A woman of great courage saves her people
This is the story of a brave woman: Esther risked her life by going to the king without having been invited. And she did so twice.
The book of Esther is found in the Old Testament. The story illustrates the basic hostility towards Jews and takes a closer look at the aspects of coincidence and providence and connects them with God, although He is not mentioned in the story. How would Esther tell her own story today?
How I became queen
As chance would have it, I was of marrying age when King Ahasuerus stripped his wife Vashti of her title and banished her from his presence. Since my parents died early, I was brought up by my cousin Mordecai, who treated me like his own daughter. People thought I was beautiful so that he suggested I go and present myself to the king. Apart from my looks, Ahasuerus probably also liked my pleasant character, which is why he chose me as his new wife. Mordecai, my adoptive father, advised me not to reveal my Jewish heritage to the king.
Mordecai visited me regularly and happened to hear how two of the king’s chief officers plotted to assassinate my husband. The plot was exposed and the assassination thwarted. Apart from having his heroic deed recorded in the king’s chronicles, Mordecai was not honoured in any special way.
There was also Haman, a high official at the king’s court, before whom my adopted father refused to bow. Haman, who is attributed to the tribe of Edom, is therefore a metaphor for the enemy of our people, Israel. A dispute was inevitable. Haman was furious and instead of just getting back at Mordecai he plotted to annihilate all the Jews throughout the kingdom. He managed to convince the king that on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar—the day was determined by casting lots—we the Jews were to be destroyed.
Mordecai was horrified when he learned of this and asked me, of all people, to help him and plead for my kinsfolk. But I was afraid because there was a rule that anyone who came to the king without having been invited by him would be punished by death—unless the king showed mercy. Mordecai said that if I do not help him “relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place” (Esther 4: 14). By this he meant God. And then he still hinted that it might not have been a coincidence but perhaps providence that I had become queen, because in this way I would be able help my people. So I had no choice: I asked my adoptive father to pray for me and set off to see my husband.
A life-threatening request
Despite fearing for my life, I went to the king. I had a plan: I invited Ahasuerus and Haman to a banquet I had prepared. Both came to the banquet. At this banquet I asked them nothing more than to come to a second banquet the day after. Later I learned that Haman had been in the best of spirits at first at this second banquet, but when he saw Mordecai he became furious. To cheer Haman up, his friends resorted to a cruel method: they had a gallows built on which my adoptive father was to be hanged.
That night my husband could not sleep. To distract himself, he ordered his secretary to bring him the court chronicles and read them to him. These also mentioned, by way of a casual remark, Mordecai’s heroic deed. At last the king realised that Mordecai had never been properly honoured for exposing the plot to assassinate him. He made sure that this was done in the morning choosing Haman, of all people, to honour Mordecai. A coincidence?
The tide begins to turn
Things became even worse for Haman. At the banquet that evening I told the king that I was a Jew and that Haman was threatening my people. This enraged the king, who became even more furious when—after leaving the room briefly and returning—he found that Haman had practically flung himself upon me in an effort to beg mercy from me, but which the king interpreted as an attempted rape. He had Haman hung on the gallows that had been erected for Mordecai.
But not all was well yet: the day on the which the Jews were to be murdered had been fixed in writing and sealed with the king’s signet. So once again I fell at the king’s feet imploring him to put an end to the evil plan Haman had devised against the Jews. Once again my husband showed mercy and let me live. But he could not reverse the edict that had been issued. Then Mordecai and I had an idea: a letter was drawn up, sealed with the king’s signet, and sent to every city allowing our people to assemble and protect themselves against their opponents and enemies. With the king’s permission, this decree was also distributed in his name. So my people gathered on the thirteenth of Adar and thus defeated their enemies. This day went down in history and is still celebrated by Jews today with the festival of Purim—to commemorate the defeat of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews.
Photo: Bastian Weltjen - stock.adobe.com