Esther – part 3

This week we’re looking at the OT story of Esther. You really need to start from Monday’s post.

Chapter 4

Mordecai, of course, finds out about the proclamation. The impending disaster about to come upon him and his people. So he asks Esther to help.

Esther’s scared. She reminds Mordecai that anyone who just ‘drops by’ uninvited to see the king will be killed; even the queen. Unless the king extends his sceptre and welcomes them in. So basically you’re dicing with death over the king’s mood. If he’s got a hangover that morning, you’re gone. So Esther tries to stay out of it.

Mordecai replies to her, saying:

4:13 ‘Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape’.

This might just be pointing out a fact – you’re Jewish, so you’re in the firing line too. But it could also be a veiled threat. Mordecai might be threatening to reveal her Jewish heritage if she fails to act. And then he says something very intriguing:

4:14a ‘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.’

What other place? Who else will deliver the Jews? And how can Mordecai be so confident? Is he referring to God?

Probably.

Possibly.

It’s as though the narrator has gone to great lengths to keep God out of the story.

And then, Mordecai utters probably the most famous verse of the book of Esther. If you’ve ever heard a sermon on Esther, it was probably about this verse:

4:14b ‘And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?’

Esther, he says, this is your God-given destiny! Perhaps. Maybe. Who knows. [] And he doesn’t mention the God bit. ‘Who knows, but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this’. You have come. Not ‘God has placed you here’. Just ‘you have come’. ‘Who knows. Maybe.

Anyway, Esther decides to bite the bullet. Or less anachronistically, chew the arrow, and she tells Mordecai she’ll do it.

4:16a ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me…’

Esther, you mean ‘fast and pray’, surely? Don’t those two go together? No. Just fast. OK.

 4:16b ‘Do not eat or  drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’

Chapter 5

Esther goes to the king. And in a bit of an anticlimax, he immediately extends his sceptre. After all, she’s hot. So she’s allowed in to see the king. And the king immediately asks her ‘What’s your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given to you’. She obviously got him on a good day.

So what does she do? Say, ‘O King, spare my life and the lives of my people?’ No. Instead she says, ‘come to a banquet I’ve prepared for you today… There’ll be wine…’ Does she know her man or what! ‘Oh, and by the way, bring Haman with you.’

So Xerxes and his second in command go to this private banquet with Esther. And while they’re drinking wine, Xerxes asks her again: ‘What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.’ He’s half sloshed. Is there any better time to ask for mercy now? But no. She simply says:

5:8 ‘If the king regards me with favour and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfil my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.’

She’s playing it carefully. Slowly. But is it too slowly? Has she missed her chance? Because Haman goes out from the banquet happy. But that soon changes when he spots Mordecai hanging around the palace. He goes home fuming, complaining to his family that he’s the second most important person in the empire, he was the only guest at the king’s private banquet today – but he can’t enjoy any of it while that Mordecai’s hanging around, refusing to honour him.

So his family says, why don’t you have him killed? Have a gallows built 75 feet high. (That’s as high as a 6-storey building, which in an ancient city would have stood out a bit.) And once this gallows is built, hang Mordecai on it. The Bible says, ‘This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built.’

To be continued…

Read the full text of Esther 4 and 5 now.

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