Esther: An Unexpected Parade
Fortunes change and the plot takes a twist with an unusual parade in the city square.
Chapters 1-4 highlighted the ill “fate” and “bad luck” of the Jews. Mordecai saved the king and gets nothing in return, and Haman signs a law to extinguish the Jewish race. Esther was drafted as queen and now must approach the king to beg for her life - which could cost her life!
We left the story with a group of people fasting leading up to the time when Esther would approach the king.
One of the statements I made last week was on the phrase, “deliverance will come from somewhere else” and I mentioned that it could be taken as a reference to the promise of a remnant that would return.
I was asked if the 50,000 in Jerusalem were already that remnant, or wouldn’t they be considered a remnant.
Well, if they survived, yes! However, the decree from Haman went out to all 127 provinces - which would cover everything from Turkey to Egypt to Israel, Iran and more! The region was so large that is estimated that it would take 2-3 months minimum to get word out to all the provinces!
So this decree would have also wiped out the people that had rebuilt the temple from Ezra chapters 1-4.
Sayings like, “who knows, perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this” seem very fatalistic, and the fasting never mentions prayer cause us to stop and ponder:
Were the Jews so far removed from God that they did not acknowledge his sovereignty? Were the Jews so separated from God that they did not even think to pray to Yahweh?
OR, are we meant to assume that they acknowledged God was in control and that their fasting most certainly included praying?
We ponder, but we do not have an answer of what the JEWS were thinking and doing beyond what is stated. What we get, instead, is a picture of circumstances that seem far too orchestrated to be considered “chance” or “luck”.
Chapter 5 is the turning point of the story. After 3 days of fasting, Esther puts on her Queen getup and goes to meet the king:
Esther 5:1–2 CSB
You can almost feel the tension. Esther cannot say anything, but just walks to the courtyard and waits for the king to take notice. Was it 20 seconds or 20 minutes we do not know! She is looking towards the king and he is sitting on his throne looking out. BUT, as soon as he saw here there was no hesitation.
NOTE: Vashti was banished for disobeying the order of the king. Esther also broke the law, but was rewarded, not punished.
Esther 5:3–6 CSB
“What is it, Queen Esther?” the king asked her. “Whatever you want, even to half the kingdom, will be given to you.” “If it pleases the king,” Esther replied, “may the king and Haman come today to the banquet I have prepared for them.” The king said, “Hurry, and get Haman so we can do as Esther has requested.” So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared. While drinking the wine, the king asked Esther, “Whatever you ask will be given to you. Whatever you want, even to half the kingdom, will be done.”
“Up to half the kingdom” was an idiom - it was not to be taken literally. You could think of it this way: IF the king gave away more than 50% of what he possessed, then someone else would be greater than he is. SO, in stating that someone could ask for up to 50% of the kingdom was giving them permission to ask for anything that would not diminish the greatness of the king or insult his high position.
I love the fact that the wine is mentioned again!
- the king had a party with unlimited wine
- the king had a drink with Haman after signing the decree
- NOW, Esther, Haman and the King are having wine together, and it is WHILE DRINKING the wine that the king asks what Ether wants.
However, perhaps the greatest irony of this passage is that Haman is commanded to do as Esther says 😮
Esther 5:7–8 CSB
Esther answered, “This is my petition and my request: If I have found favor in the eyes of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and perform my request, may the king and Haman come to the banquet I will prepare for them. Tomorrow I will do what the king has asked.”
So, that is pretty bold. To NOT give a response to the king when he asks? Apparently the king liked suspense? We do not know WHY 2 banquets, honestly. Wouldn’t 1 have been enough?
Some have suggested that by doing it this way, IF the king showed up the next day it would be a way for Esther to know for sure that the king was ready to grant her request. Perhaps she was scared? Perhaps SHE needed time to regroup?
However, some questions are raised:
- why invite Haman in the first place?
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 4: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job C. Esther’s First Banquet (5:1–8)
The commentaries have proposed numerous explanations for Haman’s inclusion in the invitation—e.g., to make the king suspicious (or jealous) of Haman, to avoid being alone with Xerxes, or to lull Haman into a false sense of security. Perhaps she thought it best for Haman to be present when she made her accusations against him.
- why prolong the request as it could allow something bad to happen in the meantime?
- why not ask in the courtroom, why make it a small, private gathering?
These negotiations reveal that there is a right time and place to accomplish a task and a wrong time and place. Some people want things done now and believe an immediate decision is necessary, but the person they are talking to may not be ready to make the desired decision. Sometimes one has to be content to sow the seeds of an idea and then let them germinate for a while before it is possible to push for a decision that will reap the harvest. Unusual accomplishments are possible for those who have the wisdom and patience to wait for just the right time and place.
Esther 5:9–14 CSB
That day Haman left full of joy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai at the King’s Gate, and Mordecai didn’t rise or tremble in fear at his presence, Haman was filled with rage toward Mordecai. Yet Haman controlled himself and went home. He sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh to join him. Then Haman described for them his glorious wealth and his many sons. He told them all how the king had honored him and promoted him in rank over the other officials and the royal staff. “What’s more,” Haman added, “Queen Esther invited no one but me to join the king at the banquet she had prepared. I am invited again tomorrow to join her with the king. Still, none of this satisfies me since I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the King’s Gate all the time.” His wife Zeresh and all his friends told him, “Have them build a gallows seventy-five feet tall. Ask the king in the morning to hang Mordecai on it. Then go to the banquet with the king and enjoy yourself.” The advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows constructed.
What kind of people do you like to have as friends? In situational comedies we often find “that guy” who thinks he has friends and has none, just people that tolerate him while he boasts about how great he is. (I can think of several movies the Rock is in that are like that!).
Haman calls together his friends and wife and:
- tells them how rich he is
- tells them how blessed his is with kids
- tells them how he was hand picked by the king and made #2 in the land
DO YOU really think they had never heard this before? lol Do you think they really wanted to hear it again? Now THAT is a friend I probably do not want to have for long.
THEN the NEW NEWS - oh, I got to eat with the King and Queen at a private banquet and I get to go again tomorrow. THAT was new! And it was pretty significant! Apparently no amount of accumulation (wealth, posterity, position, privilege) was enough to offset the lack or respect show to him by 1 Jew.
SOLUTION? Simple - impale him on a pole that is bigger than anything else in the city! 75’ tall! (some think this is hyperbole and others take it at face value)
NOTE: Though Haman was the 2nd more powerful person in the land, apparently he did not have the authority to wipe out a people group without permission from the king, and apparently he could not even kill one man unless the king allowed.
Lesson on Arrogance
This should perhaps be a warning, or a reality check for all of us. Pride and arrogance will blind us to all that we have and cause us to focus on what we do not have. When this happens, we will not find pleasure and satisfaction in the good things God has given us.
NOTE: If Esther had asked the king at the first banquet, this scene would have never happened and Mordecai’s life would not be in imminent danger!
I don’t know about you, but I love a good plot twist! Here we go...
Esther 6:1–11 CSB
That night sleep escaped the king, so he ordered the book recording daily events to be brought and read to the king. They found the written report of how Mordecai had informed on Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who guarded the entrance, when they planned to assassinate King Ahasuerus. The king inquired, “What honor and special recognition have been given to Mordecai for this act?” The king’s personal attendants replied, “Nothing has been done for him.” The king asked, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman was just entering the outer court of the palace to ask the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows he had prepared for him. The king’s attendants answered him, “Haman is there, standing in the court.” “Have him enter,” the king ordered. Haman entered, and the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king wants to honor?” Haman thought to himself, “Who is it the king would want to honor more than me?” Haman told the king, “For the man the king wants to honor: Have them bring a royal garment that the king himself has worn and a horse the king himself has ridden, which has a royal crown on its head. Put the garment and the horse under the charge of one of the king’s most noble officials. Have them clothe the man the king wants to honor, parade him on the horse through the city square, and call out before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king wants to honor.’ ” The king told Haman, “Hurry, and do just as you proposed. Take a garment and a horse for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the King’s Gate. Do not leave out anything you have suggested.” So Haman took the garment and the horse. He clothed Mordecai and paraded him through the city square, calling out before him, “This is what is done for the man the king wants to honor.”
Haman approached the king to have Mordecai assassinated, and instead Haman parades Mordecai around the city ad proclaims the kings favor with Mordecai.
SMUG - that is how I would imagine the look on Mordecai’s face as Haman paraded him through the city! Can you imagine?
The kings question, by the way, is a spectacular one! Haman’s own arrogance set himself up for this. It is actually very similar to the way Haman approached the king regarding a people who disobey him.
Lesson on Work Ethic
While this story is not about moral lessons, per se, these stories can sometimes provide insights into how one should live. Like avoiding the arrogance of Haman. There is another lesson we can mine out of this story and that has to do with how we work. Mordecai honored the king and worked for the king because it was his calling from God. As far as we know, he did not save the king from assassination just to get praised, but because it was right.
Colossians 3:22 CSB
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.
This is a great lesson for us today. While it is always nice to be appreciated and recognized by our bosses, ultimately we are reminded that we will be rewarded by God. So do what is right even if there is no recognition or reward in it.
THOUGHT: I have often found that the events I wish would happen, or even that I think should have happened, are delayed because God has a reason. I do not always know the reason at the time, but all things are revealed in the end.
Esther 6:12–14 CSB
Then Mordecai returned to the King’s Gate, but Haman hurried off for home, mournful and with his head covered. Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, “Since Mordecai is Jewish, and you have begun to fall before him, you won’t overcome him, because your downfall is certain.” While they were still speaking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and rushed Haman to the banquet Esther had prepared.
Mordecai goes back to business as usual, though I am sure he was the cause of a lot of talk around the watercooler that day!
Haman is totally humiliated! He runs home with his head covered and tells his advisors and wife what had happened, and his wife says something very profound, “Since Mordecai is Jewish, and you have begun to fall before him, you won’t overcome him, because your downfall is certain.”
WHY? The JEWS have no power - they are about to be extinct! Mordecai has not threatened Haman in any way, nor does he have power over Haman.
It is because Yahweh, the unmentioned God of the Jews, has a reputation that is known even by the Persians that do not worship him.
**I love this and think it’s one of the coolest parts of the story! Shows the Jewish reputation as being widespread, not just family tall-tales. And the moral: Haman…er… Hey, Man, listen to your wife!
BEFORE Haman can even have time to collect his thoughts, he is rushed off the banquet.
The events that take place in chapters 6-7 happen in a hurry! The cadence picks up and things happen fast. We started Esther with a long banquet, 2 years without a queen, a year of beauty treatments and then about 4 years later a decree to destroy the Jews. Next, we had a 3 day fast, back to back banquets, a parade and more all in about 24 hours!
Things happen fast, and the word “fall” is a good indicator word that goes along with it. Things are falling all around Haman in a very rapid succession!
Speaking of falling...
Can you believe how many thing just happen to “fall in place”? There is another one of those agnostic phrases, eh? Yup, things just “fell into place for me”. This story is meant to be so blatantly obvious in how so many things “fall into place” that the reader/listener cannot walk away without knowing that something bigger is at work.
- Esther was selected Queen almost 5 years prior.
- Mordecai stopped an assassination attempt some time after that and was never thanked.
- On the night BEFORE Haman planned on asking for Mordecai to be killed, the king could not sleep and had his history read to himself
- THe scribe HAPPENED to read about the action of Mordecai.
- The king happened to ask what was done.
- Haman happened to appear before the king that next morning.
- Mordecai’s thanks by the king happened to be carried out by Haman and saved his life.
The events that we just read are meant to create suspense. However, we are reminded that there is no surprise with God. He knew what was going to happen LONG before it happened. The author wants us to see that everything up to this point had been very well orchestrated, as if the script had already been written and the events were playing out as the author intended.
And THAT is the point. They were pre-ordained. They did happen at the summoning of THE Great King, the one who knows the beginning from the end:
Isaiah 46:8–10 CSB
“Remember this and be brave; take it to heart, you transgressors! Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will.
Take courage and have hope. Rather than play the victim and complain about what you didn’t get, perhaps we would do well to seek God in the present and remember that He is in control, nothing surprises him and he has a plan.