Biblical stories use many strategies to convey a message, including ridicule. We’ve looked at humor before but let’s examine a few points of sharp humor in the book of Esther.
Early in the story, we meet Haman, a cocky official of the king. He expected everyone but the royal family (we assume) to bow down and pay homage to him. Even the royal staff had to do so – and this happened “because the king had commanded this to be done for him.”
When Mordecai, Esther’s guardian, refused to bow to him, Haman was filled with such rage that he plotted to destroy all of Mordecai’s people – the Jews. This was a great example of hyperbole. Why not give Mordecai some public service tasks or maybe even put him in the stocks for a day or two?
The drama increases with this proclamation but there is more humor coming. One night, the king asked Haman what should be done for a man who had pleased the king.
This question was a springboard to the huge misunderstanding. Haman assumed this man was him and so he crafted an elaborate parade to honor himself.
But the reversal came soon, when Haman learned that his moral enemy, Mordecai, was the man to be honored. And he endured further insult when the king instructed that Haman lead this parade honoring Mordecai.
The story continues and we find Haman at a dinner with Queen Esther and the king, a dinner he assumed honored him. Instead, his plot is unveiled and, in a desperate effort to plead with Esther, he is found in a compromising position by the king. Another reversal for proud Haman.
The gallows that Haman had built to hang Mordecai turned out to be the very gallows where Haman met his own demise.
These reversals propel the story to its triumphant conclusion, where the Jews were not destroyed but instead rose victorious.
Haman was the perfect foil – a proud, boastful man who tried to use his lofty position to destroy God’s people. Instead, he suffered humiliating reversals because of his own proud position.
He got his come-uppance and I can hear the early listeners whistling and jeering at just the right times as his story unfolded.
They got the humor of the story – and the meaning deepens as we get it, too.