“After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman, son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.
“Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ Day after day they spoke with him but he refused to comply. Therefore, they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them that he was a Jew.
“When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.” Esther 3:1-4 NIV
What causes families to be torn apart with people refusing to speak to each other for decades, if not generations? What triggers events like the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda? What is at the heart of the animosity in the Middle East?
We gain some insight into these issues as we look at the conflict between two major players in the ancient book of Esther (written about 480 B.C.). It is clear that Mordecai and Haman hate each other. What is not so clear to the modern reader is the source of their hatred: an ancient grudge going back nearly 1,000 years. When each man is introduced, we learn about their ancestry – Mordecai is descended from the family and tribe of King Saul, the first king of Israel, and Haman is descended from King Agag, the king of the Amalekites.
The Amalekites and the Jews were ancient enemies stemming from mutual attempts to complete destroy the other nation. As soon as each man knew of the other’s background, they held each other in contempt. On top of this, pride was involved – ethnic pride and personal pride. Mordecai was not going to bow down to this Agagite. And Haman felt that the honor given him by the king was his right. How dare Mordecai not show him the honor he rightly deserved?! And then to learn that this disrespect came from a Jew? This put Haman over the top.
Unfortunately, Haman was in a position of power and could express his rage with an overwhelming act of revenge. He would destroy all the Jews in the kingdom of Xerxes! With the reach of the Persian Empire, this would totally wipe out the Jewish people. If successful, this plan would also wipe out God’s plan of salvation, for our Messiah and Savior would come from the Jews, specifically the tribe of Judah and the family line of King David.
Ever wondered what’s with this long-lasting anti-Jewish sentiment? Haman is simply one of a long line of people who wanted to wipe these people out. Starting with Pharaoh’s orders to drown Hebrew male children and Assyria’s attacks on Israel, persecution of and attempts to wipe out the Jews have extended on through the pogroms in Europe, the Grand Inquisition, Hitler’s Final Solution and the Stalinist purges of Russia.
Satan is behind these attacks and the hatred of the people of the Messiah. At the outset, God had declared to Satan, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Satan was told that a human being would destroy him. Once God made it clear that this offspring would come through Abraham, it was game on. Satan sought to destroy the Jews, particularly male children. He did this when King Herod massacred all the male infants in Bethlehem. Then Satan tried to provoke mobs to kill Jesus and, finally, brought about His crucifixion. When this attempt to destroy the Messiah backfired, Satan has continued his rage against the people of the Messiah.
In order to destroy the Jews, Haman needed to enlist the support of King Xerxes. How did he get the king to jump on board of his evil plan? He told the king, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all the other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8 NIV)
Haman used xenophobia, the fear of the foreigner or the fear of the “other”. He planted in the king’s mind suspicion toward these people. They are different. They have not assimilated. They don’t obey our laws. These were the tactics of Hitler. These are the tactics of many even in the U.S. today who would sow fear, bitterness and hatred toward other groups of people. These same tactics led to the genocides we have witnessed in the last thirty years.
There are two things that we must avoid that are at the bottom of these tragic events in Esther and all around us today – grudges and xenophobia. We use an interesting term—we “nurse a grudge.” Think of that picture. There was a baby offense against us. We then nurture that offense and remember and dwell on the things that were done and said, until there is a mature grudge living in our heart. This resentment blocks normal relationships. Even the sight of the offender walking into the room makes our stomach turn. We stop talking to the person and we poison others against him.
Allowed to continue, these grudges can expand, take over and divide families and nations. The Muslims and the Jews are both descendants of Abraham. They are distant cousins. Yet the divisions are deep and bitter. Do you have such divisions in your own life? The Bible says to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31 NIV) Stop a grudge for your own sake. Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It kills us and affects our entire person.
We are also to reject xenophobia. Our society faces many complex issues with illegal immigration and terrorism. Regardless of what our government needs to do to correct these problems, believers in Jesus have one clear obligation—to love our neighbor as ourselves and even to love our enemies. We are to treat other people with the same grace, love and mercy that Jesus gives to us. Can you think of anyone more justified of xenophobia than God? Human beings refused to accept His customs and obeyed His laws. We were totally different from God and His holiness and rebellious at our core, wanting to rule our own lives. Yet rather than destroying us and erasing us from the pages of time, Jesus gave His life for us. He endured unimaginable tortures to provide forgiveness of our sins and embrace us with His love. As His children, we are to love those who are very different from us with this same love.