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.