- Main text: Esther 4:1-17
- Accompanying text: Matthew 5:13-16
What if Jesus had not been born? We know, through the imagery of Revelation 12:1-5, that Satan, the dragon, desired to kill Jesus as soon as he was born of Mary. This is illustrated in the account of Herod’s systematic infanticide, called the slaughter of the innocents. But what if Satan had been able to eliminate, through an act of genocide, the specific race from which Jesus was to be born? The “very words of God” had been entrusted to the Jews (Romans 3:2), and by the time of the story of Esther, the totality of God’s Word had not yet been written. More importantly, as Jesus pointed out to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), meaning that the Messianic scriptures would be fulfilled in Him, a descendant of the line of Judah. “See” said the apostle John in referring to the return of Christ, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (Revelation 5:5).
Drama and intrigue make the story come alive. The setting is during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus, who has been identified with Xerxes (485-464BC). Tradition has it that most of the book was written by Mordecai, the foster-father of Esther, and it is clear that whoever wrote it had an intimate knowledge of court life at the time. Examples of this include how “Mordecai sat in the king’s gate in order to attract attention from the sovereign” , and the formality of the banquet scenes. It was Mordecai who saw an opportunity when the King’s Consort, Queen Vashti, was banished, and the king sought someone to take her place. Could Esther be a contender? Esther so impressed the king that he chose her and held a feast to celebrate her beauty, but she had not revealed her Jewish ethnicity. Mordecai discovered a plot to kill the king and told Esther about it, and she warned the king, who had the would-be assassins executed.
After that Ahasuerus elevates a man called Haman to be his grand vizier. Haman wants those under him to bow in homage to him and his new office, but Mordecai refuses to do so. In the spirit of vengeance Haman seeks to destroy not only Mordecai but also Mordecai’s people, that is, the Jews throughout the whole of the empire, but he needs the king’s permission to proceed. Haman, who is superstitious, casts lots to find out the most portentous day to approach the king. Thus, on the day chosen by lots, Haman warns the king of an unnamed people group that flaunts the laws of the Medes and Persians. The king tells Haman to do what Haman wishes in this regard, and thus Haman sends out an order to “annihilate all the Jews” in the king’s name (3:13). Mordecai learns of this and asks Esther to intervene. In contrast with the casting of lots, Esther calls a fast before she risks her life by approaching the king without being summoned by him. Esther invites the king and Haman to a special banquet. Meanwhile the king has a restless night during which he remembers the previous conspiracy against him, and discovers it was Mordecai who informed Esther of the plot. The king tells Haman to give due honour to Mordecai, and then, at the banquet, Esther tells the king of the decree to kill her people, the Jews. Ahasuerus is furious and storms into the garden while Haman pleads to Esther for mercy and he falls accidentally across the couch where Esther is lying. The king comes back in and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen. Haman is then hanged for treason. Thereafter Esther pleads for her people, and Ahasuerus reverses Haman’s previous orders, and Mordecai is promoted to grand vizier, second only to the king. One of the first things Mordecai does is to kill the enemies of the Jews. In celebration of getting rid of their enemies, the Jews inaugurate the Festival of Purim (Lots).
Throughout the Book of Esther God is not mentioned. Some suggest that the book is included in the Canon of the Christian Bible because of the good things that Esther and Mordecai did. Certainly, Esther herself is Christlike in one way in that she is willing to die for her people — ‘if I perish, I perish’ she says (4:16). Also, she called a fast that might have included prayer. Mordecai, however, with Esther’s involvement, ordered the killing of “all their enemies with the stroke of sword, with slaughter and destruction, and did what they pleased with those who hated them” (9:5) in the name of the king. Was this any better than what Haman had sought to do? They took vengeance into their own hands when they could have become like lights set on a hill, showing how merciful God is, and how we should mirror his mercy, even to our enemies.
The point is that the Jews were saved, and any hopes that Satan may have had to eliminate the lineage of Jesus Christ were thwarted. If Haman had succeeded in his genocide plans, would Zerubbabel, mentioned in Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1:12 and in Luke 3:27, have been caught up in it? God is in charge and his purposes are not overturned. If Esther had not helped, “relief and deliverance” would have arisen “for the Jews from another place” (4:14). Why? Because of God’s providence and plan to save us in and through his incarnate son, Jesus Christ, born of God and born King of the Jews.
- Matthew 1:12
- Luke 3:27
- John 4:22
- Romans 3:2
- Revelation 5:5; 12:1-5
- Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred G Wight, paperback edition published in 1983 by Moody Press in Chicago, USA.