“Haman: Plotting Disaster” by Rosanna McFadden
My story is not going to have a happy ending, which is a shame. I deserve better. I have devoted my life to living by the motto: Be nice to everyone — at least that’s the first part of the motto. With people skills like that, you might not expect me to be a jerk: but I’m a very special kind of jerk: I’m a government official. With your 21st C perspective, you may not have suspected that people in government could be jerks, but it’s true. I am Haman, son of Hammadatha, but I’m known as just Haman: as in Knock knock — who’s there? Haman. Haman who? Hey man, are you going to watch the hanging today? That’s called gallows humor. You can read my story in the Book of Esther, which has more beautiful women than any other book of the Bible, but guys like me don’t usually get anywhere near the king’s wife or concubines. The only guys who do that are eunuchs, and my ambitions don’t lie in that direction. King Ahasuerus is kind of particular about keeping his women locked away, except when he’s trying to impress his cronies: which is what happened when he threw a roaring seven-day, all-you-can-drink party. He wanted to impress the guys, so he then sent word for queen Vashti to come parade through the hall so all the men could see how beautiful she was.
He told her to wear the royal crown — and nothing else. Vashti sent one word back: No. Which is how we ended up with a new queen. It’s not a good to embarrass the king in front of his drinking buddies.
Ahasuerus is a fool, but that’s perfect for someone like me. I can bide my time, collect dirt on people at court, and be nice to everyone — so they won’t know who stabbed them in the back.
That’s the other part of my life motto. Be nice to everyone so they won’t know who stabbed them in the back. I got impatient with Ahasuerus and plotted to kill him with the help of two palace guards. It would have worked, too, except someone got wind of the plan and got word to the king: fortunately I had covered my tracks so that my name was not connected to the plot, but the two guards were caught, and I knew they could rat me out. I assured them that if they kept their mouths shut, I would get them released before they were put to death. The last thing they saw before they were hanged to death was my smiling face in the crowd, being nice to everybody. I was just glad to keep my neck out of the noose. They got what they deserved. It all got recorded in the royal chronicles.
As far as the king and everyone else knows, I’m a great guy: I report anyone who puts a toe out of line with the rules, while I’m making plans to break them. Ahasuerus kept promoting me until I was above all his other princes. I had the king’s respect, and that meant I was entitled to respect from everyone else. And I got it. It was so gratifying to watch them all bow whenever I passed by, being nice to everyone. All except one guy. His name was Mordecai, and the reason he wouldn’t bow to me is because he was a Jew, and it was against his religion. He wasn’t arrogant about it, he just didn’t bow, which was against the rules. 999 people would bow and give me the respect I deserved, but one guy didn’t, and it drove me crazy. I became obsessed with Mordecai and him not giving me the respect I deserved. I’d walk by him just to see him not bow, and it infuriated me. Every time. You might wonder why I didn’t just have him executed. I could have. After all, he was not following the king’s order, and I was all about making everyone else follow the rules. But I knew that if I killed one Jew, that another one would take his place, and another and another. I couldn’t kill them all. At least, not without the king’s permission.
It turned out to be pretty easy: I already had the king’s ear, I was willing to put in my own money to sweeten the deal, and within a week it was done: the king agreed to a death sentence for the Jews in every province of his kingdom, he opened up the palace coffers to help it happen, and he even gave me his ring so that I could send out the edict. By the time the execution orders were signed, Ahasuerus probably thought the whole things was his idea, and I was just following his orders. Fine. I was going to get epic revenge on that disrespectful Jew, Mordecai. He deserved it.
And then, I got invited to a banquet — more of a private party, really. Esther, the queen, was having a little gathering for just Ahasuerus and me, his most trusted advisor. It was a wonderful evening. The queen is beautiful, the food was delicious, and there was plenty to drink. I know the king was having a good time, too, because toward the end of the evening he said, “And what can I do for you, my dear? I’ll give you anything, even up to half my kingdom.” And the only thing the queen asked for was for us to come back again the next day: the king and me. I left that party feeling great:, I was finally getting the respect I deserved — both King Ahasuerus and his beautiful wife thought I was, and my little plot to exterminate an entire people was set in motion: orders had been sent out for the extermination of Jews across the kingdom. I walked toward the king’s gate feeling on topo f the world — and then I saw Mordecai, that dirty Jew who neither bowed nor cowered before me. I was infuriated all over again. How dare he! I couldn’t wait until they were all stamped out like cockroaches. The queen’s excellent food turned sour in my stomach. I went home and called together my wife and friends and reminded them how rich and important I am — even Queen Esther seeks out my company — but I cannot enjoy all the things I deserve while that Jew Mordecai sits at the king’s gate. My wife said, Why not order a gallows built and have Mordecai hanged on it the next day before the queen’s banquet? And excellent idea: little appetizer before the feast of wiping out every last Jew from the face of the earth. I had it done.
The next morning, the king called me in and asked, “What should be done for a man the king wishes to honor?” It just kept getting better. I knew what I deserved: I said, “Let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, a horse which the king has ridden, and a crown be put on his head. And let a trusted official lead the horse around the square of the city and proclaim: This is how the king treats those he wishes to honor! It was a great plan. The king agreed. He said, “I like it. Go get the robes and the horse; do every detail just like you said. And because you thought of this, you can be the one to lead Mordecai around the city.” Mordecai? I almost let my “nice to everyone” mask slip. What had Mordecai done to deserve the king’s favor? It turns out the king had gotten up in the middle of the night and was reading through the royal chronicles: it was Mordecai who had discovered my little plot to kill King Ahasuerus. Because Mordecai had told the king about that plot, I had to endure the humiliation of parading Mordecai around the city in royal robes. And there was no way I could ordered him hanged on my new gallows right after the king had honored him. Another plot foiled. I was steaming. At least another banquet with the queen gave me something to look forward to.
It was another great evening; Queen Esther was very attentive, and the king was so pleased that he asked again what request he could grant for her. She told him she wanted the lives of her people. Wait a minute — her people? Oh no, Esther was a Jew. How did I not know that? It turns out she’s Mordecai’s niece; they hadn’t told anyone. This was not going well at all. I was thinking furiously about how to be sure my name wasn’t connected to the orders to have the Jews killed. And then Esther started to talk about the enemy of her people, the one who hatched the plot to annihilate the Jews. The king was furious and said, “Who is this wicked man, and where is he?” And the queen said, “Here. This man, Haman.” She set me up. The king was so angry, he got up from the table to walk in the palace garden to cool off — it was a slim chance, but my only one: I went to the couch where Esther was resting and threw myself on her to plead for mercy. Unfortunately, Ahasuerus chose that moment to walk back in and said, “Do you assault my queen in my own house?” No more Mr. Nice Guy. My fate was sealed.
So here I am, condemned to be hanged on the gallows I had constructed for that rat, Mordecai. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “dramatic irony,” let me lay it out for you: after all my jealous plotting and scheming, I am finally going to get what I deserve.
Haman is the fourth jerk of the Bible whom we have heard from. This series is inspired by Margaret Brouilette’s book Famous Jerks of the Bible. This verse from Proverbs 14:2 seems especially appropriate for Haman: Those who walk uprightly fear the Lord, but the one who is devious in conduct despises him. Haman is devious, but he is also jealous, vindictive, and obsessed with getting the recognition he deserves. Perhaps you know people like this — fortunately, very few of them have a position where they can plan for the destruction of an entire people. Planning genocide makes you a jerk — an evil jerk.
Haman is not the first, and certainly not the last person to plot the destruction of the Jewish people. It is no surprise that Haman is still remembered and reviled by Jews today, along with more contemporary figures like Adolph Hitler. Esther is a good read, for sure — everybody loves a beautiful woman who gets the best of a thoroughly vile man. Haman’s fatal flaw is that he thought he was in control: of the king, of his own fate, and of the future of the Jews — God’s people. When you think that you can act with impunity in regard to anything — but especially to eliminate God’s chosen people — you are going to get a wake-up call.
The book of Esther famously does not mention God; but although it’s a human drama which plays out, it is obvious who is in control of the action — and it isn’t Haman. Some of the most memorable parts of the story happen after Haman is hanged at the end of Chapter 7: there are still three chapters to go, although chapter 10 is essentially an epilogue. Here’s the problem: Haman has been revealed for the scheming jerk he is, King Ahasuerus has taken back the signet ring he had given to Haman, and Haman has been executed. But there is still this edict out there that in the near future, government soldiers all over the kingdom will be authorized to kill Jewish people. The king cannot just revoke that order: Esther’s people are still in danger. Esther pleads for the life of her people, and cleverly makes it sound like the edict is all Haman’s fault, even though it was the king’s order. And the king comes up with this solution — he distances himself from the whole thing, gives Mordecai his signet ring and the power to send out new orders in the king’s name. And Mordecai sends out new orders: government officials may kill Jews, but now the Jews are allowed to fight back. There is great joy and celebration among the Jews, people who were secretly Jewish come out publicly and unite against their attackers, and kill many of their enemies, including all of Haman’s ten sons. This is a stunning reversal of Haman’s plans — not only is he executed, but all of his heirs are killed so that his family line is ended.
The character of Haman raises some questions which echo into the New Testament and into our lives today. Simply put, the question is, What do we deserve? Haman is obsessed with recognition and acclaim — it is not enough to have 999 people bow to him, he is enraged by the one man who will not. He makes his own plans without reference to God or anyone else. Of course, as Jewish sympathizers and readers who know what Haman is up to, we know exactly what he deserves: death. This is the very question which the apostle Paul takes up in his New Testament letters, particularly the letter to the Romans. This is part of the broader conversation we referred to last week, about who is welcomed as a believer in Jesus Christ: only those who have followed Jewish law, or anyone? Paul is making the argument that noone is justified before God. That is, none of us deserve recognition and acclaim for how wonderful we are. Romans 3:19 says “Whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight.” The problem is not God’s law — the problem is us. Although we may lack the scope for pride, jealousy, and vindictiveness that Haman had, we have all pursued our own plans and pulled strings for our own benefit without reference to God or God’s will.
God, like King Ahasuerus, cannot simply revoke his own law. But, like Mordecai, God came up with a work-around: and this solution is a stunning reversal of God’s judgement. It is the grace of Jesus Christ. Paul continues in Romans 3:20. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.
I believe that grace is at the heart of Christianity: grace is a gift from Jesus Christ, but it comes at a cost. In order to accept Christ’s grace, we have to give up our sense that we deserve it. We may be nice people, solid citizens, hardworking-taxpayers — that’s all fine. I may have a sense that I, in fact, deserve a lot more than other people, because of my special work, insight, suffering — whatever. That would be Haman, and Haman was a jerk. The people of God and the followers of Jesus Christ know that we have all missed the mark and fallen short — just like everybody else. It is that self-awareness, humility, and repentance which allows us to accept the grace of Jesus Christ. That is the cost of grace: humility for ourselves, giving up the notion that we deserve more than other people. Grace comes with a warning label: if you keep plotting for what you deserve, you might get it.
Our jerk for next week is Jezebel, married to King Ahab of Israel. I know it will be a surprise to some of you that women can be jerks — but it’s true. Even in the Bible. Jezebel’s story spans a number of years: focus on 1 Kings, chapters 16-22, and 2 Kings 9:22-37.
Blessings for the week: be grateful that we don’t have to get what we deserve.