From Darkness to Saviour: The Book of Esther

An immersion into the life of Esther by looking at the first four chapters of the biblical book of Esther.

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I would like to talk to you today about a special book in the Bible, especially because of its style.

The usual Bible texts tend to be descriptive or profound with dense content, so that you often want to think about each verse.

The book of "Esther", however, reads like a little novel. If you don't know this book yet, you will have to accept today that I will spoil something at least about the first half.

Wounded pride

Already the beginning of the book seems strangely out of time on the one hand and on the other hand you recognise some modern dictators of today.

I read from the beginning (Esther 1:1-7; NEÜ):

1 It was in the time of Xerxes, that Persian king who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Nubia 2 and whose throne was in the fortified upper city of Susa. 3 In his third year of reign he gave a feast for all the princes and officials of his kingdom. The highest officers of the army of Persia and Media were also present, as well as the high nobility and the governors of the provinces. 4 For a full 180 days the king displayed to them the glory of his kingship and the bursting splendour of his greatness. 5 Then he also invited all the inhabitants of the residence of Susa, from the most distinguished to the least, to a feast. For seven days they celebrated in the square between the palace and the park. 6 White and purple curtains of cotton were hung with white and red cords from silver poles supported by marble columns. Gold and silver resting places were set up on the mosaic floor of different coloured precious marble stones and mother-of-pearl. 7 Drinks were served in golden vessels, none of which resembled the other. The wine from the royal cellars flowed in streams. 8 There was to be no compulsion at the feast. The king had instructed his palace officials to do as the guests wished.
Bam, he lets it rip, he shows what he's got. He is the greatest, no one can touch him.

But it goes on (v.9-12):

9 At the same time, Queen Vashti held a feast for the women in the king's palace. 10 On the seventh day, in a mood for wine, King Xerxes summoned the seven eunuchs to serve him personally. They were Mehuman, Biseta, Harbona, Bigta and Abagta, Sethar and Karkas. 11 He ordered them to bring the queen in the adornment of her crown. All the people and the princes were to admire her extraordinary beauty. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to obey the summons. Then the king became very angry; anger flared up in him.
Suddenly the oh-so-great ruler became quite sensitive. Contradiction is not acceptable. A huge ego often does not go hand in hand with composure. As I mentioned before, it reminds me of many a modern dictator.

But it gets better (v.13-21):

13 Immediately afterwards he conferred with the wise men who knew history, for he was in the habit of bringing his affairs before those who knew law and justice. 14 His closest confidants, who had access to him and occupied the first rank in the kingdom, were the seven princes of Persia and Media: Karshena, Shethar, Admata, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memuchan. 15 He asked them, "What is to be done to Queen Washti according to the law? She has defied an order from King Xerxes delivered through the eunuchs." 16 Then Memukhan said before the king and the princes, "Queen Washti has transgressed not only against the king, but also against all the princes and all the people in all the provinces of the kingdom. 17 What she has done will spread among all the women. They will lose respect for their husbands when it is told that Queen Washti refused to obey an express order from King Xerxes. 18 And when our wives have heard of the queen's behaviour, they will hold it against us too. There will be much trouble and vexation. 19 If it is right with the king, an irrevocable royal decree should be issued, to be included in the law of the Persians and Medes, that Washti must never appear before him again. Let the king make another woman queen who is also worthy of this dignity. 20 If this decree of the king's is made known throughout his kingdom, great as it is, all women, from the most distinguished to the least, will pay their husbands the respect they owe." 21 The proposal pleased the king and the princes. As Memuchan had suggested, 22 the king sent letters to all the provinces of his kingdom, each in the script and language of the country concerned. Each man was to be lord of his house, and in each family the man's language was to be spoken.

One can only shake one's head at this. How little self-confidence "man" must have to react like that. Today it seems rather amusing, but back then it was a serious matter. And even today we find such ways of thinking, for example in Iran, where the religious leadership panics when women take off their headscarves.

The woman is disobeying an order. Can there be a greater sign of male weakness when a man disowns his wife because of this?

And the king's advisors also seem to be driven by the fear that their own wives will also contradict them.

The inevitable

Chapter 2;

1 Some time after this had happened, the king's anger had subsided. He thought of what Washti had done and how she had been separated from him. 2 His young servants noticed it and suggested to him: "Beautiful, untouched young girls should be sought for the king. 3 The king could commission officials in all the provinces of his kingdom to bring these girls to his harem in Susa. The royal eunuch Hegai, who is in charge of the king's wives, can take them into his care and see that they are given all the means of beauty care. 4 The girl who pleases the king best should then become queen in Washti's place." The king liked the suggestion and gave the appropriate orders.

Because of something like this, I am a fan of democracy and have problems with authoritarian rulers. They can just do whatever they want. In 1 Samuel 8:11, the people of Israel at that time were already warned against a king, because he could do whatever he wanted and was allowed to do whatever he wanted. And even if authoritarian rulers are not allowed to do everything according to the law, they often take everything for themselves.

It continues (v. 5-9):

5 Now there lived in the palace district of Susa a Jewish man named Mordecai Ben-Jaïr from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a descendant of Shimei and Kish. 6 His ancestors had been among those carried off into exile by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar with King Jehoiachin of Judah. 7 Mordecai had now taken his uncle's daughter as a foster daughter after the death of her parents. Her name was Hadassah, but she was also called Esther and was extraordinarily beautiful. 8 When the royal decree was made known and many girls were brought into the palace district of Susa, Esther was also among them. She was taken to the royal palace and came under the care of Hegai, the overseer of the women's section. 9 The girl caught his eye and won his favour. He saw to it that her beauty treatment began immediately and that she received the best nourishment. He placed seven selected servants from the royal household at her disposal and let her live in the most beautiful part of the women's palace.

One must by no means imagine this as some kind of fairy tale here, where the fair prince seeks Cinderella with the glass slipper.

The king regards the women in his kingdom as his disposal mass and has simply had the prettiest young questions brought to his palace and his harem. It will all have been nicely arranged, but it was a gilded cage, a gilded slavery, a kind of darkness from which the girls never emerged. Ester was apparently strikingly beautiful and was given a special role by her appearance. Nevertheless, she had no choice and had to be at the service of the ruler whenever he wanted.

10 However, Ester concealed her Jewish origins, as Mordecai had impressed upon her. 11 Every day Mordecai passed in front of the courtyard of the women's palace to find out how Ester was doing and what was happening to her.

Mordecai was worried about his cousin. He took her in and cared for her and loved her like a daughter. And then the royal officials came and shipped her off to the royal harem.

And of course, what was going on was quite contemptuous of women (v.12-15).

12 Now when it came to the turn of one of the girls to go to the king, after she had been prepared for it for a year - for that was how long her beauty care lasted: six months with myrrh oil and six months with balsam oil and other care products - 13 so when she then went to the king, everything she asked for was given to her from the women's house. 14 In the evening it went to the king's palace, and in the morning the young woman returned to the second women's palace and came under the supervision of the royal eunuch Shaashgas. None of them was allowed to come to the king again unless she had particularly pleased the king and was called by name. 15 When it came to Esther's turn, she asked only for what Hegai, the royal eunuch, recommended. She won the affection of all who saw her.
But Ester had somehow come to terms with the inevitable, I suppose. Sometimes you have to come to terms with situations because you can't change them, even if you don't like them or they are unfair. We find something similar about this in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 7:20,21; NGÜ
20 Let everyone accept the circumstances in which he found himself when he was called to faith. 21 Were you a slave when God called you? Don't let that hold you down! However, if you have an opportunity to gain freedom, then gratefully make use of it.
This is about a fundamental contentment, which is that you belong to Jesus Christ. He carries you in all situations. But that does not mean that you have to put up with everything. If you can improve your situation, why not?

I suspect that Ester also had her basic contentment, accepting the unfortunately unavoidable situation. She did not get out of the harem.

16 It was in January of the seventh year of Xerxes' reign that Esther was brought to the king. 17 And she gained his favour; the king simply became fond of her. His affection for her was greater than for any other young woman. So he put the crown on her and made her queen in Vashti's place. 18 Then he held a great banquet in honour of Esther for all his princes and officials. He granted the provinces a tax rebate and distributed gifts with royal generosity.

It is difficult to deduce behavioural patterns from this passage, but one can already get the impression that there is a certain plan behind it.


19 When the young women had been taken to the second women's house, Mordecai held a post in the king's court. 20 And as he had impressed upon Ester, she told no one of her Jewish origin. She obeyed him just as she had when she was his foster daughter. 21 At this time Bigtan and Teresh, two royal eunuchs, conspired against Xerxes. They commanded the gate guard and plotted to assassinate the king. 22 Mordecai heard about it and told Queen Esther, who immediately reported it to the king on his behalf. 23 The matter was investigated and found to be true. Both eunuchs were then staked. The incident was recorded in the royal chronicle.

Mordecai could have reacted differently. "He has locked my dear Ester in his harem, let him die." Such thoughts could have been understood. But I believe that Mordecai was a righteous man and that is why he reported this attack.

I don't think it's so easy to judge ethically. The attacks on Hitler are considered heroic deeds today, which I can understand. Would an attack on Putin also be a heroic deed? Should Putin be compared to Hitler at all, because that would relativise the uniqueness of the National Socialist crimes? We will not be able to solve such questions this morning.

But the two eunuchs probably did not have the noble motives of the resistance fighters of the time, but, according to other Bible translations, were simply annoyed with the king.

Mordecai also lived quite consistently, as one can read in the following passage (Esther 3, 1-6; NEÜ):

1 Some time later, King Xerxes elevated Haman Ben-Hammedata of Agag to the highest honours and dignities. He gave him a rank above all the other princes around him. 2 All the officials in the king's court had to kneel and bow low before Haman. This was the king's order. But Mordecai did not kneel down, he did not bow down. 3 Then the other officials asked him, "Why do you keep transgressing the king's commandment? "4 "Because I am a Jew," he said. Nevertheless, when they harangued him day after day and he did not respond, they denounced him to Haman. They wanted to see if he could get away with his reasoning. 5 Haman was furious when he learned that Mordecai did not kneel down and bow before him. 6 But he thought it beneath his dignity to take revenge on Mordecai alone. Therefore he decided to destroy all the Jews in the whole kingdom of Xerxes. For he had been told that Mordecai was a Jew.

Here we have, on the one hand, this male inferiority complex again. I have a big ego, therefore everyone should bow down. And if he doesn't, then my ego is in danger, so I take revenge not only on him, but on all Jews.

On the other hand, here we have the childish behaviour of the other officials: "If we do this, then he must do this too." They blackened him. They personally have nothing to gain from it. They don't dare to defy the order to bow. That is, whether Mordecai complies or not, they will continue to bow. This childish behaviour is still found in many adults today. If I have to, then he has to. If he is allowed to do it, I want to do it too.

The danger

I won't read it all out now.

Haman persuades the king to destroy the Jews and the king gives him the authority to do so, so Haman prepares the destruction of the Jews. He sets a date and sends all the necessary orders.

Mordecai is shocked (Ester 4, 1-3; NEÜ):

1 When Mordecai learned what had happened, he tore his robe, put on the mourning bag and scattered ashes on his head. He went through the city and uttered loud, piercing cries of lamentation. 2 So he came up to the gate of the king's palace, through which one was not allowed to go in the mourning bag. 3 There was also great mourning among the Jews in the provinces as soon as the king's decree was made known there. The Jews fasted, wept and lamented. Most even slept in sackcloth and ashes.
Mordecai then seeks out Esther and through a servant she learns of Haman's plan, but she has misgivings (vv.11-17):
11 "All the king's servants and all his subjects in the provinces know the immutable law: whoever comes uncalled to the king in the inner court will be put to death, whether man or woman. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to him may he remain alive. And I have not been called in to the king for thirty days." 12 When Mordecai had been told of Ester's words, 13 he had her reply, "Don't imagine that you, the only Jewess, can save your life just because you live in the king's palace. 14 For if you keep silent at this moment, help and salvation for the Jews will come from elsewhere. But you and your relatives will perish. Who knows if you have not been raised up to be queen just for a time like this." 15 Then Esther had Mordecai reply, 16 "Go and call together all the Jews who can be found in Susa. Fast for me. Do not eat or drink anything, day or night, for three days. I will do the same with my servants. And then I will go in to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I will perish." 17 So Mordecai went and did what Esther had told him to do.

You can tell that Mordecai has a great trust in God. He is sure that help will come. I want this trust for us too and for me personally.

To this end, he suspects a plan of God behind Ester's position at court. We should not presume to know and be able to explain God's plans. But sometimes it shimmers through a little bit, and apparently it does here.

Esther is a brave woman and wants to risk it. The fasting here is, I think, a picture of very serious prayer support. You can't always do everything on your own. Very heavy things have to be carried on many shoulders.

The help

1 On the third day, Esther put on her royal robes and entered the inner court outside the king's palace. The king was just sitting on his throne facing the entrance. 2 When he saw Queen Esther standing in the courtyard, she found his favour and he held out to her the golden sceptre he was holding. Esther approached and touched the tip of the sceptre. 3 The king asked her, "What do you have, Queen Esther? What is your wish? Even if it would cost half of my kingdom, it shall be granted to you!"

It is quite exciting how this goes on now, but that would go beyond the time frame. Ester does not now immediately make her request, but is still preparing it in order to ask the king to save her people. There is also a parallel plot involving Haman and Mordecai, but as I said, that would go beyond the time frame. If you don't know the Book of Esther yet, read it at home to find out how it ends. And even if you already know it, read it again.

She dares and comes before the throne and is accepted. In some praise songs there is also the image of the "throne" and actually I don't like this image because I associate "throne" with such dictatorial rulers like Xerxes.

But because at the time of the Bible such forms of government were normal and therefore familiar to people at that time, such images appear in the Bible.

For example, in Hebrews 1:7-9, NET, the following is said about the angels and the Son of God:

7 Of the angels it is said indeed: "He makes his angels storm winds, his servants flames of fire", 8 but of the Son: "God, your throne endures forever. Your sceptre guarantees a reign of righteousness. 9 You have loved right and hated wrong. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness like none other with you."

And in Hebrews 4:14-16; NET we are challenged to come before that throne:

14 Therefore, because we have a great High Priest who has passed through all the heavens 'to the throne of the Most High'-Jesus, the Son of God-let us hold fast to the confession of Him! 15 This High Priest has compassion on our weaknesses because he faced the same temptations as we do - but he remained without sin. 16 Therefore, let us come before the throne of our exceedingly gracious God with confidence, so that we may find grace and mercy and receive his help in due season.

Our God is not an arbitrary Xerxes who stretches out his sceptre towards us at whim or not. Our "Xerxes" is Jesus Christ, who has compassion for our weaknesses, who can truly understand us.

And that is why we need not be afraid to come to Jesus Christ with our concerns and not only when the hut is on fire, as with Esther.


I summarise: