Why does she have 2 banquets?
The king has sequestered himself in his private chamber. The law says that anyone who enters without an invitation risks their life. Esther has not been called for over a month.
Esther risks it, and he lifts his scepter, and offers her up to half the kingdom. He is pleased she came to him, and risked much to do so. She asks the king to meet him and Haman for a banquet. Why? Likely she realizes the king believes she has come to him because she yearns for his company. Dissuading him of this belief may turn his good nature to wrath. The king is likely sequestered because he needs a ‘break.’ He may be depressed, frustrated, etc, and remember, there was a plot to kill him which Mordecai uncovered. Likely, he does not trust those around him easily. We will see that he actually does not trust easily in the assumptions he makes regarding Haman later… To immediately reveal that she is Jewish, a race which has been labeled a threat to the kingdom by his most trusted advisor, and to ask for this race to be spared, without any ‘preparation’ might result in her dying along with her people.
Haman accuses the Jews, inciting the king’s wrath. He reports they are scattered throughout the empire, they obey their own laws and they do not obey the king’s laws. Haman shows that the Jewish people are everywhere, and therefore are a threat to the entire kingdom. They are not intermarrying and intermingling, as captives are supposed to do. The strategy of intermixing people is to make their loyalty to the kingdom and not to their previous people group, as they become friends, business partners and spouses of people from other places. This is not occurring in the Jewish communities.
Haman is also an example of why God’s people should follow God’s commands. Saul did not immediately kill king Agag. Samuel was quite upset about this. (1 Sam 15) Jewish tradition states that the king escaped, slept with his concubine who conceived, and then was recaptured during this time. Haman is an Agagite, a descendent of this king who has been taught to hate the Jewish people. Mordecai adds salt to his wounds by not bowing down to him and giving him the honor he believes he is due, especially from a conquered people, who Haman despises.
The misunderstanding that results in Haman’s death.
Haman is invited to the feast Esther gives for her husband twice. The king must wonder why the invitation is not just for him, since Esther is his wife, whose sole purpose centers around the king’s pleasure. When Esther reveals that she is scared for her life, and the life of her people Haman is caught throwing himself at Esther, hoping for mercy. He realizes that the king will not take kindly to threats against his queen. Part of this is a custom of the time where a new king, or a challenger to someone’s rule, shows off their prowess over the current ruler by demonstrating that the current ruler cannot protect his women (so how can he protect you, his subjects?). By throwing himself at Esther, Haman confirms the king’s fear, and supports Esther’s assertion that Haman is trying to do her harm. We are told that the king says, “Will he even assault the queen with me in the house?” (Esther 7: 8) This is a serious crime at this time. Absalom does this by sleeping with David’s concubines on the palace roof (2 Sam 16: 22), as does Reuben when Jacob is depressed over Rachel’s death (Gen 35:22) likely showing that he is now the head of the household as the elder. (Remember, concubines are inherited in this culture and the ownership and care of them passes from father to son. There are reasons Reuben, the oldest, is replaced by Judah as head of the family… Judah not touching Tamar, even though she is now one of his ‘wives’ out of a sense of morality likely shows Jacob that he is nothing like his brother.)
The 180 day feast: Vashti is called to show her beauty off to his new regional rulers. Vashti does not obey his command. Why is this such a large problem?
The king is trying to show his new leadership that this kingdom of which they are now an integral part is awesome, and that he is better than any king they have ever had, and that they should be happy to be a part of his kingdom. He throws an elaborate feast, showing the wealth and prosperity they can expect if they are loyal to him. These are men who are part of the captured nations, who are now holding high level jobs in the new kingdom. He cannot lose face in front of them and have the ‘big thing’ they go back and share with their people being the fact that he cannot even control his own wife. While his command may be impetuous and short sited, he is the king. He represents something larger then himself as a husband. He must be obeyed by his subjects and especially by his wife. Remember, the status of women in this society is not that of an equal partnership as it is today. If he cannot get his wife to obey him, why should the strong, powerful men he has put into power listen to his commands? She is seriously undermining all he has done by throwing the 180 day feast in one act of refusal. And it is at the end of the feast, at a time when the people will most certainly remember it. This is big. He loves Vashti, but this is a precedent that cannot be allowed to stand. He approaches the men wisely, not as a king, but as a fellow husband, with the air of ‘what are we going to do with theses women?’ The men become co-sufferers, and share in the fear that their wives are capable of doing the same if this is allowed to go unanswered. Vashti is this displaced as a queen. (Likely put away, guarded so no one else may claim her, or sleep with her, and banished from the king’s presence as Michael was in King David’s time, but very likely not killed.)
Queen Esther and women’s rights.
Queen Esther actually does much to advance the rights of women in the kingdom. We see previously that Vashti had no rights, and when she refused a request she found demeaning, she lost everything. (How much of everything is up for debate…) Queen Esther however finds herself in a different position. In Esther 9 we see the king asking her opinion regarding what will happen to those who opposed the Jews, specifically Haman’s sons, and she writes the decree regarding Purim, which is distributed throughout the kingdom. Esther’s role has been elevated from a Queen who is called for the king’s pleasure every once in a while, to a women whose opinion the king respects. Although it takes time for the couple to get to this point, it is an example of how a marriage with a bad start, slowly becomes a more godly one