Esther 2:19-3:6

Some Scripture-Digging Tips

Do some research.

Dig into the Agagites in the Bible to get more insight into Haman’s heritage.

Pair the passages.

Read this Scripture section alongside Romans 13:1-17 and 1 Timothy 6:15. How do reconcile them together?

The Technicalities

For all of the emphasis on Esther’s beauty, the favor she continually received, and the fact that the king loved his new queen more than all the other women; still, she wasn’t enough. Eventually, Ahasuerus wanted more, and the virgins gathered again. Proverbs 27:20 is right – the lust of man’s eyes is never really satisfied (AMPC).

Still, Esther kept her secret. She respected Mordecai just as much in her adulthood as she did as a child, and he advised her not to disclose her heritage. So she posed as Persian inside the palace while, outside, her adoptive father sat at the gate of it and caught wind of two eunuchs who were murderously angry with Ahasuerus. Mordecai got word to the queen, who informed the king, and the men were hanged.

Fast forward a few more years. We are now in 474 BC, and Haman (an Agaggite) is promoted to the most powerful official position in the empire.

The fact that Haman was an Agaggite is a critical detail because, in Numbers 24:7, the Spirit of God promises that Israel’s king will be raised, uplifted, and exalted higher than Agag (king of the Amalekites and the most powerful of the desert tribes at the time). It turned out that King Agag was spared by King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:8 and slain by Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:33. And, do you know what happened in the very next chapter? David was anointed King of Israel.

Despite all that, the Agaggite was raised to the second-highest position (try as they might, those Agaggites can’t seem to be on top). Once there, Haman thought he deserved some reverence. Mordecai disagreed. Remember in chapter one when we discussed the difference between demanding respect and earning it? You can see the stark contrast here in black and white. Because in Esther 2:20, when it says Mordecai charged (or instructed) Esther, the text uses the Hebrew word sava. It’s the same word in Esther 3:2 for the king’s bowing commandment. Before? Esther obeyed (or, as the Hebrew language more intricately describes, she executed Mordecai’s counsel). And here? Mordecai refused Haman’s.

When the king’s servants ask him why he keeps transgressing the king’s command to bow, the word choice is intriguing. They could have asked, “Why do you keep refusing to kneel in reverence to Haman?” or “Why won’t you just bow?” But they used the Hebrew word ‘abar for “transgress” – a word also used in Proverbs 8:29 to describe when God assigned the sea its boundaries, and the waters don’t overstep them.

“Why are you over-stepping?” they asked Mordecai. But it seemed that the powerful official demanding homage from every servant who ranked below him was the one doing the overstepping. And he was about to vastly overstep his authority because, in his anger, the king’s right-hand man vowed to not only kill Mordecai but determined to wipe out the Jewish people altogether, once and for all. (That escalated quickly.)

But Haman didn’t know God. He didn’t know that God doesn’t look kindly on that. And he especially didn’t know that when it comes to favor? God’s people have His in spades.

Let’s Get Personal

At first glance, when it comes to Mordecai not bowing to Haman, things seem pretty black and white. Bow before another person? Never. I don’t care about your status or position. Open and shut. But it quickly becomes more gray when I realize that this isn’t abnormal in other cultures different than mine. It’s no different than a quick curtsy before the queen, as, at home, we take off hats for the national anthem. So I dug deeper to learn what, exactly, the difference is between a queen’s curtsy and Haman’s bowing command. I learned that, for the British monarchy at least, when anyone greets the king or queen, a bow is not obligatory, but it is traditional. For men, that means a neck bow (from the head only). For the women, it’s a small curtsy. Don’t feel like doing either? A handshake is also acceptable in their place.

In Haman’s Persian culture, bowing meant on your knees and touching your forehead to the ground as an expression of profound reverence. Greek Septuagint renders “bow” as “proskyneō” which is a probable derivative of kyōn, meaning “to kiss, like a dog licking its master’s hand.” It’s fawning before someone in adoration, prostrating yourself in homage to them. (Quite a far cry from a simple, respectful neck-bow or a quick curtsy.)

Also, according to Esther 3:2, the bowing law only appeared to be for the king’s servants. It was not empire-wide, which shows a muscle-flex of power and superiority over the other employees beneath Haman. He wanted them to love him and stand in awe of him as much as he stood in awe of himself. Mordecai saw that overstep, and that’s where he drew the line.

Yes, we are to be subject to governing authorities – it’s just as true now as it was when Paul wrote the words in Romans 13. We are to obey the laws they create. Resisting that person’s authority is resisting God’s ordinances for law and order. But respect and honor don’t translate to bowing and homage.

There’s also one more piece to all of this because the problem here isn’t just Haman – it’s the king above him who created the “bow to Haman” command. Ezra 7:12, Ezekiel 26:7, and Daniel 2:37 all show Babylonian kings using the title “king of kings” associated with their names. The Persian empire took over the Babylonian empire in 536 BC, and Ahaseurus (also called Artaxerxes) adopted the same official title as king: Shahanshah (which is usually translated as “emperor” but actually means “king of kings.”* 

Now, in light of all of that, Revelation 17:14 gives a spoiler as to how Haman’s plan will go for him as the right-hand man to Persia’s titled “king of kings.” Because, Jesus? He’s the ONLY Potentate (a high officer of great authority), the King of those who reign as kings (1 Timothy 6:15 AMP). And, when war is waged against Him, He will triumph because He is King of kings. And that’s not just a title. Revelation 19:16 shows it to be His actual name – the same name to which every knee immediately and compulsively bows, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, to the glory of God the Father. It’s a Philippians 2:10-11 truth that is quoted from Isaiah 45:23 and uses the same Hebrew word for “bow” that you find in Esther 3:2.

I’ll tell you this: not one person on this earth compels my body to physically respond in worship in their presence. But Jesus does. So, for me, I’m team Mordecai.