Mordecai and Haman Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name:
Mordecai – The meaning of his name is only guessed at. Guesses include: “little boy”, or “bitter”, or “warrior”, or a “follower of Marduk,” a false Babylonian god. If it is a reference to Marduk, this can be explained by the fact that the deported Jews were given Babylonian names to try to assimilate them into the culture and isolate them from their religion and from their past.
Haman – Unknown
Ancestry and family life:
Haman is called an Agagite (3:1). This can give us a huge clue as to why Haman so bitterly hated the Jews. Who was Agag? Agag lived during the time of Saul and was king of the Amalekites (Genesis 36:12, Exodus 17:8-16, 1 Samuel 15). God had commanded the Israelites to completely wipe out the Amalekites. They represented an extremely evil pagan religion known for its worship of fertility gods through immoral acts and baby sacrifices. Obviously Saul failed in his mission to wipe them out utterly as evidenced by the fact that one of Agag’s descendants still lived over seven hundred years later. The Amalekites historically were bitter enemies of Israel and Agag’s descendants especially would have remembered the Jews attack on them by the command of God.
Mordecai was a pure Jew. His great grandfather was one of the original Jews who were deported to Babylon four generations before. After Babylon fell to the Persians these Jews moved to various parts of the kingdom. Going farther back, Mordecai was descended from the family of Kish, a family name that can be traced all the way back to Saul’s father. It is unknown if Mordecai had a family of his own, but he did adopt Esther, his cousin, as his own daughter when her parents died and left her an orphan. This show both his keen sense of responsibility and his compassion.
When and where they lived: The events in the book of Esther occurred between the first return of the Jews under Zerubabbel and the second return under Ezra. Ahasuerus ruled the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 BC and the book of Esther covers the ten year period from 483 to 473 BC. Ahasuerus was ambitious and planned a full scale campaign against Greece. It is likely the royal feasts were intended to promote confidence in the government for this campaign that is recorded in chapter one. Susa is the capital city referred to here and was one of four royal Persian cities, the others being Babylon, Ecbatana, and Persepolis.
Mordecai instructed Esther not to tell others her ethnicity or her people (1:10, 20). Why do you think he told her this? Was this a good or bad instruction? Does it compare with a believer keeping his beliefs a secret today?
This was probably a pragmatic command given because Mordecai knew an anti-Semitic bias existed among certain elements of the government. Telling her ethnic race prematurely, he probably reasoned, would bring nothing but trouble. Whereas if she kept it a secret, she could advance without resistance and they would have an “ace up their sleeve” in case of future problems. It is not exactly the same as a believer keeping his faith a secret, but would be more like me not mentioning I am an American when in a foreign country around crowds I knew had an anti-American bias.. It could perhaps demonstrate a lack of faith or weak faith in God and show reliance on his own intellect instead of on God. On the other hand, God did use this plan in the chess match with Satan. Whether or not God led Mordecai to do this, God used it to accomplish His divine purposes in their lives and for all of the Jews throughout the kingdom.
1. Pride – (Esther 3:1-6, 5:9-14, 6:1-9) – The fact that Mordecai wouldn’t kneel to Haman, infuriated him. Why was he so angry? He had a massive ego. He enjoyed all the people paying homage to him. One person refusing to annoyed him immensely, maybe because it reminded him that he couldn’t actually control everyone like he wanted. This is very similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s response when Daniel’s three friends wouldn’t bow to the huge idol. He was filled with rage. This is what happens when someone disobeys an egomaniac.
2. Hate and bitterness – (Esther 3:6-15) – Clearly Haman already hated the Jews and there was a lot of anti-Semitic feelings throughout the kingdom. His own lineage was part of the reason he hated the Jews so much. Mordecai refusing to bow down to him was just the last straw that encouraged him to set this plan of government sanctioned genocide into action. It likely wasn’t a spontaneous thought, but one he had been plotting and scheming about for a long time.
In actuality, Haman was a pawn of Satan’s in a much larger conflict dating all the way back to Satan’s rebellion in heaven against God, his tempting of Eve to turn humans against God, Cain’s man made religion, the fallen angels intermarriage with humans in Genesis 6 to pollute the Messiah’s bloodline, the Egyptian scheme to kill all male children of the Jews, and the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles which Satan surely hoped would eliminate the Jews as a people. All of these events were used by Satan as a way to try to wipe out the Jews and by effect the Messiah’s bloodline.
This evil scheme to destroy the Jews didn’t end there, but continued with the Roman invasion and another dispersion in 70 AD, and more recently with the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate them as a people. And the schemes don’t end there. In a still future time, all the nations of the world will gather together to wipe Israel off the map and only Jesus’ return to the Mount of Olives will save them (Zechariah 12-14.)
We should note that this could be Haman’s revenge for God’s command to the Jews to wipe out the Amalekites. As judge, God alone has this right and commanded it because of the incredible evilness of those people as a religion that would become infectious to all people around them. This was similar to the flood of judgment where God wiped out everyone except for Noah and his family. These examples should show us how seriously God views sin.
3. Gathering foolish counselors around himself – (Esther 5:10,12) When Haman felt distressed, because his enormous pride was hurt, he went to his friends. These so called “friends” clearly didn’t have the guts to give Haman truthful advice which would actually help. Haman was rich. They would say whatever they thought he would like to hear to assuage his hurt feelings and stoke his ego. A true friend would have cautioned Haman and told him he was playing with fire, however the people gathered around him would have been too scared of Haman’s hot temper to tell him this. No matter how high you are or how smart you are, it is wise to surround yourselves not with “yes men”, but with people who will give you the hard truth even if it hurts.
1. He took care of Esther when her parents died. Orphans are shown to be close to God’s heart throughout Scripture and a good follower of God should also show love and show compassion to orphans, especially relatives. (Exodus 22:22-24, Deuteronomy 10:18, Psalms 10:17-18, 68:5, 82:3.) This is doing only what a good and loving relative would do, but many would not be willing. Why?
Taking in an extra child is a big expense. Some selfish people might consider it a nuisance, hassle, or trouble. It would interfere with their life and their plans. But Mordecai didn’t do as little as he could, perhaps giving her a small room in the attic and using her as a servant like in the story Cinderella, but throughout the book of Esther (cf. 2:11) we can see he genuinely cared for and loved her. He didn’t see her being taken away for the queen interview as an opportunity to get rid of her. He went there everyday to check up on her and give her advice.
2. He was observant, active, and loyal. (Esther 2:21-23.) He couldn’t be accused of being anti-government, at least not truthfully. Haman accused him of this later, but Mordecai’s actions in this case clearly showed he was a good government official and loyal. His faith wasn’t incompatible with serving in the court.
3. Didn’t bow to Haman. (Esther 3:1-6.) Because this is a narrative and doesn’t always tell us what the characters were thinking, we don’t know why Mordecai didn’t bow to Haman. Why do you think? It could be because of the commandment in the Mosaic law not to bow down to idols (Ex 20:4-6). Do you think this commandment applies to bowing down to kings/rulers out of reverence?
It is also possible he didn’t bow down to Haman because he knew what kind of person Haman was and didn’t consider Haman worthy of it. Or it could be because he knew Haman’s lineage and because of the family feud between the two groups refused to bow down to him. We do get a hint of the reason in Esther 3:4 that it is because he is a Jew.
However, any of these three possibilities would fit with the reason that he is a Jew. In any case, we learn that Mordecai’s loyalty has limits. He is unwilling to violate his own principles (maybe because of his faith) even when the king commands it and the result could be very dangerous. This shows courage and a moral character many don’t possess. Notice that Mordecai was the only one who wouldn’t bow down to Haman. Why?
Most people go with the flow. They don’t want to make waves. To go against orders would be to incur the wrath of those higher up, very dangerous in any kind of government especially non-democratic ones. Most people will sacrifice their principles if it means a better chance to be promoted, in other words if there is something in it for them. So whatever the reason Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, we can see he was a person of strong principles and unafraid of the result of taking a stand. This is a character quality to be valued.
Was Mordecai right? The rest of the story, which shows God’s hand continuously with Mordecai against Haman would seem to indicate that he was right and God used this also to accomplish His plans.
4. Faith that God would deliver the Jews, either through Esther or through another way. (Esther 4:13-14). Interestingly enough, the book of Esther doesn’t contain any direct references to God. It is the only book in the Bible like this. We don’t know why God chose to inspire the book in this way, but we can see that God is the invisible force behind many of the events taking place in the book. Perhaps He wants to show us that although many times God is not even named or seen, He is still behind the scenes directing history towards His planned end.
Satan is also behind the scenes using his pieces to try to thwart God’s redemptive plan. If he could succeed to kill all Jews, for example, then the line of Christ would fail and He could not be born according to prophecy as mankind’s redeemer. But thanks be to God, He will always win this battle of good versus evil.
Important acts and events: Mordecai established the holiday of Purim, which is one of two extra-Mosaic holidays still celebrated by Jews today.
How he died: No evidence is given, but from Esther 10 we can see that like Joseph and Daniel before him, Mordecai rose up to become a powerful leader (2nd in the kingdom) and used this position to protect and help his people.
Lessons from his life:
1. God is always at work. Whether people see Him or recognize what He is doing or not, He is directing history. He is bringing His plan for His people to fruition. Many times He raises up people to accomplish His plans such as Noah, the judges, Samuel, Ezra, Nebuchadnezzar, Esther, Mordecai, Daniel, Nehemiah, John the Baptist, etc.
2. Satan opposes God every step of the way and also has his pawns he is controlling such as Haman, Hitler, and the Antichrist. Sometimes things look bleak. But the important thing to remember is that God is in control and God will win. In fact, He already won when His redemptive plan for humans was fulfilled on the cross. (Isaiah 14:27, 46:10-11, Psalms 2:4.)
3. God’s divine providence arranges circumstances to accomplish His own plans. In his own bed chamber in middle of the night the king could not sleep (Esther 6.) Mordecai wasn’t there. Esther wasn’t there. Haman wasn’t there. Why couldn’t the king sleep? In God’s divine providence He wouldn’t let the king sleep and directed the specific records of Mordecai’s loyal help to divulge the conspiracy. Is this just a coincidence that this happened that night? Of course not.
God is moving His pieces into place, preparing to honor Mordecai and humiliate Haman. God also brought Haman there at that very moment (he was coming to ask for permission to hang Mordecai) so that Haman could plan how to honor Mordecai.
4. You reap what you sow. I got chills reading through the book of Esther. It is so clear how the enemies of God suddenly and surprisingly fell into the trap they made for God’s people. Haman is going along with everything seemingly fine and dandy. He grows a big head and a big ego, thinking he is clever and is about to register a victory for the ages against the Jews. But he is so wrong. When he started to fall, he fell fast, being hung on the very gallows he built to execute Mordecai on (Esther 7:6.)
He was terrified when he found out Esther was a Jew and revealed to the king Haman’s wickedness. This is how the enemies of God will meet their fate. In an instant, they will realize how wrong they were, but their fate will be sealed and it will be too late to change. It is both horrible and amazing at the same time. Yet God’s people will be vindicated, sometimes sooner, sometimes later.
5. Trust in God because His purposes will stand. Just imagine again a chess game. Move after move after move and novices can’t tell what is going on or even who is winning. Satan says “check” and all the bystanders “ooh” and “aah” and nod in amazement at his brilliant move. Then in one counter move planned from before the game began, God says, “checkmate”. Game over. Only at that moment the crowd realizes what has happened and sees exactly why all of those previous moves were made. Hopefully you bet on God and not on the other side!
From Haman’s life we can learn several things.
1. If you set yourself up against God and His people, you will fail. He would have done well to follow the advice Gamaliel gave to the Jews hundreds of years later when he told them not to oppose the disciples or they might find themselves fighting against God. It is foolhardy to fight against God.
2. Pride goes before the fall. Haman had a massive ego. He delighted in getting the respect of men. He delighted in controlling people. He delighted in his riches, in his power, in his position, and in his clever schemes. He fancied that he would be the downfall of all the Jews. If he had practiced humility, he wouldn’t have found himself hanging from the gallows.
3. You reap what you sow. The good things that Haman planned for himself, such as his idea of how to honor the one whom the king appreciated, he ended up having to do for Mordecai. The bad things he planned for his enemies (the towering gallows for Mordecai) God used to execute him. God turned his evil plans onto his own head. (Esther 6:10-11, 7:7-10.)
Esther 7:9 –
Then Harbonah, one of the eunuchs who were before the king said, “Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”
I had to put this somewhere! Don’t you just love this Harbonah character here? “Uh, king, by the way Haman just built some nice gallows and they are fifty cubits high, hint hint.” Harbonah knows when to speak and gives an apt word spoken at just the right time!
4. God’s methods vary in different times and to different people, but His promises are never broken. He made unconditional promises to Abraham in Genesis 17 regarding his descendants, promises that would be broken if the Jews were eliminated as a people. Before He used miraculous intervention to save them from the Egyptians.
Here he used Mordecai, Esther, hundreds of horses to deliver the decries, and all the Jews’ own strength to fight the enemies. God apparently empowered them and saw fit to use the local governments to support them in their endeavor to seek justice against those who plotted their deaths. Also of note, is that it was likely at this time that the Amalekites were finally wiped out according to God’s original command hundreds of years before. God had promised to curse those who cursed Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:3.) Here is one example of that happening.
Food for thought: Why do you think the Jews didn’t lay their hands on the plunder?
Application: What is one principle you have learned in this lesson which you can apply to your life this week?
E-book – If you found this character study helpful, get our Character Studies E-book, with this and 8 different practical lessons on important Bible heroes of the faith.
Character Study E-book Study Guide
Mordecai and Haman
Joseph step-father of Jesus
John the Baptist
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