This week we’re looking at the OT story of Esther. You really need to start from Monday’s post.
Later that night. The king can’t sleep. Too much wine, perhaps? So his attendants start reading to him from the chronicles of his reign. The official record of events. All the best stuff that’s happened to him as king so far. That should put him to sleep.
But it doesn’t work. Because it just so happens that they’re reading from the bit where Mordecai saved the king from assassination by Bigthana and Teresh. And the king asks, ‘What honour and recognition has Mordecai received for this?’ But there was no record. Nothing was done for him. The king thinks this is outrageous, and decides he’s going to do something about it. But he can’t think of how to reward Mordecai. And no-one was around to suggest a Coles-Myer gift card.
But true to form, Xerxes wants to phone a friend. So he looks out the window to see if anyone else is still up. And he spots Haman scurrying around in the courtyard, and calls him up. Haman’s thinking, ‘today is my lucky day. The king wants to see me, at this time of night. It can only be good.’ And in his hand, he’s got Mordecai’s death warrant for the king to sign.
He enters, and before he can speak the king says:6:6-9 “What should be done for the man the king delights to honour?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honour than me?” So he 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 Hama…, I mean, this is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’ ”
The king says, ‘excellent suggestion. I like it. Do all that, and don’t leave a thing out. And do it all for… Mordecai.’
You can feel the colour draining from his face. After all, he’s holding Mordecai’s death warrant. The king says, ‘So what did you want to see me about? What have you got there?’. <Puts hands behind back> ‘Oh, nothing…’ And so he’s forced to lead Mordecai on the king’s horse throughout the streets. The guy he’s just built a 75-foot tall gallows for. He’s not a happy camper.
Haman and Xerxes go to Queen Esther’s second banquet. Again, they’re drinking wine. And again, the king asks, ‘Queen Esther, what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.’ Here’s the moment.7:3-4 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favour with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as… slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”
You can imagine Haman shifting uncomfortably as she hints at his little enslave/destroy wordplay.7:5-6 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.” Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.
Well the king’s furious. He storms out, so angry he leaves his wine behind. The narrator actually mentions this, it’s so significant. When he goes, Haman throws himself upon Esther’s couch, begging for mercy. Bad move. Because the king storms back in. Probably he realised he’s left his wine behind. And he sees Haman on the couch, and thinks he’s now trying to molest the queen.
Sensing the king might need some advice in this tricky situation, one of the eunuchs points out that the king might like to hang Haman on, oh, maybe the 75-foot high gallows he’s been building. For some guy called… um… Mordecai? The king likes that advice, even though it doesn’t immediately involve wine, and Haman is hanged.
There, says the narrator. That’s what happens to someone who is evil & corrupt & opposes God’s people!
Except he doesn’t.
Again, the narrator remains silent.
Although the evil villain is now dead, the story continues for another few chapters. After all, the edict to kill all the Jews is still in force, and it can’t be repealed even by the king, according to Persian law.
So Mordecai, who now has been promoted, Joseph-like, to Haman’s (you can stop booing in your head now – he’s dead, you don’t have to rub it in to the poor guy) position of second-in-command, gives some advice. Which the king likes. A decree is sent out that the Jews are allowed to defend themselves. They can arm themselves and fight anyone who comes against them at the appointed time.
And so they do. They slaughter 75,000 people who came against them across the empire. They are victorious. Because God was with them? The narrator doesn’t say.
But afterwards, on the 14th day of the last month, they hold a great feast to celebrate this victory. A feast that Jews observe to this day. It’s called Purim. And there, they read this story, and remind themselves of the great deliverance that God brou…
I mean, the great deliverance that somehow came to them.
To be continued…
Read the full text of Esther chapters 6 and 7 now.