The Story of Esther

Our pastor’s newsletter article for October, 2022.

In history’s long arc, the exilers of Jews, Babylon, suffered a humiliating defeat by the Persians in 539 BC. With Jews now free to return home, many still chose not to and remained living within a diaspora. Around 60 years pass, and we learn of a Jewish man, Mordecai, a minor government official. Yet Persia is a vast and mighty Empire that beckons different ethnicities to live in its capital, Susa (current-day Iran). Of particular interest is the Grand Vizier to King Xerxes, Haman.

Why does this matter? Because of Haman’s ancestry, a descendant of Agag, who once ruled the Amalekites. This wild and wicked tribe sneak-attacked the newfound Israelites, liberated slaves soon after they escaped Egypt’s yoke, preying upon the weak and stragglers. For these marauders, their world is plundering, raiders bent by blood and retribution, bringing rape and slaughter.

Deep into the torment of trauma, these Amalekites take us, who turned Israel’s hard-won toils into killing fields, scarring both landscape and memory. An irrational and intense obsession grows against the Jews, echoing through their history. Still, the Israelites never expunged this venom and bitterness toward them to prevent bloodshed and battle in future times. So centuries later, we bump into Haman, bearing a multi-generational hostility and grudge.

In Persia, meanwhile, Xerxes dethrones his current queen, Vashti, for belittling him in front of other rulers in his empire. He fears others may scour him as feeble and vulnerable, sowing the seeds of a not-yet realized overthrow. A royal decree goes out, commanding beautiful virgins to travel to the palace as potential candidates for a new wife. So Mordecai’s younger cousin, Esther, discovers herself in the king’s court.

After a lengthy sorting regimen, Xerxes chooses Esther to be queen. Unmoved by these events, darker flames smolder in Haman’s soul as he schemes to eradicate the Jewish people. Such malice stirs deep, and Haman casts lots, “pur” in Persian, to decide when his “final solution” begins.

By deceit and manipulation, Haman pushes through a mandate “to destroy, kill, and annihilate every Jew.” Though God’s passion burns with a different fire to preserve a population for the Messiah to be born. For Esther’s moral backbone and courage still lay dormant, which God must stoke to save His chosen.

At first, she hesitates, fearing if she approaches Persia’s Emperor without earlier approval, this may cost Esther her life.  Outside the protecting gate, Mordecai encourages her. “Don’t suppose, since you’re in the palace, you’ll escape any more than others. Are you not queen for such a time as this?”

So going against imperial protection protocols, Esther summons the courage to approach Xerxes, unbidden and unannounced. These policies and practices keep many assassinations at bay. Only if he extends his jeweled scepter, showing mercy, will her blood not spill.

This boldness doesn’t backfire and shall soon foil Haman’s hatred. Little is he aware of the queen’s plans since she always acted respectfully in his presence. Hidden to his eye, she’s manipulating events toward a particular end.

With Xerxes’ backing, Esther arranges a banquet. The invitations go forth, on behalf of the king, to Haman. Of course, Haman arrives jubilant, thinking he’ll receive praise and honor (as narcissists think they always deserve!). No, something else is in store, and Haman’s downfall begins.

In a position to press her power, Esther secures permission to write another pronouncement. Once-persecuted Jews may defend themselves on the appointed hour of their desolation. The tables turn as Haman’s death decree transforms into Esther’s proclamation of life.

The day of destruction becomes their deliverance, the victims becoming victors, triumphing over their enemies. Now, Mordecai serves, second only in the land, and continues to embrace royal favor and high station while Haman suffers disgrace and ruin. The story concludes with a celebration Jews commemorate every year as Purim.

This accounting lays bare the extraordinary sweep of Esther’s life. What naysayers advanced as impossible, the Almighty achieved, from the Jews to Greeks and Persians, from them to us. Yet, I’m leaving out much, including significant intrigue and other outcomes God accomplished working through people.

Consider this newsletter article as an invitation to attend adult Sunday School. Why, we’re studying Esther and delving deeper into God’s hidden ways of operating in this world. Such happenings aren’t only for Esther’s day. No, they include ours, God acting in human history to the present, reaching us into the future. Amen.