The Book of Esther (Part 6: Two Couples and Two Conversations)

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The Book of Esther (Part 6: Two Couples and Two Conversations)

The Queen Gains Favor with the King

 

When the Jews’ three-days fast was completed, Esther dressed-up and went before the king. The narrative begins in a slow pace, including a number of spatial and temporal markers in order to indicate where exactly she stood in reference to the palace structure and the king:

 

Esther…stood in inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.[1]

 

It is as if we could follow her steps as she progresses towards the epic encounter. Having put on her royal attire, Esther moves forward with her plan in her full regal authority.

 

And there it was: a moment of life or death for Esther, and, along with her, for the entire Jewish population in Medo-Persia. A Queen once lost her crown because she refused to appear before the king when called. The Queen that replaced her now risks her life for going before the king uncalled.

 

Yet, there is no record of hesitation on her part. There is no indication of vacillation. She made a plan, and she followed through—whatever the consequences may be. Esther had chosen to perish if need be, and now she stood between life and death before the king sitting on his throne.

 

The customs of ancient kingdoms are strange for the modern reader. It is evident from this passage, and its immediate context, that the Queen had no opportunity of speaking with the king other than when she was called by him, and then she was at risk of losing her life, should the king not have a favorable response.

 

Even though they were married, the relation between them is far from what one might expect between a husband and a wife nowadays. Indeed, the entire narrative refers to them as king and queen, suggesting that their royal status defined the relationship between them.

 

Still, even in such a distant marriage, the two are a couple, and now Esther stands before her husband–possibly the most powerful man on earth at the time, in need of speaking with him.  She is determined and confident, ready to live or to die with her people.

 

As the text continues to move in a slow pace, allowing the reader to experience the moment as a live witness, we learn of the king’s positive response.

 

[Ahasuerus] held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter. (Esther 5:2).

 

Not only did the king welcome Esther’s presence, but he generously asked her about her desire:

 

What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you—up to half the kingdom! (Esther 5:3).

 

To be sure, his offer was by all means not uncharitable. What is noteworthy is that he promised to grant Esther’s wish before knowing it. This is certainly an indication of his continued favor, of which the Queen had been uncertain in her previous conversation with Mordecai.

 

The Queen’s Strategy

 

A dialogue ensues between the two that continues through the day. First, the king asks Esther what she desires. In reply, Esther invites the king to a meal:

 

If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him. (Esther 5:4).

 

Her strategy is not fully revealed in the text, but one thing is evident–she offered something before she requested something. The king hurried to honor the Queen’s invitation: “Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said.”[2]

 

The narrative skips over the banquet, offering no other information except a second dialogue between the king and the queen. The author deemed nothing else relevant for the purpose of this scene, but the consequential conversation between the two. When the king again asks Esther what she desires,

 

What is your petition? It shall be granted you. What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done! (Esther 5:6),

 

Esther’s reply is somewhat surprising, revealing a strategy planned out beforehand. She made no mention of her pressing entreaty, not even a hint; instead, she invited both the king and Haman to another banquet the following day, indicating that she would then reveal her petition.

 

Apparently, negotiations over a meal are as old as ancient world empires. It is also curious that Esther chose the presence of both the king and Haman for the moment when she would reveal her request. She wanted to confront the villain face to face.

 

The second part of the story zooms in on Haman, whose range of feelings is stated in the text. He left the banquet “joyful and with a glad heart,” only to be “filled with indignation”[3] as he passed through the king’s gate and spotted Mordecai’s undaunted attitude.

 

Restraining his anger, Haman went home and called his friends and wife in order to show off. He “told them of his great riches, the multitude of his children, everything in which the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and servants of the king.”[4]

 

A fairly comprehensive summary that recalls the king’s main concern–showing off–recorded in chapter 1. The two men seem to have similar aspirations and values. To top off his list, Haman informed his wife and guests that,

 

Queen Esther invited no one but [him] to come in with the king to the banquet that she prepared; and tomorrow [he was] again invited by her, along with the king. (Esther 5:12).

 

Haman’s Strategy

 

Still, a shadow hung over Haman that prevented him from enjoying everything he had achieved:

 

Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate. (Esther 5:13).

 

The words used to describe his anger are strong: “all this avails me nothing, so long as…” His hatred for the Jew was so strong that the indignation his behavior caused Haman overshadowed all his joys.

 

To Haman’s aid comes his wife, a woman named Zeresh, who, in tune with his friends, suggests he asks the king for Mordecai’s life. The plan pleased Haman, who followed their advice and had made a gallows 75 feet tall, on which Mordecai was to be hung the next day before the banquet so that Haman could fully enjoy it. The anticipation of the second banquet grows as we learn that both Haman and Esther had a request for the king the following day.

 

 

Two Couples—Two Requests—Two Results

An intriguing aspect of this episode is that two couples engage in conversation. On one hand, Ahasuerus dialogues with the Queen regarding her petition. On the other hand, Haman dialogues with his wife (and friends) regarding his hatred for Mordecai.

 

Both couples in the foreground of this story include very powerful individuals in the kingdom: the king, and his highest official. In both cases, the spouses are in tune with each other: Ahasuerus is willing to listen to the Queen’s desire, and Zeresh listens to Haman’s complaint.

 

However, while one couple plans Mordecai’s urgent death, the other is about to plan the urgent salvation of not only the Queen’s cousin, but their entire people within the kingdom.

Click here to read the rest of Adelina’s series on the Book of Esther

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Notes.

[1] Esther 5:1; emphasis added.

[2] Esther 5:5.

[3] Esther 5:9.

[4] Esther 5:11.

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About the author

Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.