Beautiful, brave, and a wonderful hostess, Queen Esther saves her people from destruction.
Holy Mothers (and One Unholy Grandmother) -
Queen Esther of Persia
Esther 1-2:4, Queen Vashti loses her position.
Esther 2:5-23, Esther becomes queen.
Esther 3:1-15, Haman’s plot against the Jews.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 64: Esther 4:1 – 5:3, Esther and Ahasuerus
Esther, Part 2
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A friend once asked me what book I would take if I were stranded on a desert island. He said,
"And don't just say you'd take a Bible. Everyone says that." I replied that my first choice
would be "How to Survive on a Desert Island." But my second choice would be the Bible. Actually,
that's cheating, because the Bible is a library, not a book. It contains 66 books, covering the
entire literary map. There's history, political analysis, fiction, poetry, an almanac, family
and local histories, fables, songs, theological works, pithy sayings, and just about every other
literary form known to man, including a "short story" about
. The only
form I know of that isn't represented is the novel, which is a recent invention.
Nevertheless, the book of Esther
comes close to being a "novel" in form. I'm
not saying it isn't true - I'm just saying that the writer had an excellent grasp of
plot development and characterization. In a few strokes, he shows us the pride and
beauty of Queen Vashti and the impulsiveness of King Ahasuerus (A-has-you-EE-russ), a
mighty king who ruled all the Medes and Persians during the Exile of the Jews but was
having a little trouble ruling his own household. The writer quickly foreshadows later
trouble by telling us that a law, once enacted, could never be repealed. He could
have told the story in the form of a straight history, like the readings we did from
, but instead he chose to let us live the lives of Esther and Mordecai.
Once you start reading this book, you don't want to put it down. As a matter of fact,
the Jews read it in one sitting at the feast of Purim.
Esther 1-2:4, Queen Vashti loses her position. (6/30/2008)
The Jews are in exile in Persia (which has conquered Babylon). The story begins at
a huge party thrown by Ahasuerus. Queen Vashti embarrasses
King Ahasuerus in front of his guests, so his advisors suggest that he remove her
from being queen and get somebody else.
Esther 2:5-2:23, Esther becomes queen. (7/1/2008)
King Ahasuerus holds what amounts to a gigantic, long-term beauty contest to replace
Queen Vashti. Each girl gets one chance at pleasing the king, and then it's off to
the concubines' harem with her. Esther is a nice Jewish girl from the suburbs, beautiful
and full of grace. She is the
younger cousin of an exile named Mordecai (MORE-de-kai), who took her in when her
parents died. Mordecai enters
Esther in the contest, probably because, to be honest, being one of the king's junior wives
provides comfortable life-long security for an orphan. Mordecai instructs her not to tell
anyone she is Jewish.
Now, back when I was taking Hebrew, my classmate was concerned that this was a bit hard on Esther, and he wondered why Mordecai would let Esther become what my classmate obviously viewed as a high-priced call girl. I don't see it that way at all (and for what it's worth, neither did my Hebrew teacher). Mordecai is clearly older than Esther, who has no other family. Concubine to the king was a good, honorable position with long-term benefits, one of which, in this case, was the outside chance of becoming queen. I believe Mordecai was doing the best he could to ensure that Esther was provided for.
Amazingly enough, the king chooses Esther as his Queen! Mordecai and Esther keep in
touch, and when Mordecai hears about a plot to assassinate the king, and he tells
Esther (by sending messages through the eunuchs - the first
email). She tells the king, and the plot is foiled.
Esther 3:1-15, Haman’s plot against the Jews. (7/2/2008)
All good stories have a villain or a terrible problem, and the story of Esther has
both. Haman is an arrogant, powerful, wealthy advisor to the king. Possibly he has
some insecurities, because when Mordecai won't bow down to him, his response is
completely out of proportion to the situation. Not only does he build a gallows for Mordecai,
he gets the king to sign a decree that on a certain day, anybody in the kingdom
can kill his Jewish neighbors and take everything they own. Mordecai reports to Esther what is
going on and urges her to discuss the matter with the king. This will put Esther in
considerable danger - yes, she's the queen, but if she goes to the king without being summoned, she may be executed.
The book of Esther never mentions God. Nevertheless, there is an important theological (and practical) statement in vss. 4:13-14. Mordecai says to Esther, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
We must never keep silent in the face of injustice. God's justice will somehow prevail in the long run, but it is always possible that God has put us here in this place and time in order to bring about his justice in the short run.
Note: In the original email, I said that Esther is the only book of the Bible that doesn't mention God. Shame on me! I took the word of commentaries, when I should have read the scripture for myself. An alert reader immediately pointed out that Song of Solomon doesn't mention God, either. I went through the Song twice, and by golly, he was right. The commentaries I read are wrong, and I was wrong! Always read the scripture for yourself.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 64: Esther 4:1 – 5:3, Esther and Ahasuerus (8/27/15)
Esther, Part 2
Queen Esther was so brave! Her people are in trouble, and her uncle Mordecai wants her to go to the king. The only problem is, the king hasn’t sent for her, and appearing before the king without a summons could lead to a death penalty. But Esther gathers up her support group and her courage and approaches the throne. The king welcomes her – whew! what a relief! – and asks what she has on her mind. Esther and Ahasuerus, by Bernardo Cavallino, shows Esther talking to the king right after he has welcomed her into his presence. By the way, your paper Bible may have the king’s name as Xerxes. Same guy.
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"Esther and Ahasuerus" by Bernardo Cavallino,
from the Gamble family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina Hunter. Click to enlarge.
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