The book of Esther tells the the story of a young Jewish woman named Hadassah ("Myrtle"), but known by the Persian name Esther ("Star"), who becomes queen of the Persian Empire. She would use her position in the kingdom to expose a man, named Haman, in King Ahasuerus' court who had plotted to destroy the Jews. Later she would craft a plan to protect them from their attackers.
This book is anonymous, though many historical figures, including Mordecai, have been suggested as its author. Written in a style unlike contemporary accounts in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, few clues are available to conjecture who God used to pen the book.
The Fall of Vashti
Ahasuerus, or Xerxes to Greek historians, had inherited quite an empire from his Darius. In the third year of his twenty year reign, he called for a celebration. With 127 provinces, Persia stretched from India to Ethiopia. Each of these provinces had administrative heads called "princes." With so many people coming to the party, it took a full six months to celebrate the wealth and glory that his kingdom had gained .
In showing off all its glory, the greatest of these was the queen, a beautiful woman named Vashti. Like most despots of his day, Ahasuerus expected obedience from his wife. After a week of partying, the King had become drunk and decided to show off his wife to the assembled men at the party. He sent seven eunuchs (men in charge of his harem) to bring Vashti to the party so everyone could see how pretty she was .
However, since the big party was for men only, Vashti had thrown her own party for the women. When the eunuchs brought word of her husband's plan, she was embarrassed in front of all her friends. She refused to obey the command of the most powerful man in the world at the time. When the eunuchs brought this news back to the king, he was very displeased .
Though it was within his power to make a decree on his own, Ahasuerus instead sought the counsel of his closest advisors. These men reminded him that the queen was known far and wide, and that her actions were bound to be followed by women all over the empire. They advised him to act quickly and very publicly. As a result a public pronouncement was made that the queen had to be deposed. The new law reaffirmed the position of wives in relationship to their husbands. Many copies of the law were made in multiple languages .
The once honored Queen Vashti had become a commoner, freed of her riches and sent to live far from where she would never have a public presence again. This left an opening in the palace. The kingdom needed a new queen. The search would take two years .
The Rise of Esther
Among the influential Jewish subjects of the Persian empire was a man named Mordecai (a common Persian name) belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (and a distant descendant of Saul, the first king of Israel) . In the days since the Babylonians had taken his family into what was now ruled by Persia, many Jews had taken the words of Jeremiah seriously . They lived peacefully outside of their homeland, even in the days after a remnant had returned to Judah.
When the law was published about a search for a new queen, Mordecai saw an opportunity to advance the cause of the Jews by putting forward his cousin, orphaned Hadassah, as a candidate. In what amounted to an empire wide beauty pageant, a call had been made for young maidens to come to the capital to compete for the honor of being added to the harem of the king. However, Mordecai insisted that his adopted daughter not reveal her heritage . She would be known only as "Esther," the Persian word for "Star."
The plan worked, and after a year-long process of making her look even more beautiful, Esther won the right to be the queen of Persia. Once again, Ahasuerus threw a big party to honor his new queen . From her new position, Esther was able to get Mordecai a place of authority at the gate of the palace. it was from this vantage point that her cousin was able to overhear a plot against the king's life. He was then able to tell Esther, who had an investigation made to expose the conspirators. After these men were publically executed, an account of the investigation was recorded in the king's daily reports .
The Rise and Fall of Haman
The Jews were not the only ones from the client states that lived and served in office in Persia. Some of the ancient Philistine and Canaanite peoples also had been taken into captivity. Among them had been the ancestors of a man named Haman, and Agagite. It had been the king of the Agagites that had been spared by Saul, Mordecai's ancestor, only to be killed by the prophet Samuel.
However, Haman had risen in the ranks to become a favorite of Ahasuerus. Soon after Mordecai had been appointed by a good word from Esther, her husband had promoted a man that hated her people. Her adoptive father had no respect for Haman, and refused to bow to him when the new chief prince of the kingdom. Haman became very mad, and plotted not only the downfall of his enemy, but the destruction of every Jew in the land .
As a chief advisor of Ahasuerus, Haman was able to convince him that there was a danger to him and his reign in the foreign subjects that refused to recognize the divine nature of the king and his court. Ahasuerus was not very perceptive of this threat, and trusted that Haman could take care of it. Apparently without a second thought, he allowed his chief of staff, to use the royal seal to authorize the genocide of the Jews within the empire .
When Mordecai read the publically announced decree to annihilate the Jews at the end of the year, he lead the Jews in Shushan in a period of mourning and fasting. When Esther's staff saw what was happening, she sent her chief of staff, a eunuch named Hatach, to find out what was going on. After a few messages were exchanged, Esther knew she had to intervene, even if Ahasuerus had not summoned her .
After successfully coming into the throne room, Esther was able to arrange a banquet with but one guest, the enemy of her people, Haman the Agagite. Meanwhile, Haman had ideas of his own. He boasted to his family that he would have Mordecai publically executed for his disrespect of the king's favorite advisor - himself. It was in this mood that he accepted the invitation to the banquet, thinking himself to be hero .
He did not know that the king had found out that Mordecai had been instrumental in thwarting an attempt on his life. Having had a restless night, Ahasuerus had asked his boring records be read. As it so happened, the passage about Mordecai exposing an assassination attempt was read. The next day, when Haman came to the banquet, the king asked his trusted advisor what should be done for a national hero. Thinking his king was speaking of himself, Haman suggested royal robes and a parade were in order .
To his dismay, Haman received instructions to prepare the honor for Mordecai, the Jew. Humiliated, Haman pushed his plan forward to exterminate all Jews. But before that could be put into action, he was to go to yet another feast at the behest of the queen. At that feast, though, he was exposed for the fiend that he was. His attempts at seeking mercy from Esther were misconstrued by Ahasuerus, bringing his short reign as "prime minister" to a bloody conclusion. He was publically executed on the same gallows that he had erected for Mordecai .
The Miracle of Purim
The laws of the Persian rulers were irreversible. Just as when Daniel had to be thrown to the lions on account of an unwise law "set in stone" by his friend's advisors, so the people of the queen of Persia, now known to be a Jewess, were sentenced to die on thirteenth day of the twelfth month of the year. The law had been published on Nisan 13, the day before Passover, the very day that observant Jews were to slay a lamb in Jerusalem .
Though any day could have been chosen, the process depended on the "will of the gods" -- a process of lottery which chose the month and the day. As it so happened, a full eleven months was allowed for preparation for the campaign to exterminate the Jews. When Esther petitioned her husband to change the decree, the king pled the tradition -- the way of the Persians -- that not even the king could change a law that bore his seal.
But, now that Mordecai held the same office as Haman had recently vacated, along with the authority that Esther held as queen, a new law was decreed, giving the Jews the right to defend themselves when the day came. There were many people that hated the Jews besides Haman. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that they would seek to destroy these foreigners among them. But, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (early spring) the tables were turned with the new decree .
The Jews were successful in defending themselves. They were able to not only when decisive victories, killing five hundred men in the capital, including the ten sons of their enemy Haman. When asked if further commands were needed, Esther told her husband that they needed another day to fully end the threat to here people. On the fourteenth of Adar, the Jews continued to destroy their enemies, killing three hundred more. Throughout the two days Jews all over the empire defended themselves, killing seventy five thousand of their enemy. In every case, they refused to take any of the property of their enemies .
After the victory, Esther and Mordecai made a decree, sealed with Ahasuerus' ring, that a two-day holiday would be made to commemorate the notable events of the days in the twelfth year of the reign of Ahasuerus, son of Darius. The holiday would become known as Purim, after the word Pur, meaning lot. The lottery that had chosen the day of slaughter gave rise to the most joyous day of the Jewish year. From that time on, Adar 14-15 would be celebrated with feasting, and joyous exchanging of gifts and acts of mercy towards the poor .
Mordecai rises to power
In the aftermath of the victory for the Jews of Persia, Mordecai joined Esther as leader of all of Persia, second only to Ahasuerus. For most of the rest of the king's reign, he would have these too foreigners rule over the vast Persian empire. there would be peace for the rest of their days among the provinces .
- ↑ Esther 1:1-4 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 1:10-11 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 1:12 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 1:13-22 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 2:1-4 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 2:5 (Link)
- ↑ Jeremiah 29:4-7 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 2:10 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 2:18 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 2:19-23 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 3:1-6 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 3:7-15 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 4:1-17 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 5:1-12 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 6:1-14 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 7:1-10 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 3:12-13 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 8:8-14 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 9:1-16 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 9:17-32 (Link)
- ↑ Esther 10:1-3 (Link)