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Bible: What Does Esther 4-10 Teach Us About Courage and Providence?
Esther: "If I Perish, I Perish"
Upon hearing the news of Haman's plan, Mordecai leads the Jews in their typical mourning ritual; great lamentations spread throughout the provinces (vv. 1-3).
Esther tries to have her guardian “re-clothed,” but he refuses to remove his sackcloth (v. 4).
She dispatches Hathach to Mordecai to find out why he is grieving (vv. 5-6).
(Apparently, the Persians kept her in the dark about such matters.)
Mordecai tells the eunuch of the decree, and gives him a copy to deliver to Esther so that she may intercede for the Jews (vv. 7-9).
She considers the situation and then informs Mordecai that Xerxes may kill her if he did not wish to see her and hear her problem (vv. 10-12).
Mordecai's response is classic wisdom: "Even though you are the queen, you yourself will not be spared.
You have a responsibility to act on your people's behalf."
His words reflect his belief in the pre-eminence of the Jews as the people of God; he knows that they somehow, through someone, will survive.
Whether that someone is Esther or not depends on her decision (vv. 13-14).
The queen chooses to stand with her people, asking Mordecai and the rest of the Jews to fast with her for three days before she visits Xerxes.
She concludes courageously with the famous line: "If I perish, I perish" (vv. 15-17).
[Mordecai's logical argument convinces Esther to make the right decision.
Even if she managed to survive the massacre, Mordecai knew that Esther would not be able to live with herself, knowing that she might have prevented the genocide.
Knowing her to be a woman of character and obedience, he believed that she would make the godly choice; Mordecai understood that she only needed some strong encouragement].
Ahasuerus and Haman
Decked out in her royal robes, Esther stands in the inner court of the palace in the sight of Xerxes (see 4:11) [v. 1].
He accepts her and pledges to give her up to half his kingdom (vv. 2, 3; cf. Herod in Mk. 6:23).
Seeing an open door, the queen invites him and Haman to a banquet, but postpones disclosing her real request until the next day (vv. 4-8).
Haman's joy over her invitation turns to wrath as Mordecai again snubs him (v. 9).
In light of this reversal, Haman calls his friends and wife together and seeks to soothe his wounded ego by rehearsing how (supposedly) important he is (vv. 10-13).
His "comforters" suggest that Haman arrange for Mordecai’s hanging on a seventy-five foot gallows (v. 14).
[Esther's courage and clever strategy, Mordecai's continued refusal to do homage to Haman, and Haman's building of the gallows constitute providential factors working together to provide a fitting denouement in the seventh chapter].
The Triumph of Mordecai
Divinely sent insomnia disturbs Xerxes that night, so he commands someone to read the book of the chronicles to him: a sure-fire method to induce sleep (v. 1)!
This remedy is also divinely arranged, since through its reading, the king discovers that Mordecai's earlier heroism had gone unrewarded (vv. 2-3; cf. 2:23).
Later, Haman—ready to propose Mordecai’s lynching—hears Xerxes' desire to honor "someone" (vv. 4-6a).
Naturally thinking that he himself would be the one feted, he suggests (as the king’s counselor on the matter) the most pomp imaginable (vv. 6b-9).
After circumstances force Haman to honor Mordecai publicly—the very thing that he craved most for himself—he becomes distraught (vv. 10-12).
His friends' conclusion does not help matters, as his attendants hurry him away to the banquet of destiny (vv. 13-14).
[One cannot help but remind oneself that this is not what usually happens; “life” does not always reward the good, nor does it often humiliate the wicked.
One can understand why this story became so popular.
In most circumstances, one cannot readily perceive God's working; however, in this particular story, one can easily see His hand].
While attending the banquet, Xerxes asks Esther the subject of her request and repeats his original gift proposal (vv. 1-2; cf. 5:6).
In polite, courtly, formulaic language (v. 3), she pleads that Xerxes rescind the order calling for the execution of all Jews (v. 4).
After learning from Esther that Haman had made that odious decree, the king leaves the scene in a rage (vv. 5-7a).
When he regains his composure, he returns to find Haman pleading for his life before Esther in a "compromising" position (vv. 7b-8a).
If any doubt remained in Xerxes' mind as to Haman's fate, it quickly disappeared.
Immediately, they take this wicked man away and hang him on his own gallows.
[Esther made all the right moves and Haman all the wrong ones.
On a similar note, Xerxes himself made a deft maneuver, avoiding any culpability before Esther by feigning ignorance regarding the planned genocide].
The New "Second in Command"
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Ahasuerus gives Haman's house to Esther and, through her agency, Haman's position to Mordecai (vv. 1-2).
She pleads, in her usual, humble style, that the king counteract the first edict (v. 3).
Desiring to right the wrong, he allows these Jews to write their own decree and seal it with his ring (vv. 4-8).
On 3/23, they send it empire-wide, giving their fellow citizens permission to defend themselves on 12/13 (vv. 9-12).
The news brings great joy to them all (vv. 16-17a), and elicits conversions to Judaism for many in the land (v. 17b).
[Mordecai used his new authority to right Haman's wrong; other wonderful side effects resulted as well].
Do you believe the Jews actually killed 75,000 Persians?
The Name of the Holiday
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The Jews win the victory on 12/13 because the "fear of them" enveloped all their enemies (vv. 1-2).
Mordecai also gains a promotion and earns the respect of the entire Persian government (vv. 3-4).
The people of God kill the ten sons of Haman and five hundred men in Susa, and Xerxes asks Esther if he needed to do anything else (vv. 5-12).
She requests that they hang the dead (?) bodies of the ten sons and that Xerxes permit the deed (vv. 13-14).
On 12/14, the Jews kill three hundred more Shushans; empire-wide, they slay seventy-five thousand people (vv. 15-16).
A refrain sounded throughout the defeat of the Persians stipulates that the Jews not "lay a hand on the plunder" (vv. 10, 15, 16).
Mordecai then designates 12/14 and 12/15 as days the Jews should set aside to celebrate this victory; he names the holiday Purim after the infamous lottery God had turned upon the head of Haman (vv. 18-28).
Through Esther's confirmation letter sent through all the provinces, she establishes the Purim festival, and it becomes a date of public record (vv. 29-32).
[Did the Jews sustain any casualties during this slaughter]?
The final chapter merely announces the promotion of Mordecai to second in command in all the Persian empire; it also states that all of his greatness becomes a matter of public record in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia (vv. 1-3).
[Mordecai advanced to a position of great authority in a foreign kingdom (cf. Daniel and Joseph), yet his name is relatively unknown in Jewish history].
1. Why do you suppose that the author does not mention God's name anywhere in the entire book?
2. How can one justify the Jews' slaughter of 75,000 Persians?
3. What passage especially implies the behind-the-scenes working of Israel's covenant God?
4. What is Daniel-like about Mordecai (chapter three)?
5. Why do believers not know Mordecai as well as they know Daniel and Joseph?
6. Were the Jews’ enemies ignorant of Ahasuerus’ second decree?
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