Who was Haman the Agagite?

In Esther 3:1 we are introduced to Haman the Agagite, who is promoted within King Xerxes’ retinue to second in command. Immediately following the introduction of Haman into the narrative, we find out that since Mordecai does not bow before him, Haman wants to destroy not only Mordecai, but Mordecai’s entire race—the Jews! This desire to destroy the Jews is not a passing fancy for Haman. He follows through with his desire and pays off the king to make a decree that all the Jews be destroyed (Esther 3:8-11).

Haman is clearly portrayed as a violent individual, and yet, it seems there may be more to the story. Some scholars have noted that the term “Agagite” is rare, and it is likely related to the king of the Amalekites. This connection is drawn from Numbers 24:7 where Balaam prophesies that Israel’s king would be “greater than Agag” (which in context seems to be the Amalekite royal title). Additional evidence for this is found in 1 Samuel 15, where the king of the Amalekites is called Agag.

Israel and the Amalekites had long been in an adversarial relationship. Beginning in Exodus 17:8, Amalek opposed Israel’s journey out of Egypt and was defeated by Israel. Because of Amalek’s gall, God promised that he would “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exod 17:14).

This conflict continued during the time of Saul, when Saul slaughtered most of the Amalekites (cf. 1 Sam 15). However, he spared Agag, and presumably some others as well. Importantly, we need to remember that Saul was as a man of Benjamin, a son of Kish (1 Sam 9:1-2). It is beyond coincidence that when we get to Esther, Mordecai is also of Benjamin, a son of Kish (Esther 2:5).

It is no wonder that Haman hated Mordecai intensely. The Jews and the Amalekites had been at odds for centuries. And to top it all off, Mordecai’s relative (Saul) had slaughtered the relatives of Haman. This understanding of the circumstances helps explain the title the narrator gives Haman, “the enemy of the Jews” (3:10). This explains why Haman’s intense desire was for the eradication of the Jewish people.

Peter Goeman
Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.
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