January 12, 2016.
Reading: Esther 1-5.
Background: The book of Esther is set during the reign of the Persian empire. The children of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians between 607-586 BC, and now were dwelling under Persian rule, who had captured Babylon in 539 BC. The setting of Esther is during the reign of Ahasuerus I (better known as Xerxes I) who ruled between 486-465 BC. This book is rather unique in scripture as it is one of only two books that don’t explicitly mention the name of God, though it does follow a story of the people of God. Esther is a Beautiful Jewish woman who receives the honored place of Queen of Persia after the former Queen displeases the king. This seems to be the providence of God, as she is able to use her position and influence, with the help of her cousin Mordecai (who had taken her in as a daughter after her parents died), to save her people from the decree of destruction that was attempted by Haman, enemy of the Jews. The story of Esther is one of boldness in which a courageous woman is able to save her people from genocide.
Concepts and Connections.
Queen Vashti takes a stand: Though the book bears the title of ‘Esther’, it begins with another bold woman who makes a stand. As the record opens, we see that King Ahasuerus of Persia is giving a grand display of his riches and greatness, and we can almost feel the pomp that is contained within this first chapter. All the stops are pulled as the most exquisite riches and items of the kingdom are displayed. The king gives a lavish feast with much wine, as does Queen Vashti for the women in the palace. However, as the festival goes on, the king and his men are drunk with wine and he decides that Queen Vashti should come in before them so that he could show off her beauty. The Queen makes a bold stand and refuses to come in just so they could ogle her. Her refusal was met with anger from the King, and he called in those who were versed in the law to see what should be done to Queen Vashti. The men decide that if nothing is done, then women throughout the land will hear of what the Queen had done and begin to follow her, showing contempt for their husbands. Thus, they decide that the King should remove her from being queen, make a decree that all women give honor to their husbands, and choose another woman in the kingdom to be queen in the place of Vashti. This advise pleases the King, and thus the plan is set in order.
Esther and Mordecai: After the king cooled down in his anger towards Vashti, he takes the advise of his young men to bring young virgins from the provinces of the kingdom to the king’s harem in Susa, so that he might choose a woman who pleases him to be queen instead of Vashti. Here we are introduced to a young Jewish woman named Esther who was very beautiful, having a good figure. Her cousin Mordecai had taken her in as a daughter after her mother and father had died, to take care of her (he continues to watch over her as the story progresses). When the decree went throughout the land to bring in beautiful virgins to the king, Esther was taken into the king’s harem and quickly found favor in the eyes of Hegai, the king’s eunuch. Hegai moved her to the best place in the harem, and after the period of beautifying (12 months), she is brought before the king. Esther also wins the favor of the king, and he loves her more than all of the other women. Esther is then made queen in place of Vashti. Though the name of God is never explicitly mentioned in the book, we can see His providence at work here, putting Esther in a position of influence, which she would later use to save His people from genocide. Esther had not reveled her heritage, as Mordecai had told her not to tell anyone who her people were.
The end of this chapter records a significant event that will become very relevant later in the story. Two of the king’s eunuchs became angry with the king and planned to kill him. Fortunately, Mordecai found out about their plan and told Esther, who subsequently told the king in the name of Mordecai. The matter was investigated, and the two eunuch’s were found guilty and hung. The even was recorded in the book of the chronicles before the king.
Haman, enemy of the Jews: In this third chapter, a problem develops for the Jews, one in which it would seem that Esther had been put in the position to fix. Haman, one of the king’s officials, is promoted at the beginning of this chapter above the other officials. With this promotion came honor and, at some level it would seem, worship. Whenever Haman would go out, all the king’s servants who stood at the gate were to bow down and pay homage to him. However, Mordecai would not bow down. Here we see another theme of God, though His name is not explicitly mentioned, for the reason why Mordecai would not bow down was because he was a Jew; he would only worship the Lord God, not any man. When Haman saw that Mordecai would not bow down before him, he was furious. It is interesting that an event that may seem so minor to one person can be huge in another’s eyes. Instead of seeking to kill Mordecai alone, Haman sets out to destroy his whole race.
Haman doesn’t act rashly, however, as it seems his moves are cold and calculated. He casts lots until the twelfth month, probably relying on superstition to tell him when to bring up his plan before the king, and then goes into the king with a vague overstatement against the Jewish people. He tells the king that there is a people who did not keep the king’s laws, and asks for the authority to destroy them through royal decree. The king doesn’t question Haman, as he has gained his trust, and gives him his signet ring to make the decree throughout the land. Thus Haman called the scribes and made the edict that on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month all the Jews were to be annihilated in every province, young and old, women and children, and their good plundered. Copies of the decree were written in every language and sent throughout all the provinces, sealed with the king’s signet. We can see that Haman’s statement against the Jews was unfounded, as the city is thrown into a confusion when the decree is sent out. It would seem that no one knew of any reason the Jews should be annihilated.
Esther’s courage: As the decree went throughout the provinces, there arose a great mourning amongst the Jews, as they began fasting, weeping and lamenting because of the fate that was about to be upon them. Mordecai tears his cloths and too puts on sackcloth and ashes, crying out with a loud, bitter cry. He sat at the king’s gate in sackcloth and cried bitterly. When Esther found out about Mordecai’s mourning, she sends to find out what is the matter. It seems that she is unaware of the king’s decree, as she tries to give Mordecai new clothes to wear and is confused as to why he is mourning. Using Hathach, the king’s eunuch, as a middle man, she converses with Mordecai and learns about the date of annihilation for the Jews and the money which the king was going to pay for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai tells her to go in and plead with the king on behalf of her people (remember that she had not yet told the king or anyone what people she came from), but Esther is scared to go in to the king without being summoned. If one went into the king without him calling, they were to be put to death, lest the king hold out the golden scepter to them. Mordecai reminds her that she is also a Jew and she will not escape the destruction that is coming upon them just because she is in the king’s house. Further, Mordecai implicitly shows his faith in the Lord, telling Esther that if she doesn’t intervene here to deliver her people, then someone else will. However, he proposes that this may be the very reason that she was brought into her position. Mordecai sees the providence of God at play to place a Jewish woman, finding much favor in the eyes of the king, as queen at the very time that deliverance would be needed for the people of God. After hearing this message, Esther shows great courage and resolve, telling Mordecai to gather the Jews in the city to hold a fast for her, for she had decided to go into the king to plead on behalf of her people. Note the great courage in the resolve: “If I perish, I perish.” May we ever have the courage of Esther to do the will of the Lord.
Patience and planning: Implicitly throughout the story of Esther do we find examples of patience and planning, both from good and evil characters. Before the king decides what to do with Vashti, he calls the men versed in the law to counsel. Before he chooses a queen to replace Vashti, there is a 12 month beautifying process. When Haman decides to destroy the Jews, he waits several months before enacting his plan and bringing it up before the king. Even then, he chooses a date set in the future for the destruction of the Jews. Here, Esther also has great patience and planning in order to find favor in the sight of the king to help her influence; she was going to need all she could get. She courageously goes in before the king without being called, and he holds the scepter out to her so that she is pardoned from the death penalty. Yet, she does not immediately make her reason for coming before the king known, but rather invites him and Haman to a feast that she had prepared for them. Even at the feast when the king asks what her request is, she invites them to another feast she would prepare for them the next day, and then she would make her request known. This way, neither the king or Haman was alerted to what she was trying to do.
Haman went out from the feast joyful in heart, as Esther had stroked his ego. However, his pride is soon hurt as soon as he saw Mordecai at the gate, still refusing to rise or tremble before him. He is filled with anger, but he controls himself and goes home to tell his wife and friends what honor had been bestowed on him by Queen Esther, inviting no one but the king and him to the feast she had prepared. But he simply could not get over the fact that Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. His wife suggests that gallows fifty cubits high be made specifically to hang Mordecai on, and then go happily to the feast. Haman loved the idea and had the gallows made. Little did he know the irony that was about to unfold.
Next Reading: Deuteronomy 29-31.
Is there a reason you have been put into the position you are?