After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. – Esther 3:1-6 ESV
Mordecai has just foiled an assassination plot and helped save the life of the king. And while Mordecai’s efforts earned him a place in the official chronicles of the king, that was all the recognition he received. And yet, another individual, new to our story, was about to receive a huge promotion that would create a major conflict for Mordecai and Esther. The man’s name is Haman and the important, but often neglected part of the story is his heritage. He is an Agagite. Like Esther and Mordecai, he is not a native Persian. He is an outsider who has made his way to the Persian empire, most likely as the result of their conquest of his land. What is significant is that Haman is an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, the Amalakite. The Amalakites carried out an unprovoked attack on the Israelites during their days in the wilderness. Joshua and the people of Israel defeated them in battle and God pronounced a curse on the Amalakies. “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14 ESV).
Years later, long after Israel had settled in the land of Canaan and Saul had become their king, God sent word to King Saul through Samuel, the prophet. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV). Saul did as the Lord had commanded him, but he did not obey fully.
And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:7-9 ESV
Saul had spared King Agag and kept the best of the spoil, disobeying the direct orders of God. And he would be removed as the king of Israel for his disobedience. What makes all of this so important to the story of Esther is that she and Mordecai are both descendants of Saul and Haman, the newly promoted, second-highest official in the land, is a direct descendant of Agag. This long-standing conflict was about to be relived, all because one man refused to do what God had called him to do. His one act of disobedience and compromise was going to have long-term implications.
And the story makes it clear that Mordecai was well aware of Haman’s heritage, because it tells us “all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage” (Esther 3:2 ESV). Mordecai could not bring himself to pay homage to an enemy of his people. And when the king’s servants asked him why he was taking such a huge risk by not bowing down to Haman as the king had commanded, he simply informed them that he was a Jew. This news is reported to the king. It is interesting to note that when two officials of the king had plotted to assassinate him, it was Mordecai who made the news known to the king. Now, two officials are reporting Mordecai’s insubordination to Haman, unknowingly placing him in a very dangerous situation.
When Haman finds out about Mordecai’s refusal to bow down before him, his reaction is swift and over-the-top. Rather than take out his anger on Mordecai, he determines to destroy each and every Jew in the kingdom of the Persians. The long-standing hatred between the Amalakites and the Hebrews rises to the surface once more. And King Saul’s refusal to obey the command of God would come back to haunt the Jewish people. Haman would use his newfound power to not only settle a personal score between himself and Mordecai, but to wipe out all memory of the Jews from the land of the Persians. What is hiding just under the surface of this story is the role that disobedience plays in our lives. The whole reason Mordecai and Esther are even living in Persia is because of the disobedience of the people of Judah. They had refused to listen to the prophets of God who had been sent by God to call them to repentance for their unfaithfulness and disobedience, and to warn them about their coming destruction. But they had refused to listen to God’ warnings and were ultimately defeated by the Babylonians and taken captive. Likewise, the whole reason Haman even existed was because King Saul had refused to obey the word of God and completely destroy the Amalakites from the face of the earth. Haman was nothing more than the residual effect of Saul’s disobedience. Failure to do the will of God always has ramifications. Disobedience to God always has dire consequences. And Mordecai and Esther were going to learn a first-hand lesson in just how how dangerous disobedience could be.