|vintage poster, artist unknown|
The characters of this story:
Esther, orphaned at a young age, was brought up by her only living relative, her cousin Mordecai.. Esther was extremely beautiful, and, apparently very smart too. She made brave decisions when it would have been much safer to take the easy way out.
Mordecai was a devout Jew who worked for the king. He lived in Susa, the Persian capital, during the reign of king Xerxes. When his Uncle and Aunt died, he took in young Esther and raised her as his own. He was a good man; he had prevented the king's assassination many years prior, but had never received recognition for it. This good deed was, however, recorded in the king's logs.
King Xerxes was the king of Persia. At the end of a week-long banquet, he demanded that his beautiful queen, Vashti, "reveal herself" to all the drunken men at the banquet. When Vashti refused, he could have legally had her killed, but he did not. He did, however, declare her no longer queen, and set out to find a new queen. There was a year-long process of special baths, oils, and other beautification processes that all these prospective queens went through before being presented to the king. Each had one opportunity to meet and impress the king. Out of all these girls, the king chose Esther, unaware that she was a Jew.
Haman is the last main character in the story. He was second in command to king Xerxes. Haman wasn't a very nice man... He purposely hid from the king the fact that Mordecai had prevented the assassination. He hated the Jews, and formulated a plan to kill them. He tricked the king into signing a treaty which would include the slaying of the Jews. He was a brute.
Haman had a law passed that forced everyone to bow down to him when he walked through the palace. Mordecai, out of respect for God, refused to bow down to a man. Haman held a grudge against Mordecai for this perceived disrespect, and tricked the king into signing a decree ordering the massacre of all the Jews in Persia.
Delighted with himself, Haman built a twenty-five foot tall gallows next to his house. He intended to execute Mordecai there as an example of what would happen to anyone who failed to bow down to him. He cast lots - called "pur" - and thus selected March 13th as the day for the execution and massacre.
When queen Esther heard of this, although she feared for her own life, she did the right thing. First she fasted and prayed (and had many other Jews do so as well). Then, she went to the king, revealed her true identity, and begged him to prevent the massacre.
Suffering from insomnia, king Xerxes spent the night reading record books about his earlier years as king. Within these books he found records of the incident in which Mordecai had prevented his assassination. He also found evidence that Haman had covered up the incident, preventing any reward for Mordecai. Mordecai's good deed had gone unacknowledged and unrewarded for many years due to Haman's hatred.
Angry over Haman's selfish plot, king Xerxes had Haman and his sons executed on the giant gallows which Haman had built for Mordecai's execution. King Xerxes then appointed Mordecai to fill Haman's job - second in command to the king!
What a twist of fate. Now in this land of Jewish captivity, the king of Persia had a Jewish queen and a Jew as his top advisor!
To celebrate her people's deliverance from the intended massacre, queen Esther created the holiday "Purim", named after the "pur" used for the casting of lots. And, of course, this holiday is celebrated on the intended date of the massacre.
The book of Esther has no "3:16", but one of the key verses of this book is Esther 4:16, which reads,
"Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will do as you do. I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."
Another interesting thing about the book of Esther is that the word "God" does not appear in it. Yet, God is so present in Esther's story. God placed Esther, a Jew, in the palace as queen of Persia. God put Mordecai in the right place and time in several instances in this story. And, who but God could arrange for king Xerxes to have insomnia on exactly the right night, and to read exactly the right words on exactly the right page of a huge set of historical record books?
God if faithful. He doesn't always present himself through a burning bush or a clap of thunder. Often He is in the quiet presence of a fellow-believer, or the rustle of a page of a book...