What makes you happy? What pleases you most? Does being praised make you feel good? Ask any person receiving an award, being applauded if he is happy. Of course he is. And nothing wrong about that either. It is just human nature to feel good when the ego is gratified. American psychologist, Abraham Maslow formulated the human hierarchy of needs and near the top of the pyramid is esteem.
Esteem needs are ego or status needs. It has to do with getting recognition and respect from others. We need respect namely self-esteem and self-respect. It is typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People with low self-esteem often need respect from others; they may feel the need to seek fame or glory. (Here’s more on What Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is about.)
People are happy when they are accepted. Especially so when they are valued and esteemed by those who matter, isn’t it? So here is the story of Haman. He was the leader of all Persian princes during the rule of King Ahasuerus. The king promoted him to such position that “all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him.” (Esther 3:2)
Haman typically models the phenomenon of esteem fulfilled and esteem failed – on the pendulum swinging from ecstasy to anger. Why? Because one Jew named Mordecai did not bow down to him. A foreigner! A captive from a lesser country – a lower subject… How dared he? So Haman was consumed with anger that he planned to kill off the entire Jewish race. (3:5-6)
And the story continues…
Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai. (Esther 5:9)
So why was Haman glad and pleased of heart that day? He just spent an evening having dinner with the king and queen as their one and only “esteemed” guest! And after leaving the place, he came out and saw his mortal enemy, Mordecai who ignored him as usual. Haman was so mad he had to assuage his self-esteem by narrating to his friends and his wife all “the glory of his riches, and the number of his sons, and every instance where the king had magnified him and how he had promoted him above the princes and servants of the king. Haman also said, “Even Esther the queen let no one but me come with the king to the banquet which she had prepared; and tomorrow also I am invited by her with the king.” (5:11-12)
13 Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” 14 Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows fifty cubits high made and in the morning ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go joyfully with the king to the banquet.” And the advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows made.”
The ‘rivalry’ between Haman and Mordecai gets more interesting as the story continues. One night, the king could not sleep and he got up to read records of events in his reign. He found that Mordecai once saved him from an assassination attempt. When the king learned that Mordecai was not recognised and rewarded for his effort, he asked Haman who happened to be visiting, what should be done for the man the king wished to honour? (6:6)
It is funny that Haman went to see the king to propose a plan to kill Mordecai and here is the king who wanted to honour Mordecai. Haman as usual with his big egoistic tendency thought “Whom would the king desire to honour more than me?”
7 Then Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king desires to honour, 8 let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown has been placed; 9 and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honour and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honour.’
Then the king said to Haman, “Take quickly the robes and the horse as you have said, and do so for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the king’s gate; do not fall short in anything of all that you have said.” 11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.” 12 Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried home, mourning, with his head covered. 13 Haman recounted to Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him.
This is hilarious, isn’t it? Do you see a pattern here? Swinging from pride to humiliation! To make the long story short, Haman was hanged on the same gallows that he intended for his enemy. Why? Because the queen was a Jew. Queen Esther pleaded for her people and for herself. Esther was the cousin of Mordecai who told her to keep her Jewish identity a secret when she was chosen queen in a beauty contest in the king’s search for a queen. The former queen was dethroned when she disobeyed the king’s order to appear in a party to show off her beauty to all the people.
Haman did not know that the race he sought to exterminate is that of his queen. His need for self-esteem was so great – his pride was his downfall.
The story of Haman, Mordecai and Esther teaches us so many lessons: about humility and pride; about provision and protection of the providential God; about paradoxes of strength in weakness and esteem in humility.
Self-esteem and self-respect: these are the two forms of esteem needs. Self-respect is the higher form. It is something internal – it stems from a sense of self-awareness – knowing the value of oneself in the value of God. It does not seek the affirmation of other people. It is enough to know that God loves me for who I am.
God often chooses the lowly to elevate them for his purpose. Esther was a Jew – a captive from Israel under the rule of the Persian empire. She was so far away from home. She was chosen to be queen out of anonymity – put in a position of power to save her people. As Mordecai wisely said to her:
“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (4:13-14)
So Queen Esther asked the king to help save her people. The king issued an order that all the Jews “who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil,” (8:11)
Mordecai was nobody but Esther’s guardian. He was from the tribe of Benjamin – the smallest of the 12 tribes of Israel. He too was a Jew captive. He was tasked to take care of his orphaned cousin, Esther. He just happened to be at the gate and he heard of a plot to kill the king. He did not seek for reward or recognition. He was not afraid to stand for his belief. He did not bow to Haman. Mordecai was lifted to a high position and esteemed among the land. (Esther 8:1, 15)
Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a large crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 For the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 In each and every province and in each and every city, wherever the king’s commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them. (8:15-17)
And so all is well that ends well? No. When everything seems to fall apart, it is when God works to put everything back together again.
Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)