14 Haman’s wife and friends said to him, “Have a tower built about seventy-five feet high, and tomorrow morning ask the king to hang Mordecai there. Then later, you can have dinner with the king and enjoy yourself.”
This seemed like a good idea to Haman, and he had the tower built.
Many of us know the story of Esther. She’s the Jewish Queen who has to risk her life to try to save the lives of her people.
Buried in the midst of this story is the story of another woman – Zeresh. Zeresh is the wife of an important man in the story named Haman.
Now, you might recognize the name Haman. Haman is the dude who becomes the King’s right hand man. The one who gets rich and powerful and snooty. He’s also the one who gets his nose out of joint because one guy named Mordecai doesn’t bow down to him. Mordecai says he can’t do that – it’s against his religion.
Haman’s solution is simple: organize a government-sanctioned day to kill all of the Jews in the kingdom. Because that just makes sense when one individual person upsets you, right?
The problem is, there is a delay between the decision being made and the day of state-sanctioned killing. And as time goes on, Haman keeps stewing in his juices. And maybe he has help with it, or maybe he comes up with it himself, but Haman ends up with a story where the Jews are wrecking everything! Then one day his path crosses with Mordecai again. And even though he’s just had one of the highest honours of the land – eating dinner alone with the king and queen – it takes a split second for him to snap. Despite his incredible night, he goes home fuming!
When he gets there his wife and his friends all happen to be hanging around. “Would you believe what that *&^% man did to me?” He tells the story over and over, incredulous at the disrespect and rudeness a man in his position should have been treated with! Each time he tells it he ups the ante. And then he balances it with stories of the favour he has earned with the king and the queen. How honoured and important he is.
Now this would have been a great place for a voice of reason. Indeed, things would have been better for Haman and his cronies if they did! This would have been a great place for someone to say, “but really, if you’re having dinner with the king and queen, what’s one annoying Jew?” Or maybe – even better – “it’s a shame you’ve had such a bad experience with Mordecai. I go to lots of the Jewish stalls in the market and I’ve always had great experiences with them. And I found out the other day my friend Anna is Jewish – she’s amazing!” Or even, “sounds like you’ve had a long, stressful day. Let me get you a glass of wine and give you a massage and we can unwind together for a while. Let’s see how you feel in the morning.”
But that doesn’t happen. The reality is that Haman holds his power at the top of a complex social hierarchy. And his power creates power, wealth and prestige for his wife and his friends. And they don’t want to give up the power they have – even to care for someone completely innocent.
Zeresh Weighs In
So with Haman’s power threatened – even a little bit – I guess it’s not a big surprise what Zeresh has to say. “I think I’ve got the perfect idea,” she says. “Build a tower,” she says. “You can have him hanged,” she says. But she doesn’t stop there! Somehow she doesn’t just condone Haman’s anger she enlarges it and expands it. She’s so convinced of the danger that Mordecai and his people pose to her cushy life that she suggests he build the tower 75 feet tall!
Now, I’m no expert on hangings, but according to Wikipedia, the standard size looks about 9 feet tall. So 75 feet tall feels like a bit extreme to me!
Plans Gone Awry
The only problem is that before Haman has a chance to hang Mordecai the king is reminded of the fact that Mordecai saved his life. He asks Haman what he should do to honour a man who saves the life of the king. Haman assumes it’s for himself. So he replies with a grandiose vision: fancy robes, horses and someone proclaiming how wonderful he is. Then Haman is left to carry this out for Mordecai.
Mortified, Haman’s rage struggles not to boil over as he awaits the moment when he will trap Mordecai once and for all.
Except before that can happen the king gets word of his scheme.
Zeresh and Haman are terrified of the ‘nasty (Jewish) foreigners’ in their midst.
They are terrified of their different ways.
Terrified of their rising power.
Terrified that others gaining will mean that they will lose out.
And Zeresh in particular is terrified that if Haman loses face in any way that she in turn will lose out. The she will lose out on the status, wealth, privilege and power that she has become accustomed to.
And so she grips her hands tight. She channels all of her fear for herself towards the ‘other’. And what comes out of that is violence and anger and hatred, because that’s all that can ever come when we hold onto things tightly.
Sadly, what Zeresh and Haman and their friends don’t realize is that mostly the person or people who get hurt the most are the ones doing the holding. The pain intended for their enemy became their own pain. With the reminder of Mordecai’s selfless act forefront in his mind, the king orders that Haman himself be hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.
It’s over by the end of the day.
Everything they had been afraid of happens, but not because of Mordecai.
- Is there anyone you feel threatened by?
- Any way in which you feel like your position is endangered by someone who feels like an ‘other’?
- How are you currently responding? Is it with tight fists or open hands?
- Does the story of Zeresh offer any new insights or thoughts on your current approach?
This summer we are looking at ‘stories you missed’ in the Bible. Feel free to check out the other stories in the series here.