Government plots a Jewish holocaust
Jew who wouldn’t bow1Sometime later, King Xerxes promoted a man named Haman to serve as the empire’s top official. Haman was the son of Hammedatha, descended from King Agag. 2Xerxes ordered all officials and servants stationed at the palace gate to bow to Haman whenever he walked by. Everyone did that except Mordecai. He refused to bow.
3Other palace workers asked Mordecai, “Why aren’t you obeying the king’s orders?” 4Mordecai ignored them. But they kept asking day after nagging day. He had told them earlier he was a Jew. So, they finally reported him to Haman, to see if Haman would tolerate this disobedience.
Genocide: for one man’s insult5When Haman saw for himself that Mordecai refused to bow, he exploded with murderous anger. 6Killing Mordecai alone seemed too little punishment for such a big crime. Haman knew Mordecai was a Jew, so he decided to kill Mordecai and all his people throughout the empire.
7It was springtime, during the twelfth year of King Xerxes’ reign. Haman wanted to find out the best time to kill the Jews. So, he rolled the dice. It showed that the best day to kill Jews would be March 7 almost a year away.
Before the massacre, a donation for the king8Haman told King Xerxes, “I’ve discovered there’s a group of people among us who follow their own laws instead of yours. You shouldn’t tolerate them. 9If you give me permission to get rid of them, I’ll donate 375 tons of silver to the palace treasury. You can do whatever you want with the money."
10The king took off his signet ring. He handed it to Haman, son of Hammedatha and a descendant of Agag, who was an enemy of the Jews. 11The king told Haman, “Do whatever you want with the people and the money.”
12On April 17, almost a year before the scheduled slaughter, Haman dictated a decree on behalf of the king. He directed it to all province governors and other top leaders throughout the land. He had it translated into the languages of all the provinces. 13Messengers carried the royal decree throughout the empire, to each province:
“Kill all the Jews in a single day, on March 7. Kill the old and the young. Kill the women and children. Destroy their property. Take whatever you want.”
14Haman sent directions with the decree. He instructed each province to post the king’s orders, spread the word, and get all patriotic Persians ready to kill Jews. 15Royal messengers did their job quickly. They issued the decree in the capital city of Susa, too. Haman and the king celebrated with drinks. But citizens of Susa were shocked out of their minds.
Agag, king of the Amalekite people, is part of the reason God abandoned Saul as Israel’s king. The prophet Samuel, speaking for God, told Saul to wipe out the Amalekite people who had ambushed some Hebrews on their Exodus out of Egypt with Moses. Saul was to kill the livestock, too, so Israel would have no part of those sinful people. Instead, Saul’s army killed most of the people, but he spared Agag and the best livestock. The prophet Samuel told him that for disobeying, God now rejects Saul as king (1 Samuel 13). Samuel later secretly anointed a young shepherd, David, as Israel’s future king.
It was the month of Nisan, which covers parts of March and April. Jews followed a lunar calendar, with every month starting at the first tiny crescent after the new moon. A new moon is when the moon is hidden behind earth’s shadow for one day. The sun, moon, and earth are aligned, with earth in the middle. Nisan is the name of the first Jewish month of the year. It’s when Jews celebrate Passover, one of their most revered holidays. The month falls around Eastertime. Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe Passover when he was arrested and crucified.
More literally, they were to throw or draw “lots.” The “lots” may have been stones or animal bones marked in a way that produced random outcomes for “yes” or “no” answers, or for answering other questions. The idea is like throwing dice to determine how many months to wait before acting—in Haman’s case, in killing the Jews. The local Akkadian word for a “lot” was: pur. The happy Jewish holiday that comes from Esther’s story is called Purim.
More literally, day 13 in the month of Adar.
That’s half the truth. The Jews did have their own set of laws, including the 10 Commandments. But they also recognized the governing powers, and they obeyed the rules because it was dangerous not to.
That’s 340 metric tons. It’s also about equal to Persia’s entire annual income from the tribute that subservient nations sent them. This apparent exaggeration is another reason some scholars say the story is fictional. In either case, the writer doesn’t say why Haman donated the money. Was it a bribe? Was he covering the taxes the king would miss with the Jews in the ground? Was it a deposit for the money he hoped to recoup by robbing the dead Jews? The Hebrew writing says Haman donated “10,000 talents.” Babylonians set the talent at what today is 75 pounds (34 kg). Other nations, including the Jews, adopted the measuring system.
A king’s signet ring became an official stamp of the king’s approval. It was like having the authority to sign royal documents, contracts, and state letters with the king’s name. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave his ring to Joseph: “Pharaoh took off his signet ring that he used to press his sign onto royal documents. He put it on Joseph’s hand” (Genesis 41:42).
Who’s money? Did the king tell Haman he didn’t want the donation—a third of a million tons of silver? Or was the king talking about money Haman could take from dead Jews? If the amount is exaggerated and the story a fictional story of lessons about life, as some scholars say, then it probably doesn’t matter.
Hebrew: Thirteenth day of the first month of the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar, Nisan.
Hebrew: Thirteenth day of the 12th month, which was Adar.
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