If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
Introductory notes to Esther
The book of Esther in the ‘standard’ Bible, i.e. the one generally read by the Protestant church, consists of ten chapters. It is in fact an abridged version of the full story as found in the Greek (Septuagint) Bible still used by the Catholic Church and which consists of 16 chapters. However scholarship has shown that these are out of order.
I am commenting on the fuller text as set out in the Revised Standard Version Common Bible (Collins edition, 1973), which sets these 16 chapters out in a sequence that tells the story of Esther in its natural order. This is why the chapter numbers may appear in my comments to be out of order. I hope that makes sense. In this version, the name of the King is Ahasuerus. In other translations this Babylonian name is rendered Xerxes (don’t ask me why!)
26 August. Esther chapters 4-6
The story of Esther, Mordecai and Haman continues to unfold. Yesterday’s cliff-hanger left us fearing for the future of the Jewish people who were about to be exterminated throughout the Babylonian empire. Now, Mordecai whose refusal to bow to Haman was the cause of the plot turns to fasting and prayer, and persuades Esther to do the same.
The additional chapters 13 and 14 in the full text give us the words of their prayers to God. Chapter 15 then elaborates on the meeting between Esther and her husband King Ahasuerus in chapter 5 of the abridged version.
These additional chapters show Esther’s true character. She, the queen, is not only willing to fast for the sake of her people, but goes beyond the usual sackcloth and ashes by covering her head in dung (of which animal is not specified). She claims that wearing a royal crown is so awful that she considers it ‘like a menstrual rag’. She also shows remarkable cunning in the way she approaches the king: she pretends to faint in fear to win his sympathy, and does not tell him at once about Haman’s plot, but invites the king and Haman to banquets on two successive nights.
In between the two banquets, Haman’s pride sets him up for a fall as he has a gallows built for Mordecai to be hung from. But before the second night, the king discovers Mordecai’s previous act of courage in foiling a plot against the king, and decides to honour Mordecai even above Haman, who then has to bear the humiliation of leading Mordecai round the city and praising him.
What is to be learnt from this? One phrase from this book that is often quoted to show the way God works through individuals is this: “who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14) – in other words, God plants people in particular places or roles at particular times so that their experience and gifts may be used for the benefit of others.
Also, chapters 13 and 14 are model forms of intercession: praising God, remembering his mercies in past times, bringing the current need before him, calling on God to act, and finally explaining the benefits not only to the intercessor but the God himself if the prayer is answered. Anglican collects (public prayers for the day or for a particular circumstance) still follow the same sort of pattern, in abbreviated form.