So we’re sticking with our theme of stories – those of Biblical characters and stories from our community. I would like to tell you the story of Esther. It begins with a party lasting for seven days. In Esther chapter 1: 8-9 it reads, “Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.” Can you imagine a party lasting for seven days? It would be like Mardi Gras to the extreme. Or if you saw the movie version of The Great Gatsby or even previews, it would be like morning never comes. The party never ends. On the seventh day, the King, who was in “high spirits” from wine orders Queen Vashti to make an appearance so they can behold her beauty, she’s his centerpiece after all. But Queen Vashti refuses to come. The text doesn’t say why she didn’t come. Maybe she didn’t feel like it, maybe she was sleeping and she didn’t want to be rudely woken up by a summons from the king, maybe she thought ‘I’m the Queen,’ how dare the King request me. We’re not sure. As the eunuchs give the Queen’s response to the King, he was furious. Angry at her refusal to obey, the King asked his wise men what should be done. One of them said it would set a bad precedent. Esther 1:16-17, “Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the provinces. For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands.” So Queen Vashti got deposed and at the end of chapter 1 the King sent letters to all the royal provinces, in their own language, “declaring that every man should be master in his own house.” It begs the question, was he that threatened? That’s neither here nor there.
Okay so how did Esther arrive on the scene? While the king was having second thoughts for having Vashti banned, his servants encouraged him to gather “beautiful young virgins” from every province in the kingdom and let “cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” The king thought this was a very good idea.
I feel like at some points I’m telling a fairy tale here. Esther was the most beautiful, fairest in the land. There was a Jewish man named Mordecai, and he had brought up Esther as his own daughter because she was an orphan. And so of course, she ended up with the king. I’m skipping several plot points here – the twelve month beautification in the king’s harem Esther underwent and the king actually choosing her. I feel like I’m telling the plot of Pretty Woman at this point. Anyway, the king made her queen instead of Vashti and gave a banquet in Esther’s honor.
And they lived happily ever after?
They may not if Evy had had her way. The fam had all piled on top of the bed before the kids had to go to swimming and Evy was playing Barbies. Apparently Ariel was married to Prince Charming, but he was dancing with Cinderella. She had Prince Charming and Cinderella and I was Ariel, and I was to break them up from dancing. Random. The girl has an extensive imagination.
Back to the story, what happens after happily after? Things get real.
Shortly thereafter, when Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gates, he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai let Esther know, and she warned the king about it. Mordecai was given credit for unfurling the plot and the two treasonous guards were hung on the gallows.
Now you should be hearing villainous music and lots of bass and minor notes because I’m about to introduce the character of Haman. It says the king “advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him. All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down.” But Mordecai refused, because he was a Jew, who would bow to no one except God. This made Haman very angry and he along with his wife and his advisors plotted against the Jews making a plan to exterminate the Jews from the Persian empire. Haman uses his influence on the king and makes the king a pawn in his chess game against Mordecai, saying the Jews don’t keep the same laws. So the king agrees. Esther 3:13, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”
When Mordecai learns this he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth. When Esther finds about this she is obviously distressed because she is a Jew and from the beginning Mordecai told her to be silent about her heritage in the palace. Mordecai sends this reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
What ensues is some palace intrigue.
Esther was not permitted to see the king unless he had asked for her otherwise she could be put to death. And she had not been called in to see the king in 30 days, so she, her maid-servants, and all of the Jews of Persia fasted earnestly for three days before she built up enough courage to enter the king’s presence. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and held out his scepter to her. He then asked Esther what she wished of him, promising to grant even up to half his kingdom should she ask. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman. During the banquet, she requested another banquet with the king and Haman the following day.
Cue villainous laughter, Haman was already ordering gallows to be constructed to hang Mordecai. At the same time, Esther 6:1 says, “On that night the king could not sleep, and he gave orders to bring the book of records, the annals, and they were read to the king” and he remembers that Mordecai had saved him from the previous assassination attempt and the king realizes he had not rewarded Mordecai.
Early the next morning, Haman came to the king to ask permission to hang Mordecai, but before he could, the king asked him “What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman thought the king meant himself, so he said that the man should wear a royal robe and be led on one of the king’s horses through the city streets proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” The king thought this was appropriate, and asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way, to honor him for previously uncovering the plot against the king. After doing this, Haman rushed home, full of grief. His wife said to him, “You will surely come to ruin!”
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”[a] 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!”
Haman then pleaded with Esther to save his life. Seeing Haman on Esther’s couch begging, the king became further enraged and had him hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The king then appointed Mordecai as his prime minister, and gave the Jews the right to defend themselves against any enemy. This precipitated a series of reprisals by the Jews against their enemies. This fight began on the 13th of Adar, the date the Jews were originally slated to be exterminated.
So it was a happy ending for God’s people. Jewish people still today celebrate Purim in remembrance of their deliverance.
So how do we relate to the story of Esther? Did God place us exactly where we are now, in this time, and in this place “for such a time as this?” How can we stand up on behalf of the marginalized in our own lives speaking truth to power? In what ways are we challenged by the story? How is Esther’s story intersecting with your life right now?