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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Larsen

Esther -- A Fairy Tale With a Punch

Updated: Apr 24



 

The Book of Esther, located about midway through the Old Testament is an interesting addition to the Bible, for several reasons.  It reads differently than any of the other books. To me, it reads like a fairy tale told to generation after generation, a well-known story with meaning embedded deep within.  Esther also has the distinction of being the only book in the entire Bible that God is not mentioned at all!  But if read carefully, we can learn a great deal about this actual time in history, as well as what eternal lessons we can utilize in our lives today.


Let me start by telling you the Book of Esther, fairy-tale style:


Rich and lazy, King Xerxes loves to throw lavish parties and display his wealth. He orders his wife, Queen Vashti to come into the chamber where he’s been partying steadily for a week, so his guests can admire her beauty.  Vashti refuses this request and Xerxes banishes her from his kingdom forever.


The King orders a search for beautiful young women across his entire kingdom to come to his palace and form a harem, out of which he will select his new queen. From all the young virgins, Esther, niece of Mordecai (secretly a Jew), wins the king’s favor and becomes Queen.  


Outside the kingdom gate, Mordecai overhears an angry plot to kill the king, and reports it to Esther. The new queen tells her husband, who has the conspirers killed.


Royal consultant to the king, Haman, notices that Mordecai refuses to bow in Haman’s presence. His hatred grows and he decides to kill Uncle Mordecai for his disobedience. Because Haman discovers Mordecai is a Jew, he decides, what the heck, he’ll have the kingdom’s entire Jewish population killed as well. The king blindly agrees, not knowing that he just signed on the dotted line to have his new beautiful Queen Esther killed as well.


Mordecai asks Queen Esther for help in stopping the plot to kill all the Jews.  Esther knows that palace law states that no one, not even the Queen, is allowed to speak to the king without being summoned by him. If she approaches the king to dissuade him from this genocidal plan, she could likely be put to death, unless the king extends his gold scepter in greeting. Yet, she will do it in order to save her people, and if she perishes, she perishes.


At Esther’s approach, the king extends the scepter, pleased to see his beautiful queen. He offers her anything she asks, but all she requests is a banquet with herself, the king and Haman in attendance. Haman happily brags about being included in such illustrious company until his eyes land on that disobedient Mordecai outside the palace. Anger rising, he plans a request to the king to have Mordecai impaled the next day.


During a night of insomnia, the king reads the book containing the history of his reign, and there, he remembers that Mordecai had exposed the plot to kill him. Realizing Mordecai had never been properly rewarded, he calls Haman in for his thoughts on how to reward “the one the king delights to honor.” Haman, believing the king is referring to him, suggests an extravagant parade with the honoree riding astride the king’s horse, wearing the king’s robes, being honored by the city. The king turns the tables on Haman, ordering him to set all that up for Haman’s enemy, Mordecai!


At the banquet hosted by Queen Esther, she reveals to the king that she and all her countrymen would be killed by Haman’s plot. The king is horrified by Haman’s evil treachery and orders that he be impaled on the very pole where Haman had planned to impale Mordecai that very day.


The king awards Queen Esther with Haman’s entire estate, and awards Mordecai with the king’s own signet ring, and along with it, a job working alongside the king. Esther begs the king to reverse Haman’s upcoming plans to kill the Jews, but the king knows that no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked. Instead, he tells Mordecai and Esther to write a new edict allowing the Jews to assemble and protect themselves against attack.


Because of the favor he received from the king, and the resulting destruction of Haman, Mordecai became a strong and influential Jew in the kingdom. Enemies were terrified of him, and under his leadership, they faced victory after victory, destroying all the enemies who came to kill them at the appointed time.  It was a time of happiness and joy for the Jews.


Mordecai is promoted to second in command under King Xerxes and he became pre-eminent among the Jews, held in high esteem because he worked for the good of his people.


THE END


Wow! What a story.  It has all the makings of an epic fairy tale. But it isn’t fiction.  It is historically proven to be true.


Now that we know the story, let me share some other interesting points about the Book of Esther:


Timeline:  King Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus) was a real-life king, verified by history. He reigned in the Persian empire from 485 to 465 BC.  In terms of foreign tyranny over the Jews of Israel, the Persian empire followed the Babylonian empire and preceded the Roman empire.


Esther and Mordecai’s lineage: Esther 2:5 reads: Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shemei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah.


Why is this important? Well, Kish is the father of King Saul.  Mordecai had royal blood flowing through his veins.  Nebuchadnezzar battled and exiled the Jews about one hundred years before this story takes place.  Esther is caught between two worlds.  She’s hiding the fact that she’s a Jew for her own safety.


Haman wouldn’t have even been there if Mordecai’s ancestors had obeyed God’s order: Okay, stay with me here. Sometimes it’s amazing how one Bible story supports or ties back to another.


Look to this section of the book, I Samuel 15:1-3: Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them.  Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’"


Saul did attack the Amalekites as God ordered, but look in verse 9: But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle … These they were unwilling to destroy completely.


So … despite God ordering Saul to kill all the Amalekites, he spared one … Agag.  And take a guess: does Agag relate to Haman somehow?  Yes, in Esther 3 we see the evil Haman’s lineage … Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite. And Haman became obsessed with destroying Mordecai from the lineage of Saul who spared his own ancestors, and the entire Jewish race in the Persian empire.  When I discovered that, my mind was blown.


The plot happened again with the Holocaust.  Esther tells an ancient account of one man determined to wipe the entire Jewish race off the face of the earth. Seems extreme and unlikely.  But wasn’t there another man in modern times who had the same intent?  And went to vast extremes to ensure that every last Jew was captured and tortured and killed?


Hitler. 


Hitler was the Haman of the modern world. Thank God that he was stopped before he accomplished his goal.


Haman – Hamas?  At the very same time that I was studying the book of Esther, news programs were filled with stories of the attack of Hamas against Israel. Wikipedia says, “On 7 October 2023, Hamas and several other Palestinian militant groups launched coordinated armed incursions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, the first invasion of Israeli territory since the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The day was labeled the bloodiest in Israel's history and the deadliest for Jews since the Holocaust. Some have called the attack a genocidal massacre against Israelis.”


I don’t know what to make of that coincidence, other than: the evils of humanity never change.


The Holiday of Purim: Out of the story of Esther comes the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the saving of the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of Haman. In Esther 9 starting with verse 26: “These days were called Purim; … the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should observe for two days every year …days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor."


Purim is celebrated among Jews by:

·        Exchanging gifts of food and drink

·        Donating charity to the poor

·        Eating a celebratory meal with alcoholic beverages

·        Public recitation of the Scroll of Esther, usually in synagogue.

·        Reciting additions to the daily prayers and the grace after meals

·        Other customs such as wearing masks and costumes, public celebrations and parades, eating hamantashen (transl. "Haman's ears"), and drinking wine.


I’m so glad that this marvelous Jewish character inspired a holiday of fun and joy for the believers.


In closing, I’d like to share a famous verse from the Book of Esther that makes us ponder why certain events land on us in life before we know the whole story, and what part we play in it:  Esther 4:14: (Mordecai speaking to Esther) If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place … who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?


We don’t know why we are called into certain situations, but we can feel confident that God has called us in to serve his own purposes because of our unique experiences and skillset.  If only we are brave enough to try, like Esther.


Prayer: Lord, thank you for the powerful story of Esther and Mordecai and how they used their unique skills and experiences to save the abolition of the Jewish race way back nearly five hundred years before Christ came.  We ask that when you call us to do important work for the kingdom that you give us the confidence to move forward and take action.  Amen.

 


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