(45) Who knows but that you have come to this position for such a time as this? – Esther 4:14

The last history book in the Old Testament does not deal with the history of the Jews in the land of Israel but relates events that impact them across the Persian Empire. Jeremiah had encouraged the people of Israel that went into exile to “settle down” wherever they were and to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:5,7) and many had done just that and become wealthy citizens of the Persian Empire. This led to resentment from others and the book of Esther records an attempt to exterminate the Jewish race.

Esther was a Jewish orphan who had been brought up by her uncle Mordecai in the Persian capital Susa. The king of Persia, Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus), sacked his queen for disobeying him and decided to find a new one through a beauty contest. Esther, who “had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (Esther 2:7), was spotted by the king’s officials and is taken to become part of the king’s harem from where she wins the contest to become queen.

We are then introduced to Haman, the Prime Minister, who is so incensed that Mordecai refuses to bow down to him, that he decides to destroy all the Jews. He tells the king how they have customs that are “different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws” (Esther 3:8) and the king signs his edict to destroy all the Jews across the empire. Mordecai, along with the rest of the Jews, mourned with fasting and weeping and tells Esther that she must go to the king to plead on behalf of her people. Her link to Mordecai and her Jewish identity is unknown to the palace at this point in the story.

We may all, at times, wonder about the purpose and significance of our own life. Esther had gone from being a nobody to a queen and she probably felt that her life had already gained in significance in ways she could never have dreamed of but Mordecai sees her position differently. She, among all the Jews in the Empire, has the closest access to the King, the only man who could save them from their fate, and Mordecai challenges Esther that, “who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

We might expect that the king would be only too happy to see his beautiful queen at any time but now we learn that he has not called for her for thirty days and that if anyone approached him without an invitation they faced immediate death. So, after prayer and fasting, Esther risks her life by approaching the king. (Surprisingly for a book in the Bible, Esther makes no direct mention of worship, prayer or even God himself. However, God’s hand is very clearly seen in the ‘coincidences’ and both Mordecai and Esther are said to fast in this crisis (Esther 4:16) which undoubtedly accompanied prayer.)

The king welcomes her and asks her what she wants. Esther is patient in her response and invites him and Haman to a feast. He gladly accepts and, at the end of the meal, again asks her what she wants. She asked for another feast the next day and promises him that she will then give him the real answer. At the end of the second feast she asks the king to save her life and the life of her people. Xerxes is shocked to discover that she is a Jew and furious when she tells him that Haman is behind the plot to kill her. Xerxes storms out into the palace garden in his rage while Haman, who had been so proud of being invited to feast with the king and queen, now pleads for his life in terror. The king returns to find Haman “falling on the couch where Esther was reclining” (Esther 7:8) and when the king sees Haman molesting the queen, his fate is sealed. Haman is hung on the gallows that he had specially built to hang Mordecai.

Mordecai then becomes Prime Minister and is able to pass laws giving the Jews the right to defend themselves against their aggressors. The day when they were going to be annihilated turns into a day when the Jews “got relief from their enemies” (Esther 9:22), an event that Jews still celebrate annually at Purim.

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