Welcome back (all two of you who have stuck with me since the beginning! If you’d like to start at the beginning and join us in my exuberant welcome, you can do so here.) everyone (cough.) Glad you’re back. If you don’t know what you’ve stumbled upon, its a mental experiment wherein I am reading every single book of the Bible and writing a thousand words about what I take away from it.
Esther is the only book in the Bible that could double as a Shakespearian play. In Shakespeare’s parlance, Esther would definitely be a comedy – except that we don’t have everyone getting married at the end… that happens at the beginning. It could have potentially traipsed into the tragedy category of Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello… but for the outrageously happy ending. It got close there for a bit.
The players in our Esther play are Esther (obviously), Mordecai (the Jewish hero), King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes the unwitting pawn), and Haman (the evil bad guy). Oh, and Vashti.
The Basic Storyline of Esther
Let’s start with chapter two because it is where Esther wins the beauty contest and becomes Queen. (I’ll get back to the first chapter in a bit I’m sure… because there is just too much rich gold there to not mine it.) And then immediately after Esther becomes Queen, chapter three, wherein everything goes to hell in a hand basket.
“After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.”
So we have a Jewish man named Mordecai who won’t bow down to the newly elevated royal, Haman. This sets up a massive ego confrontation for Haman… because now the only thing he wants is the destruction of all the Jews. So, let’s stop right there, because obviously that was either a really really bad moment for Mordecai who was being selfish and pigheaded. Or it was the single greatest moment of the book.
Esther is popularly known as the book where God takes a beautiful Jewish girl and saves a nation. Which is true. But its also a book wherein in Modecai stands up for his principles and beliefs, and refuses to submit to evil. Because that is what is happening here. Obviously Haman was an awful, terrible individual. We don’t really know the circumstances involved with why Mordecai wouldn’t pay allegiance to to Haman… But we can trust that if it were you or me, we wouldn’t want to bow to this guy either.
So, it’s all set up in the first couple chapters. We see that Esther is in the role as Queen, being the most beautiful woman of the land. Mordecai is a trusted advisor to the king, but the king is particularly happy with Haman… And now we are setup with an inbound collision because Haman isn’t going to take this disrespect sitting down.
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
So it went down something like this – “Hey king… Totally not digging on these Jews, what say you to 10,000 silver talents if you’d let me kill them all?”
The king, in all his brilliance says… “Um, ok. Deal. On second thought, keep the money and do with the Jews what you will.”
And then we get a scene straight out of Schindler’s List, and the Crystalnacht.
Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.
Seriously? The Jews are either the absolutely most unluckiest nation on the planet or something else is going on here. WHILE IN CAPTIVITY IN PERSIA, … they are LOOTED and sentenced to death, collectively. This is Nazi Germany all over again. Oh wait, or maybe Nazi Germany is the book of Esther all over again rather. um. You know what I mean.
And then Mordecai goes absolutely nuts. He rips his clothes, gnashes his teeth, douses himself in ashes. And then heads right up to King’s Gate and screams for all to hear how terrible this is. I had always wondered why this was Esther’s story. In the back of my mind I couldn’t figure out why Mordecai didn’t get off his butt and head in and talk to the King himself. But it’s right there in chapter 3 & 4. It was against the law to proceed past the King’s gate while in mourning. If you rent your clothes, and cover yourself in ashes, apparently you weren’t allowed in past that point in the city. Mordecai COULDN’T save the day. And that is why Esther’s win as the beauty queen at the beginning of the story was so important.
Esther learns that Mordecai is completely going bat-sh!% in the courtyard and decides she’s had enough. She sends her eunuch out to find out why he’s going crazy, and to bring him clothes to put on. Mordecai refuses the clothes, but decides he’ll chat with the eunuch all the same in order to give Esther a clue about everything that’s just gone down. So Hathak, the eunuch, heads back and explains everything that is going on in the kingdom, and he delivers a very important message from Mordecai to Esther. This is possible one of the single most scriptures in all of the Bible. I’d go so far as to say its probably over used and used out of context. And its usually when we want to encourage each other on to do something really courageous… like telling others about God. (cough). ‘Just remember… maybe you were placed here for SUCH A TIME AS THIS.” But here is the whole quote… and its a bit of a smack down really…
Esther 4:13-14 “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 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. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Gotta love that sackcloth and ashes Mordecai! He threw down! Listen up here kid… just so you know, God will save us. It may not be through you. But He will save us. Will it be through you? Maybe you were put there for this reason? And to her credit (and the reason why she is the single most referenced woman in the Bible) Esther tells Mordecai to tell all the Jews to fast and pray and then after three days, she would go into see the King.
Now the reason it was tricky to go and see the King is that if he hadn’t summoned you, if he hadn’t specifically called you in, it could mean your death. Unless the king specifically extended his scepter to save your life you were a goner. So for Esther to head into the King’s thrown room was dicey. Oh, and have we mentioned the unfortunate fact that she hadn’t been called into see the King for over a month now?
And this when the story of Esther gets downright Shakespearian. Let’s just say that Haman has a wee-small problem with pride. Just a smidge. Now when Esther heads in to see the King he extends the scepter and she survives the encounter. Not only that, but the King offers her anything she wants, up to half the kingdom. As an aside… what is it with Kings throughout the Bible and this phrase? Have anything you want, up to half the Kingdom? I’m sure that its said at least a dozen times throughout the Bible. Isn’t it?
I digress. So, Esther has a banquet and she invites Haman and the King. She gets cold feet, and asks them to come to another banquet wherein she will tell the King her request. In the meantime, Mordecai continues to not bow to Haman when he sees him… even after being one of only two people invited to Esther’s party. And so Haman’s wife and friends convince Haman to build a pole 50 cubits high (that’s 70 feet high if my math is right) so that he could have Mordecai impaled on it.
MEANWHILE, while the rest of the city is sleeping, the King is not. So he asks to have the book of Chronicles read to him – the book of the history of his kingdom. And randomly, the reader reads about how Mordecai saved the king from two individuals that were attendants in his throne room that were going to kill the king. The King asks… what have we done to honor him for this I wonder? And the reader informs him that nothing was done.
So, like in any good Shakespearian play, you have a bunch of things going on at once here. You’ve got Mordecai refusing to bow to Haman. You have Haman building a 70 foot pole to impale Mordecai on. You have the King off reading the Chronicles and remembering Mordecai’s heroic assistance in the past. And you have Esther and her coming banquet wherein she is going to request something of the King… up to half the kingdom. Where are all these threads going to go? At this moment it balances on a knife’s edge.
The next morning after building the 70 foot pole, Haman hoofs it down to the King’s court and waits for him to allow him in so that he can ask to have Mordecai impaled. The King asks Haman to come in and without letting him speak starts to ask him… Haman, what would you do to honor someone that has made the King happy? And thinking that the King was referring to himself Haman goes to town! Oh King, you should put him on your horse, dress him in your robes, and have a prince parade him around town and say out loud for everyone to hear, “This man has pleased the King!!”
And the King says – brilliant. Make it so. And the man who has made me pleased is Mordecai.
See? Shakespeare would be proud. Maybe even the Bard studied Esther as a brilliant way to write comedies? And you know what? Haman did it. Can you imagine the grin on Mordecai’s face the entire zoo ride around the city? Wouldn’t that have been the absolute greatest come from behind win ever?
And now Haman knows that this isn’t going well for him. Because then the King’s men come to Haman’s house to bring him to Esther’s second banquet. Wherein Esther hits it out of the park. The King offers her, yet again, anything that she would ever want, up to half of the kingdom. And she says, Please spare my life! And spare the life of my people!
And the King is like, wah? Who would threaten your life? What imposter would do this? And Esther says – he’s sitting right next to you! It’s Haman. And now Haman knows that he’s definitely overstepped his boundaries for good. And while they are trying to decide what to do with him, one of the King’s Eunuchs says… well there’s this impalement pole that’s like 70 feet high right outside of Haman’s house… maybe we could use that?
The King says – BRILLIANT.
And he was impaled on the post that he had reserved for his enemy. And if you think that someone wasn’t in control of each and every situation in this story you missed the entire point. God was in control from beginning to end. And knowing that He cares not only about kingdoms, and Kings, and even about individual justice… I realize that He cares about me. I am blown away by the fact that even though God isn’t mentioned once in this entire book (the only book in the Bible where this is true) he permeates every single sentence of this book. God is the great architects of our fates. He is our provider and our deliverer.
And I’ll tell you what. Right now, I could really use new renters in our second home that is being vacated in about a month. But because of Esther, I can trust him with my finances. I could really use peace about the enormity of the work going on at my day job – because its out of control. But I can trust Him because I saw how He intervened on behalf of Mordecai, Esther, and all of the Jews in Persia. He was actively looking out for His people. I could get in a twist about what to write about here – you think this just happens? – but I trust that He is in control of even that. (this?) That all I have to do is to walk closely to Him and He will take care of the rest.
We haven’t gotten to Daniel yet, but there is a moment in that book, when Shadrach Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship the idol, and they say to the King… “We know that our God can save us from the fiery pit, BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, we will not bow down to your idol.” Mordecai too had this moment when he was letting Esther know just what the skinny was. God will save us… and who knows, maybe you are where you are so that He can use you? And I say that same thing to you… maybe you are where you are so that God can use you to spread His love and grace even further around the globe. Are you willing to try out this most dangerous of graces?
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