By Heather Blais
Once every three years, the lectionary gives us a sneak peek at the story of Queen Esther. A woman who saved her people when all seemed lost, in a story, that never mentions God by name, yet whose presence is clearly there. Her story begins before she was ever made royalty. In fact, she was a beautiful young woman, who had been orphaned, due to the untimely death of her parents. She was raised by her cousin Mordecai, a faithful Jew who loved Esther as his own daughter. They lived in Persia, under the rule of King Ahasuerus.
Now, Mordecai was a man of some status, as he routinely sat at the king’s gate and had a good sense about what was happening in the kingdom. Which is how he came to learn about King Ahasuerus’s latest scandal. Apparently, in the week following a lavish, six month banquet for important officials in his kingdom, he had thrown a smaller banquet in his courtyard for people within the city. At the same time, his wife, Queen Vashti, was throwing a banquet for all the women in the palace. And as is want to happen when you party for six months and a week, the king became drunk, and demanded that the queen come see him at once.Well, when Queen Vashti refused, he was outraged.So much so, that he spoke to his lawyers about what he could do legally to punish her. The lawyers suggested that not only had Queen Vashti offended the king by not coming to him when called for, but she had also offended every male in the kingdom. For if Queen Vashti did not go to her husband when called, soon, other women would begin to disobey their husbands.So the lawyers and the king agreed that Queen Vashti must be replaced at once.
When Mordecai realized the king was looking for a new queen, he sent Esther to the palace and made her promise not to tell anyone she was Jewish, and assured her he would come by the gate to check on her each day. Esther joined many other beautiful young women, all vying to be the next queen. They underwent twelve months of rigorous beauty treatments, before they were each given their chance to have an evening with the king. When Esther’s time came, the king loved her more than all the others, so he put a crown on her head, and threw a banquet in her honor.
Mordecai was pleased his cousin was the new queen of Persia, and he kept his promise to check on her each day at the gate. One day while sitting at the gate, Mordecai overheard two of the king’s guards conspiring to kill the king. Mordecai immediately sent word to Queen Esther, and asked her to tell the king in the name of Mordecai. Queen Esther did so, and Mordecai’s saving act was recorded in the king’s book of record, while the two guards were killed. As time passed by, things were going quite well for the king and queen, until one day, the king promoted the wrong guy to be his new prime minister, Haman.
One of the perks of Prime Minister Haman’s promotion, was the king had commanded that anyone at the gate bow down whenever Haman passed by, as a way of honoring his status as the king’s right hand man. And everyone did bow down, except Mordecai. This drove Haman nuts. Who was this guy that refused to bow down to him? As he began to sniff around, he learned that Mordecai was Jewish and he began to plot a way to kill all of the Jewish people within the kingdom. While meeting with King Ahasuerus, Haman informed him there were a people scattered throughout the kingdom who did not keep the king’s laws. He suggested the king eliminate these people from the kingdom, and the king agreed. So Prime Minister Haman set a date on the calendar for an ethnic cleansing--to eliminate all Jewish people within the 127 provinces of the kingdom. He sent out a royal decree with detailed instructions sent to all of the kingdom’s governing officials.
Now when Mordecai heard about the upcoming annihilation of his people, he took off his clothes, and put on a sackcloth so that he might wail outside the king’s gate. Queen Esther tried to send Mordecai clothes, but he refused them. When she sent her servant to Mordecai for an explanation, he told Queen Esther about the royal decree, and asked her to speak to the king on behalf of her people. Queen Esther knew she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Under no uncertain terms does anyone approach the king, unless they have been summoned.If she approached the king without being summoned, she could end up being kicked to the curb like Queen Vashti, or worse, she could be killed.
Yet Mordecai pressed her on the matter:
“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 father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this (Esther 4:13-14)”
Queen Esther relents, and tells Mordecai to gather the Jews and fast for three days.On the third day of fasting, Esther put on her robes, and approached the king in the courtyard who immediately invited her in. He was so delighted with her, that he offered her anything she wanted, even up to half of his kingdom. Yet instead of asking to save her people in that moment, she invites the king and his prime minister to join her for a special banquet the following day. King Ahasuerus and Prime Minister Haman both gladly accept the invitation.
Now, Prime Minister Haman is feeling pretty good right about now. He is the king’s right hand man, he is about to have a private audience with the king and queen, and soon those troublesome Jews would be annihilated.Which is why it gets under his skin when he notices Mordecai standing tall in his sackcloth, as Haman passed the gate on his walk home.He complained to his wife about this infuriating man, and she suggested that he have a gallow built, and ask the king to hang Mordecai the following day. This way, he could arrive at the banquet without this frustrating man on his mind. Haman thought this was a fine plan, and ordered the gallows be built.
That same night, the king found himself tossing and turning, unable to sleep.He asked one of his servants to bring him the book of record and read it to him. And it just so happened, that the servant read about Mordecai’s saving act--when two of the guards had plotted to kill the king. When the king realized nothing had been done to honor Mordecai, he asked his servant to find Prime Minister Haman, so they could honor Mordecai. When Haman arrived, the king asked him how to honor a man in need of recognition, and Haman was arrogant enough to assume the king wanted to honor him. So Haman suggests that the king offer the man royal robes and horses. Thinking this a fine idea, the king instructed Haman to go to Mordecai at the gate, adorn him with royal robes, lead him on the royal horses out into the open square. Haman was mortified. Yet, he still did as the king instructed, but immediately afterwards he ran home to his family, who cautioned him that there was no way he could prevail against the Jews now.
That evening, Haman headed to Queen Esther’s banquet. And the three of them had such a great time, that the king asked Esther a second time what she might like--even up to half of his kingdom. Queen Esther answered,
“If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives. We’ve been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed—sold to be massacred, eliminated. (Esther 7:13-14 The Message)”
Stunned, the king asked who would presume to do such a thing. Queen Esther tells him--a foe, an enemy, this Haman. The king is so overcome with anger, that he storms out into the palace garden, while Haman throws himself upon Queen Esther and begs for his life. Yet when King Ahasuerus walks back in, all he sees is Haman on top of Esther, and he is consumed with rage that Haman would dare assault his queen, in his own house, in his own presence! The king orders Prime Minister Haman hung on the very gallow Haman had built to destroy Mordecai.
After everything that had taken place, Queen Esther finally told the king about her cousin Mordecai. The king immediately invited him into the palace. He gave Mordecai his signet ring, and Haman’s former home to Queen Esther. More importantly, the king agreed to rescind his earlier decree ordering the ethnic cleansing of the Jews. Instead a new edict was written, and new orders were given, that should anyone try to harm the Jewish people, they would instead be killed. The letter was sealed with the signet ring worn by Mordecai, and was sent as quickly as possible to all 127 provinces. And on that day, the Jewish people were saved, and for the following two days, anyone who tried to harm the Jews was killed. In all, several thousand people were killed. Afterwards, there was a new sense of joy, light and gladness within the city. The Jews celebrated their salvation and the courage of Queen Esther with a new holiday, known as Purim.
Perhaps, we were made for these times. In order to shine Christ’s light into the dark corners of this world; to spread hope to the hopeless in our lives; to let laughter overwhelm and calm our fears. So that we might do things we never thought possible. Can you remember a time you felt compelled, even called to speak? What was that like for you? In what ways might God be calling you to speak up? to spread light? to spread joy, laughter, or hope?
“Perhaps you have come...for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14b). Amen.
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