What an amazing story, worthy of Shakespeare. It seems that the Jewish race has been targeted for extinction by many more than Hitler. Their entire existence has been one existential threat after another. The events in this book take place somewhere around 450-400 BC, after the exiles have returned to Jerusalem, still slaves basically to another king and another people, Persians this time. Esther, a Jew, becomes queen to the Persian king in effect to save the Jews from destruction. This book is famous for never mentioning God, but his providence rings clearly throughout.
Haman becomes a big shot and the king elevates him above everyone else. He expects all the little people to bow down to him, but the Jew, Mordecai, refuses to do so. It so happens this was the same Mordecai who had taken Esther as his daughter when her parents either died or had abandoned her, the text doesn’t say. So Mordecai has a pretty important inn with the king, and Haman has no idea. Since Mordecai won’t bow down to him, he not only wants to destroy him, but all the Jews as well. In chapter 3 we read:
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.
This was the last time in the OT that the Jews are targeted for extinction, and God would not let that happen. To this end, a Jew is made Queen, she has the King’s ear, and they are saved.
The way this is all done is what makes it Shakespeare-esque. Esther holds a banquet for the King and Haman, tells them she has a special announcement. As a result, Haman gets an ever bigger head than he already had, and he brags to all his family and friends how great he is; in fact, the Queen is even throwing a banquet in his honor! So his friends and family tell him he should build a huge 75 foot gallows to hang Mordecai on, which he does.
Chapter 6 is classic. Providentially, the king can’t sleep, so he has a book of the chronicles of his reign read to him, and finds out that Mordecai had exposed a plot to kill the king, but that nothing had been done to honor him for it. It just so happens that at that moment, Haman is in the court waiting to speak to the king about killing who else but Mordecai! So the king asks Haman, he thinks about him, what should be done for the man the king wants to honor, and of course he pours it on. Then the king tells him it’s Mordecai who is to be honored:
10 “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.”
11 So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!”
Now Haman, and his wife and friends, know he’s screwed. For some reason, we read in this chapter, that since Mordecai is of Jewish origin Haman is doomed. Somehow I think they know of this God whom the Jews worship. Haman is then hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Delicious irony. The king then issues and edict for the Jews to be protected, and something interesting happens in chapter 8:
17 In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.
God’s heart has always been that all the nations of the world would be blessed through the Jews, and through the Jews came Jesus of Nazareth to make that a reality. God does it all by turning things upside down, by taking the plans of his enemies and using them to bless his chosen people. Much of the irony we see in the Cross we see prefigured here in Esther. The thief, Satan himself, comes to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus comes that we may have life, and have it abundantly!
Another thought that this story highlights for me, a theme that runs throughout scripture: It is God himself who saves, and he uses human means to do it. None of this would have happened if God had not told us that it is he who will “save his people from their sins,” a sovereign God who providentially moves all things to redeem for himself a people who will be his very own. Our salvific confidence is in his will and his power and his provision, not our performance. We are no longer under law, but under grace. He is a God who saves!