The Book of Esther (Part 7: Shame and Honor)

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The Book of Esther (Part 7: Shame and Honor)

A Sleepless Night

Providence comes through full force in this episode, and it is only the beginning of the divine power at work in the book of Esther. The night between the banquets, the night before the day when Haman was going to ask for Mordecai’s life and Esther was going to plea for her life, Mordecai’s life, and the lives of all the Jews in the kingdom, that night filled with anticipations, the king could not sleep.

Even stranger is what the king chose to do that night: listen to history. He asked for someone to come read him the book of chronicles. We are not told how long he was read to or where the reading began, but somehow, in that one fateful, sleepless night, the night before the day when the fate of one entire nation within the kingdom was going to be decided, the king heard that part of the history of Medo-Persia where Mordecai saved the king’s life:

And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, the doorkeepers who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. (Exodus 6:2).

To add to the curiosity of this passage, the king asked:

What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this? (Esther 6:3).

It may be interesting to note at this point that the matter was “written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king,”[1] and yet he did not think about honoring Mordecai at that moment.

However, this very night, when the king chose to hear history, and when he came across the Mordecai event, he engaged in a conversation about it and showed interest in honoring the man who saved his life. His servants informed him that “Nothing has been done for him.”[2]

The Tide Begins to Turn

The irony begins to gain proportions as, in the early morning hours, Haman shows up in the outer court of the palace to ask for Mordecai’s life. So far, Haman’s plans in getting the king’s approvals had succeeded without too much effort. If he managed to elicit a death decree for an entire people, no doubt his request for the life of one single person would be granted. The timing in this episode could not be better or more ironic.

Before he got to ask the king his question, the king asked him a question:

What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor? (Esther 6:6).

Blinded by pride and self-centeredness, Haman could not imagine the king would want to honor anyone else but him:

Now Haman thought in his heart, ‘Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?’ (Esther 6:6).

After all, even the queen seemed to favor him above everyone else. He had been the only guest at her banquet, other than the king, and the anticipation of a second meal together left no room for shadows of doubt. The day seemed to be only getting better for Haman, so he replied with self-assurance:

For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head. Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor. Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’” (Esther 6:7-9).

To be paraded in royal robes and on a royal horse–this is what Haman desired. Imagine his shock when he realized he wasn’t going to be the honored man, but “one of the king’s most noble princes”[3] who would give the honors to no other than Mordecai, the man who made his life so miserable that nothing but his death would satisfy him.

So far in the narrative, Haman had twisted the king’s hand to obtain what he wanted, and it seems that he did so quite effortlessly. At this critical junction in the story, however, we find a king who gives Haman a command, and reinforces his wish to see it fulfilled entirely: “Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken.”[4] Note also that the king was aware of Mordecai’s Jewish descent.

Thus, instead of killing Mordecai, Haman dressed him in royal garbs, put him on a royal horse and led him through the city square, proclaiming before him:

Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor! (Esther 6:9).

Perdition and Salvation

After an ironic twist of events, in which Haman is shamed by being forced to honor his most hated enemy, the official needs to retract home to recover from the shock before attending the banquet. Yet he barely gets to share what had happened with his wife and friends, in fact, “while they were still talking to him, the king’s eunuchs came, and hastened to bring Haman to the banquet which Esther had prepared.”[5]

Haman’s description of the events is not stated; instead, the response of his wife and friends is recorded in the narrative as a powerful augur of what is to come:

If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him. (Esther 6:13).

With this phrase, it becomes even more evident in the story that the population of Medo-Persia were aware of Jewish history and feared the people.

With this episode, we can already begin to notice a theme of perdition and salvation running through the book:

  • Bigthan and Teresh, the king’s doorkeepers, wanted to take the king’s life.
  • Mordecai saved the king’s life, while the two plotters lost theirs.
  • Haman wanted to lose the Jews’ lives.
  • Haman (and his wife Zeresh and his friend) wanted to lose Mordecai’s life.
  • Esther is trying to save the lives of the Jews, herself and Mordecai included.

Indeed, the entire book is built around a theme of life and death, and in all circumstances, it is about lives being taken or preserved, not about nature following its course. More deaths and salvations are yet to occur in the narrative as the Jews’ opponents continue to threaten their existence, and as God’s providence continues to come through. As we shall see, this theme is not only a record of historical events but a prefiguration of things God’s people will experience in the end times.

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

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Notes.

[1] Esther 2:23.

[2] Esther 6:3.

[3] Esther 6:9.

[4] Esther 6:10.

[5] Esther 6:14.

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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.