LINK: Esther 3 & 4
The king was boastful. Eastern rulers often hosted elaborate banquets in order to impress their guests with their power and wealth. The Scriptures do not tell us the reason for this particular banquet. Herodotus in the Histories may be referring to it when he states that Ahasuerus was conferring with his leaders about a possible invasion of Greece. His father, Darius I, had invaded Greece but was defeated at Marathon in 490, and his son felt compelled to avenge his father and expand his kingdom. Herodotus speculates that Ahasuerus wanted to invade all of Europe and make "the whole earth into one empire." History tells us that his fleet did defeat the Greeks at Thermopylae but was defeated at the Battle of Alamis in 480 B.C. and Plataea in 479 B.C. He had to go home after this, and Esther came into the picture in 479 B.C. after these defeats.
It was important for Ahasuerus to impress his nobles and military leaders with these banquets that lasted 187 days! What a blow to his pride when his own Queen Vashti did not want to play the "impress game." By the seventh day of the celebration, the feast would have been a drunken party. Scripture does not tell us why Vashti refused, but there is some speculation that it may have been because she was pregnant with Artaxerxes, who was born in 483 B.C. Regardless, it was a tremendous insult to the king and his guests. Vashti was deposed in order to send a message to the whole kingdom that every man should be a ruler in his own household!
Enter Esther into the king's harem where she waited for at least 12 months. Mordecai (his Babylonian name is taken from the god Marduk) was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and hid the fact that he and his cousin, Esther, were Jews. Kish, Mordecai's great-grandfather, was deported by Nebuchadnezzar along with Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. The name Esther is a Persian name meaning "star." Her Hebrew name was Hadassah which means "myrtle."
According to the Mosaic Law, Esther was not to marry a pagan (Deuteronomy 7:1-4) or have sexual relations with a man who was not her husband (Exodus 20:14), and yet this was her purpose in the harem. She also ate the king's food (Esther 2:9). This is different from Daniel who refused to eat at the king's table (Daniel 1:5) because it was unclean according to Jewish Law.
Esther won the king's affection, but she was also being prepared for sexual relations with the king. Most of the king's concubines would go to the king only once and live the rest of their lives in the harem. Esther, however, pleased the king so much that she was made queen in place of Vashti in 478 B.C.
Mordecai was at the king's gate as a judiciary official and uncovered a plot to assassinate the king leading to the two men being hung on the gallows (the men were probably impaled on a stake or post - Ezra 6:11). Mordecai is not rewarded for his work.
Now, enter the antagonist in this great story: Haman. Haman was an Agagite. Agag was a province in the Persian Empire. He was elevated to the highest position by Xerxes and was due special respect by others kneeling down to him as an act of worship. Mordecai refused because he could not worship a man, and the climax is reached in the tension of this literary plot! Haman sets out to destroy ALL the Jews because of Mordecai's slight! This would mean the Jews of Palestine who had rebuilt the temple and were living according to the law (Ezra 1-6). Even though God is not mentioned in this book, God is present in this narrative!
In this part of the story, Haman used a "pur," a Babylonian word for the lot, to decide when to kill the Jews. Because of how the lot fell, the Jews had a year to prepare. "Pur" is the basis for the name of the Feast of Purim (9:26) that is celebrated every year by the Jews.
Following this, the king was persuaded by Haman to destroy the Jews, but he did not know that Esther was a Jew! The decree for their extermination was April 17, 474 B.C, and by this time, Esther had been queen for four years.
Mordecai mourned this news and Esther heard of it and inquired as to why he was mourning. Through her servants, she learned of the king's edict (Apparently, her position did not afford her access to the local news!). Mordecai urged her to go to the king on behalf of her people, but Esther reminded him that unless she was summoned, she could be put to death for coming to him unannounced. She had not been summoned by him for a month and did not know if his attitude was favorable.
Mordecai knew that if the entire nation were destroyed, God's promises to Abraham, Moses, and David would not be fulfilled, and this would break the Scarlet Thread of Redemption. Mordecai reminder her that she would also die if she did not act and perhaps she had attained royalty for "such a time as this." God is not mentioned, but His timing and control over events is so implied in this statement!
Esther replied with her courageous, classic statement: "If I perish, I perish." She acts by instructing all the Jews in Susa to fast for three days. Stay tuned!
The key theme of this book is clearly expressed in 4:12-16, know them well! God often places us in position where we must act. God is always sovereign but He uses His people to accomplish His purposes, and we must exercise individual responsibility in responding to Him.
Where have we seen another situation like this in our Bible Book Club reading? I'll give you some time to think. . .
JOSEPH! (Read Genesis 45:5-7 to refresh your memory.)
Is God calling you to stand up and be courageous knowing that there might be personal costs involved? Let the courage of Esther encourage you, and STAND UP!
Lord, help us to stand up to those things that oppose Your purposes. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.