A few thousand years ago there was a beauty pageant in the land of Persia. It lasted a year. The stakes were high. The prize? The winner would become queen! She was not going to become queen of the pageant, but queen of the Empire of Persia. Yes, this really happened. It isn’t a fairy tale. Persia was the largest kingdom of the world at the time. How did this contest come about?
Queen Vashti, was asked to participate in a lewd party that King Ahasuerus had been participating in for a week with a bunch of his friends. Of course, he was drunk at the time. But he called for her to come to the party to show off her beauty to his friends. She refused. She knew very well what she would be expected to do and she wanted none of it. She was queen after all. No way was she going to do this!
Of course, the king was furious. He was embarrassed. You don’t embarrass a king, especially that king. As the men talked it over, they didn’t want their wives to follow her example. So he passed a law that she could never come into the palace again. Needless to say, Queen Vashti was no longer Queen. She did manage to stay alive! Thus, the nation-wide beauty pageant. The whole empire was notified about the contest and virgins from all over the empire started arriving. They were kept at the palace with their ladies-in-waiting while they preened for a year before appearing before the King.
This story is all found in the book of Esther in the Bible. It is very interesting with many twists and turns. I can only touch on parts of this story but you will enjoy reading the details in the book of Esther. It seems like it should be a fiction story…but it isn’t! It is a story of a young woman who had to hope in God for survival. He protected her.
Esther moved to the palace on the advice of her Uncle Mordecai
Esther was a young Jewish woman. Her parents had both died and she was raised by her Uncle Mordecai. He was the one who encouraged her to enter this contest. He worked in the palace so was able to keep updated on her safety. He also warned her not to reveal the fact that she was Jewish.
Eventually, she became Queen. Although GOD’s name is never mentioned in this book, we can see His power and providence running strongly through this whole story. It’s only 10 short chapters long. It won’t take long to read at all.
Haman is a high official in the government who was also very evil.
As it turned out, there was a man in the palace named Haman. He was an evil and arrogant man. He also hated Mordecai because Mordecai was not one to bow down to other humans. Haman knew that Mordecai was Jewish and at one point, Haman did a favor for the King. Since the King owed him a favor, he took the opportunity to write a law that would kill off the Jewish people. (Since he knew Mordecai was Jewish.) Yes, Haman wanted Mordecai and his kind wiped off the planet. On a certain day, soldiers were going to go throughout the Empire to kill all Jews…and they would have no defense! The king didn’t know who the group of people were, but he knew it was a race of people and Haman finished up the law for him…filling in the the details. Haman thought he had solved his problem of Mordecai. He knew about the laws of the Medes and Persians. They couldn’t be changed. You had to find a way to work around them and neutralize the unwanted law if you changed your mind. Haman knew he wouldn’t be changing his mind. He thought he was safe in his plan. But he didn’t know the Queen was a Jewess.
Mordecai’s first response to the new law was grief!
When Mordecai first heard about this new law, he wept and dressed in sackcloth and ashes for days (a sign of mourning). When Esther was finally able to talk to him, he told her the bad news. Of course, she was upset as well. He told her that she must tell the king so the law could be neutralized.
Esther’s response was that she hadn’t been asked to come into the King’s presence for 30 days. If she went to him and he didn’t hold out his scepter, she could be killed!
Here is Mordecai’s response: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place,
but you and your father’s house will perish.
And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:13-14 ESV
They knew the only solution to the problem was prayer to the one true GOD who could work a miracle.
So she asked Mordecai to organize a 3 day fast among the Jews in the city of Susa. Meanwhile, she planned to fast herself along with her handmaidens. After the three days were up, she dressed and went to the inner court of the King. When he saw her, he responded favorably to her and asked her in. He asked what she wanted up to half of his kingdom. She simply asked to have him and Haman come to a feast she was preparing for the next day.
That night Haman went home. On his way out of the palace, he passed Mordecai who did not bow to him. It made him very angry. He made plans to build gallows to hang Mordecai on. But he spent much of the evening bragging to his family about his wealth and the honors the King had given him.
A providential case of insomnia keeps the King awake and he discovers Mordecai saved his life and was never rewarded.
Meanwhile, that night, the King couldn’t sleep. He had a servant read to him from the Book of Memorable Deeds and discovered that Mordecai had saved his life and was never honored.
The next morning, he asked Haman what should be done for someone who should be honored. Haman, of course, figured the person to be honored was himself. So he told the king all the things he would want done. Then the King told him that the person to be honored was Mordecai. He told Haman to go do all those things for Mordecai. You can imagine his fury! He had to spend the day honoring his enemy, the one he wanted dead! There are times when the irony in this story makes you want to laugh doesn’t it?
Now it was time for the banquet with Esther, the King and Haman
When it was time for the feast with Esther and the King, Haman was ready for a good meal. Again, the King asked Esther what she wanted, to the half of his kingdom. This time, she begged for her life and the lives of her people.
The King was shocked. ‘Who has done this to your people?”
She pointed to Haman. “This wicked Haman!”
The King rose from his meal and ordered Haman to be hung from the gallows that had been built for Mordecai.
The new law was written to solve the problem
Then the King gave Esther his signet ring (needed to sign laws). He told her to write the law she needed to protect her people. The scribes of the palace and Mordecai helped get the law written correctly. Then horsemen carried the new law out to all of the Empire to notify the Jewish people that they were allowed to protect themselves and fight off those who would try to kill them.
This event is still celebrated among the Jewish people and is called Purim. As you can imagine, it is quite a celebration. Esther. or Hadassah, truly was providentially placed in that place so GOD’s people could be saved.
As you read all the details of this story in the book of Esther, you can see the amazing ways GOD worked to move Mordecai into a more favored position, move out the evil Haman and keep Esther in a favored position with the King.
It’s hard to imagine a lovely young woman who loved GOD being in a place like the palace. King Ahasuerus certainly didn’t seem like the godly man you would want your daughter to marry, yet GOD placed her there for a time. Her hope had to be in Him, not in the King or even in the government. We can learn a lot from Esther and her complete trust in GOD even when her life was in danger.
Despite the differences in culture, what can you learn from Esther today?
There is much about Esther’s life most of us find difficult to identify with…her marriage and how she got there for one! But one thing we can identify with is the fact that she trusted in GOD in the middle of circumstances that were out of her control! We all have those. At least we do at times. But she learned that GOD was leading and guiding her, sometimes even using her in the middle of them to change the course of history.