Esther, Lesson 3: Haman Plots the Destruction of the Jews

Mordecai and HamanEsther enters the king’s court and after Ahasuerus spends the night with her, she becomes his favorite.  We now hear more specifics of what being in the harem of the king entailed.




Lesson 3, Esther as a Chiasm


Esther Meets the King

Read Esther 2:12-14

“She was given whatever she desired”: Part of being a royal concubine included entertaining the king.  So, the sex the king may have wanted was only part of being a concubine.  Conversation was expected, music, and whatever else the king expected.

  • What happened if the “trial run” with the king didn’t go well?


Read Esther 2:15

  • What does Esther going in with “nothing except” tell us how she entered the king’s presence?


Abihail: Hebrew, “my father is strength.”  Even though Abihail is dead, the text may be bringing out his name to suggest that Esther’s true father is “strength,” pointing forward to when Esther will truly be her father’s daughter!

Read Esther 2:16-17

  • After Esther’s visit to the king, what happens?


Lesson 3, Implication Fulfilled


Read Esther 2:18

  • What does this verse confirm about how the king viewed Esther?


Mordecai Discovers a Plot Against the King

Read Esther 2:19

“sitting at the king’s gate”: Business of the state was conducted at the city gates.  Mordecai “sitting at the king’s gate” shows that he held some position of authority in Persia.  Athenian historian, Xenophon (430-354 BC), wrote that the officials of the king resided within the king’s gate.  This position allowed Mordecai to learn what was going on around King Ahasuerus. 

Read Esther 2:20

  • Again, what does Esther not reveal about herself?


Here is the Septuagint’s “translation” of this verse.  Note the italicized addition.

Esther had not revealed her heritage, as Mordecai had commanded her when she was with him, which is to fear God and to keep his commandments.  So, Esther did not change her way of life.

  • Discuss Esther not changing “her way of life” in such a setting.


Read Esther 2:21-23

  • What does Mordecai discover?


  • How does Esther become involved and give Mordecai the credit?


  • When the plot is put down, when then took place?


“recorded in the book of the chronicles”: From what we know, Ahasuerus kept meticulous records in running the Persian Empire.  Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC) wrote that Ahasuerus even kept such records on the battlefield.  On the battlefield, he would bring his scribes to make sure they recorded the names and deeds of his military leaders who performed with distinction and valor.


Haman is Elevated and Mordecai’s Response

After Mordecai’s role in saving Ahasuerus’ life, you would think that Mordecai would be promoted.  Instead, we find Haman being promoted.  This implies that Haman was somehow able to claim credit for saving the king’s life.

Read Esther 3:1

  • To what position is Haman promoted? (vs. 1)


“the Agagite”: Haman was not Persian, but a descendant of Agag, an Amalekite.  During the reign of King Saul, the Israelites went to war with the Amalekites.  Saul spared Agag, which eventually cost Saul his throne (1 Samuel 15).  Haman being an Agagite is not needed information, unless it brings something important.  Since Mordecai is associated with the house of Saul (Esther 2:5), in Mordecai and Haman, we find a rematch between Saul and Agag.

Read Esther 3:2-4

  • What did Mordecai not do?


“bow down”: Bowing down or being prostate before another was a posture of worship—but not only that.  In the Old Testament, we find examples of Israelites bowing down to kings or others as a sign of respect.  Abraham bowed before Hittite rulers (Genesis 23:7), Jacob’s family bowed to Esau (Genesis 33:6), and David bowed before Saul (1 Samuel 24:8).  People also bowed down before the King of Israel when entering his presence (2 Samuel 14:4, 33; 18:28; 1 Kings 1:16).

  • Discuss: What possible role did Haman being an “Agagite” have in causing Mordecai not to bow down to him?


  • How do we see this long-standing hatred confirmed by what the King’s servants tell Haman?


Read Esther 3:5

“fury”: Hebrew, chemah.  Mordecai’s lack of respect fills Haman with fury.  This is the same Hebrew word used to describe Ahasuerus’ anger at Vashti before he deposed her.  As Vashti’s refusal belittled the king’s authority, so also did Mordecai’s refusal belittle Haman’s authority.  We are supposed to catch that connection.

Esther 3:6a: Pastor’s translation:

And he despised with his eyes to [even] lay his hand on Mordecai himself, for they told him of Mordecai’s people.

Read Esther 3:6b

Haman despised Jews so much that he didn’t even want to touch one if he could help it.  This then helps us understand why his response to Haman’s disrespect so “over the top.”

  • What does Haman plan to do in response?


Haman’s “Final Solution” for the Jews

Read Esther 3:7

“pur”: The word “pur” is the Babylonian word for “lot.”  The closest equivalent in English is “dice,” at least as used to decide something.  The casting of lots didn’t only take place in Persia.  With the Israelites, lots were cast to choose the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:8) or to identify God’s chosen king (1 Samuel 10:20-21).  In the early Church, lots were cast to choose between Joseph or Matthias for the man to replace Judas (Acts 1:23-26).

The text of Esther is ambiguous whether Haman was choosing the best day to present his proposal to the king or the best date to carry it out.  The ESV starts verse 8 with “then,” interpreting that Haman cast lots to find the best time to make his proposal.  The Hebrew and Greek both start verse 8 with an “and” (vav and kai, respectively).

Read Esther 3:8

Historical background: Ahasuerus dealt with a revolt in Egypt in the first year of his reign, 485 BC.  A few years later, he had to suppress revolts in Babylon, in both 484 and 482 BC.  So, he was primed to squash a rebellion before it began.  Haman knew this.


Lesson 3, Hamans Argument


Read Esther 3:9

  • What does Haman now do to “seal the deal”?


We see what Haman does as a bribe.  In Persia, it was called bakshish, an acceptable custom of offering a gift in exchange for a favor.  Based on the figures given by Herodotus, Haman’s bakshish was about two-thirds of Persia’s annual revenue!

According to Herodotus, this sum was equal to the amount of money some sub-rulers in the Persian Empire were capable of raising for the Greek war.  Perhaps, Haman planned to raise or regain the sum by seizing Jewish property at the time of the massacre.

  • If it was in King Ahasuerus’ interest to kill the Jews, why would Haman need to offer a bakshish? What does that reveal about Haman’s motives?


Read Esther 3:10-11

  • What does King Ahasuerus decide?


“the money is given to you”: This could have three meanings:

  • Ahasuerus is refusing the money.
  • He is bargaining to determine the amount of bakshish Haman will give.
  • He is saying tongue in cheek, “The money’s yours,” meaning if you want to give the money to me, I’ll take it.


Next week: We’ll look at the King’s edict from the Septuagint.


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