Friday, December 7, 2012

Queen Esther

THE Jews had not all returned from exile to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Ezra: many or them still lived in the land of Persia. The name of the king who reigned over Persia: at this time was Ahasuerus. In the third year of his reign he made a great feast for his servants in the court, or garden, of his palace, that was in the city of Shushan, where the kings of Persia lived during the winter.

Around the court were hung curtains of white and green and blue, which were fastened by cords and silver rings, to pillars of marble. The beds in the palace were made of gold and silver, and the pavement was of red and blue, and white and black marble. The persons at the feast drank out of vessels of gold, and the king's wine was given in abundance, so that every man might drink as much as he wanted.

Vashti, the queen, also made a feast for the women in the palace of king Ahasuerus. And on the seventh day of the king's feast, after he had drunk wine and was merry, he sent to bring Vashti before him, with the crown upon her head, that the princes and people might see her beauty.

Now in Persia the women lived in a separate part of the house, by themselves, and never came out before men unless they wore veils. And when King Ahasuerus sent for Vashti, the queen, to come before all the princes and people, that they might see her face unveiled, she refused to obey the king's commandment.
Therefore the king was angry, and said to his wise men, What shall we do to queen Vashti, and how shall she be punished, because she has not obeyed the commandment of the king?
One of the wise men answered, Vashti has done wrong, not only to the king, but also to all the princes and people of your kingdom. For all the women of Persia will no more obey their husbands when they hear that king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti, the queen, to come in before him and she came not.
Therefore, let the king make a decree, and let it be written among the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed, that Vashti shall come no more before the king; and let the king choose another woman for queen who is better than she. Then, when this decree shall be known throughout the kingdom, all the wives, both of rich men and of poor men, will obey their husbands.

These words pleased the king and his princes, and the king did as the wise man had told him. For he sent letters through all the different provinces of his kingdom, commanding that every man should be ruler in his own house, and that this law should be made known to all the people.
Then the king's servants came to him, saying, Let the king send officers to all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the beautiful young women of Persia into the palace at Shushan; and let the one who pleases the king best be queen instead of Vashti. And the king did as his servants said.
Now there was among the servants at the palace a Jew named Mordecai, who had a cousin named Esther. She was also of the Jews. Her father and mother were dead, and when they had died, Mordecai took Esther to his house. Since that time, he had brought her up as his own daughter. And the maid was fair and beautiful.
It happened, when the king's commandment was made known through the land, that many young maidens were gathered together at Shushan, the palace. Esther was brought there among them and given to the care of the king's officer who had the charge of the women.
The officer was pleased with Esther, and gave her a present, and also seven young maidens to wait on her; and he put her and her maidens into the best part of the house of the women. But Esther did not let it be known that she was Jewish, for Mordecai had advised her not to tell it.
When King Ahasuerus saw Esther, he loved her more than all the other maidens who were brought before him, so that he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king made a great feast that was called Esther's feast, and he gave gifts to his servants for her sake.

But Esther was still careful to do all that Mordecai told her, for she obeyed him now, although she was made queen, as willingly as when she lived in his house and was brought up as his own daughter.

In those days, two of the king's officers, because they were angry with the king, wanted to lay hands on him and kill him. But Mordecai, who was a watchman at the king's gate, heard what they said, and told Esther, and Esther told the king.
When the officers were examined their guilt was found out, and they were both hanged on a gallows. And what Mordecai had done to save the king's life was written down in a book where an account was kept of all the principal things that happened in the kingdom.
Now there was at the palace a servant named Haman. After these things, King Ahasuerus made Haman a great man, and set him above all the princes who were at the palace with him. And all the king's servants who watched by the king's gate, bowed down and did reverence before Haman, for so the king commanded them to do. But Mordecai would not bow down before him.

Then the king's servants said to Mordecai, Why do you not obey the king's commandment? And after they had spoken to him day by day, and he would not listen to them, they told Haman of it. When Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, he was very angry and determined to punish him. But he was not satisfied to punish Mordecai alone, he thought he would punish, and destroy all the Jews that were in Persia; for the king's servants had told him that Mordecai was a Jew.

So Haman spoke to king Ahasuerus against the Jews. He said, There are some of them living in all the provinces of thy kingdom, and they have laws of their own which are different from the laws of your people, neither do they obey the king's laws. Therefore it is not well for the king to let them live. And if the king will make a decree that they shall be destroyed, I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the king's treasury.
King Ahasuerus listened to what Haman said and took his ring from his finger and gave it to Haman. Now the ring was what the king used when he made a law, or decree. He sealed the writing with his ring instead of signing it with his name, as we do now, and that was what made it one of the laws of the Medes and Persians which could not be changed.
When he gave Haman his ring, the king meant that Haman should make such a decree as he chose, against the Jews, and seal it with his ring. This would be the same as if the king himself had made it. He told Haman also that he need not pay the ten thousand talents of silver into his treasury, but he might do with the Jews as he pleased.
Then Haman called the king's scribes, or writers, together, and they wrote for him a decree that, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the people of Persia should kill and destroy all the Jews in the kingdom, both young and old, little children and women. And whoever should kill them, had permission to take their houses, their lands, and their money, and to keep these things for his own.
Haman sealed the decree with the king's ring, and copies of it were sent by messengers to the governors and rulers of all the provinces, so that it might be made known to all the people of Persia. And the messengers went out in haste, according to the king's commandment. After they had gone, the king and Haman sat down to drink wine together.

When Mordecai heard of the decree that Haman had made, he was filled with sorrow; he tore his clothes, and put on sackcloth, and went out into the streets of the city, and cried with a loud and bitter cry. He came even before the king's gate, though he might not pass through there, because it was forbidden that anyone should pass through the king's gate who was clothed in sackcloth.
And in every province where the messengers brought the decree, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting and weeping and wailing; and many lay down in sackcloth and ashes, because of their grief.
Now Queen Esther had not heard of the decree, but her maids came and told her that Mordecai was clothed in sackcloth, and that he cried in the streets of the city. Then Esther was very sorry, and she sent new garments to him, that he might take off the sackcloth and put the new garments on. But he would not. Therefore Esther called one of the king's officers who waited on her, and sent him to Mordecai to ask why he was troubled.
So the officer went to the street before the king's gate, where Mordecai was, and asked him. Then Mordecai told the officer of all that had happened, and of the money that Haman had promised to pay into the king's treasury, if he might be allowed to destroy the Jews. Mordecai gave the officer also, a copy of Haman's decree, to show Esther; and he asked the officer to tell the queen that she should go into the palace to the king, and pray and beg him to save the Jews.
The officer came and told Esther what Mordecai said. Then Esther sent word to Mordecai, saying, All the king's servants, and all the people of Persia know, that whosoever shall go in before the king without being called, whether it be man or woman, must be put to death unless the king shall hold out the golden sceptre. But I have not been called to come unto the king these thirty days. How then can I go and speak with him?
And the officer went and told Mordecai. But Mordecai sent again to Esther, and said to her, Do not think, because you are queen, that our enemies will spare you when they kill all the Jews. For if you will not try to save your people at this time, someone else shall save them, but you and your relations shall be destroyed. And who can tell whether you have not been made queen on purpose for this time, so that you might save them?
Then Esther sent word to Mordecai, saying, Go and gather together all the Jews that are in the city, and let them fast for me; and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day; I also, and my maidens, will fast, and then I will go in and speak with the king, though he has not called for me. And if I be put to death, I am willing to die. So Mordecai went and called all the Jews together, and they did as Esther commanded.

ON the third day Esther dressed herself in her royal robes and went into the inner part of the king's palace, and stood where the king, as he sat on his throne, could see her. And it was so, when he saw her, that God made him feel kindly toward her, and he held out his golden scepter to Esther.
So she came near to him, and touched the top of the sceptre. Then said the king to her, What is your desire, Queen Esther, and what is your request? It shall be granted you, even to the half of my kingdom.

Esther answered, If the king be willing, I want the king and Haman to come today to a banquet that I have made ready for him. Then the king spoke to his servants, saying, Tell Haman to make haste, that he may do as Esther has said. So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther made ready.

Now the king knew that Esther had invited him because she wanted to ask some favor of him, and as they sat at the banquet, he said to her again, What is thy desire? It shall be granted you, even to the half of my kingdom. Esther answered, My desire is, if the king be willing, that the king and Haman come to another banquet which I shall make ready for them tomorrow, and then I will tell the king what it is I would ask of him.

So the king and Haman went from the queen's house that day. And Haman's heart was filled with pride because he had been to the queen's banquet, and was invited to her house again on the morrow. But as he went out, and passed Mordecai at the king's gate, and saw that he did not bow to him, nor do him reverence, he was filled with anger; yet he said nothing.
When he came to his home, he sent and called for his friends and for his wife. And Haman boasted to them of his riches and greatness, and told them how the king had set him above all the princes, and above all the king's other servants. He said also, Yes, and Esther the queen allowed no man to come in with the king to the banquet that she had made ready, excepting myself. And tomorrow I am invited to come again with the king to her house.

Yet all these things cannot make me happy while I see Mordecai, the Jew, sitting in the king's gate. Then his wife, and all his friends, said to him, Let gallows be made, fifty cubits high, and tomorrow ask the king that Mordecai may be hanged on it; then, after that, you go in merrily to the queen's banquet. And Haman was pleased with what they said to him, and he went out and commanded the gallows to be made.

That night the king could not sleep. And he told his servants to bring him the book, in which was written down an account of the principal things that had happened in his kingdom. And the book was brought and read before him, and there it was found written, that Mordecai had, a long while before, saved the king's life by telling of two of the king's officers who had intended to kill him.

Then king Ahasuerus said to his servants, What reward has been given Mordecai, or what honor has been done to him, because he did this? They answered, There has been nothing done for him. While the king was speaking to his servants, some one came into the court of the palace. And the king said, Who is it in the court?
Now Haman had just come there that he might speak with the king, and ask his permission to have Mordecai hanged on the gallows which was made ready for him. And the king's servants answered, It is Haman who stands in the court. The king said, Let him come in.
So Haman came in, and the king said to him, What shall be done for the man whom the king wants greatly to honor? Then Haman said to himself, The king means me: I am the one whom he wants greatly to honor. Therefore he answered the king, saying, . . .
Let the royal robes that the king wears, and the horse that he rides, and the crown that is set on his head, be brought to the man whom the king wants greatly to honor. And let him wear the king's robes, and his crown, and let him ride upon the king's horse; and let one of the king's most noble princes lead the horse through the streets of the city, and cry out to all the people, So shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!

Then the king said to Haman, Hurry and take the robes and the horse, and the crown, and do to Mordecai, the Jew, as you have said. Leave nothing undone that you have spoken. Then Haman, because he dared not disobey the king, took the king's robes, and his horse, and his crown, and brought them to Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the streets of the city, and cried out before him to all the people, . . .
So shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.

After all this, Mordecai came and sat down again, humbly, in his place at the king's gate. But Haman hurried to his home, full of shame, and with his face covered, so that no one might know him. And he told his wife and all his friends what had happened to him. While he was yet talking with them, the king's messenger came to bring him to the banquet that Esther had made ready.
So the king and Haman came to the banquet of Esther, the queen. And the king said, again, to Esther, What is your petition, queen Esther? and what is your request? for it shall be granted you, even to the half of my kingdom.
Esther answered, If the king be pleased with me, this is my request, that the king will save my life, and the lives of all the Jews. For evil things have been spoken against us, which are not true, and I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish.

King Ahasuerus said, Who is the man that has dared to do these things? Esther answered, Our enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen, And the king arose from the banquet in great anger, and went out into the palace garden. When he came again into the banqueting room, Haman had fallen down before the queen to beg for his life.

But one of the king's officers said to the king, Look at the gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made ready for Mordecai, who saved the king's life; it is standing by the house of Haman. And the king said, Hang him upon it. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had made ready for Mordecai; and the king's anger left him.
On the same day, King Ahasuerus gave to Esther the house in which Haman had lived. And Mordecai was called in before the king, for Esther told him that Mordecai was her relation, and how kind he had been to her. And the king took off his ring, which he had before given to Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther made Mordecai ruler over the house that had belonged to Haman.
But Esther was still troubled, because the decree which Haman had written and sealed with the king's ring, had been sent out to all the provinces, telling the governors, the rulers, and the people of Persia, that on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, they should kill and destroy the Jews in every city, and take away whatever belonged to them. Therefore Esther came again to the king, though he had not called for her, and she fell down at his feet and wept there.

Then the king held out the golden scepter toward her. So she arose and stood before him, and begged that the decree of Haman might be changed, for, she said, How can I bear to see my people perish?
Now the king himself, could not change the decree which he had allowed Haman to make, because, as we have read, no law, or decree, of the Medes and Persians might ever be changed. But King Ahasuerus told Esther and Mordecai that they might make another decree concerning the Jews, such an one as should please them, and might seal it with the king's ring.
Then Mordecai called the king's scribes together, and commanded them to write another decree, saying, that the Jews had permission, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, to gather themselves together in every city, and to slay and destroy all who should try to harm them.

And Mordecai sent copies of this decree to the different provinces of the kingdom, by messengers on horseback, and by riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries. And the messengers went out in haste, according to the king's commandment, for the decree was made at Shushan the palace.

And Mordecai, after he had done talking with the king, came out from the palace clothed in royal garments, such as the king himself wore, of blue and white, and with a crown of gold upon his head. All the people of Shushan were glad, and everywhere the Jews were filled with joy, and they feasted and were happy.

On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month the Jews took their swords, and gathered themselves together in every city, to fight for their lives; and they gained the victory over all who came out against them. But on the fourteenth and fifteenth days they rested from fighting against their enemies. So God saved Esther and her people from those who had hoped to destroy them.
Then Esther and Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews, telling them to keep the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth month, every year, as a time of feasting and gladness, when they should rejoice together, and give presents to one another and gifts to the poor. Because at that time they had been saved from their enemies, and their sorrow and mourning had been turned into joy. This festive observance is known as Purim.

IN the book of the prophet Isaiah there is a verse that seems to summarize God's relationship to this story of Esther. It is a Promise in the last verse of chapter 54:
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness which is of me, saith Jehovah. 

Told In Simple Language

By Charles Foster