Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Queen Esther

Where to Find Queen Esther's Story

Esther is one of only two books named for a woman in the Protestant Bible and one of only three books named for a woman in the Catholic Bible.  Her story starts in chapter two after Queen Vashti has been deposed.  

Esther Tells Her Story

"You know that I hate the glory of the pagans, and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised or of any foreigner." Esther C:26

  News of what Vashti had done spread like wild fire.  The Queen had said, "No" to the king in the presence of all his officials and they were furious.  The women thought this might bring a change in our lives but the officials made laws that controlled our lives even more.  

None of us expected what happened next.  The king appointed officers in all the provinces.  They were to search for all the beautiful virgins in the empire and take them to the king's harem in Susa.  We were torn away from our families and any life that we had hoped to have for ourselves.  We were put under the guard of a eunuch whose title was "custodian of the women."  We were given oil of myrrh, perfumes, cosmetics and beatifying treatments.  

Every night one of us was taken to the king's bed.  We were allowed to take on thing with us. In the morning we were sent to another harem, guarded by another eunuch.  Now we were concubines.  If the king liked us he might call for us again.  Otherwise???

In the tenth month of my captivity I was taken to the king.  I pleased him and he made me his queen!?   No one was more surprised than I.  I had not yet told him that I was a Jew.    

My foster father, Mordecai hung around the palace gate.  He wanted to get information about me and find out what was going to happen to me.  While there he overheard a plot, between two guards who were planning to harm the king.  He got word to me and I told the king what Mordecai heard.  The guards were killed and Mordecai was rewarded.  

There was a very evil man named Haman in the court of the king.  He wanted everyone to bow down to him.  Everyone did, except Mordecai.  We are Jews.  We do not give the honor reserved for G*d to a mortal man.  So this evil man decided that every Jew in the nation, man, woman and child should be put to death and all their possessions seized.  He convinced the king to issue a decree that on 12/13 every Jew should be slaughtered by the citizens of the empire.  It was a horrible thing for my people to face.  

Mordecai totally fell to pieces.  He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes and walked through the city, up to the palace gates wailing and crying.  No one is allowed to enter the gates in sackcloth, so I sent a eunuch to him with fresh clothes.  When the eunuch returned he gave me a message from Mordecai.  I was to beg the king for the lives of my people.

I had not been summoned to the king in 30 days.  Appearing before the king when one is not summoned is an offense punishable by death.  I wept and prayed along with my servants.  If I did not go before the king, all the Jews would be killed.  If I did go before the king, I would be killed first and then all the Jews.  It was clear to me that if my people were to be saved I was the one who had to do it.       

I bathed and dressed in my finest, royal attire.  I was terrified and leaned on my maid for support.  When I reached the king he looked up at me with such anger that I fainted.  When I awoke he was holding me and talking gently to me.  I had a plan to invite the king and Haman to a dinner which I would prepared.  I wanted to stay in the king's good graces and I wanted Haman to let down his guard.  I hosted two such dinners.  While the king was drinking wine at the second dinner I begged the king for my life and the life of my people.  I emphasized that the death of all the Jews would be a great financial loss to the empire.  As I hoped the king became angry and asked who had planned such a disaster.  Haman was petrified.  The king stormed out into the garden.  Haman began to beg for his life.  His final mistake was throwing himself on me.  When the king returned he thought Haman was violating me.  Haman's fate was sealed.

The Jews were saved.  The community celebrated the days that were meant for our destruction with feasting and rejoicing.  We called the celebration Purim and I commanded that Purim should be celebrated  every year.

Observation on the Story of Queen Esther

Not all commentators have been impressed with Esther.  As Sidnie Ann White points out in The Women's Bible Commentary, "The tendency among scholars was to exalt Mordecai as the true hero of the tale and to downplay or even vilify the role of Esther.  As late as 1971 Carey More stated, 'Between Mordecai and Esther the greater hero in the Hebrew is Mordecai, who supplied the brains while Esther simply follows his directions' (Moore, p.lii)" In the text Mordecai asks Esther to plead for her people, he uses shame to convince her of what he believes to be her duty, but he does not offer a plan. 

Other commentators, ignoring the fact that refusing the king's harem would have meant her death have  criticized her for becoming a member of the harem.  The implication being that she was there to gain power and wealth.  
Esther enters her story as the powerless, sex slave of a powerful king.  At the close of her story she is a powerful queen who has manipulated her circumstances and saved not only her own life but the life of all the Jewish people.  Like many women before and after her she has made a way for herself where there was no way.