Women Heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures – Esther

Women Heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures – Esther

St Paul’s Canterbury , 29th September 2013, Pentecost 19


Sixth in a Series of Brief Homilies:

Women Heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures


The Rt. Rev’d John Bayton, AM




Once again a powerless woman confronts powerful men.  This is  a great mythical Old Testament narrative, a fictional  story set in  the context of the Persian Empire during the reign of King Xerxes (485-465) who ruled over 127 Provinces.  [Remember George Handel’s ‘Xerxes’?]   Does this mean it is not a ‘true’ story.  The answer to this once more raises the question, “Is the bible True” to which I reply, “Wrong Question”.  The real question is “What is the purpose of Holy Scripture” and the answer is always, “theology”.

The King made a great banquet and invited all the nobles of the Provinces. He then commanded Queen Vashti to attend in order to display here beauty.  She refuses.  The king ‘burned with anger’.  How dare a woman defy her husband.  Out she goes forever.  Mordechai, a descendant of King Saul is a Jew living in Exile.  He has an adopted daughter, Esther who pleases the Eunuch in charge of the Harem so he takes her in and  after a year Xerxes overwhelmed by her beauty crowns her and takes her to be his wife.  Mordechai overhears two eunuchs plotting to kill Xerxes,  tells Esther who  reports this to the king who decides to reward Mordechai.

Enter Haman, a descendant of King Agag the Amalekite, sworn enemy of King Saul and the Israelites.  So there is an ancient ‘blood-feud’ between Haman and Mordechai.  Xerxes promotes Haman for his loyalty and good works and gives him the king’s signet ring to do whatever he thinks good.  Mordechai refuses to kneel down before him.  Haman is furious  plots to kill all the Jews living in exile and sends letters under the King’s seal to all the Provinces indicating that on a certain day- the Thirteenth Day of the month Adar, the slaughter of all Jews in the Kingdom will take place.  Naturally the king agrees, but he has been tricked by the wicked Haman.  There is terror amongst the Jews because, as a race they face extermination.  Queen Esther goes to the King.

The Protocol require that only if the king holds out his scepter may she speak to him.  He does.  She asks that she be given permission to hold a banquet for  the king and all his nobles of all his Provinces.  He agrees.  The King now realizes he has not honored Mordechai for his part in saving the King from death so he asks Haman, “What shall be done for the man the king honors”.  Haman thinks the King means him.  So he says [Chapter 6 v 7ff], “Xerxes and  Haman go to the banquet”.  Haman prepares to execute Mordechai.  Xerxes asks Esther to declare her petition.  She convinced the king that he had been tricked into condoning the slaughter of all the Jews in his Kingdom, including herself and tells the king so.  “Who dares to do such a thing?’ he asks her.  “The evil Haman’ she replies.

The king gets up and goes out into his garden to consider his options.  Haman is terrified and throws himself down on the couch where Esther is lying.  The king enters, sees Haman, and,  thinking that he is about to ravage the Queen calls the guards and has Haman hung on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordechai.  He then gives all of Haman’s estates and wealth to Esther.   And to Mordechai he gives his  signet ring, dresses him in fine clothes with a gold chain around his neck and gives him the white horse that once Haman rode.

We ask, what then is the purpose of the Book of Esther?  Again as with Jael and Judith the purpose is to declare that nothing can overcome the goodness of God.  God’s Will for his people cannot be thwarted.  By God’s grace powerless women may overcome the evils of powerful men.  ‘Esther’ is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God.