Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Haman's Elevation and His Design against the Jews - Est 3:1-15
King Ahashverosh promoted Haman the Agagite above all the princes about him, and commanded all his servants to fall down before him. This mark of reverence was refused by Mordochai the Jew from religious scruples. When intelligence of this was brought to Haman, he sought to obtain the extermination of the Jews throughout the kingdom (Est 3:1-6). The twelfth month was appointed by the casting of lots for this purpose; and Haman, by exciting the suspicion of the king against the Jews as an exclusive and law-opposing people, obtained from him an edict to this effect (Est 3:7-11), and sent it, by letters sealed with the king's seal, by the hand of messengers into all the provinces of the kingdom in the first month, that they might be ready to carry it into execution in the twelfth month; whereat the city of Susa was much perplexed (Est 3:12-15).
The elevation of Haman above all the princes of the kingdom is said in a general manner to have taken place "after these things," i.e., after the matters related in Est 2. גּדּל, to make great, to make any one a great man; נשּׂא, elevated, is more precisely defined by the sentence following: he set his seat above all the princes that were with him, i.e., above the seat of all the princes about the king; in fact, advanced him to the highest post, made him his grand vizier. Haman is called the son of Hammedatha האגגי, the Agagite, or of the Agagites. אגגי recalls אגג kings of the Amalekites, conquered and taken prisoner by Saul, and hewn in pieces by Samuel, Sa1 15:8, Sa1 15:33. Hence Jewish and Christian expositors regard Haman as a descendant of the Amalekite king. This is certainly possible, though it can by no means be proved. The name Agag is not sufficient for the purpose, as many individuals might at different times have borne the name אגג, i.e., the fiery. In 1 Sam 15, too, Agag is not the nomen propr. of the conquered king, but a general nomen dignitatis of the kings of Amalek, as Pharaoh and Abimelech were of the kings of Egypt and Gerar. See on Num 24:7. We know nothing of Haman and his father beyond what is said in this book, and all attempts to explain the names are uncertain and beside the mark.
All the king's servants that were in the gate of the king, i.e., all the court officials, were to kneel before Haman and bow themselves to the earth. So had the king commanded concerning him. This mark of reverence was refused by Mordochai.
When the other officials of the court asked him from day to day, why he transgressed the king's commandment, and he hearkened not unto them, i.e., gave no heed to their words, they told it to Haman, "to see whether Mordochai's words would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew." It is obvious from this, that Mordochai had declared to those who asked him the reason why he did not fall down before Haman, that he could not do so because he was a Jew, - that as a Jew he could not show that honour to man which was due to God alone. Now the custom of falling down to the earth before an exalted personage, and especially before a king, was customary among Israelites; comp. Sa2 14:4; Sa2 18:28; Kg1 1:16. If, then, Mordochai refused to pay this honour to Haman, the reason of such refusal must be sought in the notions which the Persians were wont to combine with the action, i.e., in the circumstance that they regarded it as an act of homage performed to a king as a divine being, an incarnation of Oromasdes. This is testified by classical writers; comp. Plutarch, Themist. 27; Curtius, viii. 5. 5f., where the latter informs us that Alexander the Great imitated this custom on his march to India, and remarks, 11: Persas quidem non pie solum, sed etiam prudenter reges suos inter Deos colere; majestatem enim imperii salutis esse tutelam. Hence also the Spartans refused, as Herod. 7.136 relates, to fall down before King Xerxes, because it was not the custom of Greeks to honour mortals after this fashion. This homage, then, which was regarded as an act of reverence and worship to a god, was by the command of the king to be paid to Haman, as his representative, by the office-bearers of his court; and this Mordochai could not do without a denial of his religious faith.
When, then, Haman, whose attention had been called to the fact, saw, when next he went in unto the king, that Mordochai did not fall down before him, he was full of wrath, and (Est 3:6) thought scorn, i.e., in his pride esteemed it too contemptible, to lay hands on Mordochai alone, i.e., to execute him alone, for this opposition to the royal commands; for they had showed him the people of Mordochai, i.e., had told him that as a Jew Mordochai had refused this act of worship, and that the whole Jewish nation thought and acted accordingly. Therefore he sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahashverosh, the people of Mordochai. The subject Haman is repeated before ויבקּשׁ for the sake of clearness, because it was not expressly named with ויּבן. מרדּכי עם is in apposition to כּל־היּהוּדים: all the Jews as the people of Mordochai, because they were the people of Mordochai and shared his sentiments.
To ensure the success of this great undertaking, viz., the extermination of all the Jews in the kingdom, Haman had recourse to the lot, that he might thus fix on a propitious day for the execution of his project. Astrology plays an important part among all ancient nations, nothing of any magnitude being undertaken without first consulting its professors concerning a favourable time and opportunity; comp. rem. on Eze 21:26.
"In the first month, i.e., Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahashverosh, they cast Pur, i.e., the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to the twelfth month, i.e., the month Adar." The subject of הפּיל is left indefinite, because it is self-evident that this was done by some astrologer or magician who was versed in such matters. Bertheau tries unnaturally to make Haman the subject, and to combine the subsequent המן לפני with הגּורל: "Haman cast Pur, i.e., the lot, before Haman," which makes Pur signify: the lot before Haman. המן לפני means in the presence of Haman, so that he also might see how the lot fell. פּוּר is an Old-Persian word meaning lot (sors); in modern Persian, bâra signifies time, case (fois, cas), pâra or pâre, piece (morceau, pice), and behr, behre, and behre, lot, share, fate; comp. Zenker, Turco-Arabic and Persian Lexicon, pp. 162 and 229. The words "from day to day, from month to the twelfth month," must not be understood to say, that lots were cast day by day and month by month till the twelfth; but that in the first month lots were at once cast, one after the other, for all the days and months of the year, that a favourable day might be obtained. We do not know the manner in which this was done, "the way of casting lots being unknown to us." The words: from month to the twelfth month, are remarkable; we should expect from month to month till the twelfth month. Bertheau supposes that the words לחדשׁ ויּ פּל הגּורל על יום שׁלשׁה עשׂר were omitted after וּמחדשׁ through the eye of the transcriber passing on from the first לחדשׁ to the second. The text of the lxx actually contains such words, and the possibility of such an oversight on the part of a transcriber must certainly be admitted. In the book of Esther, however, the lxx translation is no critical authority, and it is just as possible that the author of the Hebrew book here expresses himself briefly and indefinitively, because he was now only concerned to state the month determined by lot for the undertaking, and intended to mention the day subsequently.
Haman having by means of the lot fixed upon a favourable day for the execution of the massacre, betook himself to the king to obtain a royal decree for the purpose. He represented to the monarch: "There is a people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom, and their laws are different from all other people (i.e., from the laws of all other people), and they keep not the laws of the king, and it is not fitting for the king to leave them alone. Est 3:9. If it seem good to the king, let it be written (i.e., let a written decree be published) to destroy them; and I will weigh ten thousand talents of silver to those who do the business, that they may bring them into the treasuries of the king." This proposal was very subtilly calculated. First Haman casts suspicion on the Jews as a nation scattered abroad and dwelling apart, and therefore unsociable, - as refractory, and therefore dangerous to the state; then he promises the king that their extermination will bring into the royal treasury a very considerable sum of money, viz., the property of the slaughtered. Ten thousand talents of silver, reckoned according to the Mosaic shekel, are 3,750,000, according to the civil shekel 1,875,000; see rem. on Ch1 22:14. המּלאכה עשׁי, those who execute a work, builders in Kg2 12:12, are here and Est 9:3 the king's men of business, who carry on the king's business with respect to receipts and disbursements, the royal financiers.
The king agreed to this proposal. He drew his signet ring from his hand, and delivered it to Haman, that he might prepare the edict in the king's name, and give it by the impression of the royal seal the authority of an irrevocable decree; see rem. on Est 8:8. "To the enemy of the Jews" is added emphatically.
Lest it should appear as though the king had been induced by the prospect held out of obtaining a sum of money, he awards this to Haman. "The silver be given to thee, and the people to do to them (let it be done to them) as seemeth good to thee." והעם precedes absolutely: as for the people of the Jews, etc.
Haman, without delay, causes the necessary writings to be prepared, and sent into all the provinces of the kingdom. Est 3:12. "Then were called the king's scribes in the first month, on the thirteenth day of it (בּו, in it, in the said month); and there was written according to all that Haman commanded, to the satraps of the king, and to the governors who (were placed) over every province, and to the rulers of every people, to each several province according to its writing, and to each different people according to their language (comp. rem. on Est 1:22); in the name of King Ahashverosh was it written, and sealed with the king's seal." אחשׁדּרפּנים and פּחות placed in juxtaposition, as in Ezr 8:36, are the imperial officials. Beside these are also named the שׂרים of every people, the native princes of the different races. The writing was finished on the thirteenth day of the month, because this day of the month had been fixed upon as propitious by the lot.
And the letters were sent (נשׁלוח, infin. abs. Niph. instead of the verb. fin.) by posts. הרצים are the post-riders, the aggaroi, who were stationed on the high roads of the realm, generally four parasangs apart, to transmit with the more speed the royal letters and messages. Herod. 5.14, 8.98 (Berth.), comp. Brisson, de reg. Pers. princ. i. c. 238f. וגו להשׁמיד, to destroy, to kill, and cause to perish all Jews from the youth to the old man, children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, and to deprive them of their spoil. The three verbs are combined to give strength to the expression. שׁללם is their property, which is called spoil because it was delivered up to plunder. Haman having held out the prospect of a large sum as the result of exterminating the Jews, and the king having bestowed this upon Haman, the plundering of the Jews, thus permitted to all the inhabitants of the kingdom who should assist in exterminating them, must be understood as implying, that they would have to deliver a portion of the booty thus obtained to Haman.
The copy of the writing, that the law might be given in every province, was opened to all people, that they might be ready by this day. This verse does not announce a copy of the royal decree that had been prepared and sent by the posts, which would in that case be replaced by a mere allusion to its contents (Bertheau). The words contain no trace of an announcement such as we find in Ezr 4:11; Ezr 7:11, but the historical notice, that the copy of the writing which was sent as a law into the provinces was גּלוּי, opened, i.e., sent unclosed or unsealed to all people. גּלוּי is the predicate to the subject וגו פּתשׁגן (comp. on this word the note to Ezr 4:14), and between the subject and predicate is inserted the infinitive clause וגו דּת להנּתן for the purpose of once more briefly mentioning the contents and destination of the כּתב: that a law might be given in every province. To attain this object the more certainly, the copy of the decree, which was brought into every province by the posts, was open or unsealed, that all people might read its contents, and keep themselves in readiness for the execution of what was therein commanded on the appointed day. הזּה ליּום is the thirteenth day of the twelfth month named in the letter.
The posts went forth hastening (דּחף like Ch2 26:20) at the king's commandment, and the decree was given (promulgated) in the citadel of Susa, - an explanatory clause; and the king and Haman sat down to drink while the messengers went forth with the decree, but the city of Susa, in which it was first published, was in perplexity (on נבוכה comp. Exo 14:3; Joe 1:18). The cruel measure could not but fill all peace-loving citizens with horror and anxiety. - Here the question is forced upon us, why the decree should have been so prematurely published. The scribes were summoned to prepare it on the thirteenth day of the first month. For this purpose, even though many copies had to be made in different languages, no very long time would be required in a well-appointed government office. As soon as the scribes had finished their work, the decree was sent out by the posts into all quarters of the realm, and would arrive in even the most distant provinces in three weeks at furthest. This would place almost eleven, and in the remotest parts about ten months between the publication and execution of the decree. What then was the motive for such an interval? Certainly so long a time could not be required for preparing to carry it out, nor is this hinted at in the text, as Bertheau supposes. Nor could it be intended that the Jews should suffer a long period of anxiety. On the contrary, the motive seems to have been, as Clericus and others have already conjectured, to cause many Jews to leave their property and escape to other lands, for the sake of preserving their lives. Thus Haman would attain his object. He would be relieved of the presence of the Jews, and be able to enrich himself by the appropriation of their possessions. On the other hand, the providence of God overruling the event in the interest of the Jews, is unmistakeably evident both in Haman's haste to satisfy his desire for vengeance, and in the falling of the lot upon so distant a day. It was only because there was so long an interval between the publication of the decree and the day appointed by lot for its execution, that it was possible for the Jews to take means for averting the destruction with which they were threatened, as the further development of the history will show.