If you’ve been reading along through the book of Esther, then you’ve already seen the dramatic tension begin to build as we approach chapter six.
You see, Esther chapter five ended with the construction of a colossal instrument of death, one that would enable a powerful government official to eliminate a man he despised- and that was just a preview of the untold numbers of government mandated deaths that were still to come.
But what this genocidal murderer didn’t know was that a stealth representative of the race he wanted to eliminate was already working “on the inside” to save her people. He was also unaware that the leader of the Persian Empire owed a huge debt of gratitude to the man who was now scheduled to be the first to die.
Those events now bring us to Esther chapter six- the turning point of this book…
“That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king” (Esther 6:1).
King Ahasuerus was the leader of the mighty Persian Empire. He had oversight responsibility over 127 provinces and enjoyed all the benefits of his royal position. He ate the best foods, drank the best wines, and lived in the greatest luxury and splendor that was available in his day. He had personal servants, a harem of beautiful women, and the power of life and death over untold numbers of people. Yet despite all these things, there was still one thing that this powerful monarch could not control, and that was the ability to get a good night’s sleep.
So when faced with the possibility of putting up with a long, sleepless night, the king responded by doing something that many people do when they cannot sleep- he found something to read. In this instance, the book he chose was the Chronicles of the Persian Empire. This work represented the official journal of the Persian government as recorded by the royal secretaries. These scribes held the responsibility of recording every important event within the Empire for later review. Once the record of these events were complete, they went on to become an official part of the ongoing Chronicles.
As the king’s narrator began to read through the record of the Chronicles, he came to one particular event that caught the king’s attention- and we’ll take a closer look (or more accurately, a look back) at that event next.
“That same night the king could not get to sleep, so he had the official records of the empire brought and read to him” (Esther 6:1 GNB).
While the Chronicles of the Persian Empire might seem to be an unusual choice for a bedtime story, King Ahasuerus may have chosen this particular book for a good reason. You see, anyone who has ever spent time reading through a boring history book may understand why the king made this particular choice. In the king’s mind, he may have thought, “If this doesn’t help to put me to sleep, then nothing will.”
But as the king’s narrator related the events of one particular day, he came to an occurrence that suddenly caught the king’s full attention….
“It was found recorded that Mordecai had warned the king about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway and who had planned to kill the king” (Esther 6:2 NCV).
This incident with the king’s officials had actually taken place about five years earlier and if this story sounds familiar, it may be due to the fact that this event was also recorded for us in Esther chapter two…
“During those days while Mordecai was sitting at the King’s Gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two eunuchs who guarded the [king’s] entrance, became infuriated and tried to assassinate King Ahasuerus. When Mordecai learned of the plot, he reported it to Queen Esther, and she told the king on Mordecai’s behalf.
When the report was investigated and verified, both men were hanged on the gallows. This event was recorded in the court records of daily events in the king’s presence. (Esther 2:21-23 HCSB).
So even though the record of Mordecai’s service to the king was recorded with the monarch’s knowledge, it turned out that nothing had been done at that time to reward his act of loyalty. Now it’s possible that the king had gotten caught up in the daily affairs of state and had simply forgotten to reward Mordecai for his service five years earlier. Or perhaps the king had just assumed that one of his officials had taken care of Mordecai’s reward. But whatever the reason, Mordecai had received no official recognition for his loyalty to the king.
However, there is a much more likely reason to explain the fact that Mordecai never even received a “thank you” for his efforts to save the king’s life. To understand that reason, we’ll come back next and take a closer look at the sequence of events that took place during the king’s sleepless night.
“It was found recorded that Mordecai had warned the king about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway and who had planned to kill the king. The king asked, ‘What honor and reward have been given to Mordecai for this?’ The king’s personal servants answered, ‘Nothing has been done for Mordecai'” (Esther 6:2-3 NCV).
Why didn’t Mordecai receive any recognition for his role in saving the king from this potential assassination attempt? Well, one possible clue might be found in looking more closely at the sequence of events behind these verses.
First, it just so happened that the king couldn’t fall asleep on one particular night. That led the king to decide to find something to read. Of all the books that the king might have chosen to help pass the time on a sleepless night, the book he chose was the Chronicles of The Persian Empire.
Next, it just so happened that the king’s narrator decided to open the Chronicles to a section that recorded the events of five years earlier- and the specific event he chose to read about detailed Mordecai’s service and dedication to the king. Then it just so happened that all of these things took place at the very same time that Mordecai’s arch enemy was planning his strategy to execute him.
So with each of these occurrences in mind, here’s a question: does it seem reasonable to think that all these things happened simply by coincidence? Well, the truth is that it is actually more reasonable to think that these things didn’t happen by coincidence.
Here’s why: even though a king enjoyed all the royal privileges and benefits of the monarchy, he always had to be on the lookout for someone who might try to assassinate him and take over the throne. So while a king commanded all the honor and respect that went along with the job of being a monarch, he also lived with the real possibility that every day might be his last if he wasn’t careful.
Because of this, it was in the king’s best interest to quickly reward those subjects who were loyal to him. In fact, one source tells us, “It was customary for the Persian kings to reward promptly those who performed some noteworthy act of service.” (1) This is why we shouldn’t automatically assume that the king simply forgot to reward Mordecai for his service. Instead, the king’s failure to reward Mordecai promptly is better seen as an example of Someone else’s agenda at work behind the scenes.
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson study Bible : New King James Version. Includes index. (Es 6:2). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers
“The part they read included the account of how Mordecai had uncovered a plot to assassinate the king—the plot made by Bigthana and Teresh, the two palace eunuchs who had guarded the king’s rooms” (Esther 6:2 GNB).
When it came those subjects who were for him and against him, the king used a strategy that we might refer to as “positive” and “negative” reinforcement. In this instance, the negative reinforcement came in the form of Bigthana and Teresh’s execution (Esther 2:21-23). Their deaths would send a clear message to anyone else who might seek to follow their example: “This could happen to you if you try and hurt the king.”
The positive reinforcement came in the form of the king’s public reward of praise, recognition, and approval of those who were loyal to him. This also sent a clear message to anyone who might seek to follow that example as well:“This could happen to you if you help and support the king.”
So the fact that the king didn’t reward Mordecai five years earlier (along with the other “coincidences” we’ve looked at) should alert us to the likelihood that something else was going on “behind the scenes” while Haman was planning to kill Mordecai. You see, these circumstances point to the conclusion that God was silently involved in orchestrating these events even though He is never actually mentioned by name throughout the book of Esther.
This should serve to remind us of an important truth: even though it may not always appear as if God is directly involved in our daily lives, that doesn’t necessarily mean that He isn’t involved at all. These experiences remind us that God may actually choose to get involved in the events of our lives in a way that doesn’t draw attention to His presence. So far from being a series of unrelated coincidences, these events actually provide us with a recorded history of God’s unrecorded providence in action.
So after having been reminded of these events, the king asked a good question: “…’What honour and reward hath Mardochai received for this fidelity?'” (Esther 6:3a DRA). Of course, there was a simple explanation behind the king’s inability to recall what had been done for Mordecai: “His servants answered, ‘Nothing has been done for him” (Esther 6:3b GNB).
This kind of oversight was something that the king would want to immediately correct, so he decided to see which of his advisers were available to help him decide what to do.
“So the king said, ‘Who is in the court?’ Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. The king’s servants said to him, ‘Haman is there, standing in the court.’ And the king said, ‘Let him come in'” (Esther 6:4-5).
Before we continue, we should stop to look at the time period in which these events took place. First, remember that the king had called for the Chronicles of The Persian Empire to be read to him because he couldn’t fall asleep. This implies that the events of Esther chapter six probably began in the middle of the night, or at least in the pre-dawn hours.
With this in mind, here’s a question: what was Haman doing in the royal courtyard at that time of night? Why wasn’t he sleeping at home like everyone else?
Well, there are a few possibilities that might explain Haman’s presence in the king’s courtyard during this time. For example, it’s possible that Haman had already been up for all or most of the night while supervising the construction of the gallows that he intended to use to execute Mordecai. It’s also possible that Haman’s anticipation at the thought of publicly humiliating his enemy helped to keep him from getting to sleep that evening.
Another possibility is that Haman woke up early so he could be first in line for an audience with the king to ask for permission to execute Mordecai. You see, if Haman could convince the king to approve Mordecai’s death sentence prior to sunrise, then he could execute Mordecai early in the morning and leave his body on display all day long. That would be sure to inflict the maximum amount of shame and dishonor upon Mordecai and would effectively serve to terrorize the remaining Jewish citizens. It would also work to frighten anyone else who might be tempted to follow Mordecai’s example in refusing to bow down before him.
Of course, the king didn’t know why Haman was in the courtyard at that time and Haman certainly didn’t know that the king had been reading about the loyalty of the very same man that he wanted permission to execute. But soon after his arrival at the royal courtyard, Haman received this message:“The king wants to see you- come right in.” Haman surely took this invitation as a good sign and that probably helped to influence his attitude as he prepared to meet the king.
“So Haman came in, and the king asked him, ‘What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?’ Now Haman thought in his heart, ‘Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?'” (Esther 6:6).
Even though Haman was a counselor, drinking partner, and second in command to the king, his thought precess still demonstrated an amazing lack of humility, even for someone of his status.
You see, when the king posed the hypothetical question, “What would be appropriate for the man the king especially wants to honor?” Haman’s first thought was, “He must be talking about honoring me— who else?” (Esther 6:6 MSG). In other words, there was nothing to indicate that Haman ever considered the possibility that anyone else within the Persian Empire might have deserved such an honor- except himself, of course.
This tells us that Haman was someone who was lacking in humility, or the positive personal characteristic that involves courtesy, respect, and a modest self-opinion. Humility is something that is the opposite of other characteristics like conceit, arrogance, or pride. Unlike Haman, a humble person is someone who doesn’t boast about who they are or what they have, but recognizes instead that every talent, skill, and ability they possess is actually a gift from God.
To help make this idea easier to understand, Jesus once provided us with an example of humility that we can customize and apply in many different life situations…
“If you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t always head for the best seat. For if someone more respected than you shows up, the host will bring him over to where you are sitting and say, ‘Let this man sit here instead.’ And you, embarrassed, will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
Do this instead-start at the foot; and when your host sees you he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place than this for you!’ Thus you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For everyone who tries to honor himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself shall be honored” (Luke 14:8-11 TLB).
When it comes to this attitude of humility, the Scriptures also provide us with another important message as well:“Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 HCSB). Unfortunately for Haman, this would be a lesson that he would learn all too late.
“So Haman came in, and the king said to him, ‘There is someone I wish very much to honor. What should I do for this man?’ Haman thought to himself, ‘Now who could the king want to honor so much? Me, of course'” (Esther 6:6 GNB).
Haman was operating under the delusion that he was the subject of the king’s hypothetical question- and since he believed that the king had actually given him an opportunity to name his own reward, Haman began to design his own version of the ultimate tribute…
“And Haman answered the king, ‘For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head. Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor. Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!'” (Esther 6:7-9).
When you think about all the ways that Haman could have answered this question, it’s interesting to look at his response. For example, Haman could have responded with a list that included things like money, property, or expensive gifts. But instead, Haman chose a number of things that were closely associated with the king himself…
- “The servants should bring a royal robe that the king has worn…” (GW). Just as a “game worn” uniform used by a professional athlete is more valuable than a regular uniform, a robe that was worn by the king was a prized possession.
- “…and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head…” (NIV). One source reports that the royal horses of this period were arrayed with crown-like headdresses. (1)
- “Have one of your highest officials place your robe on this man and lead him through the streets on your horse…” (CEV). Haman also chose to include a person who was closely associated with the king along with two of the king’s possessions.
That left one final thing: “As he goes, have him shout, ‘This is what the king does for the man he really wants to honor!’” (CEB). This meant that everyone would not only have an opportunity to see the honor bestowed upon those who pleased the king but they would also hear about it as well.
(1) Esther 6:8 Ryrie Study Notes © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.
“…’Your Majesty, if you wish to honor a man, have someone bring him one of your own robes and one of your own horses with a fancy headdress. Have one of your highest officials place your robe on this man and lead him through the streets on your horse, while someone shouts, ‘This is how the king honors a man!'” (Esther 6:7-9 CEV).
There’s another interesting thing about Haman’s response to the king. Notice that it doesn’t appear as if Haman hesitated to give the king an answer to his question; in fact, it doesn’t seem that Haman stopped to think about his response at all.
For instance, Haman didn’t ask for more time to think about his answer or request a few minutes to consider his response as you might expect a good counselor to do. Instead, he was prepared with an immediate answer to a fairly complex question. In fact, Haman’s response came so quickly that it almost seems as if he knew the answer to this question before the king asked it.
One potential explanation for Haman’s readiness to answer this question might be found in the possiblity that he had already spent time thinking about all the honors he wanted to have for himself. If this is true, then Haman placed himself on the wrong side of another Scriptural warning: “Just as it is harmful to eat too much honey, so also it is bad for men to think about all the honors they deserve!” (Proverbs 25:27 TLB).
So when we stop to consider everything that went into Haman’s response to the king’s question, we come away with some real insight into Haman’s character. First, Haman’s response would have been highly flattering to the king since his entire list consisted of things that were closely associated with the king himself. That was something that was sure to help him maintain a favorable relationship with his majesty.
These choices also tell us that Haman had a strong desire to be exalted as if he were a king. For instance, Haman wanted the symbols of royalty but he wasn’t necessarily interested in the duties and responsibilities that went along with that position. He wanted a large audience to watch and applaud as he indulged himself in an illusion of power even though he wasn’t really a king. Haman wanted to enjoy the appearance of respect and honor without the need to endure the real-world pressures and obligations of an actual monarch. Haman wanted the king’s clothing, the king’s horse, and the service of the king’s nobility but he didn’t necessarily want the responsibility of actually being a king.
“Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (Esther 6:9b KJV).
At this very moment, at the very time that Haman had slipped into this delusional, self-serving fantasy of conceit and vanity, his plan to execute Mordecai was about to take a sudden and unexpected turn. You see, the very next passage signals the beginning of the end for Haman…
“Then the king said to Haman, ‘Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king’s gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken.’ So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!'” (Esther 6:10-11).
iro·ny noun : inconsistency between an actual and an expected result of a sequence of events : a result marked by this inconsistency : the contradiction between the situation developed in a drama and the words or actions of the characters that is understood by the audience but not by the characters themselves (1)
The word irony is a word that can be used to describe the sudden turn of events that are detailed for us here in Esther 6:10-11. You see, Haman had presumptuously assumed that King Ahasuerus had intended to honor him. That led him to suggest the kind of reward that he would enjoy the most: a one-man parade through the city square complete with the symbolic marks of royalty for everyone to see and admire. But the king was actually planning to honor Haman’s arch-enemy and proceeded to use Haman’s suggestion (and Haman himself) to honor the very man that Haman had sought to execute.
Imagine what it must have been like for Haman to lead Mordecai on horseback through the public square. Think of how it felt for Haman to give Mordecai the very reward that he most desired for himself. What was going through Haman’s mind as he proclaimed, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor” for the man who had refused to bow down before him?
Just a short time earlier, Haman had been plotting Mordecai’s gruesome death. But now, Mordecai was the one who was honored and Haman was the one who was humbled. And even though Haman had sought to injure Mordecai, God clearly (but silently) protected and honored him in the end.
(1) irony Merriam-Webster’s Student Dictionary © 2007 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated http://www.wordcentral.com/cgi-bin/student?book=Student&va=irony
“Then the king said to Haman, ‘Hurry and get the robes and the horse, and provide these honors for Mordecai the Jew. Do everything for him that you have suggested. You will find him sitting at the entrance of the palace'” (Esther 6:10 GNB).
Mordecai’s experience isn’t just an isolated account in an ancient book- his example actually holds an important truth for God’s people to remember and apply today.
You see, whenever someone attempts to hurt us (as Haman tried to do with Mordecai), our first tendency often involves a desire to strike back at the person who is responsible. But the New Testament book of Romans tells us, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Esther chapter six reminds us that if there is justice to be served, we can be certain that God will serve it, just as we see here.
“Afterward Mordecai went back to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered” (Esther 6:12).
It may be easy to speed past this verse in light of everything that has happened so far in Esther chapter six. But just as Haman’s response to the king’s question provided us with an insight into his character, Mordecai’s response to the honor bestowed upon him by the king also provides us with some insight into his character as well.
For example, if someone in today’s world were to receive the same kind of honor that Mordecai received, he or she might take lots of pictures and post dozens of Facebook updates to share with everyone. But Esther 6:12 tells us that “Afterwards, Mordecai returned to his duties at the palace gate…” (CEV). In other words, Mordecai simply went back to doing his job without a lot of attention or fanfare.
This tells us that Mordecai wasn’t someone who was impressed by the kind of honor that the world provides. Instead, Mordecai followed a principle that God would later inspire a New Testament writer to record for us in the Scriptures:“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10 NIV). You see, Mordecai understood that “Humility and reverence for the Lord will make you both wise and honored” (Proverbs 15:33 TLB) and he practiced that attitude in his own life.
Haman, however, had a much different response- and we’ll taker a closer look at that response next.
“Haman hurried home with his head covered, because he was embarrassed and ashamed” (Esther 6:12 NCV).
Why was Haman so embarrassed and ashamed over what had happened? All he had to do was simply lead a royally dressed man on a horse while proclaiming an announcement from the king. What’s the big deal about that?
Well, it may be that Haman had treated others in Shushan with the same kind of disdain that he felt for Mordecai. Perhaps these others had received a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment at Haman’s expense as he was forced to parade his arch-enemy through the city streets. It’s also possible that Haman felt that the job of leading another person on horseback was beneath someone of his reputation. For a man like Haman (a man whose sense of worth was built on what other people thought of him), this probably represented a complete social embarrassment.
Whatever the case, Haman’s head covering was an external symbol of his internal sense of grief and shame. But as bad as that was, things were about to get worse…
“When Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him, his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, ‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him'” (Esther 6:13).
If you were following along when we looked at the advice that Haman previously received from his wife and friends, then you know that something is definitely wrong here. You see, when Haman returned from Esther’s first banquet on the previous day, he spoke with his wife and friends about the status and riches he had attained. But following this, Haman also added, “…all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 5:13 NIV).
This means that Haman definitely told his wife and friends about Mordecai’s Jewish heritage well before they advised him to build a gallows as tall as a six story building in order to execute him. So why then did they now say,“If Mordecai is of Jewish descent, you will never win out over him. He will certainly lead to your downfall” (Esther 6:13 GW).
Well, like many people today, Haman’s wife and friends had all the right answers when things seemed to be going well. But as soon as their godless advice turned out to be not so good, things suddenly changed- and we’ll see how their example applies for us today next.
“Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, ‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is Jewish, you won’t overcome him, because your downfall is certain'” (Esther 6:13 HCSB).
Haman’s wife and friends seemed to have all the answers when everything was going well for Haman. But once their advice was shown to be worthless, they quickly began to find excuses to cover up for their godless counsel. As soon as they began to sense that Haman was losing his status and reputation, they immediately began to desert him like rats off a sinking ship.
Their example illustrates one reason why the Bible has so much to say about the need to choose our friends and counselors carefully…
- “Be with wise men and become wise. Be with evil men and become evil” (Proverbs 13:20 TLB).
- “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26 NKJV).
- “Keep away from angry, short-tempered men, lest you learn to be like them and endanger your soul” (Proverbs 22:24 TLB).
Unfortunately for Haman, he chose a group of friends and advisors who told him what he wanted to hear and not necessarily what he needed to hear- but that wasn’t Haman’s biggest problem at the moment…
“While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs came, and hastened to bring Haman to the banquet which Esther had prepared” (Esther 6:14).
While Haman’s wife and friends were bailing out on him, two royal officials suddenly arrived to escort Haman to the queen’s banquet. Now it wasn’t unusual for the king to send an official escort to a function like this. However, the fact that these officials “…hastened to bring Haman to the banquet…” may indicate that Haman’s despair over the situation with Mordecai had caused him to be late for queen’s banquet- and it was definitely not a good idea to keep the king and queen waiting.
But as far as Haman was concerned, the worst ordeal of the day was over. He was still second in command of the Persian Empire. He was still a close confidant of the king. And her Highness, the Queen still held him in such high esteem that he was the only guest other than the king to be invited to her royal banquets.
At least the king and queen still had respect for Haman- or so he thought.