(Based on my reading of The Queen You Though You Knew by Rabbi David Fohrman)
Esther arrives at the King’s chamber. He as locked himself away from his people and seemingly needs a break from the stress of ruling. He is pleased she has come. Likely he believes it is a sign that she cares for him and is risking her life to comfort him. This is not a time to dissuade him of this idea, so she invites him to a feast with only her and one other guy in attendance. A private dinner with your wife makes sense, but the king has to be thinking ‘Why is this other man being invited as well? What is my queen trying to tell me?’ Haman has no such thoughts and believes this is a sign he is highly favored. The invitation merely boosts his ego.
At the end of the dinner, Esther has still not revealed what is on her mind. Instead, she asks the king, and Haman, to another banquet. In the first request she tells the king the banquet is for ‘him,’ but which ‘him’ it is for is a little ambiguous. In the second request, Esther states that the banquet is for ‘them.’ This has to confuse the king, and may be why he cannot sleep that night. In ancient Jewish writings (before the Middle Ages) Rashi (a famous Jewish Rabbi) suggests that the king believes Esther is insinuating that something untoward has been happening between her and Haman. This makes sense. After all, at this time in history the queen has very little power so what else could she have to say to the king that she is so afraid of saying that it takes three audiences with the king to get her courage up? All he knows is that whatever she wants to tell him, it has to do with Haman.
This brings us to the fact the Esther has never told the king that she is Jewish. He must have asked; what husband would not want to know, especially if he was a king trying to unite a kingdom? The only logical reply Esther could have given was that she was Persian and that nothing else matters, which would have pleased the king immensely. Now Esther must reveal that she really does have some loyalty to one of the nationalities that reside in his kingdom, which may alter the king’s view of her, especially since the Jews have been accused of trying to overthrow the kingdom.
The king cannot sleep. He is likely thinking about why the queen would throw two banquets for him and another man. Haman on the other hand has passed Mordecai on his way home and is now really mad since, as usual, Mordecai did not given him the respect he believes he deserves. (There is a lesson here about not letting on person’s opinion ruin your whole day…) Haman’s wife advises Haman to just have Mordecai killed, since, after all, Haman is in charge. She also tells him to talk to the king about it in the morning. Haman however does not wait. He goes to the palace at night, after the king should be asleep. As luck would have it, the king is not asleep and asked Haman what he would do to honor someone who has pleased the king. As you well know Haman thinks the honor is for him and is crestfallen when he finds out he is to honor Mordecai for saving the king’s life. His disappointment was likely evident. At this point the king must have been thinking, ‘This man thought he would ride my horse and wear my clothes in front of all my subjects? And he has something to do with my wife?’ He must also be wondering what Haman is doing back at the palace at this time of night after he had clearly left for home hours ago. Doubts are increasing as to Haman’s motives….
The queen then reveals that Haman wishes to kill her and her people, and has tricked the king into signing a decree to make it legal. The king steps out to think and walks in the garden. Why would Haman wish to kill his queen unless he made advances that the queen spurned in an attempt to take the kingdom? (At this time, one of the ways to usurp power was to sleep with a king’s women, showing that the king was not powerful enough to protect them from others.) The king returns and Haman is on the queen’s couch (which can be translated as bed) with her begging for his life. This looks bad and confirms the king’s fears. The king asks the eunuch (the man charged with guarding Esther) what to do. The eunuch, likely a friend of Esther’s by this point, points out the Haman has built gallows to hang Mordecai, the man who saved the king’s life. This is the final straw, and it looks very much like Haman is upset that Mordecai foiled the plot on the king’s life. Haman has signed his death certificate.
Mordecai is made second in command, after all he has proved his loyalty, as has Esther by seemingly not going along with Haman to overthrow the king, and Mordecai has been given all of Haman’s belongings, a sizable amount of wealth. But the decree still stands. Esther must again approach the king, who tells her that she and Mordecai have the power to do what they think best. This is a huge promotion for Esther, and should be noted in any discussion regarding how God views women. In this kingdom, as seen by Vashti’s inability to refuse a request, the notion that a wife must obey her husband at all times, the beauty pageant where the king takes all the beautiful women for himself without causing civil war and the fear Esther, the king’s wife, has in approaching her husband without being sent for, show how little value women have. Now the king is giving his queen the power to make laws with his advisor. This is a huge leap forward. (We will also see in Nehemiah the queen mother being consulted, showing that the position of women in the kingdom as people valued for their wisdom has remained. And some believe that the queen mother in Nehemiah is actually Esther in her old age….)
So, not being able to revoke Haman’s order to kill the Jews, Mordecai and Esther devise a new order allowing the Jewish people to defend themselves and keep the spoils. This is a test devised to show that the Jewish citizens are loyal. This is now the perfect time for the Jews to rise up and take control, or at least increase their control, of the kingdom. But Mordecai knows a few things about the Jewish people that the rest of Persia does not. First, the Jewish people at this time believe the teachings in scripture about not taking the plunder are there to teach them that war is not about personal gain. Further, their land is Israel, not Persia, and that is the only land they are to have according to scripture. Lastly, their prophets have told them to work for the good of this kingdom while they are there. Mordecai is confident that his people will show their loyalty and that this will go well for them.
Mordecai then throws a parade to celebrate the decree before the date the decree goes into effect. This tells the other leaders in the kingdom that he is in charge, has the king’s backing and has confidence in the results. The leaders have two decrees: Haman’s which says that they may kill all the Jews and take their possessions, and Mordecai’s, which says that the Jews may kill those who come against them and take their possessions. Which one will they back? Since Haman is dead and Mordecai has the power, it is really not a question. When the day comes, only those who really hate the Jews come against them and are defeated. Esther asks the king for a second day for the Jews to finish conquering those who came against them, and it is granted, keeping the Jews who did not finish defeating their enemies in one day safe from repercussions and showing the nation that the king currently sides with the Jewish people, which impression one did not get from Haman’s decree. The Jews also do not take the plunder, showing that this was merely an act of self defense and not for personal gain, further proving themselves to be loyal. Esther also has Haman’s sons hung from the gallows. They are already dead. This is a further statement regarding how the king now views anyone who is against the Jews, as hanging is an insult.
Esther and Mordecai proclaim a yearly holiday and call it Purim (lots). This is Biblical sarcasm. There are a lot of seeming coincidences in the book of Esther, but the Jewish people do not believe in luck, but that God controls everything.
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