Trading Faces

The book of Esther teaches an important lesson about the danger of pride—and prejudice.

In ancient Greek plays, actors would don comedy and tragedy masks as best befitted the role they were playing. If the book of Esther were such a play, Haman, the antagonist of the story, would enter the action in the wide, leering smile of the comedy mask, while Mordecai, Haman’s nemesis (and one of the good guys), would wear the tragedy mask with the deep frown and furrowed brow. But looks can be deceiving, which becomes evident when a dramatic turn of events reverses the two men’s destinies—and their facial expressions.

 

Read

To get the most out of this Bible study, make sure you’ve recently read the entire book of Esther. After asking the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth, reread the focal passage. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. And above all else, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.

Key Passage: Esther 5:7-14; Esther 6:1-14; Esther 7:1-10

 
 

Background

As the nobleman of highest rank in the Persian Empire, Haman has it all: wealth, power, and influence. Honored by the king and invited by the queen to a private feast, he’s got every reason to be “happy and in high spirits” (Est. 5:9 NIV). And yet, the quiet defiance of Mordecai derails him, filling him with rage. Remember, Haman has already arranged the Jews’ extermination (Est. 3:6-7), so why is he still obsessed with Mordecai, a dead man walking? In a word, pride.

 

Reflect

Esther 5:11 says that Haman deals with his rage by boasting to his friends and family. But even that doesn’t fix his attitude. He laments, “Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (Est. 5:13).

Pride has an endless appetite, making satisfaction unattainable.

  • Pride has an endless appetite, making satisfaction unattainable. Think about your life right now—have you been unable to fully delight in God’s blessings? The hidden culprit may be pride.

  • Look at Est. 5:14: What cure do Haman’s wife and friends propose for his wounded pride? Have you ever recognized a similar spiral of offense and retribution in your own life?

 

Continuing with the Story

That same night, King Ahasuerus can’t sleep, so he has the chronicles of his reign read aloud, no doubt hoping boredom will cure his insomnia. Sometime near dawn, he hears the account of how Mordecai thwarted an assassination plot (see Est. 2:21-23) and determines to honor the man. Unsure of the best way to do so, Ahasuerus needs a person with a plan. Enter Haman, right on cue.

And Haman does have plans for Mordecai, but they’re for execution, not exaltation. However, before he has the chance to mention gallows, Ahasuerus consults him: “What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?” (Est. 6:6). Assuming the king is talking about him, Haman suggests an elaborate one-man parade wherein the honoree wears royal robes and rides the king’s horse through the city streets, accompanied by an official proclaiming, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” (Est. 6:11 NIV).

Haman has unknowingly orchestrated his own humiliation.

Unfortunately for Haman, he has unknowingly orchestrated his own humiliation. To his horror, the king approves the plan and dispatches him to personally carry it out for Mordecai. After spending the day honoring his enemy, Haman rushes home, “his head covered in grief” (Est. 6:12 NIV). But public shame is soon to be the least of his concerns—as it is time to go to Esther’s feast.

 

Reflect

Remember, in Haman’s mind, this feast is proof of his unique, enviable position of honor with the royal couple (Est. 5:12). But it’s there that the tables turn, and the trap he set for others ensnares him (Prov. 26:27). Esther exposes Haman’s plan to exterminate the Jews—including herself—and the king’s retribution is swift. Haman is hanged that day on the very gallows he built for Mordecai.

  • Compare and contrast where Haman and Mordecai started with where they ended up. What does that tell you about the trajectory of humility versus that of pride?

  • Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). In what way does this principle play out for the two men in Esther 6:4-11? Had Haman been humble, how do you think his life would have turned out?

  • Nowhere does Jesus tell His disciples not to desire greatness—He simply teaches them the counterintuitive way to achieve it.

  • Often, we assume pride must accompany power and prestige. Haman’s life supports that suspicion, but look at Est. 10:3—without any conniving self-promotion, Mordecai is elevated to be the king’s second-in-command, a position formerly held by Haman (see Est. 3:1). How does Mordecai wield that power? Using him as an example, discuss ways to apply 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

REMEMBER Humility elevates.

 

Revisit

Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.

Many Christians feel conflicted about longing for position and rewards. So it’s instructive to see what the Lord has to say on the subject. In Luke 9:46-48, where the disciples are arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest, Jesus upends their assumptions by saying the least among them is the greatest. This theme of the least being great and the last being first is something He mentions repeatedly in the Gospels. What’s interesting is that nowhere does Jesus tell His disciples not to desire greatness—He simply teaches them the counterintuitive way to achieve it.

In a similar way, the Lord never belittles our desire for reward but instead speaks of it as a fitting incentive. (See Matt. 5:12; Matt. 6:4; Matt. 6:6; Matt. 6:18; Luke 6:23; Luke 6:35.) And He should know—as our Creator, He designed us to respond to such motivation. In light of this, how would you describe a godly attitude about position and rewards and the right way to attain them?

  • In the Bible, humility and pride are frequently spoken of as things we wear (Col. 3:12, Psalm 73:6, 1 Peter 5:5). How does this clothing metaphor illuminate the nature of humility? Does it shed light on situations that you find challenging?

  • Until now, have you viewed humility as a positive or negative quality? Explain. Perhaps you will find it helpful to realize that at its core, humility is an issue of trust. God’s stated intention for us is exaltation (1 Peter 5:6), but sometimes it’s difficult to believe that the discomfort of humility will lead to anything other than further debasement. But God can be trusted—look at Jesus’ life. His deep humility made Him vulnerable, yes, but in the end His trust in the Father was not misplaced. And yours won’t be, either.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

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What happens to my notes

7 So Esther replied, My petition and my request is:

8 if I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and do what I request, may the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king says."

9 Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai.

10 Haman controlled himself, however, went to his house and sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh.

11 Then Haman recounted to them the glory of his riches, and the number of his sons, and every instance where the king had magnified him and how he had promoted him above the princes and servants of the king.

12 Haman also said, Even Esther the queen let no one but me come with the king to the banquet which she had prepared; and tomorrow also I am invited by her with the king.

13 Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."

14 Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him, Have a gallows fifty cubits high made and in the morning ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go joyfully with the king to the banquet." And the advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows made.

1 During that night the king could not sleep so he gave an order to bring the book of records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king.

2 It was found written what Mordecai had reported concerning Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs who were doorkeepers, that they had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.

3 The king said, What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?" Then the king's servants who attended him said, Nothing has been done for him."

4 So the king said, Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace in order to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows which he had prepared for him.

5 The king's servants said to him, Behold, Haman is standing in the court." And the king said, Let him come in."

6 So Haman came in and the king said to him, What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?" And Haman said to himself, Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?"

7 Then Haman said to the king, For the man whom the king desires to honor,

8 let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown has been placed;

9 and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king's most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honor and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, `Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.'"

10 Then the king said to Haman, Take quickly the robes and the horse as you have said, and do so for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the king's gate; do not fall short in anything of all that you have said."

11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor."

12 Then Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman hurried home, mourning, with his head covered.

13 Haman recounted to Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and Zeresh his wife said to him, If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish origin, you will not overcome him, but will surely fall before him."

14 While they were still talking with him, the king's eunuchs arrived and hastily brought Haman to the banquet which Esther had prepared.

1 Now the king and Haman came to drink wine with Esther the queen.

2 And the king said to Esther on the second day also as they drank their wine at the banquet, What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done."

3 Then Queen Esther replied, If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request;

4 for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king."

5 Then King Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther, Who is he, and where is he, who would presume to do thus?"

6 Esther said, A foe and an enemy is this wicked Haman!" Then Haman became terrified before the king and queen.

7 The king arose in his anger from drinking wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm had been determined against him by the king.

8 Now when the king returned from the palace garden into the place where they were drinking wine, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. Then the king said, Will he even assault the queen with me in the house?" As the word went out of the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.

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."

10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai, and the king's anger subsided.

9 Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai.

6 But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him who the people of Mordecai were; therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.

7 In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar.

11 Then Haman recounted to them the glory of his riches, and the number of his sons, and every instance where the king had magnified him and how he had promoted him above the princes and servants of the king.

13 Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."

14 Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him, Have a gallows fifty cubits high made and in the morning ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go joyfully with the king to the banquet." And the advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows made.

21 In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's officials from those who guarded the door, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.

22 But the plot became known to Mordecai and he told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai's name.

23 Now when the plot was investigated and found to be so, they were both hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king's presence.

6 So Haman came in and the king said to him, What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?" And Haman said to himself, Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?"

11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor."

12 Then Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman hurried home, mourning, with his head covered.

12 Haman also said, Even Esther the queen let no one but me come with the king to the banquet which she had prepared; and tomorrow also I am invited by her with the king.

27 He who digs a pit will fall into it, And he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.

12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

4 So the king said, Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace in order to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows which he had prepared for him.

5 The king's servants said to him, Behold, Haman is standing in the court." And the king said, Let him come in."

6 So Haman came in and the king said to him, What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?" And Haman said to himself, Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?"

7 Then Haman said to the king, For the man whom the king desires to honor,

8 let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown has been placed;

9 and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king's most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honor and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, `Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.'"

10 Then the king said to Haman, Take quickly the robes and the horse as you have said, and do so for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the king's gate; do not fall short in anything of all that you have said."

11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor."

3 For Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.

1 After these events King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him.

1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,

2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

46 An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest.

47 But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side,

48 and said to them, Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great."

12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;

6 Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them.

5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,

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