The Book of Esther (Part 9: Jewish Power in the Medo-Persian Empire)

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The Book of Esther (Part 9: Jewish Power in the Medo-Persian Empire)

God’s Purposes Know No Failure

The full irony of Haman’s fall is disclosed in the beginning of chapter 8. Upon learning of the family relation between Mordecai and the Queen, King Ahasuerus gave the Jew his signet ring, which Haman had worn until his judgment. Someone who was very close to losing his life became the second most important person in the empire!

 

On top of this, Esther appointed Mordecai over Haman’s house, which the king had given her. Such is the outcome of a plot against an innocent man whose only fault was refusing to break his conscience and worship anyone but God.

 

Through a sequence of providential events, the God he worshiped turned the situation 180 degrees around and blessed Mordecai with life, wealth, and honor, while the plotter lost all of these. Ellen White fills in the contours of the divine work and purposes in the rise of Mordecai:

 

Mordecai was given the position of honor formerly occupied by Haman. He ‘was next unto King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren’ (Esther 10:3); and he sought to promote the welfare of Israel. Thus did God bring His chosen people once more into favor at the Medo-Persian court, making possible the carrying out of His purpose to restore them to their own land.[1]

 

Taken at face value, her statements leave no room for doubting that God intervened in order to bring to power a committed follower, a Jew who worshiped God and understood the divine purposes with Israel.

 

Note that the power Mordecai was entrusted with was not to be used to abuse and oppress, but to help pave the way for the liberation of the exiled Jews–liberation from the dominion of a foreign nation, and liberation from the heathen influences.

 

God had chosen Israel to be a light for the entire world, and their disobedience had cause the exile. Still, in his mercy, the divinity had devised ways to restore the covenantal relationship that would enable Israel to fulfill its purposes.

 

With God’s help, Esther and Mordecai had succeeded in saving their lives and gaining the king’s favor. Yet the decree was still in effect, and the Jewish population living in Medo-Persia was still at risk. The first episode of Esther going before Ahasuerus uncalled for is so well-known in the Christian circles that few of us notice the Queen went before him once again.

The Queen’s Second Request

At the Queen’s banquet, the king’s focus was so intensely on the punishment of Haman that the decree he had issued remained unresolved.  Therefore, the Queen had to exhibit courage and a spirit of sacrifice once again, as she went before the king uncalled for, in order to plead for her people. Her life and the life of Mordecai were guaranteed, but Esther’s care extended well beyond her and her family’s wellbeing.

 

While this second encounter is somewhat shadowed by the anticipation of the first one, the text relates her behavior in vivid and moving language:

 

[Esther] spoke again to the king, fell down at his feet, and implored him with tears to counteract the evil of Haman the Agagite, and the scheme which he had devised against the Jews. (Esther 8:3).

 

Unlike the first time, this second encounter describes Esther fallen down at the king’s feet, supplicating him with tears. It is only after the king holds out the golden scepter to her that she stands up. Another significant difference between Esther’s first and second appearance before the king is the lack of a proactive approach on the part of the king.

 

If before, he rushed to ask Esther what she needed, offering his provision even before knowing her request, this time no question is recorded. Notwithstanding this reaction, the king continues to show favor, listen to Esther, and provide a solution to her straightforward request:

 

If it pleases the king, and if I have found favor in his sight and the thing seems right to the king and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to annihilate the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces. For how can I endure to see the evil that will come to my people? Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my countrymen? (Esther 8:5-6; emphases supplied).

 

It is somewhat strange that Esther should come up with such a request, since, by Medo-Persian law, a king’s decree could not be revoked. Indeed, this is precisely what Ahasuerus clarifies, as he suggests a different way to go about rescuing the Jews.

 

In chapter 5, Esther seemed not only well acquainted with the kingdom laws, but nervous about breaking them. The weight of the death decree and Mordecai’s arguments eventually made her willing to break the law and go before the king unsummoned, even at the risk of perishing.

 

In this second encounter, Esther takes things one step further by asking the king to revoke a decree signed with his ring. In other words, she asked him to break or change an imperial law in order to save her people.

 

Note also that she does not mention the value of the Jewish population in the kingdom, as she previously did. She asks what she does as a sign of the king’s favor to her, and that is it:

 

if I have found favor in his sight…and I am pleasing in his eyes …. For how can I endure to see the evil that will come to my people? Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my countrymen? (Esther 8:5-6).

 

The focus is on her and how this would affect her. Her plea and her hope are based solely on the king’s favor towards her.

The King’s Reply

Interestingly, Mordecai is also present during the king’s reply (suggesting that he was called before the king), for he addresses both in his response:

 

Indeed, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows because he tried to lay his hand on the Jews. You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke. (Esther 8:7-8; emphasis supplied).

 

The king’s speech now reveals a recognition of Haman’s fault, which extended beyond threatening the Queen’s life to menacing the lives of all the Jews.

 

The second part of the king’s speech can be understood in two ways: on one hand, “for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke”[2] can refer to the fact that the previous decree could not be revoked; on the other hand, it can refer to the power of this second decree to be drafted by Esther and Mordecai. As it reads, it fits both interpretations and certainly helps the situation.

 

Almost two and half months had passed since the genocidal decree had been signed, and the Jews in Medo-Persia had less than ten months to live. But on the twenty-third day in the month of Sivan, the third month in the Jewish calendar, the king’s scribes wrote a decree to all the provinces of the empire, in all the languages spoken in the empire.

 

The decree was devised by Mordecai, written “in the name of King Ahasuerus [and] sealed with the king’s signet ring,”[3] and the letters were “sent by couriers on horseback, riding on royal horses bred from swift steeds.”[4] There was no time to waste kindling hope in the troubled hearts of the Jews, as the repeated idea suggests:

 

The couriers who rode on royal horses went out, hastened and pressed on by the king’s command. (Esther 8:14).

 

While the second decree, concerning the Jews, is not a reversal of the first one, it allows for a reversal of the circumstances:

 

By these letters the king permitted the Jews who were in every city to gather together and protect their lives—to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, both little children and women, and to plunder their possessions, on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. (Esther 8:11-13).

 

The situation between Haman and Mordecai had already been turned upside down, and, aside from the immediate results, was going to serve an example of how God would provide salvation for the entire Jewish population.

 

Indeed, the reversal of the situation already begins to gain shape as “in every province and city … the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday [and] many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.”[5]

 

Instead of decreasing, the Jewish population increases. The sorrow is replaced with joy, and the fear for their lives is transferred from the Jews to their enemies. Such is the power of God that nothing can withstand his divine purposes, even if for a while it appears that all is about to be lost.

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

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Notes.

[1] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1890), p. 604-605; emphases supplied.

[2] Esther 8:8.

[3] Esther 8:10.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Esther 8:17.

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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.