ESTHER: THE STORY OF PURIM

By Karen Thompson
Third in a Five-Part Series

This is the continuation of the last post in a series on the law of measure for measure as seen in the book of Esther. In the last post, we read how the Persian king threw a blow-out party for all the princes in his kingdom. After getting really drunk, he demanded his queen, Vashti, be brought to him so he could show off her beauty to all the other drunk princes. She refused to come. Because of her disrespect, the king got rid of her. The king’s attendants suggested a province-wide search for all the most beautiful women in the kingdom to replace Queen Vashti. The king chose Esther and took her as his queen. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, warned Esther not to tell the king that she was Jewish. As the story progressed, we learned how Haman, the king’s top man, requested the king’s permission to kill all the Jewish people in the kingdom. The day to kill all the Jews was chosen by lot (or Pur), and letters were sent to all the provinces that on that day, they could kill all the Jews and take their possessions. The story picks up from there…

 Esther’s Banquets

When the Jews learned of their fate, they mourned with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Many, including Mordecai, put on sackcloth and ashes. When Esther learned what had come about, it says she “writhed in great anguish.”

Esther sent Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs appointed to attend her, to Mordecai to find out the details. “And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them. Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people” (4:7–8).

Esther conveyed a message back to Mordecai saying that the law says anyone who comes to the king’s court who had not been summoned shall be put to death “except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days” (4:11). Mordecai replied back, “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13–14 NKJV).

Upon hearing Mordecai’s response, Esther told him to assemble all the Jews in Susa and fast for three days. She said after the three days of fasting, she would go to the king and “if I perish, I perish.” After the third day of fasting, Esther dressed up in her best royal robes and went to the inner court of the king’s palace. When the king saw her, he extended the golden scepter to her. When Esther advanced toward the king, he said, “What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom” (5:3). Not only did the king not kill Esther for coming to the court without invitation, but he expressed to Esther his approval and acceptance of her by saying he would give her half of his kingdom! When the king said he would give Esther half his kingdom, he meant that she would rule with him by his side, king and queen together. After the king’s positive reaction to Esther’s entrance into his court, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet she had prepared for them that day.

The king and Haman went to Esther’s banquet, and as they drank wine, the king asked Esther again, “What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed” (5:6). Instead of telling him her request, Esther invited the king and Haman to another banquet the next day. She said she would tell him her request at that time. We are never told why Esther didn’t tell the king her petition at the first banquet.

Pride and Rage Drove Haman to Plot Mordecai’s Hanging

After having been invited to two banquets with the queen, the ever proud Haman was elated. After the first banquet, he was filled with feelings of pride. When he left the palace, he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate. As usual, Mordecai did not—would not—bow down before him. Haman was elated after dining with the king and queen, but when Mordecai refused to bow down before him, his feelings quickly plummeted to rage.

When he got home, he sent for his friends to come over to his house so he could brag to them and his wife, Zeresh. Haman was so full of himself, he talked about how wealthy he was, his many sons (10), and recounted every time the king “magnified” him, and how he was given this huge promotion above all the princes and servants to the king. He said, “Queen Esther invited no one but me to come in with the king to the banquet that she prepared; and tomorrow I am again invited by her, along with the king” (5:12 NKJV).

His joy would have been complete had it not been for one thing. He said, “Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (5:13 NKJV). Then his wife and friends gave him a suggestion to his problem: “Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and tomorrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet” (5:14). Haman liked the idea and immediately commissioned the gallows to be built.

God Turned the Events Upside Down

Here is where God began to turn the events of the story upside down. That night the king couldn’t sleep, so he requested that the book of records, his chronicles, be brought to him. He came to the part where Mordecai reported that two of the king’s servants were planning to kill him. The king wanted to know, “What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?” (6:3). The servants said that nothing had been done for him.

The king then asked, “Who is in the court?” Coincidentally, Haman had just entered the outer court to ask the king for permission to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he was preparing for him. But before he could make his request, the king said to Haman, “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?” (6:6). Haman, the proud man that he was, naturally thought the king was talking about him. So thinking this honor was for him, Haman said, “For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: and let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:7–9). The honor was what Haman desired for himself.

You can imagine how crestfallen Haman was when the king said, “Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken” (6:10). To his great humiliation, Haman followed to the letter the king’s command. When it was over, Mordecai went back to the king’s gate, but Haman hurried home with his “head covered.”

When Haman arrived home, he told his wife and friends what had happened to him. Their answer to him wasn’t encouraging. They said, “If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him” (6:13). While they were still talking, the king’s servants arrived to take Haman to Esther’s banquet.

At the banquet, the king again asked Esther what her request was. This time she answered, “If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request: for we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage” (7:3–4). Esther’s petition to the king was to ask that her life and the lives of her people would be spared from death. She said she wouldn’t have even bothered the king if she and her people were only being sold as slaves. Remember, she had not yet told the king that she herself was Jewish.

When the king learned that someone had threatened the queen’s life and the lives of her people, he was outraged. The king demanded “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” (7:5) Much to Haman’s horror, Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!” (7:6) The Bible says Haman “became terrified.”

In a rage, the king left and went into the garden palace. But Haman stayed with Esther to beg for his life. When the king came back to the banquet hall, he found Haman stumbling onto the couch where Esther was. The king said, “Will he force the queen also before me in the house?” (7:8). At that moment, one of the king’s eunuchs said to the king, “Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman” (7:9). The king ordered, “Hang him on it.” And so they hung Haman on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.

Haman received a measure-for-measure judgment.

The Curse Reversed

That very day, King Ahasuerus gave the house of Haman to Queen Esther. At that time, Esther finally disclosed to the king who Mordecai was to her. The king then took off his signet ring, the same ring he had given to Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. Esther then set Mordecai over the house of Haman. This too was a measure-for-measure judgment. Part of Haman’s evil decree to kill all the Jews was that whoever killed a Jew could “plunder their possessions” (3:13 NKJV). Haman wanted to steal the wealth and property of the Jews; instead, his property was given to Mordecai, a Jew.

Even though Haman was dead, the Jews were still in danger because the day of Purim was still in effect. Esther fell at the king’s feet and wept, asking him to avert Haman’s evil plot against her people. She said, “If it please the king, and if I have favour in his sight, and the thing seem right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king’s provinces: for how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” (8:5–6).

The king explained that a decree that was written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring could not be revoked. So he told Esther and Mordecai to write a new letter to the Jews as they saw fit. Mordecai then wrote a letter in the king’s name and sent it to all the 127 provinces. In the letters, “the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey” on the day that Haman decreed all the Jews be destroyed (8:11).

When the letters went out to all the provinces, Mordecai took off his sackcloth. And instead, he left the palace wearing royal robes of blue and white with a large gold crown and a garment of purple fine linen. In all the provinces among the Jews, there was “joy and gladness, a feast and a good day.” Haman’s day of horror had been turned upside down. So upside down, that many people throughout the land suddenly “became Jews” for the “fear of the Jews fell upon them” (8:17).

On the appointed day, the Jews assembled together to defend themselves who sought to harm them. All the king’s government officials in all the provinces assisted the Jews for the “dread of Mordecai had fallen on them.” Mordecai became great in the king’s administration and his fame spread throughout the land. Though the Jews had permission to plunder the spoil of their enemies, they chose not to.

At the citadel in Susa, which is the capital city of Persia (modern-day Iran), the Jews killed five hundred men as well as Haman’s ten sons. The king said to Esther, “The Jews have slain and destroyed 500 men in Shushan, the capital, and the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your petition? It shall be granted to you. Or what is your request further? It shall be done” (9:12 Amp.). She said, “If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do tomorrow also according unto this day’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows” (9:13). Esther requested an additional day for her people, the Jews, to be able to kill their enemies.

Let’s recap: The king said the Jews had killed 500 men in the capital city of Shushan alone. Then the king said to her, “What then have they done in the rest of the provinces” which would be to say, “Imagine how many they killed in the all the land of Persia!” Indeed, in defense of their lives, the rest of the Jews in all the provinces killed 75,000 of their enemies. The next day, they rested and had a time of feasting and rejoicing. From that day until now, that day, Purim, has been celebrated as the day when their sorrow was turned into gladness and joy. The holiday Purim is the most joyous holiday for the Jews.

One of the most notable themes in the book of Esther is the numerous instances of “irony.” For instance, the king and Haman celebrated the end of an entire race of people with a feast. Haman’s downfall came about at a feast. And the Purim holiday is celebrated every year with a joy-filled feast!

There is much more to this story. And what is most fascinating is how the ancient event of Purim reached out and affected events in the future.

To be continued…

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Roses are red, violets are blue, this email is sweet and so… FORWARD IT!

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