Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I got my Bible out. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Susan, are you saying the Bible is so boring you knew it would put you to sleep? Not exactly. I knew it would ease my mind. I had lots of little thought-lets floating around, loose ends I couldn’t tie up. I thought the comforting, familiar word of God would help.
Somehow, I turned to the book of Esther. I’ve posted about Esther before. Still an admirable woman, standing in the gap for her people and taking her life in her hands while doing it. But I don’t want to talk about that today.
What I noticed this time is that there is an awful lot of dictating and bossing going on, and a little asking.
If you recall, the story starts out on a high note. King Xerxes showed off by throwing an extended, lavish banquet. This shebang lasted 180 days. That’s 6 months, people. He knew how to throw it down.
In the midst of this, King Xerxes his experiences at least one moment of high spirits. He commands his 7-eunuch crew to bring Queen Vashti to the assembly. The queen, hosting her own party for the ladies in another part of the palace, flatly refused. Speculation as to why abounds. Could be he wanted her to appear in the buff to greater, ahem, appreciate her finer points. Could be King X was drunker than a skunk and she didn’t want to be around him and possibly be publicly pawed in the process. No matter, in the end. Vashti refuses to come at the king’s summons.
This gobsmacks the king. He asks his law experts what to do. “Oh king, you must nip this in the bud! Word will get around the kingdom that Vashti defied you, and wives all over the city will stop minding their husbands. It will cause rebellion and confusion. You must banish her” (Susan paraphrase of Esther 1:16-20). Vashti disappears, never heard from again.
Somehow, in this entire book, the King makes very few decisions for himself. He asks his advisers time and again what to do. What next, guys? Round up all the beautiful virgins in the land! So when Haman asks to destroy the Jews, Xerxes is so out of touch with his own kingdom, he simply assents. I’d like to assume he had huge matters of state weighing on his mind, but as I reread the story, all I could think was, He seems like a puppet, pull this string and he signs this into law. Pull that one and he creates a rebuttal for the one he just signed yesterday.
Enter Esther. Favored by the eunuch in charge of the women, she follows instructions. Esther possesses beauty, brains and poise. Esther wins the king and he chooses her as his next queen. Esther must’ve thought she’d died and gone to heaven.
Not quite yet.
Mordecai, Esther’s guardian, informs her of Haman’s plot to kill the Jews (Esther 4:6-17). She waffles momentarily, frightened to lose her life. She and her handmaidens fast and pray for 3 days. Then Esther moves forward. She dresses in her bedazzling best and enters the king’s inner court, unbidden. The king, pleased to see her, recognizes her. He asks her what she wants and she invites him and Haman to a banquet. She keeps the king and Haman guessing by inviting them to another banquet the following night, possibly to give herself time to gain the chutzpah to state her case.
When Esther finally does come out with the impending annihilation of her people in Esther 7, she asks the king to spare her life and the lives of her people. Another question, this time posed to the king. King Xerxes immediately becomes enraged. If you know the story, you remember Haman gets hanged that very day. Asked and answered. Yet because the law of the Medes and Persians cannot be changed, the king writes in a new decree: the Jews can defend themselves, stockpiling weapons and ammo, to fight off their attackers (Esther 8). Sounds a bit like a western, no?
I’ve left out some of the subplots of the story, but you get the gist. What I found upon this reading led me to think about influence. How many decisions do we truly make on our own? How many flow from pressure from others? And how amazing that one little question can change the course of human history. It did for Vashti and Esther.