Rolling the Dice: Esther 3: 7-11

Achilles and Ajax Playing Dice, 6th Century BCE Greecian Pottery

Achilles and Ajax Playing Dice, 6th Century BCE Greecian Pottery

Esther 3: 7-11

 7 In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur– which means “the lot”– before Haman for the day and for the month, and the lot fell on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. 8 Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not appropriate for the king to tolerate them. 9 If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, so that they may put it into the king’s treasuries.” 10 So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 The king said to Haman, “The money is given to you, and the people as well, to do with them as it seems good to you.”

The dice are rolled, the lot is cast for the date that will come to be Purim. It will be a day of reversals, but at this point in the story it is foreshadowed as a date that will bring disaster to the Jewish people. The king once again receives bad advice from an advisor, advice that will have long lasting consequences and the king never once asks a question or attempts to probe Haman’s motives. The king trusts Haman and is willing for an enormous pile of money (a ridiculous sum, 375 tons of silver, this is roughly 2/3 of the annual Persian kings’ income) to put his authority behind it. Perhaps in both the ancient world and the modern world enough money seems to make something evil more appealing.

This last thought reminds me, in a way, of the plot of the movie the Box where a man and a woman are given a box with a button where if they push it they will receive one million dollars, but someone they don’t know will die and so they are entered into the ethical dilemma of whether their own very real monetary needs outweigh the life of a stranger. Now it is not the greatest movie, but the ethical question of the power of money to cause a horrible decision, especially when you don’t have to carry it out, more appealing. The king never carries out his decision, he is always insulated and while his ring may mark the life or death of many, he allows others to be the executioners.

The king not only takes the advice of Haman, he seems to compel it along even more so. The king’s authority is placed behind the plot of Haman. One man’s revenge now becomes imperial policy and the story’s crisis is set in motion. This is a strange story since the Persian empire was actually pretty benevolent as far as ancient empires go toward their subject people maintaining their own laws, religions and traditions so long as the empire is served (remember Cyrus, also a Persian emperor is lifted up as a ‘messiah’ in Isaiah 45 and the Jewish story is in general very favorable towards Persia). But this story turns on the conflict between Mordecai and Haman, and the plot is moving.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

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