Esther, original name “Hadassa” which means “myrtle” in Hebrew, was a member of the large Jewish community forced to relocate to Persia, but decided not to return to Judah with Ezra. During Esther’s time, the land of Judah was regarded as a wild and backward place. Esther, in Persian, means “star.”
Orphaned at a young age, she was raised by her older cousin, Mordecai, a royal official who sat by the king’s gate. Mordecai was able to provide a good home and upbringing for Esther in Shushan, the capital city of Persia. More importantly, Mordecai was good, kind and loyal, and taught Esther to develop the same qualities.
When Esther was older, she was selected to take part in a beauty pageant of sorts, something like “Miss Universe, aka the Persian Empire.”
King Ahasuerus (commonly known as Xerxes I) was looking for a new wife. Vashti, his first wife, had disobeyed him when she refused his drunken order to appear before other drunken men at one of his many feasts.
Though it sounds like this beauty pageant might have been fun, it carried high stakes. True, the winner became queen, but the losers couldn’t go back home or marry anyone else. The other “contestants” stayed in the palace and became concubines. They rarely, if ever, saw the king but lived more like perpetual widows.
During the pageant, Esther proved she knew how to make friends and influence people. When Esther first came to the royal residence where the other “contestants” for the beauty pageant were being housed, she pleased Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem.
Hegai gave Esther the best rooms, the best food, the best maids---well, you get the idea. He even gave her more than was allowed for beauty preparations.
When it was Esther’s turn to be presented to King Ahasuerus, she wisely asked Hegai to help her. Who else knew more about the king’s tastes than he? Hegai knew just what Esther should do and what she should wear. It paid off. King Ahasuerus chose her!
Five years after Esther’s coronation, Haman was promoted to be King Ahasuerus’ chief advisor. This was bad news all round. Firstly, Haman was a very proud man who was also insecure. Secondly, Mordecai and he did not get along. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman when he came to the gate and this infuriated Haman.
Haman was so angered by Mordecai he decided to take out his anger on all the Jews. As chief advisor to King Ahasuerus, he was able to persuade him to sign a decree that basically guaranteed the genocide of all Jews.
Esther didn’t realize a death decree had gone out against her people (palace life was pretty sheltered from the outside world) until one day she saw Mordecai sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Not understanding why Mordecai was making a spectacle of himself, she sent him new clothes. Mordecai sent a message back to Esther saying that Haman had drafted a decree giving permission for all the Jews to be killed on a certain date. Mordecai asked Esther to intercede for the Jews but, until now, no one at the palace knew that she was a Jew.
Esther resisted Mordecai’s pleas at first because she didn’t think it was her place to intercede. She may have been the queen, but the king didn’t come to her for advice. In fact, at that point, King Ahasuerus had not asked to see her for a month! Furthermore, palace rules dictated that if anyone went in to see the king uninvited they could be put to death---unless he held out his golden sceptre to them.
Mordecai then reminded Esther of her duty to her people: Who knew if she had come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Besides, just because Esther was queen didn’t mean that she would be spared.
That put things in perspective for Esther and she readied herself for courtly battle. Appearing before King Ahasuerus was no little thing. To say the king could be rash and unpredictable is putting it mildly. Esther could really have lost her life just by having the audacity to visit him uninvited.
Soldiers going into battle know they have to use every tool at their disposal! Esther made sure she looked her best. She wore her prettiest clothes but most importantly she fasted and prayed and had all the Jews fast and pray too. It was time for her to stand up for what she believed in, and if she perished, she perished!
She said a prayer. She took a deep breath. And then she stepped into the throne room.
Miraculously, King Ahasuerus held out his scepter! He even seemed pleased to see her!
Esther showed consummate diplomacy and strategy in her requests to King Ahasuerus. Instead of just blurting out that Haman was trying to kill all the Jews, including herself, she played it cool. Talking about such a matter openly in the throne room could have given Haman and his cronies an advantage---they could have banded together to discredit her and turn the king against her.
Esther wisely invited King Ahasuerus and Haman to a banquet at her palace rooms that night, ensuring privacy and a small audience. Plus, it was on her home turf where she felt more at ease and in control.
The first banquet gave Esther time to soften up the king and Haman, in order to gain their confidence. King Ahasuerus realized once more why he had chosen Esther to be his queen and how much he loved her. After having been sumptuously entertained, the king was now obliged by tradition to grant her something better in return. But Esther decided it wasn’t yet time to show all her cards. She asked them to another lavish banquet the following day and left the result to God.
During the second feast, Esther decided to make her move with God’s help. God gave her the words she needed to plead for her life and those of her people. Esther accused Haman of devising the plot and the king stormed outside in a rage. Haman realized his own life was now in danger. He lost his wits and fell on Esther’s couch, pleading with her to ask the king to spare his life.
At that moment, King Ahasuerus returned from the garden and witnessed Haman’s behavior. He thought Haman was trying to molest Esther and immediately ordered that he be impaled on the stake that Haman had built for Mordecai. God’s timing was perfect.
Mordecai was promoted to replace Haman’s position as chief advisor. More importantly, Esther and Mordecai drafted a new decree that not only saved the Jews but also gave them permission to punish all their enemies. On the thirteenth day of Adar, the same day that Haman had declared the Jews should be annihilated, the Jews defeated their enemies.
God’s hand was leading and guiding throughout the life of this hero, Esther. Who knew whether she had come to the kingdom for such a time as this? God did.