The Story Of Esther
An Amazing True Story
I want to relate a story. A true story from the bible that historians believed occurred between 485 and 464 BC.
It takes place in the land of ancient Persia, now Iran, which at that time stretched from India to Ethiopia and covered 127 provinces.
The king of Persia at that time was king Ahasuerus, and he ruled his kingdom from its winter capital, 200 miles east of Babylon, the city of Shushan.
It is in this city that our tale begins.
In the third year of Ahasuerus’ reign as was common for Persian royalty, the king gave a sumptuous banquet for all his officials and servants; a crowd numbering some 15,000 people.
A banquet that had the sole purpose of showing his subjects, I quote,
“…just how wealthy Ahasuerus’ glorious kingdom was, and just how rich was the splendour of his most excellent majesty.”
This banquet was held in the royal palace known as the ‘citadel of Shushan’. A citadel covering 123 acres of land (half a square kilometre), and at its centre a throne room covering nearly an acre of ground (almost the size of a football field), with 36 columns supporting its roof, 6 rows of 6. At the top of each giant column sat the carved images of two bulls back to back and spanning the great distance between these massive columns, on the backs of the bulls, were long cedar of Lebanon beams.
The floor –the whole 4425 square meters of it– was totally paved in red, blue, white and black marble. On a raised Dais covered with a canopy of crimson and surrounded by a thick rich red carpet, which only the feet of the king could touch, sat the royal throne.
Such was the wealth of the king of Persia!
And this feast lasted 180 days!
Of A Queens Humiliation
After these days were completed, king Ahasuerus decided to throw another feast for all the people present in the citadel – however this feast would end abruptly after only seven days. But during those few days each of his guests would drink from golden goblets, no two alike, and they drank in abundance, according to the generosity of the king of Persia for the whole period.
Now on the seventh day, having shown off all his material wealth and being understandably quite merry, king Ahasuerus sends for his queen, Vashti. He commands that she come and present her beauty before his guests – for Vashti was a very beautiful woman.
However, Vashti, for reasons we are not explicitly told, refuses her husbands request. A response that is not well received by the less than sober king.
In a fury of wine-enriched rage at Vashti’s non-compliance with his wishes, King Ahasuerus consults with his wise men on how he may deal with the situation. On their advice Vashti is banned from ever seeing her husband again, and her royal position as queen is removed.
This action, the so-called wise men suggest, would serve as a reminder to all women that man is to be master and to obeyed without question.
Note to my woman readers: remember, I’m just retelling the story :)
After these things, when the king’s wrath had subsided and he was feeling the need for some feminine company, we are told that he remembered Vashti, his extremely beautiful wife. He remembered what he had done, and he realised he couldn’t undo it.
This inability to undo what he had done stemmed from two reasons;
His pride. The king was a man with a massive ego.
Persian law stated that any statute signed by the king was irrevocable.
These were the reasons Ahasuerus couldn’t take his wife back. But he wanted a queen! After all, what's a king without a queen. Therefore the kings servants suggest that the king gather together the most beautiful of the young virgins from throughout his entire kingdom. That after a time of beauty therapy these woman be presented to the king, and from them one be chosen as the new queen.
Not surprisingly, Ahasuerus thought this a wonderful idea.
Of A Beautiful Young Woman
Now in the city of Shushan lived a man of Jewish descent by the name of Mordecai, whose great-grandfather had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians when they destroyed Jerusalem.
This man had raised a child by the name of Esther; she was Mordecai’s cousin, whose father and mother had died while she was still young; leaving her an orphan. Therefore Mordecai had taken her into his own care.
Esther, now a young woman, was enchantingly beautiful. As such, she was selected as one of those to be presented before the king. She was taken under the custody of Hegai, the king’s personal Eunuch and official custodian of the king’s women. Esther found favour with Hegai, and he paid special attention to her needs, granting her privileges denied the others.
Now after a period of twelve months beauty therapy (and ladies, don’t ask me what that involved), Esther’s turn came to be presented before the king. As you might have guessed, king Ahasuerus was love-struck. It being written that:
‘The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight, more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.’
Of A Good Man And His Evil Nemesis
Now up until this time no one knew that Esther was a Jew, for Mordecai had instructed her to keep that fact a secret. Why? We are not told, but likely due to the Jews reputation of not assimilating fully within Babylonian society; such a reputation may have dissuaded Ahasuerus from choosing her.
After Esther had become Queen, Mordecai took up the custom of sitting daily at the gate of the palace, known as the King’s Gate. And it was because of this daily ritual that Mordecai learnt of a plot by two of the gatekeepers to do violence against the king, Esther’s new husband.
Mordecai informs Esther, who in turn tells her husband and, after an investigation, the two guilty doorkeepers are hanged for treason. But although the event is recorded by the king’s scribes in the book of the Chronicles, Mordecai is inadvertently overlooked and receives no reward for his loyalty.
Now sometime after these events, a man of Persia by the name of Haman finds favour with the king and is elevated even above all the Princes of the realm. We are not told why Ahasuerus promoted him, Whatever the reason, Ahasuerus is so impressed with Haman that he commands that all to bow and pay homage whenever the man passes by.
Mordecai, however, refuses to bow to the man. The only reason we are given, is because he was a Jew, a group known for their strict moral laws. Likely it is that Mordecai knew Haman. Knew there was no fear of God in the man. Knew he was unscrupulous and. Therefore he despised him, refusing to bow to a man he had no respect for.
Regardless, Haman’s vain ego is hurt by Mordecai's lack of adulation; though he lays no hand on Mordecai, for he fears the reputation of the Jews; their retaliation if he dare touch him. So being an evil scheming coward, Haman plots to rid himself not only of the defiant Mordecai, but every Jew within the kingdom. He plots genocide, the destruction of a whole people for no other reason than one mans refusal to bow before him.
Taking advantage of his high position before the king, Haman goes to Ahasuerus and says,
“There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
Sadly, the king agrees to the words of his right-hand man; the fact that money was promised may have been the clincher; its modern equivalent estimated at twenty-million-dollars.
Therefore Ahasuerus has letters drawn up and sent to every province of Persia declaring that on the 13th day of the 12th month it would be open season on the Jews, that it was the kings royal will that on that day the Jews be killed (young & old, male & female) and that their possessions be plundered.
Of A Queens Courage
Now, as you can imagine, in every province throughout Persia there arose a great anguish and weeping.The Jewish people saw their doom. Many tore their clothes, put on sackcloth and covered themselves with ashes; a sign of deepest grief and sorrow.
Mordecai was one of those. After hearing the news, he sat down at the king’s gate and cried aloud with tears and bitter grief in his soul.
It was not long before Esther heard of Mordecai’s distress, and sends messengers to find out the problem; of which she was completely unaware. The messenger returns to Esther with a message from Mordecai.
Mordecai requests that Esther go to the king and plead with him on the Jewish peoples behalf.
Esther, however, sends a messenger back reminding Mordecai that unless summoned no-one is permitted into the king’s presence, on pain of death; not even his wife.
But Mordecai sends this message back, revealing something of his deep faith and spirituality;
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther, on hearing this, is convicted of her obligation seek salvation for her people. She asks that Mordecai gather all the Jews of Shushan together, that they might fast and pray on her behalf. She ends the message with the resigned and fatalistic sentiment;
‘If I perish, I perish.’
So, putting on her best robes, she enters uninvited into the king’s presence.
Will she be banished like Vashti, or worse, be cut down by the royal guard?
No. She finds Ahasuerus on a good day. Upon seeing her, he smiles. Raising his royal sceptre he grants her life and an audience. In fact so pleased is he to see her that he offers her anything she desires even up to half his kingdom (amazing what prayer can accomplish, and a pretty face).
Esther, keeping her priorities firmly fixed, uses the opportunity to invite the king and Haman to a banquet that she wishes to prepare for them.
The king is very pleased, and quickly summons Haman so that they can arrange what Esther has suggested.
At the banquet the king asks Esther what she wants, even up to half his kingdom. Rather than immediately answer the king’s question, Esther them both to another banquet which she will prepare for the next day. There, she says, she will make known her true request.
Of A Wicked Mans Prideful Malevolence
Well, you can imagine how big-headed Haman was when he travelled home that night. He was not only high in the kings esteem, but the queen had invited him not to one, but two banquets – just for the king and he. Haman had a song in his heart and a bounce in his step as he travelled home. He was almost buoyant with self-importance.
Almost, but not quite, for as he travelled who should he pass but good-old-Mordecai. And although the king might have found reasons to esteem Haman, and the queen have favoured him as a dinner guest, Mordecai didn’t think much of Haman at all. In fact he didn’t even get himself up off his seat to acknowledge the man.
Well this took the zing right out of Haman’s mood. Such that upon arriving home he seeks comfort by calling for his friends and his wife and telling them just how important he was;
Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honoured him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”
Mordecai’s refusal to honour Haman was like a thorn in Haman’s foot, overshadowing all his good things in his life and robbing him of the total satisfaction he wanted.
So on the advice of his wife, Haman orders that a gallows 23 metres high (that's 7 stories tall) be built. First thing in the morning, before the banquet, he would suggest to the king that the troublesome Mordecai be hanged. With these plans made, Haman went to bed happy in the thought that soon he would not only be an honoured guest of the queen, but rid of the insignificant upstart Mordecai.
Now although Haman might have slept well, king Ahasuerus did not. In frustration he had finally asked that the records of the chronicles be brought and read to him. Whether an attempt to get to sleep or just something he enjoyed listening to, we don’t know. But he was read too until morning.
During the course of the reading, the scribe had detailed to the king the recent assassination attempt on Ahasuerus’ life that Mordecai had thwarted.
When the king questioned what reward Mordecai received and learns that he received nothing, Ahasuerus immediately commands that one of the nobles at court be summoned to come to the king straight away.
Now it just so happened that Haman was the sole noble present in the palace court at the time, and he was on his way to suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged.
When Haman comes before the king, the king simply asks;
‘Haman, what shall be done for the man in whom the king delights to honour?’
Now Haman –whose last name should really have been Vainglory– immediately thought to himself;
'Whom would the king delight to honour more than me?’
And so Haman answered the king;
“For the man the king delights to honour, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honour, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’”
The king thinks for a while and then nods. And just when Haman’s smile of conceited delight can get no wider, Ahasuerus replies;
‘Hasten, take the robe and the horse as you have suggested and so do for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the kings gate, leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken.’
Poor, pitiful Haman. Can you imagine the shocked look in his face and the bitter effort of having to swallow his vast ego and parade Mordecai through the streets proclaiming him as honoured of the king.
Further more, he now has a 23 meter high gallows with no-one to hang on it.
After this humbling experience, Haman rushes home, his head covered in mourning. This time he tells his wife and friends not how great he is, but how depressed he feels. To which Haman’s wife replies with a very interesting comment.
“Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!”
While Haman was still lamenting, a servant comes to escort him to the Queens banquet. Once there, the king again asks Esther what is her request, even up to half the kingdom.
Esther looks at her husband and says;
“If I have found favour with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king."
When he heard this, Ahasuerus was shocked and asked who it was that sought to harm the Queen and her people. Esther, turning to Haman, who most probably had turned white at the realisation of what was occurring, said;
“The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman.”
Ahasuerus became so angry at Haman that he had to leave the room to contain himself. However, while the king is absent, poor Haman throws himself across the couch upon which Esther lay upon, and pleads to her for his life.
Unfortunately for Haman, when the king suddenly returns he misunderstands what Haman is doing; thinking it an attempt to seduce his wife. So that very hour they took Haman, and taking advantage of a gallows that someone had conveniently built, they hanged him on it.
Then, it says, the kings wrath subsided.
Of A Nation Sentenced To Death
The problem of Haman dealt with, the Jews still faced the decree that Ahasuerus had passed; the one that commanded all Jews to be killed on the 13th day of the 12th month. A royal and therefore irreversible decree.
To overcome this, the king elevates Mordecai to the same position as the former Haman, and giving him his royal signet ring, he authorises Mordecai to write a second decree, this one for all the Jews: that on the 13th day of the 12th month it was the kings will that the Jews not only defend themselves from their enemies, but also go out and destroy them and plunder their possessions.
This letter was sent throughout all Persia.
On the 13th day of the 12th month, all the Jews of each city gathered together and defended themselves; and so feared were they that the governors of each province lent them their armies to aid them. So it was that
The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them.
And in Shushan, the capital, the king hanged Haman’s ten sons and granted the Jews another day –the 14th– in which they could bear weapons to destroy their enemies.
In ESTHER 9:16-17 we read
Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder. This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
And from that day on the Jews celebrate the 14th and 15th of the 12th month as the feast of Purim, every year.
And to finish the story we are told that
King Xerxes imposed tribute throughout the empire, to its distant shores. And all his acts of power and might, together with a full account of the greatness of Mordecai, whom the king had promoted, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.
The name of God does not appear once in Esther's story, though the hand of God is seen everywhere. More than any other bible story, Esther's vividly demonstrates God working in the shadows to care for His people.
It is a story that causes us to reflect: ‘Why God has allowed me to live at this particular hour?’
Are we looking, like Mordecai and Esther, for ways to serve God? Would we be willing, like Esther, to jeopardise our lives to do what is right?
There are many lessons to be learned from Esther, but I challenge you to make your own personal applications and to measure yourself by the examples set.
© 2020 Richard Parr