Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22

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Esther 7:1-10, 9:20-22

Background to the Book of Esther

The Book of Esther is very important to the Jews because it records the deeds of a woman who was prepared to risk everything to save her people from the threat of genocide. Its importance can be seen in that it was included in the Hebrew canon by popular acclaim (Crawford, NIB 855. Larkin OTG 61, suggests that it was not accepted without difficulty and no earlier than the Council of Jamnia AD 90) and is the basis for the festival of Purim. Purim is celebrated every year on 14 and 15 Adar (August - 12 month of the Jewish year) at which time the Book of Esther is read in the Synagogue. One of the reasons for its late acceptance into the Hebrew canon may be the lack of any authorisation of a festival named in the Torah. However, once accepted, the rabbinic tradition is very positive about Esther and makes her one of seven female prophets - Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail and Huldah.

The book of Esther is unusual in that exists in several different versions. The Massoretic text, probably written late fourth century BCE is the version, which gained status in the Jewish Scriptures and Protestant Bibles. A Greek text (known as Alpha Text) was written around the same time as the Hebrew version but is 20% shorter. It omits some stories, which change the message, and includes explicit references to God. The Greek LXX version, probably written second century BCE, has additions, which increases the length of the book by a third. This edition has canonical status in the Eastern church ( 8th century AD). It is included in the Latin Vulgate, but removed by Luther from the Protestant Bible at the time of the reformation (Crawford, 860 - 861).

The book has not been so popular within the Christian church and this could be due to the lack of any overt mention of God within it. In addition, the perceived hostility towards the Gentiles portrayed in the book could be the cause of the antagonism by some Protestants. The assumption is that because Esther is willing to risk her life for the Jews it has to be based on deep religious conviction for her God, Yahweh. Esther 4:13-14 in the MT does show awareness by Mordecai of the way God can bring deliverance. However, there is no mention of prayer, the Temple or any religious behaviour by either Mordecai or Esther although one could refer to the fast mentioned in 4:16. One can go further and point to the fact that Esther is married to a Gentile, eats their food and gives no indication that she is a Jew until she declares it. Both Greek translations correct this omission and add several instances when Esther and Mordecai pray and keep the commandments.

The story is set in the reign of a Persian king, Ahasuerus, who can be identified with the Emperor Xerxes (486-465 BCE). The time when the story was written down is probably later in the fourth century BCE within Persia. The book displays no interest in Jerusalem or what is happening in Judah at all. We sometimes forget that when some of the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile in 538 BCE, a significant number of people stayed in the Euphrates region. The book displays knowledge of Persian customs and of the court of Susa.

Context of Esther 7 (What's Happening in the Literature around Esther 7)

Banquets play an important role in this story of Esther and Mordecai. Before we get to Esther's second banquet in Chapter 7, we have two banquets by Ahasuerus (Esther 1:2-4, 5-8), Vashti's banquet (1:9), Esther's enthronement banquet by Ahasuerus (2:18), Haman and Ahasuerus banquet (3:15) and Esther's first banquet (5:4-8). Three more banquets follow in chapters eight and nine. The story moves through the symmetry of the banquets and they play a crucial role in the overall literary structure.

It was in the midst of banquet when Queen Vashti, ordered to appear by the king, refused and the story is underway. After the divorce has taken place, a new Queen has to be found for the king and Esther is the chosen one. Mordecai adopted his cousin Esther as a child and became as a parent to her. He had suggested that she put herself forward as one of the virgin's for inspection by the king and was chosen. She is able to warn the king of a plot to kill him by two of his eunuchs because of Mordecai's knowledge.
Haman, a Persian, rises in the court and is set above the princes to help the king rule. Mordecai refuses to be subservient to Haman and the scene is set for Haman to plot the destruction of Mordecai and all the Jews. Haman convinced the king to sign a decree, which stated that all Jews were to be slain on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. Esther saw Mordecai in sackcloth and sent a servant to find out the cause. Mordecai instructed her to get an audience with the king even although it could end in her death. Mordecai seems to suggest that if she does nothing she won't be safe anyway. Esther manages to please the king, escape the death sentence and seek agreement that the king and Haman come to a banquet prepared by her. Before this occurs in chapter seven, the king has a memory recall when he can't sleep one night and remembers that he hasn't rewarded Mordecai for saving his life from the two eunuchs. It is Haman who decrees what the reward will be thinking he is the one to whom the king refers.

After the events in chapter seven Mordecai replaces Haman as chief of staff, and Esther pleads for the lives of the Jews. It appears that an edict once sent out cannot be revoked and a new edict has to be published which will nullify the first one. The solution was that the Jews could defend themselves on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. The final chapters of the Book go into great detail about the numbers of those slain who opposed the Jews including Haman's ten sons who were hung on request of the Queen. This escape by the Jews from their planned slaughter and the subsequent slaying of their enemies is the basis for the festival of Purim.

Insights/Message of Esther 7

Insights from the Text & Literary Structure

I am aware the Lectionary omits vv.7-8, however I will be dealing with the whole chapter.

Chapter seven describes the events of the second banquet to which the Queen has invited the king and Haman. Esther did not rush matters after her initial request to the King when she approached him without permission (5:1-2). Her first banquet laid the groundwork for the second invitation (5:8). It appears to have increased Haman's view of his own self-importance and at the same time increased his desire to get rid of Mordecai. This self-importance was inflated further, when he thought mistakenly, that the king wanted to honour him and not Mordecai (6:6-11).

A feast is usually a time of rejoicing when life is secure and yet Esther is far from secure when she has these two feasts. She is playing for survival for herself and her people. On the other hand, the fast that she and the Jews kept before her unlawful appearance before the King was congruent with the situation in which she was facing a crisis. A fast is supposed to help concentrate the mind and Esther certainly needed to do that if she was to succeed. Is this a literary play on the use of feasts to let us know the message, that these feasts initiated by Esther will bring rejoicing and safety for the Jews? Even the second banquet, which brought the downfall of Queen Vashti, was the start of events, which lead eventually to the deliverance of the Jews.

Timothy Beal (78) suggests that this episode in Esther 7 is organised around dialogue involving Esther and the king (7:2-6), and action involving the king and Haman (7:7-8 - the king storms out into the garden and Haman throws himself upon Esther). The consequence for Haman is his death on the gallows, which he had prepared for Mordecai. There are a number of reversals in the book - Mordecai gets the acclaim suggested by Haman: the gallows intended for Mordecai become the means of death for Haman and his sons: the edict intended to instigate the slaughter of the Jews is superseded by an edict which condones the slaughter of the enemies of the Jews.

The king on his arrival for Esther's banquet repeats for the third time his offer and asks what does she request of him. Only now does she reveal to him that she is a Jew and under death sentence from Haman because of the decree that he, the king signed. This confession in v.3 is a very dangerous moment for Esther because she has deceived the king and she belongs to a race, which has been condemned by the king's edict. Her answer is beautifully constructed in that she makes it conditional on whether she has pleased him (7:3a) and then asks for her life and then the life of her people (7:3b). It follows a similar pattern as that in the king's speech to Esther in which he offers to grant her first, a personal wish and second, to do with his kingdom.

When Ahasuerus asks who has devised this death sentence for the Jews, Esther names Haman only and makes sure she doesn't implicate the king in the action even although she knows the king had to sign the decree for it to be acted upon. Ahasuerus realises later the problem which arises when a royal decree has been signed and gives the problem to Mordecai to solve (8:8).

There is a lovely play on the verb "to fall" which is used in 6:13 to warn Haman that he has begun "to fall" before Mordecai and will not prevail against him, but surely "fall" before him. In fact, he "falls" onto Queen Esther, which seals his fate.

The early Greek text adds a sentence here, which tells us that Esther, is uneasy about speaking and God gave her the courage (Crawford, 918).

The Psalm selected to go with this reading acknowledges that it was God's presence with them as a people, which saved them from their enemies. The psalm gives thanks to God and declares their help is with the Lord. It appears to reflect an experience in which Israel could have been defeated but escaped defeat and annihilation. In later times, Psalm 124 was recited as the Pilgrims make their journey up to the temple at Jerusalem and is very apt Psalm to go with the Esther reading.

Message / Theology in Esther 7

Esther is both very clever and a model of courage in this chapter. She has taken time to set to scene in order to gain both life for herself and her own people. Ahasuerus appears to be unaware that Esther is a Jew and on discovering her origins, he does not get angry with her for her deception. He must have become attached to her to allow this dishonesty to prevail.
Esther does not intercede on behalf of Haman and in the following chapter, after Esther has sought audience with Ahasuerus she asks that the edict be revoked. This completes her task of saving the Jews.

The character of Esther as it is portrayed in the story shows the development of a person who was blindly obedient to Mordecai initially in the way she allowed herself to be taken and prepared for presentation to the king. This process took twelve months before she and six other maidens were taken into the king. She is basically an offering and became Queen because she pleased Ahasuerus. She continues to keep silent, on Mordecai's instruction about her Jewish roots. She changes at the point she has to do something to save Mordecai and her people. She was afraid for her life, which was quite natural, but then commands Mordecai to have a fast and she sets about her petition to the king. She takes command of the situation and becomes the saviour figure.

This story is part of a worldview of courts and court life, which is not part of our lives today. Most of the Western world doesn't have to contrive in the way that Esther did to get an audience with a ruler. The question I want to ask is: How does knowledge of Christ change the way we respond to danger?

Two responses come to mind for a Christian. One, is that a person can submit to the persecution and death in the knowledge that death is not the end, but entry into another life. Two, a person can act against the danger in whatever ways are possible, and believe that God will be with them, but not necessarily save them from death. The second option raises the ethical questions about whether one can respond with violence to combat violence. People will respond to that dilemma differently.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mark 9:38-50. Mark 9:48 is an almost direct quote from Isa 66:24. In the Isaiah context it is part of the last eleven chapters of the book of Isaiah which reflect a concern by a group of people who are to be excluded from the community to which they have belonged for many generations (Isa 56:1-8). The emphasis in the Markan passage is that no-one should be the cause of another person losing their faith; it would be better that they were maimed in the many ways described in vv.42-50. The Isaiah quote confronts the Pharisees's arrogance by suggesting that genuine purity is focused on how one treats the least in the community which could result in horrendous death and terrible desecration of the dead body. This quote is followed by an allusion to Lev 2:13 which is not easy to understand. The best explanation appears to be that as every sacrifice needs salt to be acceptable so too do the disciples must be purified. The fire could be understood as part of testing. However, since there is no mention in Leviticus of the need for salt to make the offering acceptable, it is at best a reasonable explanation. James 5:13-20; Elijah is used as the example of prayer by the writer of the letter because he was enormously popular as an example. However, as in many cases the exact details about Elijah's prayer are different from those in the Old Testament stories. The important point is that he was a 'man' like us and as he prayed so can we pray. James 5:20 is either an allusion to or direct quote from Proverbs 10:12 in which love and hate are contrasted. Love is the way and we are expected to to want to bring others to know this love as we know it.

Resources/Worship for Esther 7 (Worship and Ways to present Esther 7)

The reading lends itself to drama.

There is an oratorio by Handel based on the story of Esther. Some people in congregations might enjoy hearing some of this as part of the presentation.


Beal Timothy K. Esther. Berit Olam. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999.
Berlin Adele. The JPS Bible Commentary Esther. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2001
Bush Frederic. Ruth/Esther. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1996.
Clines David J.A. The Esther Scroll. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984. (This book is excellent if you want to explore the Esther text in all the translations and how each one adds theological points to the message.)
Fox Michael V. Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991. (This book deals with all the characters in detail and is a great resource for preaching.)
Larkin Katrina J.A. Ruth and Esther. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996. (Old Testament Guides are a great resource for an overview of the issues, the content of the books and further reading.)
Moore Carey A. Esther. AB. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1971.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


Index of Esther