The Real Enemy of God’s People
Haman’s self-absorption led him to plot genocide and ultimately became his downfall…the real “enemy of the Jews” was not so much Haman himself, but what Haman represented: the one who puts himself or herself above anyone else.
Who is the worst enemy of God’s people? Some American Christians may say “the Left”. Others may point to unjust leaders who tried to prevent churches from meeting during the early days of the pandemic and imprisoned pastors for opposing them. Some students could name their teachers or professors who have an intense determination to get them to deny their faith. In other parts of the world, where Christians face real persecution, they could be tempted to name oppressive communist governments, Muslim or Hindu radicals, or others who vehemently oppose Christianity. These could all be considered enemies. I prefer to think of them as “opponents” rather than enemies. It is not that we have enmity against them but by opposing Christ they are also opposing us. But are they “the enemy”? In the New Testament, “the enemy” is used referring to Satan (Matthew 13:39, Luke 10:19), but in the Old Testament it is much more generic. However, there is one person in the entire Old Testament specifically given the title of “the enemy”. By examining him, we learn who our worst enemy is. Conversely, by studying his arch nemesis, we learn how to overcome our worst enemy.
The Enemy of the Jews
In the Old Testament, the Jews were God’s people, so it naturally follows that someone given the title of “the enemy of the Jews” would be by extension the enemy of God’s people in general. This phrase is only used four times in Scripture, and all of them refer to the same man. That man was Haman the Agagite. Anyone familiar with the story of Esther will likely remember Haman as the man who plotted a genocide to exterminate all of the Jews throughout the Persian Empire. This certainly made him an enemy of the Jews, but the Jews faced similar threats of annihilation before, so why does Haman get the exclusive title of “the enemy of the Jews”? Perhaps his enmity went beyond his plot such that he can be considered the prototypical enemy of God’s people.
To understand this, we need to look at who Haman was and what prompted him to plot a genocide. We first meet him in Esther 3 when he is promoted to be second in command to King Ahasuerus. Climbing to this rank would have been no small feat in such a massive empire, so he must have been a man of considerable knowledge, skill, and connections. It would have also meant he was one of the men the king trusted most in the entire empire. He seemed to live up to his name, which literally meant “magnificent”. By any standard, he had it all, so what was the problem that led him to plot to annihilate an entire race of people?
The problem began when one man repeatedly refused to pay homage to him after his promotion. This man too was a man of influence, since he was regularly in the king’s gate. The fact that throughout the book he is regularly found there suggests he was a senior official, as many men of prominence throughout Scripture can be found sitting in the gate. Thus, his refusal to bow is reminiscent of how Daniel’s three friends refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue in Daniel 2. Regardless, he was of a high enough position and reputation that Haman didn’t dare openly oppose him. Still the refusal of this one man to pay homage to him disturbed him greatly—so greatly that when he found out the man was a Jew, he began plotting to exterminate all the Jews. This plot was not the result of a fit of rage but of prolonged and calculated scheming (Esther 3:7). He got the king to agree to the plot by falsely accusing the Jews of being enemies of the king and even bribing the king with a large sum of money. He was thus able to sway the king to authorize the murder of every Jewish man, woman, and child throughout the entire empire and the plundering of their property. It is therefore fitting that he alone is given the title of “the enemy of the Jews”.
The Little Man
But who was this nemesis of Haman whose refusal to bow was enough to prompt Haman to plot genocide? He was basically Haman’s exact opposite: Mordecai, which can be translated “little man”. Up until his promotion at the end of the book, we know little about his role other than the fact that he was regularly in the king’s gate as already discussed. Thus while Haman was the second most powerful man in the world, Mordecai was just another royal official quietly and honorably doing his job. He was also the older cousin of Esther, whom he raised after her parents’ death. When he overheard a plot to assassinate the king, he used his relationship with Esther to get word of the plot to the king. There is no indication that he sought credit for himself in this situation, but was merely doing his job diligently.
While we don’t know the measure of Mordecai’s faith in God since the book of Esther does not once mention God, we know that he did have faith that deliverance would come to the Jews (presumably from God). This is evident in his response to Esther’s fear to go before the king on behalf of the Jews without being summoned: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14) It is also quite possible that his reason for refusing to bow or pay homage to Haman came from his devotion to God—the same motivation as Daniel and his three friends. Like them, his disobedience of sinful edicts was quiet and respectful. There is no indication that in refusing to pay homage that Mordecai acted disrespectfully toward Haman, he merely continued to faithfully carry out his duties. The reputation he developed as a result (and the unmentioned though obvious hand of God) eventually put Mordecai in Haman’s place as second in command. The last verse of the book can be considered a summary of Mordecai’s career: “For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.” (Esther 10:3). From this, it is clear that Mordecai sought the welfare of the people in general and the Jews in particular rather than his own gain. This was the exact opposite of Haman, which is what caused Haman to despise Mordecai so much that he plotted not only to kill him but his entire race.
The Real Enemy of the Jews
But how could Mordecai’s refusal to pay homage to Haman spark such rage in Haman that he would plot to exterminate the Jews? To use modern terminology, Haman was “triggered”—and it was clearly Mordecai’s refusal to pay homage to him that triggered him. While there is no evidence of malice or disrespect from Mordecai to Haman, his failure to pay homage threatened Haman in a very real way. How? The answer becomes obvious as we continue to read the book of Esther. After attending the first of Esther’s feasts, which only he and the king attended, we see this:
And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. Then Haman said, “Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”
—Esther 5:9-13, ESV