The Self-Sacrifice of Esther

By Verna McKee

During the seventy year period of Babylonian captivity, under the rule of King Ahasuerus (commonly thought to be King Xerxes), the Lord has seen fit to leave us a bit of history to give us courage in times of distress. On the seventh day of a heathen orgy, Ahasuerus so forgot himself as to send for his queen Vashti to make an appearance before the king’s drunken guests. Vashti refused to come and angered the king. The princes who witnessed the refusal, fearing lest her example would be followed by their women, recommended that Vashti be put away and another queen found to take her place.

A Humble Virgin

The king sent his officers to all the provinces of the kingdom to gather fair young virgins. They were brought to Shushan the palace and placed in the care of Hegai the king’s chamberlain, keeper of the women, and given all the rites of purification. Living near the palace was a Jew named Mordecai who had in his care the daughter of his uncle. Her name in the Persian language was Esther. This girl entered no beauty contests. She never pushed herself forward to seek the crown of Vashti. She was found, however, and taken with the other young virgins to Sushan. They were all given special privileges and allowed all they demanded – but Esther only asked for what Hegai thought she should have. In this way she won, not only his favor, but that of all who looked upon her.

An Obedient Daughter

Although Esther was an orphan, she was reared by Mordecai as a daughter and honored him as a father. When she was one of those chosen, Mordecai told her not to show her people and kindred; she told no one that she was a Jewess. Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women to know of the fate of Esther. As each virgin spent the night with the king after her twelve month purification, she was sent on to the second house of the women to be a part of the harem only called to the king by name if he ever wanted her again. After Esther’s night of testing, King Ahasuerus loved her above all women, set the royal crown upon her head in place of Vashti, and made a royal feast to praise her before all the kingdom. Yet Esther obeyed Mordecai and did as he charged; she didn’t tell who her people were.

A Faithful Wife

In Mordecai’s sitting in the king’s gate, he learned of treachery against the king by two of his chamberlains. When Esther was told of this by Mordecai, she gave the information to the proper authorities who had the matter proved and the guilty men hanged. Esther had Mordecai’s name given credit for saving the life of her husband and the record was made in the book of the chronicles of the king.

A man called Haman had been given a high rank in the kingdom by Ahasuerus. He became a bitter enemy to Mordecai. Mordecai was a Jew and he refused to bow and reverence Haman as he passed as the other king’s servants did. In Haman’s pride he determined to wipe out all of Mordecai’s nationality. By misrepresenting the Jews and offering to pay ten thousand talents of silver for the carrying out of the decree, Haman influenced the king to sign and mark with his ring a seal, dooming all Jews to death.

A Brave Queen

When word of Haman’s decree went throughout Shushan, there was fear, tears, fasting and wailing in sackcloth and ashes among the Jews, including Mordecai. Esther tried to encourage Mordecai but he knew too well the end for the Jews unless something could be done. He sent Esther a copy of the decree by the king’s chamberlain appointed to wait on Esther, and charged her to go to the king to plead for her people. The law of the kingdom decreed death to any who,went before him without invitation if the king’s scepter was not held out, that he might live. Mordecai’s message to Esther is one of the most quoted Old Testament passages as he warned her that being Queen would not save her if all Jews were killed. “For if thou altogether hold thy peace at this time, then there shall relief arise to the Jews from another’s place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther sent word to Mordecai that she would go in to the king even if she perished for it but she wanted all the Jews in Shushan to join with her and her maidens in three days of fasting to precede her effort.

A Clever Hostess

After her favorable reception by the king and his offering her any request even to the half of his kingdom, all that Esther requested was that the king and Haman be her guests that night at a banquet she would prepare. Her request at the first banquet was that they join her at a second banquet the next day. Haman was so elated that he rushed home to tell his family how honored he had been. Even this was spoiled by passing Mordecai who still refused to give him honor. At that, even knowing Mordecai would perish with the other Jews was not enough; he erected a gallows on which to hang this enemy to his pride and pleasure with himself.

That very night, unable to sleep, the king called for the book of the records of the chronicles of the king to be read to him. For the first time, the king learned of Mordecai’s part in saving his life. The next day Ahasuerus turned to Haman for advice about the best way to honor a man the king delighted to honor. With the’exalted opinion Haman had of himself, he could think of no one else to whom the king would refer. He outlined what he would want: putting on the king’s royal apparel, wearing the king’s crown, riding the king’s horse, led by one of the king’s most noble princes through the street of the city proclaiming, “Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delights to honor.” Immediately the king told Haman to make the arrangements and to honor Mordecai in this way for saving his life. Haman obeyed but went home mourning.

At the second banquet Esther had for the king and Haman, she asked for her life and the life of her people. The king was so angry when he learned that his trusted Haman had endangered his beloved Esther and her people that he went in wrath to the palace garden. In Hamqn’s fear at the evil determined against him by the king, his nerve broke and he pled with the queen for his life. Just as the king returned to the banquet hall, Haman fell upon the bed where Esther was. When the king thought Haman was trying to force the queen, Haman’s doom was sealed. When told of the gallows Haman had prepared for Mordecai, the king had Haman hanged there.

An Honored Jewess

King Ahasuerus gave to Esther all that Haman owned. He told Esther and Mordecai the Jew~to write a device and seal it with his ring for the relief of Esther’s people. According to the law, Haman’s writing to destroy the Jews could not be reversed because it was sealed with the king’s ring. However, word was sent throughout the land, wherever Haman’s laws had gone, giving the Jews the right to gather together in every city, to stand for their life, to destroy, the slay, and to cause, to perish all who would work to destroy them and the Jews were to take spoil of all who would try to make them prey.

Mordecai was given honor and dressed as a prince to sit in Shushan the palace and his fame went throughout the land. The Jews overcame Haman’s followers, not only in far places but in Shushan itself and Haman’s ten sons were hanged upon the gallows.

Esther the queen and Mordecai the Jew proclaimed a new feast to commemorate the rest that they had from their enemies. Each year the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar were to be celebrated with gladness and feasting and sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor.

These days were to be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, every city. These are called the days of Purim and given so that the Jews would never forget the deliverance obtained for them by Mordecai the Jew and his niece, Queen Esther, wife of Ahasuerus.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 17, pp. 528-529
September 1, 1983