“The weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). That one sentence from the apostle Paul, with poetic simplicity, captures why redemptive history has played out in the strange, unlikely ways that it has.
Woven through Scripture and church history is a consistent and counterintuitive pattern: God cedes the positions of greatest worldly power and influence and wealth to his enemies — those who “take their stand. . . against the Lord and against his Anointed” (Psalm 2:2 NASB) — and then, through the most improbable, unexpected means, overthrows his enemies and redeems his people. He lets Haman build the gallows, and then hangs him on it.
You remember Haman. He’s the villain in the biblical account of Esther, the made-for-film historical drama that played out mainly in the Persian capital of Susa — today, the Iranian city of Shush — in the fifth century B.C. This story is an archetype of the biblical pattern, the grand story in miniature.
Evil Ascends to Power
The crisis at the center of the story is that the Jews living in the Medo-Persian empire under the rule of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes I) find themselves on the brink of annihilation because of the malevolence of one man: Haman.
Haman was one of the king’s court officials. And at some point, “King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him” (Esther 3:1). In those days, Haman’s position was called Grand Vizier. He was second-in-command and the king’s most trusted advisor.
Haman loved his powerful, lucrative, and exalted position. By the direct command of the king, one of the enjoyable benefits was that whenever he would enter or exit the palace gate the king’s subjects had to bow low before him, conceding Haman’s superiority (Esther 3:2). But one man denied him that benefit, which incited in him a deadly rage (Esther 3:5).
Weak People in Unlikely Places
Mordecai was a Jew living in Susa thanks to Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation program a generation earlier (Esther 2:5–6). He held no position of power or social influence. All we know is that prior to the core events of the story, Mordecai was “bringing up” his first cousin, Hadassah (whose Persian name was Esther), as his own daughter, because she had been orphaned (Esther 2:7), which meant the girl was probably still in her teens when the unexpected happened to her.
“Don’t lose heart. There’s a bigger story playing out than just the one we’re watching.”
As a part of Mordecai’s household, Esther too lived in obscurity. She happened to be exceptionally beautiful (Esther 2:7), but it wouldn’t have entered anyone’s mind that her beauty would result in powerful political influence with the king. And then something unusual occurred: the former queen refused to obey a command of the king and was therefore royally divorced (Esther 1). As a result, a kingdom-wide who will be the next queen beauty contest was staged. And Esther, with no powerful connections, from no noble family (1 Corinthians 1:26), won.
In fact, nobody in the court seems to care at all about her family connections. Mordecai appears to have no privileged court access. So being a loving, conscientious, concerned adoptive father, he regularly stationed himself near the palace gate so he could keep tabs on Esther’s well-being as best he could (Esther 2:11, 21; 3:3). And this resulted in unexpected, providential consequences, one wonderful and one terrible and then wonderful.
The wonderful consequence was that one day Mordecai discovered an assassination plot against the king, exposed it, and saved the king’s life (Esther 2:19–22). But the king apparently forgot about it quickly — though the deed was recorded in “the [king’s] book of memorable deeds” (Esther 6:1). Despite his faithfulness, Mordecai remained just another obscure servant milling about the palace gate. The gates where Haman regularly went in and out.
Evil Makes Its Move
So we know Haman enjoyed when everyone bowed before the most excellent Vizier as he arrived and exited. The problem was, not everyone bowed. Mordecai, due to his Jewish religious convictions, refused to honor Haman in a way he believed only God should be honored. Haman was informed and took homicidal offense over this (Esther 3:2–4).
Then comes a strange twist in the story: once Haman discovered Mordecai was a Jew, his anger turned genocidal — he decided every Jew in the kingdom should die (Esther 3:5–6). Why this overreaction? The anonymous author of the book of Esther gives us a clue, but more on that in a moment.
“Never had God’s position looked so weak. Never the enemies’ so strong.”
Patient in his lethal resentment, Haman waited for an opportune time, then carefully sought to persuade the king to codify his Jewish extermination plot in a royal, irrevocable, well-funded decree. The king was persuaded and put his ring to the wax (Esther 3:8–13).
Now the stage was set. Haman had secured all the political power, legislative coercion, sociocultural influence, and financial resources to carry out this mass slaughter. Only an act of God could save God’s imperiled people.
Glimpse Behind the Story
Now, back to the question: why kill every Jewish person? Well, perhaps Haman’s personal ego was just that big. But the author drops a hint for those who know their Bibles that something bigger was playing out — a providential backstory.
We’re told that Haman was an “Agagite” (Esther 3:1). Agag was the Amalekite king whose army was annihilated by the Israelite army under King Saul and who was himself executed by the prophet Samuel (1 Kings 15). In other words, Haman was of Amalekite descent.
This might explain Haman’s deep-seated hatred of the Jews: desire for ethnic revenge. But I think the inclusion of this genealogical detail had less to do with informing readers about Haman’s problem with the Jews, and more to do with reminding readers about God’s problem with Amalek:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14–16)
God also has a book of memorable deeds. Haman’s “Agagite” lineage reminds us there is a bigger struggle between good and evil playing out than the one occurring in Susa. Esther is a story within a far bigger story. Keep your eyes open when you read the Bible. God is in the details (even when he’s not mentioned).
Most Unlikely Deliverance
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly for Haman. He appeared (and felt) secure in his position of power, honor, and wealth. The day of death for the Jews was on the schedule. And to give himself a special reward, he had an extravagant, seventy-five-foot gallows built so he could fully savor Mordecai’s demise (Esther 5:14).
And then events turned on the providential hinge: unexpectedly, suddenly, in a single day it all went south.
“God accomplished his most important work through means no one expected.”
It started with a royal bout of insomnia. Unable to sleep, the king decided to review the “book of memorable deeds.” And he just happened to realize he’d forgotten Mordecai’s memorable deed of saving his life — the man had never been rewarded (Esther 6:1–4). This oversight needed rectifying immediately! And Haman just happened to come early to the palace and offered great counsel about how men in whom the king delights should be honored — which resulted in the Grand Vizier publicly and lavishly honoring Mordecai in the city — a bad omen, as Haman’s own wife pointed out (Esther 6:13).
Then that evening the big bomb dropped. The queen turned out to be one of the Jews Haman had condemned to death. Immediately Haman transformed from the king’s most trusted official into his most treasonous enemy (Esther 7:1–8). And when it appeared things couldn’t possibly get worse, the queen turned out to be Mordecai’s adopted daughter!
The story ends with the murderous Amalekite swinging on the gallows he had built for the faithful Jew, and the Jews of the kingdom suddenly awash in publicly recognized royal favor and empowered to fully defend themselves, turning their doomsday into a V-day. And to add to the happy ending, Mordecai assumed the late and disgraced Haman’s position of the king’s Grand Vizier.
The Devil Is Going to Hang
This story of redemption, the kind of story we love so much, the kind of story that resonates with something deep, deep inside us, is a type, a shadow of the Grand Story of redemption. A story in which “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
God ceded all the positions of worldly power, influence, and resources to the devil (1 John 5:19). Then when he came into the world to redeem his people, hardly anyone, even from his own ethnic people, recognized him (John 1:10–11). He came from a despised town no one expected (John 1:46), chose disciples no one expected, and accomplished his most important work through means no one expected. God on the cross and God in a tomb? Never had God’s position looked so weak; never the enemies’ so strong. And never had an enemy so terribly miscalculated.
At any given time, things can look very discouraging. Our vantage point is always very limited. Depending on when and where we’re living, it can appear as if satanic evil is going to defeat God’s good. But don’t lose heart. Don’t forget the storyline. There’s a bigger story playing out than just the one we’re watching.
Yes, pray and fast and act with the called-for courage, even if perishing is a very real possibility (Esther 4:16). A time is coming when events are going to turn on a providential hinge, and God will send deliverance for his people, most likely from a wholly unexpected place. And, as Jess Ray so poignantly sings, "the devil is going to hang on his own gallows."