Reference: Book of Esther
Heart of the Story: Despite being terrified that she would be killed, Esther moved out of her comfort zone to save the lives of Jews in the Persian Empire. Esther initiated the festival of Purim which has been celebrated by Jews for the last 2500 years.
Back Story: Time went by in the Persian Empire. Although Esther was queen, King Xerxes assembled a second group of beautiful virgins from across the empire. Mordecai foiled a plot to kill King Xerxes. Haman became the king’s closest advisor; he had a place of honor in the Persian kingdom second only to Xerxes. From time to time, King Xerxes gave banquets that included his wives, concubines, and nobles. Haman met Esther; possibly, he even spoke with her. Although Haman knew that Mordecai was a Jew, he didn’t reason that Queen Esther was a Jew. Perhaps, Haman rose to power after Esther was made queen and her origin wasn’t common knowledge in the Susa Court. Haman was unaware that Mordecai and Queen Esther were cousins.
In the 12th year of King Xerxes’s reign, Haman persuaded King Xerxes to allow him to murder all Jews living in the Persian Empire. In response to the devastating news, Mordechai dressed in sack clothes and went through Susa wailing loudly. When he got to the King’s gate he sat down outside the gate. He went no further because no one in sack clothes was permitted to enter the King’s compound. By this time, Esther was in her fourth or early fifth year as Queen of Persia. Clearly, she wasn’t King Xerxes confident, nor was she in the gossip loop in the Persian court. She didn’t know about the planned murder of all Jews in the Persian Empire.
When Esther learned Mordechai was dressed in sack cloth, she sent clothes to him. Mordechai refused to accept the clothes; he remained in his sack clothes. Esther ordered Hathach to find out what was troubling Mordechai. Hathach was a eunuch in the Persian court assigned to Queen Esther. As queen, Esther had position power over Hathach; however, as we read Esther-Hathach’s interactions, he seemed more of a valued colleague than a servant. Hathach became the trusted intermediary between Mordecai and Queen Esther. Probably, none of the messages between Queen Esther and Mordecai were written for two reasons. First, Queen Esther and Mordecai both feared that written messages could fall into the hands of an enemy. Second, possibly Esther couldn’t write.
Pondering Relationships: Reading about this circuitous message system, we in the 21st century automatically ask ourselves why Queen Esther and Mordecai didn’t meet and talk to each other. Queen Esther and Mordecai parted on good terms. Queen Esther could have ordered her cousin to come to her. Mordecai could have explained directly to Esther why he was so disturbed. The answer is that Queen Esther adhered carefully to the values and norms of the Persian court. One norm was that the penalty for a courtier attempting to meet alone with a royal woman was death. If Esther flaunted this court custom, likely she would alienate Hathach who was a seasoned court servant. Queen Esther could have lost her influence over Hathach as well as his participation as a messenger to and from Mordecai.
Through Hathach, Mordecai sent word to Queen Esther about the king’s edict to kill the Jews. Mordecai showed Hathach the published edict that went out to every part of the Persian Empire. Mordechai directed Hathach to tell Queen Esther to go to King Xerxes and beg for mercy for her people.
When Hathach took Mordechai’s message to Queen Esther, her first reaction was self-focused. She considered that she could be killed if she approached King Xerxes uninvited. Esther’s fears were elaborated in the return message she gave Hathach to take to Mordechai. Notice, Esther didn’t tell Mordecai directly that she didn’t want to go into the king’s audience hall and risk death. Instead, Esther used a number of influence techniques in her response to Mordecai, i.e., logical persuading, legitimizing, and stating. She reminded her cousin that she could be killed if she approached King Xerxes in the inner court. Court protocol was that no one could appear before the king uninvited. If anyone appeared uninvited, the person risked being killed it the king did not extend his golden scepter to the person and spare his/her life.
Esther had no expectation that King Xerxes would allow her to approach him. King Xerxes had not called Esther to him for thirty days. Esther thought back to Queen Vashti who was divorced because she wouldn’t appear before the king. Now, Mordecai wanted her to appear before the king uninvited. The irony of the two events wasn’t lost on Esther. Esther knew that when Vashti was deposed, Vashti was in a better position than Esther’s current one. Vashti was the mother of several of Xerxes sons. During the 4-5 years that Esther was married to Xerxes, she bore the king no sons. Further, King Xerxes didn’t stop bringing the most beautiful virgins in the Persian Empire to the palace when he made Esther his queen.
Hathach delivered Esther’s message to Mordecai. Rather than backing away from urging Queen Esther to go to the King, Mordecai continued his attempt to influence Esther to appeal directly to King Xerxes to save the Jews. After several messages back and forth between Esther and Mordecai, Queen Esther agreed to approach King Xerxes. It’s difficult to know which one of Mordecai’s arguments caused Queen Esther to risk her life. Was it that she too would be killed if all Jews were killed, or that her father’s house would be destroyed in the pogrom? Perhaps, Mordechai’s words that Queen Esther she came to her royal position “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) were the deciding argument that caused Queen Esther to take action.
Reflection: Have you ever been put in a situation “for such a time as this?”
Copyright March 15, 2017. Carolyn A. Roth, all rights reserved.
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