Interesting Bible People: Esther
Esther Queen And Rescuer Of Her People
This is a story of a courageous girl, who put her life on the line for her people. This is a strange book of the Bible, which recounts Esther's story, in that it does not mention God once. Esther was a glamour girl of her day but one who also had a brain.
This photo is mine.
Party At The Palace
The story starts at a banquet. King Xerxes is the king of Persia. His kingdom extends from India to Egypt. For a full 180 days, six months, he displays his vast wealth. At the end of this time to round things off nicely he has another banquet for seven days. It is a beautiful palace he has with blue and white wall hangings. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic floor of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. This was a seriously rich man. The king had more than his share of wine. His mind turned to the women in another part of the palace, in their own quarters. They too were having a banquet. Xerxes thought of his Queen, Vashti. He had displayed all his treasures except one, Vashti. He sent for her. He wanted her to wear her golden crown and be seen by all as his beautiful wife.
However Vashti was not going to comply with his wishes. Perhaps she valued herself as more than a possession of the king, we don't know. I'm sure the eunuchs sent to fetch her would have tried every persuasion. They must have been terrified to return to the king with Vashti's answer. The phrase,"Off with their heads!" comes to mind. You can imagine the gasps all round when Vashti's reply is given to the king. "What is to be done?" the king asks his law experts. He is so angry to have been slighted in this way. The chief advisor Memucan says that the queen has not only insulted the king but everyone present and that if nothing is done all the women will disobey their husbands. The rot has to stop here. Vashti is never again to come to the king and many beautiful virgins will be brought to the king for him to choose a new queen.
A Beauty Contest for Esther
After a while Xerxes ordered the beautiful virgins to be brought to his palace and given various beauty treatments. Among these girls was Esther. She was an orphan and had been brought up by her cousin Mordecai, who was on the fringe of palace life. He warned Esther not to tell anyone that she belonged to the Jewish people.
All the girls were given beauty treatments for a year so that they would be seen at their best advantage. When it was Esther's time to see the king he took to her and immediately decided that she should be queen in Vashti's place. Xerxes was so pleased he thought it was an excuse for another banquet.
Did Esther Hear Music Like This
Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate. He heard two of the king's officers plotting to assassinate Xerxes. Mordecai told Esther, she in turn told the king, giving credit to Mordecai. The two officials were hanged. The incident was recorded in a book for the king.
Haman Affronted By Esther's Uncle
King Xerxes honoured a man named Haman putting him higher than all the other noblemen. The king had commanded that Haman should be bowed to and honoured. Mordecai refused to do this probably because he saw it as the honour that should only be given to God.The officials reported this to Haman and the fact that Mordecai was a Jew. Haman was furious at this slight and made it his purpose to destroy not only Mordecai but his people too.
Haman went to the king and told him how the Jews lived differently and did not keep his laws. He wanted the king to make a law to destroy them and Haman would put ten thousand talents of silver(375 tons!!) into the royal treasury to pay for this. This seemed like a good idea to the king (not knowing that Esther was a Jewess). He gave his signet ring to Haman so that he could make the law and told him to keep his money. The law was written in all the languages necessary and copies sent all over the kingdom. A day was set for the massacre. The city of Susa was bewildered. Once made a law of the Medes and Persians could not be changed.
When Mordecai heard about the law, that meant the destruction of the Jewish people in the kingdom, he did what all good distressed Bible people did, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth (very itchy) and smeared himself with ashes. He stayed at the king's gate, as he was not allowed in dressed in sackcloth, but Esther's maids and eunuchs found out and told her the state he was in. Esther had no idea what was going on. She sent a eunuch to find out. Mordecai told him everything and sent Esther a copy of the edict. He said Esther must go to the king and beg for mercy for her people.
Esther sent back a message saying that she was in great danger if she went to the king, as anyone who did this uninvited would be put to death unless the king held out his sceptre to that person. Esther had not been called to the king for thirty days.
Mordecai sent back saying that she would not be spared in the general massacre of the Jewish people. He said that perhaps it was for this very reason that she had come to this royal position. Then Esther sent back another message asking Mordecai to gather all the Jews to fast for her. She said,"I will go to the king, and if I perish, I perish."
Courage of Queen Esther
For three days Esther prepared herself to go to see the king, hoping, no doubt that he would call her. She dressed up in her best royal robes and with heart thumping, she walked to the entrance to the king's throne room. Her maids were in tears behind her, greatly fearing for their beloved queen.
Esther stood at the entrance. the very walls seemed to sigh with relief when the king held out his sceptre. Esther walked forward and touched the top of the sceptre as tradition decreed. "What do you wish?" said Xerxes,"I will give you anything up to half my kingdom."
Esther was very subtle. She said," I would like the king to come to a banquet with Haman today. It is all prepared." Xerxes summoned Haman and they went to the banquet. Again the king asked what she wanted and again she delayed until another banquet on the morrow.
Man Proposes, God Disposes
Haman was so delighted to be invited to be with the king and queen. Then on the way out of the palace he saw Mordecai and was full of wrath. He went home and rejoiced with his wife, Zeresh about his good fortune. But it really rankled with him when he thought of Mordecai. His wife and friends suggested he make a huge gallows on which to hang Mordecai. He was delighted with this suggestion and had it made immediately.
That night the king had insomnia. He tossed and turned but could not get to sleep. So a scribe was summoned to bring the record books to the king and read to him. Perhaps he thought it would be boring and lull him to sleep. The scribe read the account of Mordecai warning the king of the two assassins. the king said,"Has anything been done to honour Mordecai?" "Nothing," was the reply. Xerxes said,"Who is in the court now?" the reply came back,"Haman." Haman had just come to ask about hanging Mordecai on the gallows. Xerxes asked for Haman to come in.
Esther's Uncle Honoured
Thinking of Mordecai, the king said to Haman,"What should be done to honour the man I delight in?" Haman, never a modest man, thought the king meant him. So he suggested the thing he would most like himself. He said "The man should have a royal robe which the king had worn and ride on one of the kings own horses and have a royal crest on his head. All to be attended by one of the most noble princes to dress the man up and parade him on horse back through the streets shouting, "This is what is done to the man the king delights to honour."
The king said,"Go right away and do this for Mordecai, the Jew"
Can you imagine how Haman felt. Here was his chief enemy, whom he had plotted against and the king wanted him honoured. After the parade he went home to his wife mourning. Zeresh said,"You're in trouble now." A eunuch came to fetch him to Queen Esther's banquet.
Haman's final banquet with Queen Esther
The king and Haman went to Esther's banquet. Again the king asked Esther what she wanted. Esther told him that she was begging for her life and the life of her people. Her people had been plotted against and sold for destruction. The king was angry, who had dared to do this to the queen and her people. Esther replied," It is this vile Haman." Haman was terrified before the king and queen. He had no idea Queen Esther was a Jewess. The king was furious and went out into the garden to think. When he returned Haman was begging for mercy from the queen but it looked as if he were molesting her. One of the eunuchs told the king about the gallows Haman had made for Mordecai and the king ordered him to be hanged on it immediately.
Esther pleaded with the king still further to help her people. The previous edict could not be rescinded but the king made another one to say that the Jews were allowed to kill anyone who had plotted against them.
To this day the Jewish people celebrate the feast of Purim which commemorates the time when a Jewish girl through great bravery was used to save her nation.
A just ending
This is a story of the mighty being brought low and the poor being lifted up. I wonder why God is not openly mentioned in this Bible story, when he is so obviously at work in the lives of His people. God is always on the side of the poor and humble and the crushed. Those who are full of pride like Haman are brought down.
Esther's original name was Hadassah, which means myrtle. To be called Esther would have grieved her heart as it was the name of a Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. She must have suffered much to be married to this heathen king who at his whim could have had her killed. Women through the centuries have suffered at the hand of men like this. Had he not discarded his former wife Vashti for not displaying her beauty to his drunken court? Esther's life must have indeed been difficult. One wonders what became of her after our story here had ended.
Ever since Esther's time and triumph Jewish people all over the world have celebrated Purim. It is a very happy time when Haman's defeat and the rescue of the Jewish nation by Esther, is celebrated. All the usual ingredients of festivities are included, such as eating party food and giving gifts.
When is Purim Next?
Purim will next fall on February 23-24 2013. As with all Jewish feasts they start at dusk on the first date, till nightfall on the second date. The dates for the following two years are, March 15-16, 2014 and March 4-5, 2015 .