22 Sep

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One-sentence summary: A story is told about a young Jewish woman who becomes the queen of Persia and is placed in a position to save her people.

When King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) of Persia sits on the throne, in the third year, he makes a feast for all his nobles and princes, "to show the riches of his glorious kingdom and splendor of his excellent majesty," for 180 days. Then, he makes another feast for everyone in the kingdom for seven days, held in the court of the garden in his palace. It is elaborate, and there is royal wine in abundance. Queen Vashti, his wife, makes a feast for the women in the royal palace as well. On the seventh day, when the king's heart is "merry with wine," he commands seven eunuchs to bring Queen Vashti before him, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials. However, she refuses to come, and the king is furious. He asks his wisemen "who [understand] the times" what he should do according to the law for this act of rebellion. They say the queen has not only wronged the king but all of the princes and the people of the land, because "it will become known to all the women, and they will despise their husbands in their eyes," and "there will be excessive contempt and wrath." They suggest a royal decree, recorded in the law of the Persians and the Medes so that it cannot be altered, that Vashti will come no more before the king, and her royal position be taken away. They also suggest a decree throughout all the provinces that wives are to honor their husbands, both great and small. The king takes their advice and sends letters to all the provinces, each in its own script and language, "that each man should be master of his own house and speak in the language of his own people."

After that, when the king's wrath has subsided, he remembers Vashti, what she did, and the decree against her. His wisemen suggest beautiful young virgins be sought for him. They suggest the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins into Shushan the citadel, into the women's quarters under the custody of the king's eunuch, and beauty preparations be given them, and to let the woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti. This pleases the king, so he follows their advice. And in Shushan, there is a certain Jew named Mordecai, a Benjamite. He had brought up his uncle's daughter, a young woman named Hadassah, because she did not have a father or mother. She is lovely and beautiful, and when the decree is given, she is taken to the king's palace and placed under the eunuch. She pleases the eunuch and obtains his favor, so he gives her extra beauty preparations along with seven "choice maidservants," and he moves them to the best place in the house of the women. She does not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had told her not to. Every day, he paces outside the women's quarters to ask about her welfare. After twelve months' preparation, "according to the regulation of the women," it is each woman's turn to go in and see the king. They are allowed to bring in one chosen item from the women's quarters. Each woman goes to the king in the evening and returns in the morning, and she does not go to him again unless he delights in her and calls her by name. When it is Esther's turn (she is given a Persian name), she asks for nothing except what the eunuch advises. And she obtains favor in the sight of all who see her. The king loves Esther more than all the other women, and she obtains grace and favor in his sight more than all the other virgins, so he sets the royal crown on her head and makes her queen instead of Vashti. Then, the king holds a great feast, "The Feast of Esther," for all his officials and servants. Mordecai is sitting in the king's gate when the virgins are gathered, and two of the eunuchs, doorkeepers, are plotting against the king. Mordecai finds out, and he tells Esther, and she informs the king in his name. When an inquiry is made, it is confirmed, and both eunuchs are hanged on the gallows, and it is written down in the king's book.

After this, the king promotes a man named Haman and sets his seat above all the princes. All the kings' servants bow to him because the king had commanded it, but Mordecai refuses. The kings' servants ask him why, but he does not listen, so they tell Haman. Mordecai had told them he was a Jew. When Haman sees he does not bow or pay him homage, he is filled with wrath, but he does not lay hands on him. Instead, he seeks to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. In the twelfth year of the king, they cast a lot before Haman to determine the day and month of their evil plot, and it falls on the twelfth month. So Haman tells the king that "there is a certain people scattered among the people in the kingdom whose laws are different from all other people, and they do not keep the king's laws." He says they should not remain and asks that a decree be written that they be destroyed. The king gives his ring to Haman to make the decree and tells him to do what seems best to him. The king's scribes are called, and a decree is written according to all Haman commands, to every province and official in that province, sealed with the king's signet ring. The decree calls upon everyone to "destroy, kill, and annihilate" the Jews- young and old- in one day and to plunder their possessions. It is published for all people so they may be ready for that day and proclaimed in Shushan the citadel. And the city of Shushan is perplexed.

When Mordecai learns of all this, he tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and ashes and goes out in the midst of the city. He cries out in a loud and bitter cry all the way to the front of the king's gate. And in every province, there is great mourning among the Jews with fasting, weeping, and wailing, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes. Esther's maids and eunuchs come and tell her that Mordecai is publicly grieving, and she is deeply distressed. She sends garments to him to clothe him, but he refuses. She calls one of the eunuchs to find out why Mordecai is mourning, so he goes out to him, and he tells him what had happened and shows him the written decree from Shushan to show to Esther and command her to go into the king and "make supplication and plead before him for her people." The eunuch returns and tells Esther Mordecai's words. Then, Esther tells him to tell Mordecai that everyone in the kingdom knows that whoever who goes into the king's court without being called will be put to death, unless the king holds out the golden scepter; that person may live. She says she has not been called in thirty days. Mordecai sends her a message through the eunuch: "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?" Esther replies back with a message for Mordecai to go and gather the Jews in Shushan and tell them to fast for three days, neither eating and drinking. She says she and her maids will do the same, and she will go to the king, which is against the law. She says, "And if I perish, I perish." So Mordecai does according to what she commands.

On the third day, Esther puts on her royal robes and stands in the inner court of the king's palace across from his house as he is on his throne, facing the entrance. When he sees her standing in the court, she finds favor in his sight, and he holds out the golden scepter to her. She goes near to touch it, and the king says, "What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you, up to half the kingdom." She asks if he and Haman would come to a banquet she has prepared for them. The king orders it, and they go. At the banquet, the king asks again what she wants and says he will grant it, "up to half the kingdom." She asks if he and Haman would come to a second banquet that she will prepare, and tomorrow she will ask him her request. Haman goes out joyful from the banquet, but when he sees Mordecai, "not standing or trembling before him," he is filled with hatred, but he restrains himself. He calls for his friends and wife and tells them of his great riches and how the king promoted him above everyone. He even says that the queen invited only him with the king to the banquet. Yet he says none of this matters as long as he sees Mordecai sitting at the city gate. So his friends suggest that a gallows be made on which to hang Mordecai and suggest he have him hanged the next day. Then, they say, he can enjoy himself. Haman likes this idea and has the gallows made.

Thoughts/discussion questions:

Why do you think the Lord has placed you where you are "for such a time as this?"

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