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When the Jews in Persia were secretly condemned to death (Esther 3) Esther set an example of personal sacrifice, willingly risking her life to save others.
During Esther’s lifetime the kingdom of Judah was ruled by the Persian Empire under King Ahasuerus (Hebrew), or Xerxes (Greek). In the first chapter of the book of Esther a huge banquet given by Ahasuerus is described..
On the seventh day of the banquet, the king commanded his wife, Vashti, to appear before his court so everyone could behold her beauty (Esther 1:10-11). When the queen refused to appear Ahasuerus, on the advice of his counselors, decided to look for someone to replace her as queen.
The king's servants searched throughout the kingdom (Esther 2:2-4) and eventually the King chose Esther to be his queen (Esther 2:17-18). Esther did not tell the king she was Jewish or that she was related to Mordecai, who had raised her when her parents died..
One day, after Esther had been made queen, Mordecai learned of a plot to assassinate the king, and promptly had Esther warn the king. Those responsible were apprehended and hanged, and the incident, including Mordecai's faithful disclosure, was "written in the book of the chronicles” (Esther 2:23).
Meanwhile Ahasuerus promoted a man called Haman and instructed everyone to bow down to him. But Mordecai, faithful to God's instruction prohibiting the veneration of anyone but God, refused. Haman was so furious he determined not only to kill Mordecai, but all the Jews throughout Persia.
Haman presented his plan to the king, using deceptive language to hide his real motivation: "There is a certain people…in all the provinces of your kingdom …and they do not keep the king's laws. Therefore…let a decree be written that they be destroyed…" (Esther 3:8-9). Ahasuerus believed Haman and foolishly agreed to the decree giving any Persian the right to kill Jews and loot their property.
When Mordecai learned of this he urged Esther to approach the king and plead for the lives of her people. Esther knew if she did this her life would be in God’s hands, because approaching the king without permission could result in death. So she requested the Jews in Shushan to join her in a three-day fast to seek God's intervention. She then approached the king who held out his golden scepter to her and welcomed her to his presence. Esther then invited the king and Haman to a banquet (Esther 5:2-4).
Haman felt that he had been shown great favor by being invited to the banquet with the king and Esther, but he still harbored his grudge against Mordecai who would not worship him and ordered a gallows to be built, upon which he planned get the king’s permission to execute Mordecai (Esther 5:12-14).
Meanwhile, one night when Ahasuerus could not sleep he had his chronicles read to him and was reminded how Mordecai had averted the plot to assassinate him. The king asked his servants, "What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?" The servants responded that nothing had been done (Esther 6:1-3).
The king then asked Haman: "What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?" Haman mistakenly thought the king was referring to him and suggested: "...let a royal robe… which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden…be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor. Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: 'Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!' " (Esther 6:6-9).
Ahasuerus then instructed Haman to take the robe and the horse "and do so for Mordecai the Jew ..,, Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken." Haman was very unhappy about this (Esther 6:10), but he still had the banquet with the king and queen to look forward to.
During the banquet with the king and Haman the king knew Queen Esther had a request and asked her what it was. She then revealed Haman’s plot to destroy all the Jews throughout the Persian empire. The king was furious and ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.
As the original decree from the king could not be reversed, the Jews throughout the Persian empire were then also given permission to defend themselves if they were attacked. To express their thanks to God, the Jews instituted the Feast of Purim as a reminder of God's deliverance from their enemies.
The Apostle John makes it clear that Christ expects His followers, like Esther, to be willing to put their lives on the line to follow Him (John 15:13). God's Word describes them as having overcome Satan "by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" (Revelation 12:11).
The Good News Magazine (May-Jun 1999)