Chapter 17: Esther
In the midst of a drinking party, King Ahasuerus sent for his queen so that he could show her off to his drinking buddies. The queen refused.
Angered, the king consulted with his advisors about the matter. They cautioned him with the following words:
Esth:1:17: For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.
The advisors were worried that the queen's assertive action would inspire other wives in the kingdom to start exercising their rights as human beings. Obviously, that was a consequence the men could not allow.
Esth:1:22: For he sent letters into all the king's provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.
The order went out that a man must be "king in his own castle." So much for advocating equal rights.
Esth:2:2: Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king:
Esth:2:4: And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.
Dump your "uppity" wife and find a fresh young virgin to take her place. How would a Jew, well-versed in the moral "Law of God" react to such an idea?
We are told of the Jew Morecai, and of his cousin Esther whom he was bringing up as his own daughter. Was Mordecai mortified by the king's actions? Hardly. He saw it as an opportunity to advance his own family.
Esth:2:8: So it came to pass, when the king's commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.
The king "tried out" a different maiden each night, to see which he enjoyed the most. Finally, it was Esther's turn.
Esth:2:16: So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
Esth:2:17: And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.
At this point in the story, Haman took offense at Mordecai's lack of respect, and petitioned the king to decree death to all Jews. Evidently the king was rather feeble-minded, because he granted the petition (which he should've known would surely wreak havoc throughout the land).
Mordecai ordered Esther to plead for her people. She replied that she could not enter the king's presence of her own accord without being executed. At this point, her loving cousin Mordecai threatened her:
Esth:4:13: Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews.
Esth:4:14: For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
In other words, if Esther refused to obey Mordecai's order, then God would raise up someone else to save the Jews, but Mordecai would see to it that Esther and her family were murdered!
To enter the pagan king's presence was to risk death: but to disobey her Jewish cousin was a certain death-sentence. So, Esther made the wise decision and approached the king on the matter. He received her, and granted her wish.
Unfortunately, he could not reverse his own order which allowed people to attack the Jews, so instead he issued the following order:
Esth:8:11: Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey,
This really amounted to nothing. All this second hard-won edict provided was that the Jews could lawfully fight for their lives when attacked. One could safely assume that if the Jews were attacked, they would fight for their lives, whether they had a royal edict to do so or not!
However, it appears that the Jews did not wait to be attacked. They armed themselves and aggressively attacked those whom they thought might hurt them:
Esth:9:2: The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt: and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people.
Esth:9:5: Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them.
Do you think it is morally right that one should do whatever they like to those that hate them? Is this "blessing your enemies" and "loving those who hate you"? Given the past, more graphic descriptions of Jewish war crimes, I hate to imagine what this "doing what they would" all entailed, especially to the virgin children.
Esth:9:6: And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men.
Esth:9:10: The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but on the spoil laid they not their hand.
Thinking she had saved her people, what do you think good Queen Esther did next? Call for an end to the violence, and a plea for tolerance and peace between all peoples? Sorry, if you're expecting some such moral ending to the story, you're reading the wrong book:
Esth:9:13: Then said Esther, If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do tomorrow also according unto this day's decree, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.
Esth:9:14: And the king commanded it so to be done: and the decree was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman's ten sons.
Evidently one day was not enough to satiate the Jewish appetite for the blood of their enemies. Esther requested an extension, and got it.
Esth:9:15: For the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan; but on the prey they laid not their hand.
Esth:9:16: But the other Jews that were in the king's provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey,
Esth:9:17: On the thirteenth day of the month Adar; and on the fourteenth day of the same rested they, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
The book concludes by explaining how those days of mass slaughter were commemorated in the annual festival of Purim, which Jews are to observe forever.
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