Our hearts break these days as we see the pictures of the migration of thousands of people fleeing for their lives from the war-torn ravages of Syria. On little more than a raft with a motor, dozens of them brave open waters (having paid a price of like $1500 a person) to escape to some other shore. Pictures of them coming onto the beaches of Greek territory show them celebrating with mobile phone photos being taken of themselves with raised arms, kissing the ground, etc.
It must be a terrible thing to be targeted for persecution, or worse. Sadly, the world has never been completely free of man’s inhumanity to man.
The Jewish people have particularly been targeted for such over the centuries and millennia, and thus it was with our account today from the third chapter of Esther …
3:7 In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on[a] the twelfth month, the month of Adar.
This is an especially confusing verse without knowing what is being talked about. From the previous verses, it said that Haman scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes. Having determined this was his plan, the question then was when to execute the execution.
Having surely some general belief in some pantheon of gods, Haman cast the pur. This is a bit like rolling the dice to determine by fate (or through the intervention of the Gods bringing up a number perceived thereby to represent good luck) what day would be best to accomplish a determined purpose. He likely used some sort of diviners in this process.
And the result is the 12th month; recall that this was being done in the first month of that calendar year. So, there would be an expanse of time. But going with this number, Haman comes next before King Xerxes …
3:8 Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
So Haman relates a terrible picture of the Jews. He offers a ridiculous amount of money to be paid for the rights to do this — more money than he or anyone else possessed. But it showed the depth of seriousness and conviction that Haman had on the subject. Who would say and do something like this unless what he was communicating was true?
3:10 So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.”
When you are in leadership and have people working under you, you want to believe they are serving well with the interests of the broader community or organization in mind. Haman was surely popular with the masses who bowed down to him, and the King had set him up in this way to be his #1 advisor. It may seem rather ignorant of the King to so simply go along with this, but, Xerxes appeared to be a people pleaser. And so he gives the authority. These Jews were few in number and insignificant to the cause. Xerxes probably had so experience with them (to his knowledge at that time), so he deemed them to be expendable. The kingdom would be better off without them, most likely.
4:12 Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. 13 Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 14 A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.
So the plot is hatched and communicated. It would be 11 months until set into motion, but the king sealed the deal with his own ring, thus making it entirely irrevocable. Why would the other peoples of the empire go along with something like this? What was in it for them? Well, it says that they would be free to plunder the goods of the Jews.
3:15 The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.
Even in times of antiquity, the majority of people were not sitting around hoping for a legal opportunity to annihilate and plunder their weird neighbors. So the city of Susa was “bewildered.” This was a strange edict and surely the leading story of the 6:00 news on WSUS, the southern desert voice of Persian TV.
The last sentence gives a little more background as well about Xerxes and his kingdom. This is about the third time that it is indicated he had a high level of interest in imbibing. As I always ask … what good ever comes of this?
The Jews who heard about this must have wondered where God was in this story. How could this be? How could something like this be allowed? Where is God; this makes no sense.
Have you ever felt that way? Ever wondered where God is when things seem to go even opposite of the way they are clearly supposed to? For the Jews who went back to Palestine, this is not what they expected to happen. What was all of this God taking them back there, only to have them get wiped out there by other people — under the kings’ orders?!!?
But the big message of Esther is that God is ALWAYS the quietly active hand behind everything that goes on. He is not asleep or on vacation or disinterested. Sometimes you just can’t see his presence.
It is like my oldest granddaughter said when she was three years old and learned that God can hear everything that goes on… “Grandy — do you know that God hears EVERYTHING?!? But sometimes when He talks back, it’s not very loud.”