innocent. From Mordecai onwards it has been so, and Europe is to-day disgraced by a crusade against them less excusable than Haman’ s. Hatred still masks itself under the disguise of political expediency, and says, ‘It is not for the king’s profit to suffer them.’

But the true half of the charge was a eulogium, for it implied that the scattered exiles were faithful to God’s laws, and were marked off by their lives. That ought to be true of professing Christians. They should obviously be living by other principles than the world adopts. The enemy’s charge ‘shall turn unto you for a testimony.’ Happy shall we be if observers are prompted to say of us that ‘our laws are diverse’ from those of ungodly men around us!

The great bribe which Haman offered to the king is variously estimated as equal to from three to four millions sterling. He, no doubt, reckoned on making more than that out of the confiscation of Jewish property. That such an offer should have been made by the chief minister to the king, and that for such a purpose, reveals a depth of corruption which would be incredible if similar horrors were not recorded of other Eastern despots. But with Turkey still astonishing the world, no one can call Haman’s offer too atrocious to be true.

Ahasuerus is the vain-glorious king known to us as Xerxes. His conduct in the affair corresponds well enough with his known character. The lives of thousands of law-abiding subjects are tossed to the favourite without inquiry or hesitation. He does not even ask the name of the ‘certain people,’ much less require proof of the charge against them. The insanity of weakening his empire by killing so many of its inhabitants does not strike him, nor does he ever seem to think that he has duties to those under his rule. Careless of the sanctity of human life, too indolent to take trouble to see things with his own eyes, apparently without the rudiments of the idea of justice, he wallowed in a sty of self-indulgence, and, while greedy of adulation and the semblance of power, let the reality slip from his hands into those of the favourite, who played on his vices as on an instrument, and pulled the strings that moved the puppet. We do not produce kings of that sort nowadays, but King Demos has his own vices, and is as easily blinded and swayed as Ahasuerus. In every form of government, monarchy or republic, there will be would-be leaders, who seek to gain influence and carry their objects by tickling vanity, operating on vices, calumniating innocent men, and the other arts of the demagogue. Where the power is in the hands of the people, the people is very apt to take its responsibilities as lightly as Ahasuerus did his, and to let itself be led blindfold by men with personal ends to serve, and hiding them under the veil of eager desire for the public good. Christians should ‘play the citizen as it becomes the gospel of Christ,’ and take care that they are not beguiled into national enmities and public injustice by the specious talk of modern Hamans.Esther 3:1. After these things — About five years after, as appears from Esther 3:7. Did Ahasuerus promote Haman the Agagite — An Amalekite, of the seed-royal of that nation, whose kings were successively called Agag. And set his seat above all the princes — Gave him the first place and seat which was next the king.3:1-6 Mordecai refused to reverence Haman. The religion of a Jew forbade him to give honours to any mortal man which savoured of idolatry, especially to so wicked a man as Haman. By nature all are idolaters; self is our favourite idol, we are pleased to be treated as if every thing were at our disposal. Though religion by no means destroys good manners, but teaches us to render honour to whom honour is due, yet by a citizen of Zion, not only in his heart, but in his eyes, such a vile person as Haman was, is contemned, Ps 15:4. The true believer cannot obey edicts, or conform to fashions, which break the law of God. He must obey God rather than man, and leave the consequences to him. Haman was full of wrath. His device was inspired by that wicked spirit, who has been a murderer from the beginning; whose enmity to Christ and his church, governs all his children.The name, Haman, is probably the same as the Classical Omanes, and in ancient Persian, "Umana", an exact equivalent of the Greek "Eumenes." Hammedatha is perhaps the same as "Madata" or "Mahadata", an old Persian name signifying "given by (or to) the moon."

The Agagite - The Jews generally understand by this expression "the descendant of Agag," the Amalekite monarch of 1 Samuel 15. Haman, however, by his own name, and the names of his sons Esther 9:7-9 and his father, would seem to have been a genuine Persian.

The Classical writers make no mention of Haman's advancement; but their notices of the reign of Xerxes after 479 B.C. are exceedingly scanty.

CHAPTER 3

Es 3:1-15. Haman, Advanced by the King, and Despised by Mordecai, Seeks Revenge on All the Jews.

1. After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman … set his seat above all the princes—that is, raised him to the rank of vizier, or prime confidential minister, whose pre-eminence in office and power appeared in the elevated state chair appropriated to that supreme functionary. Such a distinction in seats was counted of vast importance in the formal court of Persia.Haman is advanced by the king, Esther 3:1,2. Being despised by Mordecai, he seeketh to destroy all the Jews, Esther 3:2-6. He casteth lots, Esther 2:7; and accusing the Jews to the king, obtaineth a decree to put them to death, Esther 2:8-11. Letters issued out to destroy all the Jews, Esther 3:12-15.

The Agagite, i. e. an Amalekite of the royal seed of that nation, whose kings were commonly and successively called Agag, as hath been observed before. It is true, he is called a Macedonian in the apocryphal additions to this book; and so he might be by his birth or habitation in that place, though by his original he was of another people.

Set his seat above all the princes that were with him; gave him the first place and seat, which was next to the king. Compare 2 Kings 25:28.

After these things,.... After the marriage of Esther, and the discovery of the conspiracy to take away the king's life, five years after, as Aben Ezra observe, at least more than four years, for so it appears from Esther 3:7

did King Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite; whom both the Targums make to descend from Amalek, and to be of the stock or family of Agag, the common name of the kings of Amalek; and so Josephus (g); but this is not clear and certain; in the apocryphal Esther he is said to be a Macedonian; and Sulpitius the historian says (h) he was a Persian, which is not improbable; and Agag might be the name of a family or city in Persia, of which he was; and Aben Ezra observes, that some say he is the same with Memucan, see Esther 1:14,

and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him; erected a throne for him, higher than the rest, either of his own princes and nobles, or such as were his captives, see 2 Kings 25:28. It was the custom of the kings of Persia, which it is probable was derived from Cyrus, to advance those to the highest seats they thought best deserved it: says he to his nobles, let there be seats with you as with me, and let the best be honoured before others;--and again, let all the best of those present be honoured with seats above others (i).

(g) Ut supra, (Antiqu. l. 11. c. 6.) sect. 5. (h) Hist. Sacr. l. 2. p. 78. (i) Xenophon, Cyropaedia, l. 8. c. 41.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Chap. Esther 3:1-6. Haman offended by Mordecai’s refusal to make obeisance

1. After these things] i.e. between the seventh (Esther 2:16) and the twelfth (Esther 3:7) years of Xerxes’ reign.

Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite] Haman’s name has been held to be another form of Humman or Humban, an Elamite deity, and that of his father to be connected with the Persian mâh and data, thus signifying given by the moon. The description of Haman as an ‘Agagite’ is perplexing. The following views have been held.

(a) Josephus (Ant. xi. 6. 5) and the Targum understand the statement literally to mean that Haman was descended from Agag, king of Amalek, the latter availing itself of the opportunity of giving a complete genealogy through Amalek to Esau (see Genesis 36:12). If we accept this explanation of the word, we can see the significance which it bears for the narrator. He desires to place Mordecai and Haman before the reader in the guise of hereditary enemies, the one the descendant of Kish, and thus connected with the first king of Israel, the other the descendant of Agag, Saul’s conquered foe. As then, so now, it is a case of a contest between the Jew and his adversary.

(b) The title ‘Agagite’ may be an allegorical nickname, and intended to indicate a spiritual rather than a natural descent, one whose attitude to the chosen nation was that of the Amalekite king of earlier days.

(c) It may, however, denote a place or family otherwise unknown.

For ‘Agagite’ the LXX. here and in (Esther 9:10 and) Esther 12:6 have Bugaean (Βουγαῖος), and in Esther 9:24 and Esther 16:10 the Macedonian (ὁ Μακεδών). The former has been explained as originating in a mistake in reading the first letter in the Heb., or as arising from confusion with Bagoas, a favourite of Alexander the Great (Curtius vi. 5. 23). Either of two other explanations, however, is decidedly to be preferred, viz. (a) that it means bully, braggart, as it occurs twice in this sense in Homer (Il. xiii. 824, Od. xviii. 79), many of whose words were revived by writers of Alexandrian Greek, or (b) that it is a word denoting eunuch, and afterwards any court official. See Schleusner, Lexicon Vet. Test. s.v. The latter title ‘Macedonian’ either (a) points to the time when the Greek power, rendered dominant in the East by Alexander of Macedon (died b.c. 323), had become through Antiochus Epiphanes (died b.c. 164), who inherited Alexander’s conquests in Syria, the type of hostility to the nation of the Jews, or (b) is meant to indicate Haman as a traitor to the Persian power.Verse 1. - After these things. Probably some years after - about B.C. 476 or 475. Haman, the son of Hammedatha. "Haman" is perhaps Umanish, the Persian equivalent of the Greek Eumenes. "Hammedatha" has been explained as "given by the moon" (Mahadata), the initial h being regarded as the Hebrew article. But this mixture of languages is not probable. The Agagite. The Septuagint has Βουγαῖος, "the Bugaean." Both terms are equally inexplicable, with our present knowledge; but most probably the term used was a local one, marking the place of Haman's birth or bringing up. A reference to descent from the Amalekite king Agag (Joseph., 'Ant. Jud.,' 11:6, § 5) is scarcely possible. To celebrate Esther's elevation to the crown, the king made a great feast, called Esther's feast, to all his princes and servants, and granted release to the provinces. The verbale Hiph. הנחה is translated in the lxx ἄφεσις, Vulg. requies, and understood either of a remission of taxes or a remission of labour, a holiday. Although the Chald. understands it of a remission of taxes, yet the use of the verb עשׂה rather favours the latter meaning, viz., the appointment of a holiday, on which there would be arresting from labour. Finally, he gave gifts with royal munificence משׂאת like Amos 5:11; Jeremiah 40:5; המּלך כּיד like Esther 1:7. - It seems strange that a period of four years should intervene between the repudiation of Vashti in the third year of Ahashverosh and the elevation of Esther in the seventh, an interval whose length cannot be adequately accounted for by the statements of the present book. Only a few days could have elapsed between the disgrace of Vashti and the time when the king remembered her; for this took place, we are told, when the king's wrath was appeased. The proposal to collect virgins from all parts of his kingdom to Susa was then immediately made. Now, if the carrying out of this proposal took half a year, and the preparation of the virgins by anointing, etc., lasted a year, Esther, even if her turn to go in unto the king had not come for six months, might have been made queen two years after the repudiation of Vashti. As she obtained the favour of Hegai immediately upon her reception into the women's house, so that he hastened her purifications (Esther 2:9), she would not be brought before the king among the last, but would rather be one of the first to go in. The long interval which elapsed between the repudiation of Vashti and the elevation of Esther, can only be satisfactorily explained by the history of the reign of Xerxes; in fact, by the circumstance that his campaign against Greece took place during this time.
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