Esther (Hebrew name Hadassah) lived in the 5th century before Christ, after the massive exile of 75 percent of the Jews from the Holy Land, following the fall of the city of Jerusalem. Esther was in Persia, which is modern day Iran/Iraq. Anti-Semitism ran strong in the countries into which they fled – as it still does. Many Jews concealed their heritage and religious beliefs during this period, and Esther’s uncle advised her to do so as well. She might have been disqualified to rise to the status of Queen of Persia otherwise.
Once she enters the king’s harem, from which the next queen would be chosen, we see Esther’s wisdom (combined with God’s favor). She looked to the king’s eunuch (a castrated male) in charge of the harem for guidance. This man knows the king. He has taken many a gal to appear before the king and he would know what “worked” and what didn’t in the king’s eyes. After a year of various beauty treatments and a special diet, her turn came, though she was not over eager like the other girls. She had a sense of value and dignity that came from another source. Sure enough, that shines through along with her great beauty, and she wins the king over and becomes queen.
Meanwhile, another of the king’s men, Haman, is much more powerful in status than the lowly eunuch. In fact, Haman requires that people bow before him when they see him. When Haman encounters Esther’s uncle Mordecai, the man refused to bow explaining that his Jewish beliefs didn’t permit him to bow to anyone but God. Haman is outraged and seeks death for not only Mordecai but also all the Jews. (I once read that Esther was a descendant of King Saul, while Haman was a descendant of King Agag who’s empire Saul nearly wiped out, but not completely, which set them keen on revenge.)
Haman casts lots – which would be something akin to throwing dice – to decide the best date to carry out his lethal plot. He believed his gods would determine the outcome of the lot casting. Therefore, the day of death is set for 11 months in the future. Then Haman had the king send out a decree that the killing will take place on March 7 and anyone who killed a Jew on that day could take all that Jew's possessions.
Can you imagine being a Jew after this decree goes out? Can you imagine living knowing that people have permission to kill you in 11 months? Can you image the Persians eyeing you and your possessions each day while plotting your death? The Jews considered Haman purely evil.
Mordecai challenges Esther to use her position to do something about this. She hesitates a bit, knowing she could die trying to contact the king to discuss this, and not even pull it off. Then she would die and so would the Jews a few months later. What would you be thinking? What would you plan to do?
Mordecai seeks to convince her to move into action. He tells her she may hold this position (by God’s doing) for such as time as this. She was a Jewish orphan who had become the queen of a non-Jewish empire! In fact, he tells her not to assume that she can escape death herself by keeping quiet about her heritage because he assures her, “If you keep quiet about this, deliverance for the Jews will arise from some other place." (In other words he seems to be saying if you do not step up to fulfill God's purpose for you in His grand plan for His people to be spared, God will carry out His grand plan some other way and you will miss out.) Sobering thought, huh?
So Esther wisely calls for a 3 day fast, we can assume to beseech the LORD. She realizes she has two playing cards in her hand: 1) She has favor with the king … the only problem is she can’t speak with him unless he summons her, to do so is risking death, and 2) she is a Jew herself, though the king doesn’t know it. If she could just get an audience with the king, she could play these two cards together and see if its enough to win the hand against Haman. She decides to risk her death to play her hand.
The king wholeheartedly receives her when she shows up unannounced in his inner court – so far, so good, she evaded death. What’s more, he offers to meet her request, whatever it is. Instead of telling him the deal, she invites him – and Haman! – to dinner. At dinner, she still doesn’t tell him the deal, though he keeps asking her what she wants and telling her he will grant it. She invites them both back for another dinner, promising to explain her request then.
Why did she keep delaying? Was she working up the nerve? Was she trying to butter up the king first? It seems the king was already in the palm of her hand. Was she keeping Haman away from Moredcai as best she could? Or perhaps Esther was simply following God’s leading each step of the way … perhaps He was whispering to her heart, “not just yet, there is something else I want to do first”?
Next, we see an interesting twist happen. Haman leaves the dinner with the king and queen feeling very important and proud. He sees Mordecai again, feels "dissed" and decides Mordecai needs to die immediately. Haman builds a gallows that night after his feast with Esther and plans to hang Mordecai on it the next day. Only at the same time, the king cannot sleep and reads the history book only to find Mordecai had once saved his royal life and had never been thanked for it. So the king decides to honor Mordecai. The next morning, before Haman could ask for Mordecai's death, the king asks Haman how best to honor someone. Haman spouts off his own dream list of ways he wants to be honored. Then the king sends Haman to honor Mordecai in that way, on that day!
“Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.” ~ Proverbs 16:18
“God sets Himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” ~ James 4:6
After that humiliating experience for Haman, he and the king go once again to have dinner with Esther as planned. This time when the king asks what she wants, Esther tells him the whole deal. Haman is exposed and winds up hanged that very night on the very gallows He built for Mordecai the Jew.
God wasn’t finished reversing things ... the decree to kill the Jews was also reversed by another decree that would not only give them protection from others seeking their harm but it gave them the right to seize the possessions of anyone who might try to harm them on March 7. So, God’s people were saved and Esther was their queen-heroine.
The name Esther is often said to mean “star” in the Persian language. However, a great many Jews translate it, such as in the Hebrew Midrash, to mean “hidden.” In fact, in the Jewish mindset, the book of Esther is all about hidden things that become known. Esther’s Jewish identity was hidden, but became known. Haman’s evil nature was hidden, but came to light. And, God, who seems to be “hidden” in this book of the Old Testament, comes to light … shining through between the lines of the plot for those who have spiritual eyes to see Him there.
Esther’s book is a fascinating story and an interesting book to me because it seems to reflect the way most of our lives are lived as Christians today. We pray, we fast, we seek wise counsel from scripture and from friends, and we try to do what we think God wants us to do. Then we have to trust Him that it will turn out OK. For the most part, there are no angels stopping by to tell us that we will have a baby in a year, like Sarah had. There are no audible voices and burning bushes like Abraham experienced. We, like Esther in this story, simply have to try to discern God’s leading in our hearts, His purpose for our lives, and then take the risk to follow that.
You tell us, what came to light for you in the story of Esther?