Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

May 24 – Commemoration of Queen Esther

On May 24, we celebrate the life of Esther,  a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus is traditionally identified with Xerxes I.

We find the story of Esther in the the Old Testament book of Esther.

King Xerxes held a 180-day feast in in the town of Susa, in what is now Iran. While in “high spirits” from the wine, he ordered his queen, Vashti, to appear before him  his guests to display her beauty. However she refused to come. Furious at her refusal, the king asked his advisers what to do. One of them said that all the women in the empire would hear that “The King Xerxes commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.” Then the women would refuse their husbands, and would cause many problems in the kingdom. Therefore it would be good to depose her.

To find a new queen it was decreed that beautiful young virgins be gathered to the palace from every province of his kingdom. Each woman became part of  his harem, and underwent twelve months of beautification. After this, she would go to the king to spend an evening.  She would not return to the king unless he was pleased enough with her to summon her again by name.

For his wife and queen, King Xerxes chose Esther, an orphan raised by her cousin,  Mordecai, to replace Queen Vashti. Esther was originally named Hadassah, meaning myrtle.

Esther 2:7 “And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

Shortly, when Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gates, he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai let Esther know, and she warned the king, giving Mordecai the credit. The two conspirators were hanged on a gallows.

Soon after this, the king granted Haman the Agagite, one of the most prominent princes of the realm, special honors. All the people were to bow down to Haman when he rode his horse through the streets. All complied except for Mordecai, a Jew, who would bow to no one but God. This enraged Haman, who, with his wife and advisers, plotted against the Jews, making a plan to kill and extirpate all Jews throughout the Persian empire. After laying charges of sedition against the Jews, Haman gained the king’s approval to write a decree for their destruction (Esther 3:9-11).

On hearing the news, Mordecai tore his robes and put ash on his head, a sign of mourning or grieving anguish. Esther sent clean clothes to him, but he refused them. He explained that Esther would be killed too if she did not do what she could  find a way to talk the King out of this.

Esther was not permitted to see the king unless he had asked for her, otherwise she could be put to death. Esther was terrified. She had not been called to the king in 30 days. She and her maid-servants and all the Jews of Persia fasted earnestly for three days before she built up the courage to enter the king’s presence.

On seeing Esther, King Xerxes was pleased and invited her in. He then asked Esther what she wished of from him, promising to grant even up to half his kingdom should she ask. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman.

After the banquet Haman ordered a gallows constructed, 75 feet high, on which to hang Mordecai. Meanwhile, the king had trouble sleeping. He had some histories read to him, and from them, the king remembered that Mordecai had saved him from an assassination attempt and had received no reward.

Early the next morning, Haman came to the king to ask permission to hang Mordecai. Before he could, the king asked him “What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?”

Haman thought the king meant himself. so he said that the man should wear a royal robe and be led on one of the king’s horses through the city streets proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!”

The king thought this a splendid idea. He asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way, to honor him for previously telling the king of a plot against him. Haman had no choice but to comply.

That night, during a second banquet, Esther told the king of Haman’s plan to massacre all Jews in the Persian Empire. She revealed to him that she was Jewish. Haman pleaded with Esther to save his life.

Seeing Haman on Esther’s couch begging, the king became further enraged and had him hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The king then appointed Mordecai as his prime minister, and gave the Jews the right to defend themselves against any enemy.

The Jews established an annual feast, the feast of Purim, in memory of their deliverance, which they celebrate to this day.

May 24 – Commemoration of Queen Esther October 15, 2014