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