SEPT / OCT 2017: BY VERONICA LEIGH
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14.
Queen Esther was born as Hadassah, in 5th century B.C.E., to a Hebrew family. Her family descended from the Tribe of Benjamin, her ancestors were among the Jewish people taken in the remnant exiled to Babylon. After seventy years of exile, some of the Jews returned to Israel, while Hadassah’s branch and many others remained in what became Persia. No one knows what became of Hadassah’s parents, but her cousin Mordecai took her under his wing and raised her. While she and Mordecai lived in a pagan land and associated with unbelievers, we can probably assume that Hadassah had a typical, observant upbringing. Neither she nor Mordecai could have known what lay ahead of her… or their people.
King Ahasuerus (who historians speculate was Xerxes I) was in great spirits, celebrating his army’s victories over his enemies, and hosting a party. He called for his wife, Vashti, to come before him wearing her royal crown. When she refused, issuing a royal decree, the king took her title and exiled her (other sources implied he had her killed). King Ahasuerus soon became lonely and rounded up all the Jewish maidens in Persia and choose a new queen from among them. Hadassah went to the palace. Before she left, Mordecai cautioned her to hide her Jewish identity and from that point on, she answered to Esther.
Esther and the other candidates for queen went through a yearlong beauty regimen to prepare for the night she would spend with the king. When it was her turn, she kept her Jewish heritage a secret. Esther won King Ahasuerus’ favor and received the crown removed from Vashti’s head.
A king as severe and temperamental as Ahasuerus was not without enemies. Esther’s cousin Mordecai happened to hear of an assassination plot and reported it. The scribe recorded… and forgot his good deed.
That’s when the story comes to a halt. For four years, nothing happened as Esther waited, perhaps asking God why He chose her as queen or if He had forgotten her. For four years, there was silence. As many believers know, God often works in silence, behind the scenes where was cannot see Him. Even in the four years of silence, God guided Esther and Mordecai.
Haman, the Agagite, rose to power and became King Ahasuerus’ chief advisor. A royal decree obligated everyone to bow to Haman, including the Jewish people. Following his beliefs, Mordecai refused to bow and submit. Hatred ate away at Haman and he conspired to not only kill Mordecai, but all the Jews throughout the Persian empire. Haman convinced the king the Jewish people were enemies to the crown and through a royal decree, plotted to destroy an entire race. On the 13th of Adar, the Jews would meet their fate.
Mordecai contacted Esther and told her of the edict. Esther responded that the king had not summoned her for thirty days. No one dared to approach the king without a summons; if they did, they risked death. If the king held out his scepter, he pardoned them, but there was no guarantee of his mercy. King Ahasuerus had already exiled one wife for not coming to him; no doubt Esther wondered what would happen to her if she went to him unbidden.
Mordecai reminded her that a high position as queen did not guarantee protection, that God would reveal the truth and raise up deliverance for their people elsewhere. He charged her with the belief that Esther was in her position “for such a time as this.” Emboldened by this, Esther agreed and spent the next three days fasting and in prayer. Afterwards, dressed in her finest robes, she went to the king… and he held out his scepter. King Ahasuerus asked what Esther desired, offering her half of his kingdom. She invited him and Haman to a private banquet and promised to reveal her desire to him. At the banquet’s end, she postponed her request for the following evening, at a second banquet.
In good cheer, Haman constructed gallows to hang Mordecai on, rather than wait until the 13th of Adar to watch his enemy’s demise. The king thwarted his plans when he king recalled the service Mordecai performed in saving his life, and instead, honored Mordecai.
Esther’s moment came at the second banquet, when once more, King Ahasuerus asked what she desired. She asked him to spare her people’s lives and revealed to him her Hebrew heritage. Guards took and hung Haman on the gallows prepared for Mordecai, who also received Haman’s former position. Unable to stop the decree Haman had issued, they could give the Jewish people license to protect themselves. On the 13th of Adar, the Jews triumphed over their enemies. From that day on, the Purim celebration remembers her story.
In the darkest of times, especially during the Holocaust, people drew strength from the story of Esther, finding reassurance that God had not forgotten her, and He would not forget them.