Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Book of Ester

The Book of Esther: A Story of Courage and Faith

The book of Esther is one of the most fascinating and inspiring stories in the Bible. It tells the story of how a young Jewish woman named Esther became the queen of Persia and saved her people from a plot to destroy them. The book of Esther shows how God works in mysterious ways to protect and deliver his people, even when they are in exile and under threat.

The Book of Esther is set in the fifth century BCE, during the reign of King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I) of Persia. The Persian Empire was the largest and most powerful empire in the world at that time, stretching from India to Ethiopia. The Jews were among the many people who lived under Persian rule after they had been conquered by Babylon and taken into captivity.

The book of Esther begins with a lavish banquet that King Ahasuerus throws for his nobles and officials in his palace in Susa, the capital city of Persia. The king also invites his queen, Vashti, to display her beauty before the guests, but she refuses to come. The king is enraged by her disobedience and decides to depose her and look for a new queen.

Meanwhile, in Susa, there is a Jewish man named Mordecai, who is a cousin and guardian of a young orphan girl named Hadassah. Hadassah is also known as Esther, which means "star" in Persian. Mordecai advises Esther to hide her Jewish identity when she is taken to the king's harem along with many other beautiful young women. After a year of preparation and beauty treatments, Esther is chosen by the king to be his new queen. He is captivated by her beauty and grace and gives her a royal crown and a banquet in her honor.

One day, Mordecai overhears two of the king's guards plotting to assassinate him. He informs Esther, who reports it to the king in Mordecai's name. The king has the conspirators executed and records Mordecai's deed in his official chronicles.

Soon after, the king appoints a new prime minister, Haman, who is an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekites, the ancient enemies of Israel. Haman is arrogant and power-hungry and demands that everyone bow down to him as he passes by. Mordecai refuses to do so, because he is a Jew who worships only God. Haman is furious and decides to take revenge not only on Mordecai but on all the Jews in the empire. He persuades the king to issue a decree that on a certain day, all the Jews will be killed and their property will be plundered. The date is determined by casting lots (purim in Hebrew), which falls on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar.

When Mordecai learns of the decree, he tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning. He also sends a copy of the decree to Esther and urges her to plead with the king for her people's lives. Esther is afraid to approach the king without being summoned because anyone who does so risks being put to death unless the king extends his golden scepter. She also reveals to Mordecai that she has not seen the king for thirty days, which means that he may have lost interest in her.

Mordecai responds with these famous words: "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?" (Esther 4:13-14).

Esther agrees to go to the king but asks Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Susa and fast for three days and nights with her and her maids. She says: "When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16).

On the third day, Esther puts on her royal robes and enters the inner court of the palace, where the king is sitting on his throne. When he sees her, he is pleased and extends his golden scepter to her. He asks her what she wants and promises to give her up to half his kingdom. Esther invites him and Haman to a banquet that she has prepared for them.

At the banquet, the king repeats his offer and asks Esther what her request is. Esther replies that she will reveal it at another banquet that she will prepare for them tomorrow.

That night, Haman is filled with pride and joy at being honored by the queen. However, as he passes by the king's gate, he sees Mordecai, who does not bow down to him or show him any respect. Haman is enraged and decides to kill Mordecai as soon as possible. He builds a gallows fifty cubits high (about 75 feet) in his own courtyard and plans to ask the king in the morning to hang Mordecai on it.

That same night, the king cannot sleep and orders the book of the chronicles to be read to him. He discovers that Mordecai had saved his life by exposing the assassination plot, but had not been rewarded for it. He asks if there is anyone in the court who can advise him on how to honor Mordecai. At that moment, Haman arrives to ask for Mordecai's execution. The king asks him what should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor. Haman, thinking that the king means him, suggests that the man should be dressed in royal robes and a crown, mounted on a horse that the king has ridden, and led through the city by a noble official, proclaiming: "This is what is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor." (Esther 6:9).

The king agrees and tells Haman to do so for Mordecai. Haman is humiliated and has no choice but to obey. He leads Mordecai through the city, while Mordecai's enemies watch in dismay.

Haman returns home in shame and tells his wife and friends what has happened. They warn him that he will surely fall before Mordecai, who is of Jewish origin. As they are speaking, the king's eunuchs arrive to take Haman to the second banquet that Esther has prepared.

At the banquet, the king again asks Esther what her request is. Esther finally reveals her identity and her plea: "If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed, and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king." (Esther 7:3-4).

The king is shocked and angry and asks who is responsible for this wicked scheme. Esther points to Haman and says: "An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!" (Esther 7:6).

The king rises from his seat in fury and goes out into the garden. Haman falls on the couch where Esther is reclining and begs for his life. The king returns and sees this and thinks that Haman is trying to assault Esther. He orders him to be hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.

The king then gives Esther Haman's estate and appoints Mordecai as his new prime minister. He also allows Esther and Mordecai to issue a new decree in his name, giving the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies on the day that they were supposed to be killed. The Jews rejoice and celebrate their victory over their foes. They also established the feast of Purim as an annual commemoration of their deliverance.

The book of Esther ends with a praise of Mordecai's greatness and a summary of his achievements for his people and for the king.

The Book of Esther is a remarkable story of courage and faith in the face of danger and oppression. It shows how God can use ordinary people in extraordinary ways to accomplish his purposes. It also teaches us some important lessons about how we should live as God's people in a hostile world.

Some of these lessons are:

- We should trust God's providence even when we do not see his hand or hear his voice. God may seem absent or silent in our lives, but he is always working behind the scenes to fulfill his plans and promises.

- We should be loyal to God and his people even when it is risky or costly. Esther risked her life to save her people from destruction. Mordecai refused to compromise his faith or bow down to anyone but God.

- We should use our gifts and opportunities wisely for God's glory and our neighbor's good. Esther used her beauty and influence to plead for her people's lives. Mordecai used his wisdom and position to protect his people from harm.

- We should celebrate God's goodness and grace with joy and gratitude. The Jews celebrated their deliverance with feasting and giving gifts to each other. They also remembered God's faithfulness by instituting the feast of Purim.

The Book of Esther is a story of hope and triumph for God's people in every generation. It reminds us that no matter how dark or difficult our circumstances may be, God is still in control and he will never forsake us.

(1) Esther Summary - Bible Hub. https://biblehub.com/summary/esther/1.htm.

(2) Book of Esther | Summary & Facts | Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Book-of-Esther.

(3) Summary of Esther - Enter the Bible. https://enterthebible.org/courses/esther/lessons/summary-of-esther.

(4) Book of Esther - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Esther.

(5) Esther - Bible Book Chapters and Summary - Christianity. https://www.christianity.com/bible/niv/esther/.