Esther – A Good Queen
by John C. Westervelt
“Good Queen Esther” was on the lips of every Jew in Persia in 474 B.C. How did it happen that a young Jewish woman was queen of Persia? It didn’t hurt that she was the most beautiful woman in the land, but there is much more to the story.
King Xerxes (the Greek name for the Persian King Ahasuerus) ruled over all of the Middle East. In the third year of his reign, he hosted a banquet for all the princes and the army officers of the Medes and Persians. After seven days of partying and while merry with wine, the king ordered Queen Vashti to appear in all her beauty before his guests.
Queen Vashti had a mind of her own, so she refused to come to the banquet hall to be ogled by drunken men. In a state of anger, Xerxes asked his counselors what the queen’s punishment should be. The consensus was to replace Vashti with another queen. The counselors told the king to bring beautiful young virgins from every province to Susa, the capital, to the harem and into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch.
Mordecai, a resident of Susa, was a Jew whose great-grandfather Kish had been exiled from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Well before Mordecai’s time, the Persians had overthrown the Babylonians. Mordecai was guardian of Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither a father nor mother. Esther was one of the many virgins sent to Xerxes’ harem into the custody of Hegai. Esther pleased Hegai, so he provided her cosmetics, food, and seven choice maidens. Esther told no one that she was a Jew.
To make themselves beautiful, the young women spent six months treating their bodies with oil of myrrh, followed by six months of spices. Finally, Esther’s time arrived to stand before the king. Xerxes loved Esther more than any of the others, so he set the royal crown on her head.
Mordecai was regularly at the king’s gate hoping for news of his adopted daughter. Once he overheard plans of two of the king’s officials to assassinate the king. Mordecai told Queen Esther, who informed the king. An acknowledgement by the king of Mordecai’s good deed was delayed by the Lord until a more opportune time.
Haman, a member of the king’s court, was promoted to oversee all the princes. All the servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down to Haman as ordered by the king. However, Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to Haman, since a good Jew bowed down only to his God. When Haman learned that this Jew would not bow down before him, he laid his plans for a holocaust to rid Persia of the Jews. A scheming Haman sent an edict marked with the king’s signet ring to all the provinces telling the governors to kill all the Jews on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, a date selected by casting lots.
When Mordecai heard the news, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly. When Esther’s maidens told her about Mordecai, she sent a messenger to him. The messenger returned with a copy of Haman’s edict and instructions for Esther to petition the king to save the Jews.
Esther went before the king and asked that he and Haman attend a banquet she would prepare. Haman was all puffed up over his invitation to dine with the king and queen. When he went out through the king’s gate and Mordecai refused to bow, he ordered the building of a seventy-five foot gallows in order to hang Mordecai.
During the night the king couldn’t sleep, so he called for the book of royal records. He read of Mordecai’s warning him about the planned assassination and asked, “How did we honor this man?”
The servant replied, “Nothing has been done for him.”
At that moment Haman entered the court. The king told Haman to place royal robes on Mordecai and lead him through the city riding on the king’s horse.
When Haman returned, he went with the king to Esther’s banquet. On the second day the king asked Esther, “What is your petition?”
“Please release me and my people from the edict to annihilate all the Jews in Persia.”
The king’s face became flushed, and the veins in his neck bulged out as he demanded, “Who would presume to do this?”
“It is he, Haman.”
The king ordered the hanging of Haman on the newly constructed seventy-five foot gallows. Esther recalled the words of King David written 500 years earlier, “The Lord is known by His justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.”
Next, the king called for Mordecai and gave him his signet ring with instructions to write the governors in all 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia, telling them that the Jews were free to assemble and defend themselves.
Mordecai did as directed. Soon afterwards he wrote another letter to all the Jews in Persia telling them to commemorate their release from execution by a feast to be called Purim after the Persian name Pur, which means casting lots. The Feast of Purim is celebrated by Jews to this day. If we could overhear the soft voices of the children at the feast, we might hear them chanting, “Good Queen Esther.”
Esther Psalm 9:16
Copyright 2003 by John C. Westervelt
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