Dragon Posts

THE BOOK OF ESTHER 5

By Rev Christopher Cooke

WEEK 5

Chapters 8,9 and 10

8:1-2: King Ahasuerus Makes Some Changes.

Is this poetic justice?
Is this what we expected to happen earlier in the story?

“There is a kind of ‘all’s well that ends well’ feeling at the end of verse 2. Perhaps Ahasuerus thinks he has done enough for one day, or indeed, has done all that needs to be done. Esther has Haman’s house, after all, and Mordecai has the king’s own signet ring. What more could they want”. Carol Bechtel.
Esther and Mordechai-Aert de Gelder (1645-1727

8:3-8: Queen Esther Pleads for Her People.

What is the unfinished business?

“Mordecai and Esther are being heaped with rewards, but their lives are still in danger”. Patricia Tull.

“More striking even than Ahasuerus’s lack of imagination is his lack of power. One cannot help but compare the ‘Mighty Man’ of the book’s introduction with the weak and ineffectual monarch pictured here… One thing, at least, is clear. Esther and Mordecai cannot rely on Ahasuerus for much help. The words of a dead traitor have proven more powerful than the commands of a living king. Their only option is to fight fire with fire – edict with edict”. Carol Bechtel.

Esther throws herself on the King’s mercy once again to show him the seriousness of the situation. Have you ever had to throw yourself on someone’s mercy to open their eyes to a case of injustice?

8:9-17: Mordecai Sends Out Another Edict.

What do you make of Mordecai’s Edict?
How does it compare with Haman’s?

The decree gives the Jews permission to defend themselves; that right may seem self-evident to modern readers but in the world of the Persian court in Esther, where everything is done according to the law, even self-defence must be legislated. The parallelism with the previous decrees emphasizes the wisdom doctrine of retributive justice, but Mordecai’s inclusion of women and children in his counter decree has made him vulnerable to a charge of ‘bloodthirstiness’”. Sidnie Ann White.

Patricia Tull believes the Book of Esther could end here with hardly any damage to its substance. Do you agree?

9:1-19: The Battles.

Does the violence that occurs in this chapter trouble you, given that some of it is requested by Esther? Why or why not?
Would it have troubled you less if Mordecai had been the one to make the request? Why or why not?

“Esther is true to real life as it is lived messily with loose ends and threads coming undone”. Johanna Van Wijk-Bos.

“The conclusion of Esther causes many people uneasiness. Its style and vision are so different from the rest of the book that many scholars think it may have been added by someone other than the author of the previous chapters. The earlier chapters’ keen sense of justice and aesthetics are not so distinct in the book’s conclusion. Yet theological gold can be mined from its very complexity”. Patricia Tull.

9:20-32: The Letters of Purim.

Should the Jews celebrate Purim?
Should Christians read the Book of Esther?

“The purpose of these letters is to give official sanction to the non-Mosaic festival of Purim. Purim, an essentially secular festival originating in the diaspora…” Sidnie Ann White.
“[Christians] would do well to remember, however, the main event of that celebration [Purim]; namely the reading of the book of Esther. Surely, we can manage that much. Indeed, we should more than ‘manage’ it, because there is a sense in which this book may have come into our canon ‘for just a time as this’. It is a book, after all, about the struggle to be faithful in the midst of an increasingly unfaithful culture.” Carol Bechtel.

10:1-3: Where has Esther Gone?

“But like Esther, rather than remaining children, rather than ignoring what is overwhelming to us, each of us had a God-given grace within us to step forward on behalf of people we care for, to engage in small acts of courage, even when we can hardly see what good they will do. And very often, when we do step forward, forces beyond our power will help us, as they helped Esther, in carrying out God’s good purposes”. Patricia Tull.

Reverend Christopher’s comments are shown below

8:1-2: King Ahasuerus Makes Some Changes.

Is this poetic justice?
Is this what we expected to happen earlier in the story?

The multiple silences of the story are brought to an end. Haman is revealed as the enemy of the Jews. Esther is revealed as a Jewess. Mordecai is revealed as Esther’s cousin. Esther is rewarded with Haman’s house (but how will she use it as she is in the harem?) King Ahasuerus remains much the same and hands over his signet ring which he took from Haman, and gives it to his new favourite: Mordecai. The signet ring is like a hot potato (Patricia Tull).

“There is a kind of ‘all’s well that ends well’ feeling at the end of verse 2. Perhaps Ahasuerus thinks he has done enough for one day, or indeed, has done all that needs to be done. Esther has Haman’s house, after all, and Mordecai has the king’s own signet ring. What more could they want”. Carol Bechtel.

8:3-8: Queen Esther Pleads for Her People.

What is the unfinished business?

“Mordecai and Esther are being heaped with rewards, but their lives are still in danger”. Patricia Tull.

Haman’s edict still stands and it cannot be revoked. Esther and Mordecai have to find a way to neutralize Haman’s edict. Esther must first, by her charms, obtain the king’s permission to circumvent the decree. Esther has never been as dramatic or melodramatic as this before. Her appeal is based on her personal favour with the King and not about the ethics of mass murder. We notice that Esther puts all the blame on Haman. She also argues that the loss of the Jews would result in a loss of property for the King. Nevertheless, Esther’s ploy works and Ahasuerus, characteristically, gives her carte blanche. He avoids responsibility once again by putting things in her hands. Ahasuerus displays a basic indifference to the fate of the Jews. Esther absolutely identifies with her people the Jews. Ahasuerus absolutely refuses to take any initiative. It is up to Esther and Mordecai to try and set things right.

“More striking even than Ahasuerus’s lack of imagination is his lack of power. One cannot help but compare the ‘Mighty Man’ of the book’s introduction with the weak and ineffectual monarch pictured here… One thing, at least, is clear. Esther and Mordecai cannot rely on Ahasuerus for much help. The words of a dead traitor have proven more powerful than the commands of a living king. Their only option is to fight fire with fire – edict with edict”. Carol Bechtel.

Esther throws herself on the King’s mercy once again to show him the seriousness of the situation. Have you ever had to throw yourself on someone’s mercy to open their eyes to a case of injustice?

8:9-17: Mordecai Sends Out Another Edict.

What do you make of Mordecai’s Edict?
How does it compare with Haman’s?

Esther calls on Mordecai to help draw up this important document. We have had an edict following Vashti’s rebellion and we have had Haman’s edict. Not surprisingly, Mordecai’s edict follows Haman’s in form quite closely. There are considerable parallels with Haman’s edict in chapter 3. Mordecai does not see this as a case for creative writing. It is very much modelled on Haman’s so that this counter-edict can be as effective as possible. Then there are the differences. Mordecai’s edict gives permission to destroy, kill, annihilate and plunder whereas Haman’s gives orders for the same. Mordecai’s is framed to allow self-defence while Haman’s was undisguised aggression.

“The decree gives the Jews permission to defend themselves; that right may seem self-evident to modern readers but in the world of the Persian court in Esther, where everything is done according to the law, even self-defence must be legislated. The parallelism with the previous decrees emphasizes the wisdom doctrine of retributive justice, but Mordecai’s inclusion of women and children in his counter decree has made him vulnerable to a charge of ‘bloodthirstiness’”. Sidnie Ann White.

This may well fit in with the concept of ‘holy war’ as this is what got King Saul in trouble when he did not carry this out against Agag. However, the verse ending is different in the Hebrew version. In that case, as Carol Bechtel argues, it would be Jewish women and children who are liable to be attacked. (In what follows, the Jews do not take plunder and there is no indication that anyone other than the attackers were harmed). There are two more contrasts between the edicts. Mordecai’s is also sent to the Jews who were excluded from Haman’s circulation list even though they were the victims. Haman’s edict was sent by couriers probably because there was no great urgency. Mordecai’s is sent by express mounted couriers – the pony express. After Haman’s edict, the King and Haman sat down to eat and drink. Mordecai leaves the King alone and appears in splendour in Susa. Now it is the Jews who eat and drink. It is a long way from the sackcloth and ashes and the fasting.

Patricia Tull believes the Book of Esther could end here with hardly any damage to its substance. Do you agree?

9:1-19: The Battles.

Does the violence that occurs in this chapter trouble you, given that some of it is requested by Esther? Why or why not?
Would it have troubled you less if Mordecai had been the one to make the request? Why or why not?

“Esther is true to real life as it is lived messily with loose ends and threads coming undone”. Johanna Van Wijk-Bos.
“The conclusion of Esther causes many people uneasiness. Its style and vision are so different from the rest of the book that many scholars think it may have been added by someone other than the author of the previous chapters. The earlier chapters’ keen sense of justice and aesthetics are not so distinct in the book’s conclusion. Yet theological gold can be mined from its very complexity”. Patricia Tull.

This chapter is full of inconsistences and redundancies. Esther’s appeal to the King seems more routine and less heartfelt than earlier. She is definitely more bloodthirsty than we have seen her earlier. Carol Bechtel would just say that Esther has become more determined. It is not clear why a second day of fighting was necessary other than that the feast of Purim as celebrated is a two-day festival. Haman’s ten sons were killed in the melee, and not executed, which suggests that they were among the attackers. There dead bodies are to be displayed on the gallows. The Jews take no plunder and spare women and children. What happens here is sometimes compared with the Warsaw ghetto in the Second World War when Polish Jews rose up to defend themselves from the Nazis. The battles at the end of Esther remind us that violence can be rooted in the desire for peace and security. The celebration is not in the slaughter itself but in the deliverance of the Jewish people.

9:20-32: The Letters of Purim.

Should the Jews celebrate Purim?
Should Christians read the Book of Esther?

“The purpose of these letters is to give official sanction to the non-Mosaic festival of Purim. Purim, an essentially secular festival originating in the diaspora…” Sidnie Ann White.

Mordecai’s letter is not a royal decree but a request to the Jews that they mark this annual celebration. We notice that are to be presents for the poor. Verses 24 to 26 give a synopsis of the book, severely telescoped, and in some cases in disagreement with the main plot. For instance, Ahasuerus is seen in a better light than elsewhere in the book. It reads as if he were the saviour of the Jews. Despite the author’s best attempts, the connection between Purim the pur (Haman’s casting of lots) remains tenuous and murky. There follows a letter from Queen Esther giving it all royal sanction. Although, Purim was not universally celebrated (the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest it wasn’t at Qumran), it soon became a very important festival. At the heart of this festival is the reading of the Book of Esther.

“[Christians] would do well to remember, however, the main event of that celebration [Purim]; namely the reading of the book of Esther. Surely, we can manage that much. Indeed, we should more than ‘manage’ it, because there is a sense in which this book may have come into our canon ‘for just a time as this’. It is a book, after all, about the struggle to be faithful in the midst of an increasingly unfaithful culture.” Carol Bechtel.

10:1-3: Where has Esther Gone?

These verses glory in the greatness of Ahasuerus and Mordecai. What a great king! Mordecai is said to have governed well, looked after the Jews but benefitted the whole of that great kingdom. In this way he is compared to Joseph in the Book of Genesis. This contrasts with the descriptions of Ahasuerus and Mordecai in the main part of the book. And Esther is written out of the story.

“But like Esther, rather than remaining children, rather than ignoring what is overwhelming to us, each of us had a God-given grace within us to step forward on behalf of people we care for, to engage in small acts of courage, even when we can hardly see what good they will do. And very often, when we do step forward, forces beyond our power will help us, as they helped Esther, in carrying out God’s good purposes”. Patricia Tull.

Elizabeth and Rubens

By Jackie Winwood

I attach a picture of our rather large Montana clematis (Elizabeth) and found this appropriate poem which I thought was rather nice-

Photo by Jackie Winwood

Ode to“Elizabeth and Rubens” Clematis Montana

Elizabeth and Rubens were a good pair
until I went and cut down all Rubens hair
now Rubens in my garden is no longer there
and Elizabeth looks like she needs some care

Lamsdorf POW Camp

By Mary Worall

Lamsdorf in the 1940’s

My uncle was a prisoner of war , He was taken at Dunkirk and was then in different camps over the next four plus years,
This I found near the end of his recordings, I was taken with it, I reread it on VE day,
This was written on the end of one bed in Stalag V111B. (Lamsdorf Silesia)

(1) Now I’ll tell you of a tale of some prisoners of war,
who were captured not far from St. Valeris Shore.
On the 12th June as you will recall,
we were battered to hell by the Dutch conger balls

(2) They took us to Langsdorf, our home to be.
Where instead of our grub we got 2 hours of PT
Two loaves between ten, and a bowl of coffee,
Oh! I’ll never forget that place called Stalag V111B.

(3) From Langsdorf they sent us to work in the mines,
At first it all looked good and so fine,
The people and miners , they all looked so glam
and all the words spoke were ‘come Englanders come’

(4) And for our pay they gave us two Marks
Oh how we cursed the dirty old sharks
cigarettes and tobacco we could not get
the boys haven’t got over it yet.

(5) But there come a day when prisoners no more
and we shall board the ship for dear old Blightey’s shore.
To drink wine and whisky not forgetting the rum.
and no more to hear them say ‘come Englanders come’

I put this into my book on May 14th, when waiting to go to work.
I wonder who wrote this and which camp they were moved to.

He added other poems that he collected from people and used a tiny little bit of pencil to put it all into a small children’s note book.

The spellings and English are just as it was. It did me good to reread this precious diary.

N.B. Ed. There’s a huge amount of very interesting information about this camp, and the ‘Long March’ across Europe endured by the prisoners. You can find it here.

Pontesbury Cemetery

From The Church Wardens

Pontesbury Cemetery: an update

There has been some discussion of our local cemetery in “social media” recently. This has led to some changes which may affect all who visit the cemetery. But first, it may help if we set out the background….

We are fortunate to have a cemetery in Pontesbury that’s near the centre of the village, with sufficient consecrated space for some years to come. The cemetery is actually an extension of the Churchyard that surrounds St. George’s Church and so it’s the property of the Church of England, and it’s the responsibility of St. George’s Church to ensure it is available for use.

There are costs involved in keeping the cemetery in a fit and safe state. We need to ensure that boundary fences, walls and gates are sound, that bushes and trees do not encroach, that pathways and landscaped areas are suitably laid out, and the grass is kept down. Fees are charged to meet the cost of individual burials and these provide a small fund to help meet the costs of maintaining the cemetery. But – we get no financial help from head-office! In fact – like just about all churches across the country – we have to pay our way. Churches that don’t meet their costs face having to share their Minister with neighbouring parishes – or even…closure.

So we could say that we run the cemetery on a wing and a prayer. This task falls to a very small, ageing group of volunteers. We tackle jobs ourselves when we can, to save money – and we are very grateful to those who keep parts of the cemetery and individual graves neat and tidy. When we have no choice, we do pay for work – but we have to keep within our budget. It’s very true that with more money, we’d pay for more work and make things even better.

We do know that despite our best efforts at maintaining the cemetery, not everyone is happy at times. The recent “social media” discussion is evidence of an issue regarding upkeep around grave-stones. Criticism travelled quickly and before we knew it, we found ourselves without anyone to cut the grass. So now, we are faced with a choice: pay for more time than before to keep the grass down (with money we don’t have), or leave the cemetery to become a “wild area” (fine for birds and other wild life but not for human visitors and liable to create other problems).

We will let you know what we decide to do in due course. But we would ask you please to contact us by phone (details below) if there is an issue that you need to discuss about the cemetery. We can’t work miracles but we will do what we can! Pontesbury Cemetery is a very special place of peace and quiet which we can visit to remember our loved ones. We all want to keep it that way, don’t we?

Your humble, ageing volunteer Churchwardens,

Mary Worrall 01743 791069

Allen Marsden 01743 791822

THE BOOK OF ESTHER 4

By Rev Christopher Cooke.

Week 4

Chapters 6 & 7

6:1-3: King Ahasuerus is Sleepless in Susa.

Was this just coincidence? Or is this divine providence? Who chooses the section to be read?

6:4-11: King Ahasuerus and Haman Talk at Cross Purposes!

What is on Ahasuerus’ mind and who is he talking about?
What is on Haman’s mind and who is he talking about?
What do you think Haman is feeling?
What do you think Mordecai is feeling?

“Whether Haman has finished with his fantasy or not, dream soon turns to waking nightmare as Ahasuerus interrupts with the words Haman never expected to hear”. Carol Bechtel. ——
“Haman confirms his position as king’s chief lackey by following to the letter of his own advice to the king, his mood could not have been hospitable”. Patricia Tull.
The Triumph of Mordecai- Pieter Lastman (1624).

6:12-14: Haman’s Support Network Collapses.

What do you think of the predictions of Zeresh and Haman’s advisors?
Do you think Haman is looking forward to this as much as he was before?

“Circumstances seem to have conspired against Haman, and for once, we get the impression he is completely unprepared. Esther, however, is not”. Carol Bechtel
“Actions seem to come out of nowhere in this tale, but they gradually link together to form an immensely positive and meaningful pattern of Jewish deliverance: if the term ‘theology’ means anything in reference to the book of Esther, that is its theology.” Jon Levenson.

7:1-6: Queen Esther Argues Her Case.

What do you make of Esther’s petition when it finally comes?
Do you agree with Patricia Tull that verse 4 is masterfully ambiguous?
What do you make of Ahasuerus’ confusion?
Who is he angry with?

“[Esther] is patient in implementing her plan of attack. She is brilliant in her analysis of her enemy’s methods. And finally, she is every bit his equal in her power to persuade. Esther’s character is so strong by the end of the chapter that we almost begin to feel sorry for Haman. But not quite. In the words of Jane Austen – another author famous for strong female characters – Haman has ‘delighted us long enough’ (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 18). We are glad to see him go.” Carol Bechtel.

7:7-10: Haman Pleads before Esther and the King Comes to a Decision.

What do you make of Haman’s pleading?
What do you think of Ahasuerus?
Should Esther have shown mercy towards Haman?

“In the end, the man who attempted to kill a people for a crime they did not commit will himself die for a crime he did not commit. Haman’s lust was for power, not pleasure, but that is probably not the story his poor wife will hear”. Patricia Tull.
“Whether Haman has finished with his fantasy or not, dream soon turns to waking nightmare as Ahasuerus interrupts with the words Haman never expected to hear”. Carol Bechtel. ——

Reverend Christopher’s comments are shown below:

6:1-3: King Ahasuerus is Sleepless in Susa.

Was this just coincidence? Or is this divine providence?
Who chooses the section to be read?

Ahasuerus has been portrayed as a rather frivolous King but he has a diary kept for him and this is read out when he cannot sleep. And this informs future actions. This seems to me a more serious side of Ahasuerus. The King is unaware that Haman and Mordecai are enemies. He is also unaware of the plight of the Jews because of the machinations of Haman. It is possible that the servants are more sympathetic to the Jews and Mordecai then Haman. So they read this passage and the King is startled from sleep altogether as he asks how was Mordecai thanked for his endeavours. Ahasuerus is deeply shocked to learn that Mordecai has not been rewarded for his faithful service. If these coincidences or providences had not happened, we can guess that it would have been a much more tragic story.

6:4-11: King Ahasuerus and Haman Talk at Cross Purposes!

What is on Ahasuerus’ mind and who is he talking about?
What is on Haman’s mind and who is he talking about?

This is a delicious, if toe-curling, section and my favourite in the book. Haman is already in the court. Perhaps he cannot sleep well until he hatches his plan and gets the King to agree to the execution of Mordecai. Ahasuerus calls Haman in. We know they both have Mordecai on their minds but with diametrically opposed intentions. Ahasuerus asks “What shall be done for the man whom the King wishes to honour?” Haman in his vainglory thinks the King can only be thinking of him, Haman! The honours Haman requests are based on those given to Joseph in Genesis 41. Joseph’s honour is fully deserved but Haman’s supposed honour is not!The crown on the horse is probably not a king’s crown but an elaborate headdress. Then follows the climax and it is a horrific one for Haman. We notice that Haman proposes a rather empty honour which is all pomp and show. The man to be honoured is not Haman but Mordecai who the King describes as “the Jew”.

What do you think Haman is feeling?
What do you think Mordecai is feeling?

“Whether Haman has finished with his fantasy or not, dream soon turns to waking nightmare as Ahasuerus interrupts with the words Haman never expected to hear”. Carol Bechtel. ——
“Haman confirms his position as king’s chief lackey by following to the letter of his own advice to the king, his mood could not have been hospitable”. Patricia Tull.

6:12-14: Haman’s Support Network Collapses.

What do you think of the predictions of Zeresh and Haman’s advisors?

Haman arrives home despondent and, his wife, Zeresh and his advisors offer no comfort. They agree that Haman is doomed. However, Haman’s edict still stands. Haman still holds office as the highest of the King’s officials. The Jews are still condemned. The King has not heard Esther’s petition. But then the eunuchs arrive with Esther’s summons to come to her second banquet.

Do you think Haman is looking forward to this as much as he was before?

“Circumstances seem to have conspired against Haman, and for once, we get the impression he is completely unprepared. Esther, however, is not”. Carol Bechtel.
“Actions seem to come out of nowhere in this tale, but they gradually link together to form an immensely positive and meaningful pattern of Jewish deliverance: if the term ‘theology’ means anything in reference to the book of Esther, that is its theology.” Jon Levenson.

7:1-6: Queen Esther Argues Her Case.

What do you make of Esther’s petition when it finally comes?
Do you agree with Patricia Tull that verse 4 is masterfully ambiguous?

Esther may well not be aware of the events of the previous section. She may not know of Mordecai’s honouring and Haman’s humiliation. However, the ubiquitous eunuchs may have informed Esther of events. As far as Esther is concerned, the situation is still very dangerous and a lot will depend on the King’s reactions – and he is hardly predictable! Finally, we get to the climax. The wine is flowing again. Ahasuerus repeats his extravagant offer. He has had a day to water this down but he does not. Esther knows exactly what she will say when Ahasuerus asks. She uses “petition” and “my life” and “request” and “my people” and fully identifies with her people. In 7:4 does Esther hint at the bribe offered when she says her people have been sold. She cleverly brings up the oral confusion. If they had been enslaved, she would not have said anything but as they are to be destroyed, she must speak out. A less accomplished plea might have named Haman earlier on in the argument. Finally, Esther argues that this all an affront to the King. Esther has done her homework and the universal eunuchs may have been the conduits.

What do you make of Ahasuerus’ confusion? Who is he angry with?

Ahasuerus is completely bewildered and he does not connect her petition with Haman’s edict. He asks who is the man involved? Right at the end, Esther names Haman as the enemy within. The enraged King storms from the room and we are not sure where his anger is going to be directed. Does he go into the garden to cool off? But as Adele Berlin notes, his absence from the room permits what happens next!

“[Esther] is patient in implementing her plan of attack. She is brilliant in her analysis of her enemy’s methods. And finally, she is every bit his equal in her power to persuade. Esther’s character is so strong by the end of the chapter that we almost begin to feel sorry for Haman. But not quite. In the words of Jane Austen – another author famous for strong female characters – Haman has ‘delighted us long enough’ (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 18). We are glad to see him go.” Carol Bechtel.

7:7-10: Haman Pleads before Esther and the King Comes to a Decision.

What do you make of Haman’s pleading?
What do you think of Ahasuerus?
Should Esther have shown mercy towards Haman?

We now have a black comedy. We might have expected Haman to plead to his friend the King but Haman approaches Queen Esther to beg for his life instead. Ahasuerus re-enters and construes it as an attempted assault, even rape, on the Queen. This allows the King to do whatever he wants to Haman. It would be difficult to punish Haman for a plan that he has given the nod to.

“In the end, the man who attempted to kill a people for a crime they did not commit will himself die for a crime he did not commit. Haman’s lust was for power, not pleasure, but that is probably not the story his poor wife will hear”. Patricia Tull.

One of the eunuchs, Harbona, knows something that the King apparently does not.

Harbona says there are gallows Haman has prepared for Mordecai. Ahasuerus commands that Haman is executed there. This is Ahasuerus’ first direct order in the whole book. An evil genius has met his match in Esther and meets his end. In the Biblical Wisdom tradition, this is an example of “just deserts” and that the wicked who devise snares may fall in them themselves.

Some have argued that Esther should have shown mercy towards Haman but that is a rather stereotypical view of women which does not allow for strong women. Would we have asked the same of Mordecai? Esther is locked into a life-and-death struggle on behalf of the Jews. Haman is not an innocent victim and he does not express any real remorse. 1 Samuel 15 is also instructive. King Saul (Mordecai and Esther’s ancestor) spared Agag (Haman’s ancestor) and lost the crown. Esther was not going to make the same mistake.

THE BOOK OF ESTHER 3

By Reverend Christopher Cooke

WEEK 3 – THE BOOK OF ESTHER

Chapters 4 & 5

4:1-5: Mordecai and the Jews Grieve.

Why does Esther send clothing to Mordecai? Why did he refuse it?
Mordecai is at the gate “woefully out of compliance with the palace dress code”. Carol Bechtel.

4:6-14: Mordecai Turns to Esther for Help.

What do you make of this crucial interchange between Mordecai and Esther?
Why does Mordecai approach Esther? Why does she hesitate?
Though God is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, does 4:14 suggest an element of divine intervention? Do you think the writer intended this?

Mordecai “raises the possibility that even before events began sliding towards disaster, some force was preparing the way for deliverance… He is confident that the Jewish people will survive but uncertain about how this will come about.” Michael Fox.

“His modesty on the subject of divine providence, along with his faith in the effectiveness of timely action, could be very instructive to any believer attempting to interpret the ways of God”. Patricia Tull.

4:16-17: Esther Prepares to Meet the King.

What do you make of the sudden change in Esther’s attitude to the world around her, as she prepares to go against the prevailing forces and norms?
“From being a pliant and obedient beauty queen, she becomes a figure of authority, an active risk taker”. Sidnie Ann White.
Have you had to make such a sudden change in your life? Why did you do it? What was the outcome?

5:1-8: Esther Goes to the King and Gives a Banquet.

How nervous do you think Esther was and how brave was she?
Can you remember times when you had to take courage to make a visit or approach someone?
Sometimes this may have gone easier than expected and at other times less well.
Does Esther start to get cold feet?
“Esther has backed her husband into a corner, and he has allowed it. The silent Haman has become the pawn of the clever queen”. Sidnie Ann White.

5:9-14: Haman Builds a Place of Execution.

Are there Hamans around today?
Have you met anyone rather like Haman with “an ego so fragile it cannot survive any challenge, real or imagined?”
What strategies do you have for interactions with such people?

“The real irony here is that Mordecai is already a condemned man. All Haman has to do is to wait for the edict to take effect, and Mordecai (along with the rest of the Jews) will be out of his hair forever. But patience is not one of Haman’s virtues (if indeed he has any). A year, evidently, is too long to wait when one’s ego is being assailed. Only a special public humiliation on an accelerated schedule will do.” Carol Bechtel.

“Yes indeed. There’s nothing like anticipating a good impalement to whet one’s appetite…” Carol Bechtel.

Reverend Christopher’s comments are shown below:

4:1-5: Mordecai and the Jews Grieve.

Why does Esther send clothing to Mordecai? Why did he refuse it?
Mordecai’s immediate response to the news of Haman’s edict is to enact the typical gestures of mourning: sackcloth, ashes and lamentation. The Jews mourn ritually but significantly do not mention God! Mordecai cannot enter through the gate because of his condition. Mordecai seems to being drawing attention to himself and his grief.
However, Esther in the Queen’s quarters is unaware of what has happened.
Mordecai is at the gate “woefully out of compliance with the palace dress code”. Carol Bechtel.
Esther sends clothing perhaps so Mordecai can enter the palace and meet her. Perhaps there is also the teenage complaint: Why are you embarrassing me! Turning to Mordecai, is his grief heightened because he has brought this upon his people? Esther is in a quandary. Up to now, Mordecai has played down their Jewishness but now he is at the gate proclaiming it!

4:6-14: Mordecai Turns to Esther for Help.

What do you make of this crucial interchange between Mordecai and Esther?
Why does Mordecai approach Esther? Why does she hesitate?
Mordecai turns to Esther rather than to God. The conversation is conducted through a third party, Hathach, a trusted eunuch. But what if Hathach garbles the message!
Up to now, Mordecai has protected Esther. How does Mordecai know about the sum of money Haman has promised the King? He is well-connected but perhaps information leaks out of the palace easier than it penetrates inside! Mordecai even produces a copy of the edict. This is vital because of the confusion between enslavement and destruction in speech. Mordecai gives a copy to Hathach and he gives it to Esther.
Mordecai instructs Esther to go to the King and he expects to be obeyed. Her initial refusal is unexpected. Or perhaps it is more like a reality-check. Esther explains that she risks death if she appears before the King unsummoned. Furthermore, she has not been summoned by the king for thirty days. This serves to underline the precariousness of her position. Her position in a male court is similar to the Jews in a Gentile world.
Mordecai will not accept Esther’s refusal. The ensuing dialogue reveals a little of the author’s theology. Esther cannot escape the danger of the situation just because she is in the palace. She remains a Jew – even if a hidden one.
Though God is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, does 4:14 suggest an element of divine intervention? Do you think the writer intended this?
Hathach shuffles back with Mordecai’s reply. This is Mordecai’s only direct speech in the book. Mordecai makes the claim that if Esther does not intervene, the Jews will still be delivered but she and he family will perish. Mordecai is certain that Esther must act and this may be why she has become Queen. This implies belief in divine providence but in order for the divine plan to work, humans must respond and act. Mordecai seems to see Esther’s caution as cowardice and/or selfishness. However his argument about royal dignity and the right time seems to connect and Esther understands the situation.

Mordecai “raises the possibility that even before events began sliding towards disaster, some force was preparing the way for deliverance… He is confident that the Jewish people will survive but uncertain about how this will come about.” Michael Fox.

“His modesty on the subject of divine providence, along with his faith in the effectiveness of timely action, could be very instructive to any believer attempting to interpret the ways of God”. Patricia Tull.

4:16-17: Esther Prepares to Meet the King.

What do you make of the sudden change in Esther’s attitude to the world around her, as she prepares to go against the prevailing forces and norms?
Esther’s response in 4:16 reveals an astonishing change in her character.
“From being a pliant and obedient beauty queen, she becomes a figure of authority, an active risk taker”. Sidnie Ann White.
Esther devises a plan, delivers a command to Mordecai and expects him to obey her. And Mordecai does obey her! Roles are reversed. The fact that Esther orders a fast is the only overtly religious action in the book but again God is not mentioned! She is aware of the risk she is taking but she is humble and pious enough not to assume that she can do this on her own. She is certainly brave. She also fully identifies with the Jewish people which she did not have to do.
Have you had to make such a sudden change in your life? Why did you do it? What was the outcome?

5:1-8: Esther Goes to the King and Gives a Banquet.

How nervous do you think Esther was and how brave was she?
Can you remember times when you had to take courage to make a visit or approach someone?
Sometimes this may have gone easier than expected and at other times less well.
For three days, Esther and her maids – along with the Jews in Susa – have fasted. In the event, Esther’s approach to the King is rather anti-climactic (and two of the additions strengthen the story here). We notice that Esther cleverly dons “royalty” to remind the King who she is and to distinguish her from Vashti who refused to appear wearing the crown when ordered. Nevertheless, it underlines how dependent she is on the King. She stands in the court, where she was not meant to be either, but she does not barge into the royal presence. She catches his eye and Ahasuerus realizes that something important must have caused Esther to act in this way. He invites her in to his presence and he expresses his wish to do what she requires. Esther first request is not about the proposed genocide but an invitation to dinner. This seems a bit wasteful but it gives Esther a number of advantages. In the play of courtesies, it puts the King further in her favour. Further, it means Ahasuerus and Haman are on her territory in the harem. And the King never turns down a banquet. Indeed, her rushes to fulfil her request and get Haman there presto. As Patricia Tull notes this is a delicious reversal of the decree that wives should obey their husbands. Haman too is happy to be a guest of a woman and, unknowingly, a Jew as well. Now we expect Esther to make her bid but again she just asks them to another banquet!
Does Esther start to get cold feet?
Another way of looking at it is suggested by David Clines. If the King comes to the second banquet, where she will make her real petition, he has almost already promised to grant whatever she wants. She has almost got Ahasuerus ready to sign a blank cheque.
“Esther has backed her husband into a corner, and he has allowed it. The silent Haman has become the pawn of the clever queen”. Sidnie Ann White.
Some commentators are a little uneasy about Esther’s diplomatic skills. But unlike Haman, she has not misled the King with half-truths and lies. Esther is certainly the right person at the right time.

5:9-14: Haman Builds a Place of Execution.

Are there Hamans around today?
Have you met anyone rather like Haman with “an ego so fragile it cannot survive any challenge, real or imagined?”
What strategies do you have for interactions with such people?
Although Esther may have his measure, Haman is still a very dangerous man. Haman has enjoyed the Queen’s banquet and is full of himself until he bumps into Mordecai again. Mordecai refuses to do obeisance again and this sends Haman into a rage. Haman goes home and holds a “pity party”. Zeresh, his wife, suggests a course of action. Zeresh is the third powerful woman to appear in the book. Sidnie Ann White suggests here is another pairing where the woman is stronger than the man.
“The real irony here is that Mordecai is already a condemned man. All Haman has to do is to wait for the edict to take effect, and Mordecai (along with the rest of the Jews) will be out of his hair forever. But patience is not one of Haman’s virtues (if indeed he has any). A year, evidently, is too long to wait when one’s ego is being assailed. Only a special public humiliation on an accelerated schedule will do.” Carol Bechtel.
But if Haman gets his own way, Esther’s intervention the next day will be too late to save her cousin. Zeresh and Haman’s supporters suggest he builds a massive gallows (some eighty feet high!) Carol Bechtel argues that it was a pole for impalement. Impalement involved extra levels of disgrace. We notice Zeresh and his friends suggest he builds it before he gets the King’s permission to deal with Mordecai. We have seen this presumption before. Now Haman is ready to enjoy the next banquet.
“Yes indeed. There’s nothing like anticipating a good impalement to whet one’s appetite…” Carol Bechtel.

THE BOOK OF ESTHER 2

By Reverend Christopher Cooke

Week 2

2:5-3:15

2:5-11: Esther is Caught in the Royal Dragnet.

We are introduced to Mordecai and Esther.

Esther and Mordecai” by Aert de Gelder, 1674

Can you think of other exiles living in foreign countries today?

What do you think Esther felt?

Why didn’t Esther admit she was a Jewess?

Does it bother you that Esther seemed to be trying to gain the king’s favour, even during the forced conscription of young women by the king?

2:12-18: Esther is Chosen as Queen.

Esther Is Introduced to Ahasuerus c1615
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Twelve months is a long time to be in a beauty parlour!

What is the importance of this banquet?

2:19-23: Mordecai Discovers the Eunuchs’ Plot.

Was Mordecai in the right place at the right time?

Should he have been rewarded?

3:1-6: Haman’s Rise to Power.

Another foreigner is promoted.

Why did Mordecai refuse to bow down to Haman?

What about Haman’s reaction?

Mordecai faced the consequences. Can you name others who have done this? How were their circumstances similar or different from Mordecai’s?

3:7-15: Haman’s Plot to Destroy the Jews.

Why did Haman cast lots?

Which God responds to the lots?

What do you make of Haman’s argument before Ahasuerus?

What do you make of the edict drafted by Haman?

Esther with the Decree of Destruction
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1637

Throughout history there is a long record of persecution of the Jewish people, from ancient times to the Holocaust of the 1940s. Is anti-Semitism still around today? Do we find it in our community and/or church?

Note the last verse: “The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion”.

Is Haman right to think that everyone hates the Jews as he does?