A young girl…. Stolen. Rounded up, beautiful… abducted.
Her identity taken from her, her new name meaning “hidden.” Groomed to be someone she had no desire becoming. Forced to please a man she hated. In a place she hated. In a culture she hated. You see, only 100 years ago, her people had become their subjects when they were stolen away in captivity by the idolaters.
She had heard the stories that terrified her, convinced her that banishment was also her destiny. If she didn’t keep up her captor’s sick expectations, she would surely suffer. What seemed like a promotion felt more like a death sentence?
Her “husband,” the man who had commanded her abduction by legal decree, stole her away to a capitol city filled with sick ambition, murderous conspiracies, genocide. A dictator…. A tyrant… a narcissist who believed himself a god, but displayed the temperament of a child. The morality of a pedophile. The leadership of a selfish glutton.
So consumed with his own greatness, his parties became notorious, gross displays of trophies of war and spurious wealth that he and his father before him, and his father before him scavenged from fallen enemies using soldiers assimilated from conquered nations. Power hungry madmen, they were, convinced of their own invincibility and so, so ready to show it off to the world they desired to rule. And they had become very adept at crushing any who would rebel.
You see, our captive princess had heard the tragic story of one such soiree.
Esther 1:3 “He held a feast in the third year of his reign for all his officials and staff, the army of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the officials from the provinces”
A lavish banquet with the finest wine drunk from exquisite and extraordinary goblets as they lounged on gold and silver couches, literally solid gold! Arranged on a mosaic pavements made of marble, mother of pearl, and precious gems. 15,000 of the dictator’s lackeys gather to sponge off him. .
Esther 1:7 “Beverages were served in an array of gold goblets, each with a different design. Royal wine flowed freely, according to the king’s bounty and no restraint was placed on the drinking.
It was likely that this party was only an anesthetic for a bitter and embarrassing failed invasion. His ambition was to rule all of the world, but his neighbors to the west had blocked his attempt to rule by land and by sea. The most shame-filled episode was a painful and costly encounter at a place known as Thermopolie…. The Hot Gates. 300 heroes from the warrior state of Sparta led by the mighty Leonidus gave their lives holding back the hordes in wave after wave after wave for 3 days, slaughtering legions of Xerxes warriors. Xerxes thousands would eventually push through the Hot Gates only to fail against the Allied Greek states. And now he sulks and soothes his ego and drowns his failure with booze.
No restraint was applied to their liquored up festival. Historians would note that sobriety was forbidden, drunkenness demanded, wine forced upon the guests. If the king drank, everyone was expected to keep up. This inebriated moping would take 7 days before finally being numb enough to deal with the realizations that his ambition may never materialize.
Arrogance. Gluttony, Drunkeness. The only thing missing from this man-child pity party …. Lechery. Surprising it took 7 days to be able to work up a carnal appetite, but he summons his queen with fantasies of her providing some visual gratification to all his lustful guests. “Vashti…wear the crown. Only the crown”
Esther 1:10-11 “On the seventh day, when the king was feeling good from the wine, Ahasuerus commanded … to bring Queen Vashti before him with her royal crown. He wanted to show off her beauty to the people and the officials”
With what dignity and courage she has left… she politely declines.
You don’t deny Xerxes. To deny the king is to deny the entire Persian Empire.
Esther 1:16 ““Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king, but all the officials and the peoples who are in every one of King Ahasuerus’s provinces.”
Her rebellion was public, so must be her castigation. Her banishment will be met with the full force of the king’s fury… his legal power. She shall be embarrassed to the far reaches of his empire. Her name synonymous with marital disloyalty. Stripped of her title, publicly shamed, legally annulled… Vashti disappears forever.
Esther 1:19-20 “Vashti is not to enter King Ahasuerus’s presence, and her royal position is to be given to another woman who is more worthy than she. The decree the king issues will be heard throughout his vast kingdom,”
Xerxes finds himself in need of a new Queen. “Let a search be made for a beautiful young woman for the King!” they say. (2:2) “Let’s go kidnap attractive teenage girls from all over the kingdom” they mean.
Esther 2:2 “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king.”
“Let’s give them beauty treatments and see who pleases the king!” they say
“Let’s groom them and sexualize them and prepare them to be subservient to the king’s sick pleasure.” they mean.
Esther 2:3 “Put them under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women, and give them the required beauty treatments.”
So our heroin, an abducted orphan, under the care of her uncle finds herself in a hopeless situation. Surrounded by equally terrified teenage girls. At the whim of a pedophile.
For an entire year. Esther would be as brain washed as she was body washed, led to believe she was competing for an honor rather than being transformed into just another trophy to be displayed. Of all the lessons she would be learning…. How to please a king in bed would be the class she must not fail.
One by one, night by night, a eunuch would appear and select a new contestant from among her friends. This young contender would have but one audition and then be banished to the harem of concubines…. never to see the king again lest he need a new play thing. Never to marry. Never to have a family. Locked in closet of broken toys.
Esther 2:13-14 “When the young woman would go to the king… in the morning she would return to a second harem under the supervision of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch in charge of the concubines. She never went to the king again, unless he desired her and summoned her by name.”
“Esther…. It’s time.” The expressions of the other girls was either pity or fear. The “good luck” looked more like “I’m sorry.” Her escort, a eunuch, a man who was snatched as a young boy himself, equally shamed. You see the king took more than his dignity from this man. “You better be good” he whispers. And good she was.
Esther 2:16-17 “And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace,…,the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins,.”
Instead of her freedom, the king gave her a crown.
Esther 2:17 “so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen”
Our new Queen was not nearly the only person in the Kingdom who held a grudge against the self-proclaimed god-king. These 2, robbed of their masculinity, made to be servants…. Slaves… pets. Neutered like 2 house broken lap dogs, the shame turned to fury in the most murderous of fashions. Whispers at the king’s door revealed their plot to an eavesdropping attendant.
Esther 2:21 ‘During those days while Mordecai was sitting at the King’s Gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two eunuchs who guarded the king’s entrance, became infuriated and planned to assassinate King Ahasuerus.”
Was he passive bystander? Maybe an opportunist? Maybe a man of integrity or maybe a man of profit. Perhaps a politician sitting at the King’s Gate like some sort of nobility. Others thing a smart businessman. The name Mordacai means “Little Man,” but perhaps he would not be so little anymore. You see, his adopted niece now wears a crown in Suza.
And shrewd! Mordecai knew it was against the law for the king to marry outside the 7 royal families of Persia. No one can know that the king married a Jew! It would be scandal!
Esther 2:20 “Esther still had not revealed her birthplace or her ethnic background, as Mordecai had directed. She obeyed Mordecai’s orders, as she always had while he raised her.”
So did the thought of keeping this revealed conspiracy to himself cross his mind? Was silence an option? Could he live knowing that his passivity killed a king? Not with so much on the line.
Esther 2:22 “When Mordecai learned of the plot, he reported it to Queen Esther, and she told the king on Mordecai’s behalf.”
Our western minds far too domesticated to imagine the true fate of these plotters. Hung? With ropes around the neck? Quick? Painless? Finished? Oh no. You see, the Persians invented crucifixion and we see it here in it’s most barbaric form. The gallows built for these 2 was no more than a 75 foot tall pole. 8 stories tall. With a point. Hanged? I suppose in the same way you’d hang a warning sign. A loud, screaming, dying, bleeding warning beacon declaring to the whole kingdom what happens when you plot against Xerxes. His daddy, Darius, taught him well after impaling over 3000 Babylonians this way. A quick death was far too polite and compassionate. The graphic description is important so that you understand the brutality of the mad king. And they wrote it down so as to never forget.
Esther 2:23 “When the report was investigated and verified, both men were hanged on the gallows.”
It’s here in our epic that we must divert for a brief flash back. Rewind to the time of the Jewish King Saul, directed by God to destroy the evil Agagites and take none of their treasure. Burn it all! But Saul’s greed and idolatry would allow no such deference. The plunder stolen and the Amalekite king spared only to produce a line of children that led us to this new villain in our story. A man so despicable, so conniving, so arrogant that to view him as God’s punishment for Saul’s disobediance would be an understatement. A man who’s ancestors before him threatened the survival of the Jewish people reborn to exact revenge.
His name is Haman, but it might as well be Hitler. As you will soon find out, a grudge match is brewing. The only thing missing was the power to execute his retribution. And now, courtesy of king with a taste for the vicious, he has it.
Esther 3:1 “After all this took place, King Ahasuerus honored Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite. He promoted him in rank and gave him a higher position than all the other officials.”
All must bow before Haman. He had been elevated to a coveted social class reserved for royalty, a distinction of such magnitude that only it could satisfy the vacuum of Haman’s vanity. Bow or else! His pompous and pretentious ego would not allow any less. He was Haman! Favored by the most powerful man in the world!
Only one would know the truth. The one who actually deserved the honor. The one who’s valor and integrity before the king earned such elevation. The one who would not bow.
Esther 3:2 “ The entire royal staff at the King’s Gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, because the king had commanded this to be done for him. But Mordecai would not bow down or pay homage.”
In predictable form, Haman’s pride implodes taking any form of integrity with it. This man shall pay! No, his family will pay! No, his whole race will pay for his insolence!
Esther 3:5-6 “When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing down or paying him homage, he was filled with rage. And when he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, Haman decided not to do away with Mordecai alone. He planned to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout Ahasuerus’s kingdom.”
He had chips to play… his favor with the king. A gamble… a massive bet that his despotic narcissism could afford with a little help from some familiar friends… Deception, bribery, and superstition. Having won the casting of lots and a favor from the king, having greased the wheels with silver, Haman vilifies the people of Mordecai, casting their harmless religious observances as rebellion and their humble attitude as isolation.
Esther 3:8 “Then Haman informed King Ahasuerus, “There is one ethnic group, scattered throughout the peoples in every province of your kingdom, yet living in isolation. Their laws are different from everyone else’s and they do not obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.”
Enshrined in law. Signed, sealed, delivered to every commander in the kingdom to, and I quote, “destroy, kill, and annihilate” every Jew by royal command. Senseless and superfluous…. Chaos reigned while the sociopaths enjoy a cold one, unaware that that Xerxes had just signed a death warrant for his own queen and the man who had saved his life.
Esther 3:15 “The king and Haman sat down to drink, while the city of Susa was in confusion.”
11 months to live. The timeline was almost cruel. Just get it over with. The stages of grief are present…. the shock, the pain, the anger, the denial, the pleading….a nation thrown into despair, all coming to bear on the man they may blame. Can’t eat, can’t talk, can’t…..think. Death had already descended upon them.
Esther 4:1 “When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly.”
His words hung in her mind like a heavy dark smoke cloud, suffocating any other thoughts. In her chambers, they rang off the walls relentlessly. The weight of what he said smothering her soul with it’s dark implications. “Do nothing and die.” But to confront a king who was ignoring her also meant death. A paradox where the only answer seemed to be death. “Could everything that’s happened to me be for a reason?” Surely if that’s true, God could have done it differently!”
Esther 4:13-14 “Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”
Her hands trembled as she applied her makeup, perhaps for the last time. The silver bracelets clanging together. Her beaded dress damp from either the sun’s heat or the fear that raced through her nerves. Her pensive march through the royal courtyard drew the mumbles of all those watching. The judgement… the pity. How can she wear such fine attire while her whole race sits in ash? Is she aloof? Ignorant? Despondent? Or worse… indifferent?
Esther 5:1 “ On the third day, Esther dressed up in her royal clothing and stood in the inner courtyard of the palace facing it. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the royal courtroom, facing its entrance.”
He sees her…. She sees him… they lock eyes… she hides the contempt and fear behind her gaze and feigns a half smile. This is a moment of truth, her uninvited presence could cost her life. No one, I mean no one just barges into the king’s court without an invitation! But as we’ve already learned, our queen is beautiful and our king has large eyes. The scepter of approval is extended and what the king meant as “come in” felt to Ester like “you live another day.”
Esther 5:2 “As soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the courtyard, she won his approval. The king extended the gold scepter in his hand toward Esther, and she approached and touched the tip of the scepter.”
One thing must have been very obvious to Xerxes…. She wasn’t here to enjoy his charming presence. “What is it my Queen?” Esther is so smart. So shrewd. There was a game to play and she planned her moves accordingly. This wasn’t some dinner party she invited Xerxes and Haman to. It was an ambush and pride was the snare. But she was also playing the long game and patience would be the seasoning that would make the bait so delicious.
Esther 5:4 “If it pleases the king,” Esther replied, “may the king and Haman come today to the banquet I have prepared for them.”
Having plied Xerxes and Haman with food and wine and the delight of her company, how could they refuse a redux the following night? It would be the space between banquets that Haman’s vainglory would engulf his reasoning ability. Dining with the King and Queen alone? Two nights in a row? Could she have possibly poured more fuel on his arrogance? Haman left his first supper with royalty and it is unclear if his feet even touch the ground.
Esther 5:9 “That day Haman left full of joy and in good spirits.”
Do you really believe that he’s keep this to himself? Haman couldn’t wait to get home and gloat about it all to his family. With all of his friends and his wife and 10 sons and their families all gathered around…. He described his dinner date in exquisite detail. “I’m wealthy! I’m powerful! And I am favored by the king of the world!’ It was perfect…. And yet it wasn’t. The sight of that insolent Mordecai audacious enough to just sit there as Haman walked by burrowed into his brain and robbed him of his moment. Why couldn’t this one demagogue just show him a little respect? Just once bow in his presence? His joyful boasting to his family turned to brainstorming ways to get rid of Mordecai.
Haman’s delightful wife Zeresh has an idea! Remember those 2 eunuchs who tried to kill the king? Remember what the king did to them? She must have enjoyed the show that day because her solution was to put the rebel Mordecai on the same pole. Surely, getting the king’s permission would be easy! They’re best friends now! Oh, this idea pleased Haman very much.
Esther 5:14 “His wife Zeresh and all his friends told him, “Have them build a gallows 75 feet high. Ask the king in the morning to hang Mordecai on it. Then go to the banquet with the king and enjoy yourself.”
If our modern minds weren’t too skeptical to think it was more than a coincidence, what was happening in the king’s bedroom that night might seem providential. He couldn’t sleep. Maybe a little late night story time would soothe the king’s indigestion. The leading story in this week’s newspaper was how 2 eunuchs tried to murder the king. “Wait! Did we send Mordecai a thank you note or some flowers or something?” Nada.
Esther 6:3 “The king inquired, “What honor and special recognition have been given to Mordecai for this act?”
The king’s personal attendants replied, “Nothing has been done for him.”
“Well let’s get on that. Who’s around that can advise me on what should be done?” Well, Haman is in the courtyard, he’s got something he wants to ask you too.” “Send him in.”
“Haman, what should be done for a man that the king wants to honor?” Now, when you’re as much as of a blowhard as Haman is, your own ego has so overtaken the empty vacuum of your mind to leave any room for the possibility that the king wants to honor someone other than himself! Time to go big baby!
Esther 6:6 “Haman entered, and the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king wants to honor?”
Haman thought to himself, “Who is it the king would want to honor more than me?”
Put a fine robe on him…. No wait…. Put a royal robe on him. And set him on the King’s personal steed! And then have one of the most noble officials in the whole kingdom parade him around declaring his greatness! “That ought to do it” thought Haman. “I like it” said the king…. Make it happen.. for the one who saved my life…Mordecai”
Esther 6:10 “ The king told Haman, “Hurry, and do just as you proposed. Take a garment and a horse for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the King’s Gate. Do not leave out anything you have suggested.”
It must have felt like the king just gut punched Haman right in the ego. I mean, can you imagine? The king just ordered him to parade around the man who he had just came to ask for permission to kill! This is the kind of humiliation that would make a man vomit on the king’s carpet if he were not too proud to do so. Imagine the red faced indignity of wiping the ash off the man he hates more than anyone. To clean Mordecai up and exalt him to royalty must have murdered a piece of Haman’s soul.
Yesterday when he went to supper with the King and Queen he was on a cloud. Now he feels like he’s face down under a boulder. So much has happened since last night! Instead of spending the day ridding himself of the filth that would ignore his glory, he was forced to parade Mordecai around like a king! How did this happen? Tonight’s dinner invitation did not seem so delicious. He could barely eat, let alone get wasted with the King.
Esther 7:1-2 “The king and Haman came to feast with Esther the queen. Once again, on the second day… ”
This was Esther’s do or die moment….literally. The next words out of her mouth would either save her people or secure her immediate execution. She had been rehearsing the words in her head all day. Should she sugar coat it? Should she maybe wait and have one more dinner party? Should she just keep her mouth shut? The wine auspiciously lubricated the situation in her favor.
Esther 7:2 “…on the second day while drinking wine, the king asked Esther, “Queen Esther, whatever you ask will be given to you. Whatever you seek, even to half the kingdom, will be done.”
“My king,” she timidly replied, “ if you are happy with me in any way, could you please not kill me and my people?” Though he didn’t say a word, the bewildered amusement crossed his face like a herd of cattle. “What in the world are you talking about?” Xerxes must have been thinking! The Queen continues, “My people have been sold out to destruction, death, and extermination.” A cold torturous chill ran up Xerxes’s spine as those familiar words assaulted his memory. Where had he heard them before? It all felt so familiar but surely he wasn’t complicit in ordering his own Queen’s murder! But Esther had just quoted Xerxes’s own decree when he ordered the genocide of the Jews.
Esther 7:3-4 “If I have obtained your approval, my king, and if the king is pleased, spare my life—this is my request; and spare my people—this is my desire. For my people and I have been sold out to destruction, death, and extermination.”
Ester was slowly tightening the noose that she had just situated around Haman’s neck. He could feel it. His pupils dilate and the beads of sweat pool above his trembling lip as Xerxes demands answers. He had grown fond of his young captive consort and as the words left his mouth, rage had already determined what his response would be. “Who would be so stupid to conspire against you, my Queen? And where is he?”
Esther 7:5 “King Ahasuerus spoke up and asked Queen Esther, “Who is this, and where is the one who would devise such a scheme?”
With the words she now spoke, she ripped his soul from his body. She slowly and methodically turns and extends her index finger right at his whole being and says “My enemy is Haman.”
Have you ever fallen or jumped into a frozen lake? You know the experience where you are so shocked by the frigid water that your only reaction is to gasp as hard as you can as your whole body reacts in subconscious self-preservation? All Haman could do is leap to his feet in involuntary reflex. It was all he could do. Had his mind even been functioning, it could not compose a rational response to the Queen’s accusation.
Esther 7:6 “Esther answered, “The adversary and enemy is this evil Haman.” Haman stood terrified before the king and queen.”
As Haman gasped under the chill of the truth of his now exposed treachery, Xerxes’s face radiated with the searing heat of fury. If murder was an emotion, it had so overtaken the King that he could not restrain it. He slowly stands up with his gaze penetratrating Haman’s guilt as he leaves the room to compose himself. Xerxes goes to the garden like a raging lion. Anger collides with betrayal in an explosive moment. He had been duped into the decree against the Jews by Haman.
Esther 7:7 “Angered by this, the king arose from where they were drinking wine and went to the palace garden.”
Have you ever seen someone’s life so completely unravel before your eyes? A meteoric fall from grace so spectacular? A man of such wealth and influence become so totally undone? It’s about to get worse. It may not have been entirely known to Haman that the Queen was a Jew before this moment. He certainly did not seem to know of her relationship to Mordecai. But as the truth of his deception and bribery come into focus, his most colossal error is now plainly clear to him. So in a desperate gambit to save his life, he throws himself at the Queen’s mercy…. And lands right on top of her.
Esther 7:7-8 “Haman remained to beg Queen Esther for his life… Just as the king returned from the palace garden… Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.”
His act of desperation looked very much like assault as the King returned. You see, the law required a man to remain further than 7 paces from a member of the King’s harem. Desperation overtook Haman’s sensibility. And with a quick word of sarcasm from the King, Haman’s fate was sealed. His eyes glassy and dumbfounded by all his stupidity, the light faded as the King’s servants draped him with the veil of a dead man. Darkened, crushed, and condemned… Haman stood speechless.
Esther 7:8 “ The king exclaimed, “Would he actually violate the queen while I am in the palace?” As soon as the statement left the king’s mouth, Haman’s face was covered.”
The Trial was quick,, the evidence plentiful, and the sentence swift. -
· Count One: Haman manipulated the king into a plot to kill the queen’s people.
· Count Two: Haman assaulted the queen.
· Count Three: Haman attempted to execute a man whom the king had just greatly honored for extreme loyalty to the kingdom.
There was no more fitting end for the man of despair named Haman, then to be executed upon the pole erected to exalt himself. The thing that was to finally bring him joy brought his public and painful execution.
Esther 7:9 “…one of the royal eunuchs, said: “There is a gallows 75 feet tall at Haman’s house that he made for Mordecai, who gave the report that saved the king.”
Prologue: In gratitude for exposing the plot of Haman, Xerxes grants Esther and Mordecai the power to write any decree in his name… using the signet ring that he had taken off Haman’s finger. Esther and Mordecai give the Jews the royal right to defend themselves and if need be, utterly destroy and ravage any ethnic group that rises up against the Jewish people. It was so strongly worded and the Jews so well armed that many of the ethnic groups claimed to be Jewish so they wouldn’t be mistaken for coming against the Jews!
Anyone who had plotted against the Jews died that day. The Bible records 75,000 people fell to the Jews, but they did not take any of their plunder. Haman’s 10 sons were hung on the gallows just like the one daddy was on. Mordecai became second only to the King.