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.

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