Our Bible study finished Esther this month, and we decided to celebrate it by watching the 2006 film One Night with the King. It was partly well acted and very well-funded but laughably inaccurate and overall rather bad. You know your film is a poor retelling of the biblical story when it’s based on a fiction book that’s based on the book of Esther, rather than just being based on the book of Esther. Don’t worry; I watched Big Idea’s Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen myself afterward and so did not go to bed angry. While I could fill pages upon pages with criticisms of the movie (and might with enough interest), I figured it would be more applicable to take lessons from Esther directly.
Perhaps surprisingly, the character who I find has the most to teach us is not Esther. The use of the blessings God has given is a good but rather common lesson, even in the Bible. Throughout most of the book, similar to Joseph, Esther lacks agency, given only one or two spare opportunities to reveal her character. Mordecai has less to teach us; I doubt that we would be placed in circumstances so dire, nor would we refuse to make the decisions Mordecai made in his situation.
No, I believe Haman provides us with the most applicable lessons. Haman was the right hand man of the king of Persia. Haman came from a long line of Israel’s rivals, dating back to those under King Agag of the Amalekites. Even so, he wasn’t introduced as someone who hated Israel, only as an Agagite. His path towards darkness appears to start during his interaction with Mordecai. As much as we would like to think that Mordecai only bowed to God, we don’t know the exact reasons why Mordecai didn’t bow. Whatever the reason was, it filled Haman with anger, to the point that he was now compelled to eradicate the entire Jewish populace.
That sounds odd. That sounds petty. Haman is the second most powerful man in what was arguably the most powerful nation in the world. Potentially tens of millions served under his rule, and potentially thousands served under him personally. He diverts all this power to attack one guy who doesn’t pay him the respect Haman thinks he is owed.
Even so, let’s dissect this into more applicable elements. If you’re reading this essay, chances are you have everything you could possibly need under normal circumstances, as well as nearly everything you could possibly want under abnormal circumstances. Your days should be filled with joy and laughter. But- aha!- somebody said something bad on the internet. You spilled something on one of your fifteen good shirts. You stepped in something. You got a bad review on your work. Your day is ruined! Nothing irreplaceable was lost, yet even the good moments of your day are washed away. In your anger, you might do something rash. In enough anger, you might divert all your effort into something. If you are far enough removed from your consequences, you might think less of the consequences of your actions.
Let’s table that and view Haman when he believes everything is going well. The king summoned Haman and asked, “What is to be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” The first reaction that Haman receives is, “Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?” There are charitably ten million people in the empire, and Haman thinks himself not only foremost but almost exclusive among them. Regardless, this is Haman’s chance (or so he supposes) to get what he desires, and our chance to see what Haman desires most of all. Haman requests royal clothing, the royal horse, a royal head-dress, and a parade that only royalty would receive. The desire of the second most powerful man in the most powerful empire in the world is to be the most powerful man in the most powerful empire in the world.
Is Haman’s power not enough? His wild requests get blind approval from the king. Everyone around him (save one) bows down to him. More than that, he has a wife and ten sons. They could all live in luxury for several generations. What more could you possibly want? Is the life you have not satisfactory? Can you not do things with the blessings God has given you? Eat what’s on your plate before begging for more! How much wealth do we have? How much power? Yet even so, we think of things far away, even those out of reach, before we think of things we can do. It’s nice because we can pretend to have the feeling of accomplishment while comforting ourselves in the excuse that such a task is too far away for mere mortals like us. Simultaneously, we can avoid the grim truth that we’re too lazy to grasp the achievements that are right in front of us. Sure, we’d all love to live on Mars for a day. As it stands, there’s undeveloped land in a faraway country that we can settle right now. Heck, there’s undeveloped land two states over! There is so much yet to be explored and exploited, but that requires effort and stuff.
The king told Haman to do what he proposed to Mordecai, and Haman’s joy turned instantly into grief. At home, his advisors and his wife came to him. They said, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is from the seed of the Jews, you will not prevail against him, but will certainly fall before him.” Haman commands the largest armies and the largest economies on Earth. This is a man who can get anything he wants from any part of Eurasia or Africa with a few words. Yet because Haman can’t see the big picture, Mordecai, some guy who sits at the gate of the king, lives rent-free inside his head. Because he dreams of too big a picture, he can’t live in the present. And so, such a powerful man that he was, Haman was destined for failure.
Learn from Haman. Look at the ways your own life can be forwarded. Look at the blessings you have, and they will multiply before you. Also, don’t watch One Night with the King. It’s not a good film.