Hoist By His Own Petard


A “petard” was a bomb used to blow open a gate to a city. To be hoist by one’s own petard was to have your bomb blow up in your face, literally lifting you off the ground (and killing you)

For me, a recurring theme throughout all of the stories we’ve read has been that of pride, in a negative sense. (That probably says as much about me as it does about the text.) Not simple pride in an accomplishment, but rather the inflated ego of one who thinks they’re better than everyone else, and deserve special treatment because of it. This week is no exception, though, for a change, it’s not the Israelites who are prideful. No, they’re still suffering from the humiliation of their exile. Instead, we see the pride of Haman, an Agagite. For reasons unexplained in the text, Haman was raised up by King Xerces to a station above all the other nobles in the kingdom. By the king’s command, all were to bow down to Haman. But one Jew would not. Sound familiar?

Even though the entire kingdom was paying obeisance to Haman, the fact that this one Jew was not robbed him of all the enjoyment that he expected to feel from his lofty position. Even after he used his position and influence to arrange for what we today would call an ethnic cleansing of all the Jews in the kingdom, the lack of fear and respect from this one man stuck in his craw and would not leave him any peace. He was the second most powerful man in the kingdom, but he wasn’t happy.

Don’t we all feel like that sometimes? No matter how great we have it, we’re bugged that it could be better. A while back, Pastor Stephen’s sermon included a reference to a study that showed that, once income crossed a certain threshold, further increases in wealth did not correspond to a similar increase in happiness. In fact, the opposite often was true. More money often leads to less happiness.

In Haman’s case, that dissatisfaction with what he had lead to his downfall. Had he simply ignored Mordecai, no doubt he would have continued for many years in comfort. But, instead, by plotting the destruction of Mordecai and the rest of the Jews, he planted the seeds of his own destruction. He didn’t know it, but Esther, also known as Hadassah, who was the queen, was a cousin of Mordecai, and a Jew. Esther had also been elevated to her position of great power by the king, but, unlike Haman, she remained humble. She risked all in order to free her people from the order of mass extinction engineered by Haman. And she used Haman’s own pride to lure him in. She invited Haman to join her and the king at a banquet two days in a row — a high honor indeed. Yet even while Haman was boasting of this, and all his other accomplishments, to his friends, it was Mordecai the Jew that was foremost in his mind. So he decided to erect a giant pole in front of his house, and to ask the king to have Mordecai impaled on it the next day. Surely that would finally make Haman happy!

Of course, that’s not how it worked out. That night, the king discovered (accidentally?) that Mordecai had earlier thwarted a plot to have the king assassinated. So when Haman arrived at the palace the next day, before he could ask about Mordecai, the king asked for a recommendation of how best to honor somebody. Haman of course assumed he was the one to be honored, so he came up with an elaborate plan to raise up himself and lower somebody else. I can only imagine what Haman’s reaction must have been when he found out it was Mordecai who would be honored, and Haman who would be humbled. God clearly has a sense of humor. And when it’s revealed that Haman is the one trying to wipe out all of the Jews, including queen Esther, Haman is the one impaled on that pole, not Mordecai.

So, what does all of that have to do with us today?

To me, this story is an indictment against our greedy, “whoever has the most toys wins” mentality. We spend so much time and effort trying to acquire more and mores “stuff.” Just like Haman. And, just like Haman, we focus on what we don’t have, and not what we do. And I fear that, like Haman, it will lead to our downfall. Haman is clearly the villain in this story, but I can empathise with him to an uncomfortable degree.

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