The Revised Common Lectionary sets us in the middle of the story of Esther. I am going to assume, beloved reader, that you are familiar with the story. The story picks up where Queen Esther has invited her husband the king and his adviser Haman to a feast. Queen Esther and her cousin have devised a plan to save their people.
“So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.” (Esther 7:1-6)
The purpose of the book of Esther has been an interesting topic to biblical scholars. My understanding is that there is not a great deal of historical foundation for story of Esther – that is, whether the king during the period of time when the story was set actually married a Jewish orphan. The term “historic novella” has been used to refer to it, meaning that it was a story placed in a real historic context but with created characters. It might have been created to explain the Jewish celebration of Purim. Purim is not a somber celebration but a festive one, including gift giving and dressing up, and of course eating good food.
The book of Esther has as a theme, “tables turned”. The former queen, Vashti, stands on her rights as royalty but is tossed out; and young woman, most unlikely in lineage and family, takes her place. Her cousin Mordecia saves the kings life instead of the more likely members of the court. And one of the high advisors is brought down low and put to death.
“Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.” (Verses 9-10)
In a way, it echoes a theme that Jesus Christ put forth; those who put themselves will be last. And those that are humble and faithful will be exalted. Such reversals of fortune, at least for those who in the end are fortunate, is worthy of celebration.
“Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.” (Esther 9:20-22)
The book of Esther is also a love story; two people who seem to have lost something important to them (but disregard the fact that one suffered loss through no fault of her own, while the other suffered loss directly from his own actions) find each other and live (after melodrama and terror) happily ever after.
The bible, beloved reader, can surprise, entertain, and educate. The book of Esther is like an oasis in the midst of major and minor prophets. So sit down and read for yourself the unlikely story of a small town girl who makes good! Selah!