THE EMMAUS WALK PRESENTS:
"ESTHER--the Book of Godly Intrigue,"
by Ronald Ginther
As another book for study of Messianic texts, Esther hardly seems to fit the guidelines. Yes, we mean just that! Esther is unique in that it hardly fits ANY standard for a canonical (authorized and Holy Spirit-inspired book) scripture. What is a book that starts out with a Persian beauty pageant doing in the Bible? If that isn't enough to disqualify it as serious scripture, it is a story of how things went for the Jewish people living in exile in troublous times during the old Persian empire, which is interesting but not enough to qualify it for inclusion in the canon, since purely historical books are not included (unless you hold to the Apocryphal books as scripture, as Catholics and some others do). Putting the canonical question aside (for that is not our province here), what, indeed, does Esther have to say to people today that we can use in a spiritual sense? Truly, this is a most intriguing book! On the face of it, it isn't even about God, for it doesn't mention God once! Yet before we get through looking at it again, we will see that it is all about God and His Chosen People the Jews (and preservation of the royal line of the house of David) and particularly about the coming Messiah and Savior and descendant of King David, Jesus Christ!
We learn from Esther that godly actions and deeds (even mixed with a hefty dose of "godly intrigue" and intelligent maneuvering, say more about God than mere words. That is one important thing we gain from the book. We learn also that true piety and worship spring fundamentally from self-sacrifice and obedience to a higher call, not from ostensible acts of piety performed in a traditional, religious setting like a church or synagogue. We also learn that tremendous good can result from religion that is lived in a sincere way even in ungodly, worldly settings--religion that springs from choices made for the sake of others.
Now a brief overview of this little but marvelous book and the times and society it portrays so beautifully and accurately: Ahasuerus was the great Persian king known to the Greeks as Xerxes, one of the Persian kings who invaded Greece and attempted to subjugate the country. Ahasuerus ruled the whole civilized world, except the hard-fighting, freedom-loving, "barbarian" Greeks who lived on the outer edge. But the book is not concerned with the great battles of Persians and Greeks that decided the course of Western Civilization for thousands of years to come. No, a more important issue is the underlying subject: the survival of the Jewish race (and along with the race, the perpetuation of the Messianic line of King David that produced Jesus five centuries after the deaths of Esther, Mordecai, Ahasuerus, and Haman, the principal characters.
The events of the book took place in the early part of the 6th century B.C. The famous holy day of Puriim, still practiced by God-fearing Jews is a result of what happened in the book, but that is not the subject either. Rather, the story gets going dramatically with the king of Persia enjoying a sumptuous banquet with his noblemen in the palace of Susa, one of the Persian capitals. This particular royal seat is one of the most lavish and extensive in the world--it is hard to say what could have compared to it in size and costliness and splendor. The book gives a good description of it, does it not? We need not repeat it. It is truly gorgeous and cost billions of dollars in the money of that time--comprising the Nob Hill of its day, no doubt. But this is the setting only, and it is the event taking place that truly matters, since even great palaces such as Susa's are ephemeral as the flowers of spring; they sprout, shine for a while, then fade, whereas timeless truths and godly actions well outlive them by thousands of years (as in the case of this account).
The king, his action flying in defiance of Eastern custom and decorum, orders his queen to make a public appearance before the all-male assembly, for Vashti, her name, is very beautiful, and, eager to display his good taste in royal wives, he intends to show her off. The queen has other ideas, however, for it would deeply humiliate her if she were to show herself in this man-dominated, oriental society to the assembled male sex. Therefore, being proud and strong-willed too, while knowing her right to demur or protest the king's indignity according the customs of the day, she refuses her husband the king. What was he thinking of, demanding such an outrageous thing? Did he really think he could compell his queen to abase herself in such a way? If he did think so, he certainly had misjudged her if he also thought she lacked the spine and courage to stand up to his unjust imperial order! He pays for his presumption immediately. The king is humiliated before his thousands of guests. It is possible his face turned a deep crimson (the color of his fine robe) as the news was relayed to him by trembling courtiers and harem eunuchs. It is possible he even choked on the food he was eating or the wine he was swallowing at the moment he heard the bad news. What is he to do about it? What a scandal! She has publicly disobeyed the royal order! This would set a most horrible precedent, once the affair became known to all the women in the empire--as surely it would, since every man knew that ordinary, gossiping women, sitting at home cloistered with high walls, could somehow spread news faster than the imperial mounted couriers racing from post to post on the King's Highway from one end of the empire to the other, from Susa to Sardis! Wouldn't they then refuse to obey their husbands? Surely, they would, the counsellors of the great king agree, wagging their curled and perfumed heads. Vashti MUST be punished, to set an example of what happens to a disobedient wife. How?
This story by an anonymous author is the most readable in the Bible, after RUTH, perhaps. The book itself is much better than any retelling. A beauty contest is arranged. It's arranged that the queen will be deposed and sent back where she came from, and then the most beautiful maidens in the empire will be culled and prepared at the palace for individual presentation to the king. He will take his pick of the most beautiful after sampling the lot, and she will become his new queen! The problem of Vashti (and a horrible insurrection of all the women in the realm rising up against their menfolks) will be squelched in one brilliant royal stroke.
This brilliant plan of the royal counsellors is put into effect immediately by the king's decree. Being young, unmarried, and exceptionally good looking, Esther subsequently finds herself in the running as one of the "contestants." She is so beautiful, indeed, that she truly stands the best chance of being selected. She happens to be Jewish, an orphan looked after by a Jewish nephew of an uncle who was Esther's father. He serves as a minor functionary in the Persian state department, so to speak. Nobody in the palace or court knows this fact about her except Mordecai, and being a most prudent man of the world, he is not telling.
After the realm's most beauteous maidens are prepared and made to look their very best with all sorts of cosmetics and beauty treatments, not to mention gorgeous jewelry, exquisite hairdos, and elegant gowns, they are individually presented to the highest judge of the land, King Ahasuerus himself. When it comes her turn, Esther too is called to the king's chamber. She returns to the harem afterwards, only to hear that the king was so taken by her beauty and charm the decision has been made, he has chosen her for his new queen. The contest is over! She then lives happily ever after with the Persian king in the palace? No! If the story ended here, we wouldn't have heard about it, leastwise read about it in the Bible's holy pages. Rather, this contest and its outcome provide only the prelude to the real drama going on under the surface, a drama that now commands center stage.
A certain "problem," if it can be called that, which will eventually engulf the entire empire, has meanwhile been developing, you understand. It chiefly concerns Mordecai and a particular, strong quality of his character. Mordecai happens to be a very able, self-respecting man. He is also a Jew and quite pious, in that he refuses to bow to any foreign ruler as the pagan people of the day normally bowed to a idol or god. Piety, then, mixed with strong character, is the quality that decides the issue for him. In other words, Mordecai fears God more than he fears man. So whenever Haman the Agagite passes by the palace gate where Mordecai officiates, Mordecai is the one and only person who declines to bow. Now Haman the Agagite, by his name, was a non-Persian Semite whose forebears must have come from Canaan, which now is part of a Persian province, "Beyond the River." Haman has been indentified by some authorities be a descendant of Agag, the enemy king whom Saul was supposed to put to death, yet who disobeyed God by permiting Agag to live). Haman has risen to great prominence in the court in his position as Favorite of the king. Demonstrating his singularity thusly among the pagans present, Mordecai's steadfast refusal to bow draws the attention of fellow gate officials, who approach him about it, but he ignores them. They then take it up with Haman, mentioning that Mordecai is a Jew, a man of an alien race. Being an alien himself does not affect Haman's judgment in the least (you might think two aliens might find some commonality amidst the masses of Persians!). He takes it personally, of course, and Mordecai is now a marked man along with his entire Jewish brethren living in Persia, for Haman is so angry he wants to wipe them all out just because he is slighted by one of them! Here is a Messianic allusion to one man, held responsible, to the point of death, for his entire people, just as Jesus was held to be a criminal for the sake of the entire Jewish nation much four centuries after Mordecai's lifetime.
Knowing that man is made of mere dust no matter how much it is dressed up, Mordecai thinks nothing of displeasing this vainglorious official, who passes by the gate in pomp and splendor most every day on his way to and from the king's august presence. A certain incident now occurs, which later comes back as the means for precipitating Haman's overthrow and Mordecai's exaltation to Haman's position. Two of the king's attendants, Bigthana and Teresh, hatch a plot to assassinate the king. Mordecai hears of it and informs the king's bodyguard of them, and they are arrested and executed. The king is told, and he has it put in the court record what Mordecai did, and the king decrees that Mordecai should be rewarded. The matter is recorded in the king's court records (or official government chronicles) but is quickly forgotten, and Mordecai fails to receive any reward for his brave, patriotic deed. Does he complain or make any fuss about it? Not a bit! It is good he didn't, since he would have missed his chance of victory over his chief enemy. Howso? The fact is that any reward at this point would have ruined his chances of greater rewards later, as the story will amply bear out.
Continuing to withhold bows from Haman the king's favorite, Mordecai naturally draws forth the ire of the highly offended man, who being the proud peacock of a man he is grows determined to crush Mordecai any way he can for his "impudence." Despite all his wealth and royal favor lavished upon him, Haman goes home and indulges himself in a "pity party"; he appears so miserable in expression his wife asks him about it. He tells her it is all Mordecai's fault! He is unhappy because Mordecai alone of the palace staff won't kow tow to him as he passes by. His wife Zeresh and their sons, of course, take his side in them matter and give him sympathy, but that doesn't solve Haman's problem. He cannot live with this slight to his dignity. He simply must have Mordecai's Jewish head, one way or another.
Let us now look at the narrative in deeper terms of the Messianic texts and Messianic meaning. Haman sets out to take the bull by the horns. He concocts a plot. He then goes to the king and bringing it to the king's attention that there exists in the country a lawless and alien people that should be exterminated, he thus induces him to decree that all this people so described as enemies of the state will be destroyed, while pledging to pay into the king's treasury ten thousand talents of money. What monarch of the day would resist such an offer? And who were these bad people anyway? The king didn't think it worth his trouble to inquire, evidently. He left the whole matter up to Haman's discretion. Haman, in triumph, immediately published and sent out the decree to the whole realm.
Who could resist the power of the supreme ruler, with Haman carrying out the king's decree with the royal army and power? Nobody! Yet when the news spread to the Jewish community of Susa and to the cities beyond, Mordecai and the other brethren immediately clothed themselves in sackcloth and sat down, with ashes on their heads, to mourn. They also fasted. This was a traditional response, whenever they faced grave national threats and calamity. This was as far as it would have gone, perhaps, with no help coming, except that news of it reached the new queen, who was Jewish, as we know. She immediately sent her chamberlain from the king, Hatach, to Mordecai to ask about the cause of the Jews' mourning. The upshot of a fast and furious series of subsequent messages using Hatach's good offices was that Esther agreed to Mordecai's request to do something, to go to the king herself and plead their cause. She agreed, with the condition that they in turn fast for her day and night, since to go to the king other than upon his request would result in her execution, unless he had mercy on her.
She attired herself in the most beautiful way and then went to the king, and seeing her approach without permission he, nevertheless, extended his scepter to her, which meant he was pleased to receive her. As soon as she touched the tip of his scepter, he offered her anything she wished, even to half of his kingdom! She took the opportunity then to invite him and Haman to a banquet she had prepared. The king and Haman came to the banquet, and though we are not given details about it, it must have pleased the king, for again the king asked her request, even to the granting of half his kingdom. Esther, however, only asked that he and Lord Haman again appear at a banquet to be held the following day. To this the king and his court favorite, Haman, happily acquiesed.
Without a clew what was in the making, Haman went home the first night after the grand banquet Esther had given to tell his wife and family everything, for he was joyful and glad at how splendidly he was being treated by both king and the new queen. There was only one little, buzzing fly in the ointment of his good fortune: Mordecai the Jew, standing and refusing to bow to him as he went out of the king's palace gate! But too happy to make an issue of it at the moment, Haman managed to master his rage and continued past his enemy and arrived home brimfull of good news. At home, with his family hearing his good fortune, Haman didn't feel quite so well as he might in the circumstances. He couldn't get over Mordecai even in his moment of triumph. He mentioned Mordecai to his wife, and Zeresh immediatedly came up with a solution (recall Hitler's "Final Solution" for the "Jewish Problem"?). She told him to construct a gallows and hang Mordecai before he went into the palace to the royal banquet.
That same night it so happened that the king could not sleep. Perhaps, he had eaten too many of the queen's dainties in his great enjoyment of the banquet? As so many of his rank did, he chose the sedative of having the court records read to him by a droning official. That never failed to do the trick, whenever sleep eluded the royal eyelids! "It so happened" that the portion about the conspiracy of Bigthana and Teresh was read, and the king stopped the reading and asked if the man who reported it, Mordecai, had received his reward. Those present told him nothing had been done. By now it was morning, it seems, for the king next asked who was present in the court. "It so happened" to be Haman, who had come early to get the matter of Mordecai resolved, that is, to see that Mordecai the hated Jew was hanged. Without attending to Haman's matter, since he wasn't given a chance to bring it forth, the king asked him, "What do you think should be done for the man the king wants to honor?" Naturally, the proud-hearted Haman thought the king was alluding to himself, and so he replied that the honored man should be given a royal robe to wear, and the king's horse should be given to him to ride, and a royal crown should be set on his head, and the king's most noble courtiers should lead the horse and the honored man forth through the city while proclaiming, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!"
"Then the king said to Haman, 'Make haste, and take the royal apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.'" Haman was absolutely appalled and dumbfounded to find out the man to be honored was his chief enemy and not himself, but he was forced to do everything the king commanded (and all he had suggested). Afterwards, Haman covered his head with shame and fled home to tell his wife and family of his calamity. While he was at home mourning his enemy's triumph, palace couriers arrived to summon him to the queen's banquet. How could he refuse? Despite his terrible upset, he was more than willing to go, if only to recoup his losses somehow at Mordecai's expense. Though scripture does not say, maybe he thought he could even put in a word about Mordecai being a Jew, one of the hated people the king had passed the law against that sanctioned their extermination.
Here the whole complex matter comes to a head--a dramatic climax that is surely surpassed few times in history! It is the queen who plays the chief role as a mistress of "godly intrigue." Everything she has said and done up to this point has served to mask her true intent, until the fatal moment of full disclosure, when it would serve its purpose best to reveal the full truth. The king, as before, is so pleased at the banquet that he offers her again anything, even to half of his kingdom. What is her response? It must have made Haman's heart stop to hear it as the clock ticked to the exact moment heaven had appointed when Esther would lay everything out to the king's gaze. "Then Esther the queen answered and said, 'If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we have been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage." Then the king asked who would dare to do such a thing to her and her people? "And Esther said, 'The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman."
Given revelation of this frightful attack on the queen and her people, the king was so upset he left the banquet and walked out into the palace garden to regain his composure. Transfixed with horror, Haman could think of only one thing, to throw himself on the queen's mercy. Maybe she would speak to the king for him and thus save his life. As he was approaching the queen with many offers and pleas for forgiveness, no doubt, the king left the garden. He came back into the banquet hall and found Haman fallen upon the queen's couch, at least the part where her feet may have rested. Perhaps he had forgotten good manners so much as to have clasped her feet. In any case, the king's misunderstanding of the scene sealed Haman's doom--if it had not been sealed before. To his eyes it appeared that the queen was being assaulted, not merely being implored for clemency. "Then said the king, 'Will he force the queen also before me in the house?" At that word, servants covered Haman's face, and Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, informed the king, "Behold also, the gallows...which Haman has made for Mordecai..." And the king relied, "Hang him on them."
Mordecai was given all the awards and honors of Haman, who was hanged. Since the law of the king was unchangeable and could not be revoked even by the king, a second law was decreed, authorizing the Jewish people's right to attack all their known enemies and kill them and take their houses and belongings if they wished. It says that fear of the Jews and great respect for Mordecai fell upon the whole realm, so that the army went over to the cause of the Jews, along with the chief officials. With no one to stop them, the Jews fell upon their enemies and put them to death. In Susa five hundred deadly enemies of the Jews were put to death by them. Among them were the ten sons of Haman, who were hung on their father's gallows. In the whole realm as many as 75,000 enemies of the Jews (who would have acted to kill the Jews and take their houses under the decree Haman had hatched) were also put to death. On the thirteenth day of Adar the whole Jewish community joined in celebrating and feasting at their glorious deliverance from Haman and all their other enemies. Their sorrow, thus, was turned to great joy. They called their two days of festival Purim, because Haman had cast his "pur," or lot, against the Jews. Letters from the queen were sent to the whole realm informing her people of the days of Purim, that it would be celebrated yearly.
Thus, Esther, of whom Mordecai earlier spoke, as he reminded her of her own responsibility to act courageously in behalf of her people in the time of peril, "...who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"--did she not stand as a true "deliverer" of her people? Just as Christ appeared in the fullness of time for the deliverance of His people and the world's people, past, present, and future, from the judgment upon sin and from the power of death, so Esther, as a type of Christ, as a forerunner, appeared and stood up to help save her people, God's chosen people. No higher honor could be attributed to her (and her cohort, Mordecai) than the honor that fell to her for standing up for what was right at the cost or possible cost of life itself. We owe it to Esther and Mordecai that the Jewish race was not exterminated, and the Davidic line that led to Christ was thus preserved. They put their lives at stake to save others. Evenso, Christ esteemed the loss of his life and his suffering and death upon the Roman cross less than full submission to the Father's will.
(c) 2007, Butterfly Productions, All Rights Reserved