Adapted from an article by Mark Stover
In the last program we began looking at the celebration of Purim, it’s a celebration of God’s deliverance of His people when they lived in Ancient Persia, and wicked Haman hatched a plot to kill all the Jews, while planning a particularly nasty execution of Mordecai. In this program, we’re going to look a little bit about why Haman why Haman hated the Jews so much and what his real motivation might have been.
God had already declared the blotting out of the Amalekites for their unprovoked attacks on the Israelites coming out of the wilderness. So Israel’s problem with the Amalekites was aggravated many years later during the reign of Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul was chosen by God when the people demanded they have a “king to rule over them.” Saul had severe character flaws which eventually destroyed the monarchy he established. One such flaw was his tendency to disregard complete obedience of God.
Saul ignored God’s word to destroy the entire city of Amalek leaving no living thing, no human and no animal. Those who lived there were the biological and spiritual descendants of the nation God had cursed in the wilderness.
Saul and his army won the battle, “…but Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs —everything that was good.” (I Samuel 15:8) Saul’s refusal to carry out the judgment of God on Agag not only cost him his throne, but also brought grief to a future generation of Israel and their very near extermination!
Haman the Agagite
Not only was Haman an Agagite, but we’re also told in the Book of Esther that Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin and a descendant of Kish. King Saul was also a Benjaminite, and his father’s name was Kish. Can you see that the enmity between Mordecai and Haman was the dramatic climax of a battle that had lasted almost one thousand years? Haman quite possibly knew that Mordecai was related to the man who killed Agag, his far descendant.
Moses and Amalek, Saul and Agag, and now Mordecai and Haman. The curse of Amalek and the obliteration of his name repeat again in the Scroll of Esther. It is at Purim that we’re able, along with all of Israel, to join Mordecai in blotting out the name of Haman, and by transference, the names of Agag and Amalek. This is why Jews make a racket during the reading of the book of Esther during Purim celebrations…they want to drown out the names of those who’ve been blotted out.
When Haman’s name is said, everyone boos loudly and when Mordecai’s name is read out, everyone cheers and whistles.
In the book of Esther, Haman ended up on the very gallows he had constructed for Mordecai. Hanging on gallows conjures up the image of a man’s limp body suspended by a rope with a noose around his neck, which is an appalling way to die. However, according to the Greek historian Herodotus,7 hanging in ancient Persia was a much more painful form of execution. Haman didn’t hang from a noose, he was instead impaled on a stake and lifted up in the air; it was a very early form of crucifixion and it was gruesome and that is what Haman intended to do to Mordecai.
Haman’s crime and punishment was horrendous and incredibly shameful. It’s reminiscent of the passage in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 21:22-23, ‘If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.’
The reason Jews celebrate at Purim is because it reminds them of the faithfulness of God and the quintessential triumph of a righteous victim over an evil oppressor.
There are people today who see the meaning of Purim in terms of our good deeds overpowering the Haman’s of this world. But reality tells us that despite our many good and noble efforts to work within social and political frameworks, there are just too many Haman’s for the Esther’s and the Mordecai’s to handle. Here’s a question…as simplistic as this may sound, could it be that the only way to rebuild the world is for it to be turned upside down once again…and that if it were to be turned upside down, it would finally be…right side up?
What does that mean?
What if the innocent willingly took the place of the guilty. Would the weight of such a sacrifice be enough to swing the world back to an upright position—a position where people could face God and ask forgiveness? Instead of an evil Haman hanging from the gallows, what if an innocent one, made this sacrifice?
Very often in Jewish tradition and culture, it’s believed that it’s incumbent upon them to ‘do’ things, good works, or make efforts of various kinds to bring about the necessary redemption. That if they’re good enough, that will hasten the arrival of Messiah and that will set everything to rights. Amazingly, this is what Jesus Himself did. He did the opposite of what humanity would do by instinct. Instead of standing up as innocent and declaring Himself untouchable, He willingly allowed false accusations – that couldn’t be proven – to be brought to bear, He didn’t defend Himself at all and took a punishment meant for others, so that those ‘others’ could be free, forgiven and saved!
Would the innocent one’s name be blotted out, forever cursed? Or would such a name become the name that brings life and salvation, a name that is above all other names, a name before which someday all will “bend the knee and bow down.”8 A name that would be honoured above all others.
Purim, is a tradition to blot out the name of Amalek, Haman and their kind, we might also consider the claims of the Jesus whose very name actually means ‘salvation.’ He offers life and peace to all, both Jews and Gentiles, who trust in His name. And all who follow Jesus, according to the New Covenant, will have their own names written in the book of life, where they can never be blotted out.9
Cursed be Haman and his kind! Blessed be Mordecai and Esther, and all those who are faithful to the God of Israel!
In the next program we’re going to try to get our heads around Jewish logic.
- Fox, Michael V., “The Religion of the Book of Esther,” Judaism39:2 (Spring 1990), p. 137.
- “Purim,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, edited by Cecil Roth. New York: Macmillan, 1972, p. 1392.
- Loewenthal, Tali, “Early Hasidic Teachings: Esoteric Mysticism, or a Medium of Communal Leadership?”Journal of Jewish Studies37:1 (1986), pp. 58-75.
- New York Times, 1/31/44, p.4.
- Berg, Sandra Beth. The Book of Esther. Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1977, pp. 67-68. Also see Birnbaum, Philip, translator. Daily Prayer Book: Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem.New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1949, pp. 727-730.
The traditional Hebrew liturgy for Purim includes an alphabetic acrostic poem which describes Haman as a “hateful branch (netzer) of the seed of Amalek.” Cf. Isaiah 11:1, which speaks of the righteous “branch (netzer) of the seed of Jesse,” a prophetic reference to Messiah.
- Exodus 17:8-16, is the Torah portion read on Purim morning.
- Herodotus, 3.125, 129; 4.43.
- Birnbaum, pp. 413-414. Cf. a similar passage in the New Testament, Philippians 2:9-11, and in the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 45:23.
- 9. Revelation 3:5.