Esther, Lesson 6: The King and Haman

Mordecai is HonoredEsther went in to see King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) uninvited—and he was, in the end, delighted to see her.  He not only spared her life but even offered her “to the half of [his] kingdom,” pre-approving what she would ask of him.  Her gamble paid off!  

Esther is playing the strategic game, especially as Haman’s killing of the Jews has only caused turmoil within the Empire, not the slaughter of an entire people as he had envisaged.  (Remember his edict did not specify who was to be killed.)  So, Esther invites both the King and Haman to a meal she had prepared.  At the meal, instead of revealing her plan, Esther invites them to another meal the next day.  

We now have a reversal: Esther is in charge.  Unlike Vashti, whom the King commanded to appear as his banquet, Esther now asks the King and Haman to appear at hers.  But before we get to the second banquet, we look at the events between the banquets with the King, Haman, and Mordecai.

 

Lesson 6, Esther as a Chiasm

 

The Longer Account of Esther before the King

The Masoretic Text says Esther “won favor in [the King’s] sight.”  What it doesn’t say is what happened from the time she entered to when she “won” his favor.  The Septuagint doesn’t bring us straight to the conclusion but lets us understand how much she risked and why she was so fearful to appear before Ahasuerus uninvited.

Here is the fuller story of Esther 5:1-2, as condensed in the Masoretic Text, according to the Septuagint.

And it happened on the third day, when she ceased praying, she took off the garments of the solemnity, and put on her glorious apparel.  And having become resplendent, appealing to the all-seeing God and Savior, she took with her two of her favorite maids.  Upon the one she leaned as an elegant woman and the other maid followed behind her, bearing her train.  She was aglow in the perfection of her beauty.  Her face was as radiant as it was lovely, but her heart shrank with fear.

“glorious”: Literally “clothing of manifestation” (Greek, epiphaneias).  The Septuagint often used “manifestation” for the appearance of God, especially in 2 Maccabees (2:21, 3:24, 12:22, 14:15, and 15:27).  We are to realize that God is with Esther as she goes to do this fearsome task.

“Upon one [maid, Esther] leaned as an elegant woman”: Esther, no doubt, looked beautiful, but she had also fasted for three days.  Instead of “elegant,” I would translate the text as “delicate.”  The fear combined with her fasting made Esther weak.  So she leaned on a maid for support.

And having entered through all the doors, she stood face to face with the king.  He was sitting on his royal throne, clothed in all his glorious apparel, covered with gold and precious stones.  He was awesome.  And as he looked up, resplendent in his glory, at the very edge of anger, the queen collapsed, her complexion paled, and she slumped against the head of the maid who went before her.

  • How does the King, at first, respond, to Esther coming to see him unannounced?

 

“resplendent in his glory”: This translation misses the point.  The Septuagint literally says, “flamed with glory.”  His face had turned red with anger.  Here is how freely the Old Latin translation (before the Vulgate) translated this: “Looking with his eyes, he saw her as a bull at the peak of his anger, and he considered killing her…”

  • When Esther sees the King, flushed red with anger at her, what happens?

 

But God changed the spirit of the king to gentleness.  And full of great concern, he leapt from his throne and held her in his arms until she recovered.  He comforted her with calming words and said to her, “Esther, what is it?  I am your brother.  Be of good cheer!  You are not going to die because of this usual ordinance.  Come near!”  And lifting his golden scepter, he laid it upon her neck, and he embraced her and said, “Speak to me.” [From The Orthodox Study Bible]

“brother”: The Greek literally says, “brother.”  Brother has many meanings; it is not as strict and narrow as our usual use of “brother” in English.  By context, Ahasuerus means “kinsman,” meaning husband.

  • Who changed the King’s heart?

 

So, we learn that Esther really was clothed with [God’s] manifestation.  For He saved Esther from death by using her collapse to turn the King’s heart from anger to compassion.

We now go back to the Masoretic Text, following Esther’s first banquet for the King and Haman.

 

Haman, Ecstatic with Joy

Read Esther 5:9a

  • What is Haman’s state of mind as he leaves the banquet?

 

  • Why do you think he would be giddy?

 

Read Esther 9b

  • What takes place between Haman and Mordecai?

 

  • Although enraged, how does Haman not respond?

 

  • Knowing what we know of Haman so far, what does his lack of response toward Mordecai say about his joy and gladness of heart?

 

Read Esther 5:10-13

  • How does Haman interpret Esther inviting him to a banquet with the King the next day?

 

  • What is Haman’s true god (idol)?

 

  • Despite being invited to Esther’s banquet, what still vexes Haman?

 

Read Esther 5:14-15

  • What is the counsel that Haman receives?

 

Instead of wise counsel, his friends and family tell Haman to run with his feelings and give full vent to his rage.  Being vengeful as he is, Haman likes their counsel and takes their advice.

“gallows 50 cubits high”: This was about 75 feet high.  This wasn’t gallows as we picture it but a raised place.  In the Persian Empire, the practice of hanging a person referred to impaling him on a pike.  The impaled body would hang on the pike until death.  A “good” executioner would learn how to impale the body so the person did not die immediately but suffered for a while.

 

King Ahasuerus Suffers Insomnia

During the night of Haman’s boasting and vengeful plotting, King Ahasuerus remained sleepless.

Read Esther 6:1-3

“could not sleep”: The Hebrew literally reads: “In that night, the sleep of the King fled.”  This implies that Ahasuerus didn’t just suffer insomnia—something caused his sleep to flee from him.  Implication: God is at work, sending the King’s sleep to flee from him for His divine purposes.

  • What does the King do when he cannot sleep?

 

“read”: The niphal form of the Hebrew verb “read” implies an extensive reading, for it conveys not just hearing the text but “meeting” it; this is a deeper connection.  So, this was not a short recitation.  Ahasuerus listened to the chronicles through the night until he notices someone in the court the next morning.

  • What does he discover?

 

“honor and distinction”: Persian kings had a reputation of rewarding those who distinguished themselves in their service.  For example, a man named Xenagoras rescued Ahasuerus’ brother from death; the King then made Xenagoras governor of Cilicia (Herodotus 9.107).  Athenian historian, Xenophon (430-354 BC), admired the Persian kings because they were generous to their benefactors (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.9.14-22; Cyropaedia 8.2.7-8).  So, Ahasuerus will, no doubt, correct this “oversight.”  Remember, Haman was elevated soon after that assassination attempt, so he may have somehow been able to take credit for saving the King’s life.

Read Esther 6:4-9

  • Whom does the King discover is in the court?

 

  • What counsel does the King seek from Mordecai?

 

  • Discuss: After reading the Chronicles, could Ahasuerus be choosing to withhold whom he wants to honor? If so, why?

 

  • Whom does Mordecai think the King wants to honor?

 

Read Esther 6:10-11

  • How does Ahasuerus honor Mordecai?

 

  • What does Ahasuerus specifically mention about the ethnicity of Mordecai? (vs. 10)

 

Read Esther 6:12-13

  • After following the King’s orders, how does Haman react to Mordecai being honored?

 

Haman began the day hoping to stand below the dangling feet of an executed Mordecai on a pike.  Instead, he spends his day below the feet of Mordecai, who rides in honor on the king’s horse, calling out: “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.”

  • What do those advising Mordecai tell him?

 

Next week: We will see if Mordecai’s advisors are correct in their doom-and-gloom predictions.

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