THE MEGILLAH (BOOK OF ESTHER)
ISRAEL’S HISTORY: ANCIENT
READ THE CONTEXT: The Megillah (Esther 1 – 10)
It is astounding to think that the actions of one individual can alter the course of history.
Yet, the story of Esther profoundly illustrates that truth.
Some five years after Esther was crowned queen, Haman the Agagite presented Xerxes with a plan to systematically exterminate the entire Persian Jewish population across the empire.
While Xerxes unhesitatingly authorized Haman to implement the plan, the text suggests that his approval to annihilate the Jewish citizenry may have been given unwittingly (vv. 8-9).
None-the-less, letters sent to the provinces a few days later contained directives for the people of the Medo-Persian Empire,
“to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions” (Est. 3:13, emphasis added).
When Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, heard the edict, he joined the kingdom’s Jewish community in intense mourning. In a sign of extreme grief, he traveled through the city wearing sackcloth and ashes until he reached the king’s gate.
Although forbidden to enter in a grief-stricken state, Mordecai walked, wept and loudly wailed about the plight of the Jewish people.
Mordecai’s actions attracted the attention of servants who informed the queen of her guardian’s troubling behavior. Esther quickly sent clothes out of concern for him since approaching the palace in mourning was not just frowned upon, but punishable by death.
She may have hoped that in providing fresh clothing, Mordecai would come to the palace to speak with her directly. When he refused the garments, Esther was forced to send Hatach, one of the eunuchs, to discover the reason for Mordecai’s display of grief.
Mordecai’s answer was devastating! He revealed Haman’s diabolical plot and provided a copy of the edict instructing Hatach to explain the situation clearly to Esther imploring her to plead for the safety of her people before the king (v. 8).
Esther immediately recognized the gravity of the situation—it was a deathtrap. Entering the king’s inner court without a summons was a capital offense.
The inflexible authoritarian nature of the Medo-Persian legal structure was adopted from the Medes when the two empires united under Cyrus around 550 B.C. The penalty could be waived if the king chose to extend his golden scepter; however, even the queen was restricted by the law.
Vexed by the circumstances, Esther tried to reason with Mordecai. She could be executed if she approached the king without a summons; and, the king had not summoned her for thirty days. Esther feared she was not in in a position to help.
Mordecia’s response was unwavering.
There was no other plan. Esther was the only one strategically positioned to help her people. Whatever the consequences, she must act before it was too late.
“Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13).
Mordecai’s words demonstrate complete trust in the providential plan and purpose of God. He understood God’s covenant relationship with the Jewish people, but was convinced that Esther had been intentionally positioned to save her people.
For Esther, it was a moment of decision. Though difficult, the choice was clear. She must act in defense of her people regardless of the consequences.
Esther’s response to Mordecai is a courageous and heroic picture of genuine faith:
“Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”(v. 16, emphasis added).
For the next 72 hours, Esther must have hoped and prayed that Xerxes would summon her and provide an opportunity to plead the cause of her people. If not, she determined to approach the king uninvited and trust God for the outcome.
Three days later and knowing full well that her life hung in the balance, the queen entered the courtyard of the throne room. With heart pounding and knees shaking, she waited until she had the eye of the king. To the amazement of all, the king raised his scepter extending it to her.
She crossed the courtyard and entered the throne room of the king.
A TWIST IN THE PLOT
When urged to state her request, the queen simply invited Xerxes and his chief minister, Haman, to a private banquet in the king’s honor that afternoon.
During dinner, Esther repeated the invitation with a promise that she would reveal all to the king at another banquet the following day.
Feeling secure in the prestige of his relationship with the king especially after banqueting with the royal couple, Haman now determined to seek permission to hang Mordecai on the gallows.
The Boomerang Effect
The next morning, circumstances reversed for Haman. Instead of gaining permission to execute Mordecai, the king commanded Haman to honor Mordecai by leading him through the city as a celebrated hero (6:11).
Haman returned home dumbfounded. Expecting consolation from his wife Zeresh and friends, their response to his public humiliation was unanticipated. The consensus of the group as he recounted what had transpired was staggering:
“If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him” (v. 13).
In the horror of the moment, Haman forgot about his banquet appointment with Xerxes and Esther until the king’s eunuchs arrived to escort him.
At dinner, Esther announced her request to the king. Through the fog of his distracted mind, Haman heard Esther say,
“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated”(7:3, emphasis added).
Haman was horrified. He heard Xerxes ask, “Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing”(v. 5)?
Queen Esther’s next eight words struck like a lightning bolt, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman” (v. 6).
It was over for Haman. He tried pleading with the queen to spare his life. But within a matter of hours, Haman hung from the same gallows his wife suggested be prepared for Mordecai (v. 10).
Haman thought he could carry out his diabolical plan with impunity. Instead, the consequences hit him like a boomerang.
A Surprise Ending
In a surprise move, Xerxes promoted Mordecai and gave him the signet ring of authority that had been used by Haman.
Next, the king commissioned Mordecai and Esther to draft an amendment to Haman’s decree allowing the Jewish people to organize for protection when attacked by anyone in any of the provinces as previously decreed (v. 11-12).
Thus, the day that had been previously mandated for the destruction of the Jewish people instead became a day of, “gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another” (9:19).
As friends, neighbors and co-workers celebrate Purim, all people of biblical faith must grasp that at a crucial point in the history of the Jewish people—a moment upon which their very survival depended—God put Esther in the right place and at the right time for their defense and deliverance.
Esther did, however, have a choice. She could speak on behalf of the Jewish people or keep silent.
Despite mortal danger, she chose to fulfill her destiny to advocate on behalf of the Jewish people. Esther’s decision to risk death to prevent the annihilation of the Jewish population of Persia stands as a heroic model for all people of faith.
The same spirit of anti-Semitism is again on the rise today. Christians are confronted with a decisive choice as to how we will respond.
You can choose to ignore the animus focused on the worldwide Jewish community and delude yourself into thinking you have no responsibility. Or, you can choose to follow Esther’s worthy example and stand in solidarity with and as an advocate for God’s Chosen People.
Your choice is crucial to your God-ordained destiny because every word and action has the potential to change the course of history.
(To be continued.)
1) Bas Relief Detail: Limestone Magen David, Capernaum. Charles E. McCracken Archives. Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) The Megillah (Book of Esther, circa. 1700 – 1800), Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada. By Daderot [CC0 1.0, PD-US], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
3) Haman and Mordecai. (circa. 1884). By Поль Леруа (Paul Alexander Leroy) [PD-US], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
4) Esther Denouncing Haman, (1888). By Ernest Normand (1859–1923) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
5) Detail: Esther and Mordechai writing the second letter of Purim. By Aert de Gelder (1645-1727) [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. With 40 plus years of ministry experience, Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author via Contact Form under ABOUT. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.