While we might be challenged in several ways to understand and appreciate the significant differences between Esther’s world in the 5th century BC and ours today, Haman presents no such problem. That’s because unfortunately, there’s nothing new or novel about hate.
When I speak of hate, I’m not referring to the label some are so quick to put on anyone who disagrees with their social/political views. Respectful disagreement does not equal hate—that’s a false equivalency. No, I’m talking about the opposite of love—harboring ill will and malevolence toward another human being. To hate is to relegate a person to the lowest place in life and treat them as profoundly less than someone made in the image of God.
When we meet Haman in Esther 3, he’s enjoying remarkable success as Xerxes has just promoted him to the equivalent of prime minister of Persia. He has a place “of honor higher than that of any of the nobles” (v. 1). You can read the first chapter to get an idea of the grandeur of the Persian Empire, so you would think Haman would be at a good place in life.
But he’s not.
While everyone else bows down in honor to Haman, one person does not—Mordecai—Esther’s cousin. Haman is “enraged” by Mordecai’s refusal to honor him (v. 5). The text doesn’t explicitly say why Mordecai doesn’t want to bow down, so we’re left to sift through the passage for clues. Verse 4 informs us that Mordecai’s response to the officials who confronted him over the matter involved revealing his Jewish identity to them (something he apparently had kept private as he had told Esther to do in 2:10). The older Jewish commentators think that bowing down to Mordecai involved idolatry—he had proclaimed himself a deity, he wore idolatrous images, etc. Whatever it was, it must have been something substantial and a matter of conscience for Mordecai to draw unwanted attention to himself and his Jewish faith.
Haman’s response catches us by surprise. He scorns the idea of killing Mordecai—he wants to put all Jews in Persia to death! Although honor and shame were very important aspects of the Persian culture and this definitely had the potential to affect Haman’s status, it seems there’s more to his hate than being dishonored. Haman’s hatred of Mordecai had as much to do with his nationality as his personality and confirms the wisdom of Mordecai instructing Esther to not reveal her Jewish identity.
We are told in v. 1 that Haman is an Agagite, which means he is a descendant of Agag, who was king of the Amalekites. Jewish readers would have caught this reference immediately and understood why Haman responded the way he did.
The Amalekites were nomadic raiders who preyed upon groups traveling through the desert (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). They attacked the fledgling nation of Israel as they worked their way through the wilderness (Exodus 17:9ff). Although God gave the Amalekites time and space to repent (as He would do with Nineveh in Jonah), He executed judgment on them a few centuries later through King Saul (1 Samuel 15). This history between the nations fueled Haman’s animosity to such a degree that he was willing to pay Xerxes a extraordinary amount to decimate the Jewish population in Persia (Esther 3:9).
Hate is a spiritual toxin that has no place in the disciple’s life. It eats away at an individual, warping their perspective and poisoning every aspect of their life. Jesus addressed hate in the Sermon on the Mount when He spoke about it gaining access into our lives through anger in Matthew 5:21-26, and again in v. 43-47 when He talked about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.
Hate destroyed Haman and as it will do to anyone who embraces it. We dig our own graves if we open our lives to it.