Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 20-22
Our Hebrew Bible scripture for today is interesting on several levels. First, our central character is Esther, a Jewish woman who found herself in a position of some power within the kingdom of Xerxes. Second, she is put in a position to make a choice: she could risk her life to save her people, or choose to not act and attempt to save herself. Third, Esther chose to take a risk, trust God, and petition on behalf of the people of Israel. Listen to her story:
I am Esther. My father and mother died some time ago. My cousin, Mordecai took me in as his own daughter and has served as my caretaker since we arrived in the kingdom of Xerxes. We had been in exile in Babylon and were taking captive. Mordecai was always there to protect and care for me, even when our future was not so certain.
I remember the day we heard about what had happened in the king’s court. The king was quite taken with all the celebrations that were going on, and while he was enjoying the company of his inner circle, he requested Queen Vashti to come before him and his guests. I assume he wanted to display her beauty for he commanded she be brought before him wearing her very best raiment and her royal crown. Word soon came around that the queen had actually refused the king’s order. I was speechless. How could she have stepped away from her duty and not followed the king’s order? I would soon see myself in a very similar position.
Not long after, Queen Vashti was stripped of her title and banished from the kingdom. Within a short period of time, I found myself in the court, being prepared to go before the king as my cousin Mordecai had instructed me. I did not tell anyone of my heritage as a Jew, since my cousin strictly forbade me to say anything about this. Mordecai was in every way my parent after my father and mother died, and I did everything I could to please him. It seemed that if I was found to be favored by the king, I would be chosen to be queen. After a year of preparation, I was sent before the king’s court and they were all pleased with me. I was then sent before the king, who also found favor with me. I was quite surprised and humbled to be made queen, as I was only a mere Jew in a foreign land.
My story includes many blessings along with many difficult times. Mordecai managed to uncover a plot to kill the king and passed that information on to me. I gave full credit to my cousin for this information as it was found to be true. Later, Haman, a member of the king’s court, was elevated to a place of honor above all the other nobles in the high court. Haman was quite taken with his own power. The king had commanded all the royal officials to kneel before Haman and show him honor, yet my people had always been taught to only bow down and pay honor to God, not to any earthly king or official. Haman became angry with Mordecai for not paying him homage, which infuriated Haman. He worked to have the king give him power, and with it Haman plotted to destroy all of my people because we would only pay homage to God. A royal decree went out to kill all Jews in one massive slaughter.
My cousin managed to get word to me of what was happening. I was terrified for myself. Mordecai actually wanted me to approach the king and plead for my people. How could I do this? I could be put to death for such arrogance! But Mordecai convinced me that I had to do what was right to try and save my people. I asked my people to fast with me for three days as I prepared to face the worst trial of my life.
I remember physically trembling as I prepared myself by wearing my royal robes. I came and stood in the inner court of the palace, praying that the king would extend his gold scepter and receive me. If not, I knew I would be put to death. I held my breath and watched and waited, until I saw the king extend the scepter toward me. But in spite of being received, I knew I was still in grave danger. No one knew of my Jewish heritage. I would have to reveal this in order to have any chance to save my people. I knew I needed to gain an audience with the king, and I most certainly wanted Haman to be a part of this in order to expose his plot. The king graciously received me and granted my request to have the king and Haman join me for a banquet I had prepared. With great relief, I heard the king accept my offer.
The king was pleased with my banquet and asked me what I wanted in return. I was still very much afraid for my life and my people, so I requested a second banquet with the king and Haman. I had to renew my courage to face the possibility of my death and/or the death of all my people. Interestingly enough, I had heard the king could not sleep that night and had the chronicles read to him – this was the book of events occurring during his reign. The king was reminded of how Mordecai had saved the king’s life by exposing a deadly plot, so the king asked what reward had been given to Mordecai. The king knew he was a Jew but did not see any reward given for my cousin’s courage. The king called for Haman to ask his advice on what reward should be given to Mordecai. Imagine that! Haman despised Mordecai, and without knowing it, Haman noted a very noble honor to be rewarded to Mordecai. Haman actually thought the king was going to reward him! Later, Mordecai shared with me that Haman himself had to carry out the king’s order to reward Mordecai.
When the king and Haman came for the second banquet, I knew in my heart that I had to petition for my people. If I were to die, I would know I had done everything I could to save my people. The king granted me my petition, and I said to him, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life – this is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request,” (Esther 7:3). I would have remained silent if our very lives did not hang in the balance. The king asked me who was responsible for ordering the murder of my people, and without hesitation I named Haman as the man responsible.
The king’s response was swift and just. Haman was put to death for his crime of conspiring to kill all the Jews in the kingdom of Xerxes. I was spared and grateful for the blessings bestowed upon me by the king, but I had one further task to fulfill. I shared with the king that Mordecai was my relative, and he was summoned to the high court. After the king put Mordecai in charge of Haman’s estate, I had to put my life in danger to petition the king yet again. The decree Haman had sent out was still in effect – my people were going to be senselessly slaughtered. For the second time, the king found favor with me and extended his scepter. The king graciously demanded orders to be written and transported throughout the kingdom putting an end to the threat to the Jews. The Jews were commanded to defend themselves against any who would threaten them, including Haman’s own sons. After two days of fighting, the enemies of the Jews were eliminated. In one instant, my people were relieved of their despair and blessed with great joy.
I cannot explain the feeling of tremendous relief and gratitude felt by all the Jews. Great celebrations were organized in every province. Our night of mourning turned into a time of great celebration. Each year we commemorate this time when our darkest hour was replaced by our greatest victory. The feast of Purim is celebrated every year and we remember this victory.
So, what message are we to take from the story of Esther? Can one person make a difference? Can one person be the light of God in a dark world? With God, all things are possible. With God, there is always a way. With God, each one of us can make a difference in the lives of those around us who are hurting and in need of comfort and strength. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over despair. We are the people of God – we can make a difference. Let us go from this place as the children of God, ready to share God’s love with others while extending the hand of caring to our neighbors. Amen.