Haman had it all. Persia’s powerful king, Ahasuerus, had advanced him above all of Persia’s other princes (Esther 3:1). Ahasuerus had even decreed that anytime Haman was inside the gate of the royal grounds, all of Ahasuerus’ servants were to pay homage to Haman (Esther 3:2). Haman also had friends, not to mention Zeresh, his devoted wife (Esther 5:10).
And yet there was one little item that Haman couldn’t mark as checked on his life’s list of accomplishments. You see, there was this guy, this one little man, who wouldn’t pay him the appropriate homage. Every time Haman walked past him, this servant of the king would disobey the king’s decree and act as if Haman was a nobody (Esther 3:2-5; 5:9). The man’s name was Mordecai.
The feud between Haman and Mordecai was actually bigger than both men and reached back into history many centuries. The problem was that Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of the kings of the Amalekites (Esther 3:1). Mordecai, on the other hand, was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin who had been born and raised in the Persian empire — his great-grandfather, Kish, having been part of the deportation of the Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon under the reign of Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar (Esther 2:5-6). As for the history between the Amalekites and the Jews, well, that was very long and very bloody.
The Amalekites traced their history back to Esau (Genesis 36:12,16). That alone made them a natural rival to Israel, whose history traced back to Esau’s twin brother, Jacob. But the Amalekites also attacked Israel unprovoked as Moses and the Israelites made their way up from Egypt toward their promised land of Canaan (Exodus 17:8-16).
The Israelites, led by Moses’ freshly appointed general, Joshua, defeated the Amalekites and resumed their march, but the Amalekite ambush so angered God that He swore to be at war with the Amalekites from generation to generation and to utterly blot them out of existence (Exodus 17:14-16). As a plan to do this, He eventually told Moses, “When Israel has conquered and settled Canaan, and I have given her rest from her enemies, they will remember the Amalekite’s sneak attack and blot them out forever” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). It surely didn’t help Amalekite’s case that they also fought against Israel alongside the Canaanites (Numbers 14:39-45), the Moabites (Judges 3:12-13), and the Midianites (Judges 6:1-3) at various times in history.
Not surprisingly, God instructed Israel’s first king, Saul, to go to war against the Amalekites and kill them all (1 Samuel 15:1-3). God even commanded Saul to kill their livestock! But Saul disobeyed by sparing not only the best of the livestock but also by taking the Amalekite king, Agag, as a prisoner of war. When Samuel the prophet showed up at the battlefield, he promptly did two things: announce to Saul that God was taking the kingship from him because of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:10-29), and hack Agag into pieces (1 Samuel 15:32-33).
Next up in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Amalek was David, God’s chosen successor as Israel’s king. Once, while David and his followers were encamped at Ziklag, and David was still waiting for Saul’s death so that he could officially become king, the Amalekites attacked Ziklag while David and his men were away. The Amalekites burned Ziklag with fire, looted the site, and carried off all the wives and children of David’s men. Among the captives were David’s two wives — Ahinoam and Abigail (1 Samuel 30:1-6).
After consulting the Lord, David led 600 of his men and ultimately found the Amalekite raiding party, killed them all, reclaimed the wives and children, and reclaimed all the loot as well (1 Samuel 30:7-31). For good measure, many years later, one of David’s descendants, Judah’s King Hezekiah, also enjoyed a resounding victory over some Amalekites who were living in the area of Mount Seir (1 Chronicles 4:41-43).
Understanding all this history, you can understand why Haman and Mordecai didn’t get along. You can also understand just how tenacious Satan is in his efforts to harm God’s people. Down through the ages, the Amalekites were a chosen people of Satan’s, chosen to war against Israel. And down through the ages they played their role very well. What they didn’t realize, though, is that they were always fighting against not just the people of Israel but also against God’s longstanding promise to Abraham (and by implication his descendants): “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3).
Today, each of us would be well advised to make sure that we are on the Lord’s side in any battles we are fighting. Family conflicts. Arguments at work. Infighting at church. Problems with a neighbor. Political differences. Disagreements with a coach about playing time. In all of these (as well as any others we might name) we want to be with Israel rather than Amalek, with Mordecai rather than Haman, with God rather than Satan. If you know the story of Esther, you know that Haman, in a God-ordained ironic twist of fate, ended up hung on gallows that he had built for Mordecai’s execution (Esther chapters 3 through 7). The image of his corpse hanging there should serve as a warning to us all. Conflicts in life are inevitable; so we had better be sure that we are fighting with God and not against Him.