and the balance of .power.
* * * * * * *
I HATE POLITICS, YOU KNOW. REALLY! AND I’VE HAD NOTHING BUT POLITICS SINCE POOR QUEEN VASHTI, SILLY WOMAN, GOT ABOVE HERSELF. YOU KNOW -----SHE ACTUALLY REFUSED THE KING’S SUMMONS TO ATTEND HIM AT A ROYAL BANQUET! YOU JUST DON’T DO THAT TO ARTAXERXES, KING OF THE MEDES AND THE PERSIANS------ AHASUERTIS WE CALL HIM.
He is King. after all. I mean, it’s just not right to refuse him, however annoyed you might be at having your own banquet interrupted, or however much you might hate being shown off before a drunken group of sycophantic royal administrators talk about pearls before swine!
But refuse she did, and that was the end of her. No, of course he didn’t kill her it might have been kinder. He had her banished from his presence forever, by edict, and his court cheered. They were territied that their wives might take a leaf out of \Ushti’s book and start disobeying them.
I wasn’t at court then. I was living with Uncle Mordecai, who took me in when my parents died and raised me as his own daughter. I was called Hadassah then — our whole family is Jewish, you see; we were deported from Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and landed here in Susa.
Well, eventually, the King calmed down about Vashti and began to feel lonesome. So his courtiers suggested he replace her, and I won the — contest,--- really . They brought in pretty girls from all over the country and I was one. I went by Esther — didn’t tell anyone I was Jewish; Uncle had warned me not to.
Anyway, they put us in the harem and gave us a year’s worth of beauty treatments and lessons in court etiquette. Hegai, the King’s eunuch ----- he was custodian of the harem im — thought I was wonderful , I guess. He gave me seven maids and moved us all to the best part of the harem! I was really surprised. And then, at the end of the year, they dressed us up and sent us, one by one in to the King to see just who could please him and thus replace Vashti.
When it came my turn, I just went in wearing what Hegai gave me --- no extra jewelry or anything ----and, well, that seemed to be enough. I was named the favorite! That banquet was fantastic!
It was shortly after the banquet that I had my first conscious experience of politics. Really scary. It happened when Uncle, who worked at the Chancellery, discovered that Bigthan and Teresh, the King’s own eunuchs, had planned to assassinate him! Uncle told me, I told the King, and the conspirators were hanged. The whole incident was written up in the Book of Chronicles in the King’s presence, but Uncle got no reward. Then, the very same week, the King raised Llaman to be chief officer of the state and ordered that all Chancellery people wvere to bow and prostrate themselves before him.
When I heard it, I was livid! The King owed Uncle Mordecai and me his life! Why hadn’t he rewarded Uncle with this power and honor? I gave Uncle an earful the next time I saw him privately, and he taught me my first political lesson.
“Politics” he said, “is the art by which a ruler stays in power. Now, the first thing a King learns is that all his subordinates, all of then, want his power, or, failing that, as much power over him as they can get. Every one of then is always watching all the rest to make sure that no else has more power over the King that he does. To stay alive and in power, then, the King has to keep all the power he delegates in balance. To do that, he has to make sure that all his followers have equal, or equivalent, power over him, and that that power is more apparent than real. All the real power he keeps for himself. Clear so far?”
“Yes, but,” I said, and he hushed me. “We have no time, my dove! Just listen! when someone saves the King’s life, his power over the King looks, to everyone else, all but absolute. The King is the First Man in the Kingdom and he owes us — and what’s the King’s life worth? Anything we’d care to name.
I couldn’t keep still. “So what does he think he’s doing raising that man to Second Man in the Kingdom, if he owes us his life? That makes no sense!”
“Wha t he’s doing, my pet, is saving my life,” Uncle said, and it was clear he wasn’t joking .”If he had given me that honor, it would have thrown delegated power in the Kingdom completely out of balance. Consequently, I would draw all the envy of die whole court---— I wouldn’t live out the month. By naming Haman, and making the wlole Chancellery bow and prostrate before him, the King has balanced the delegated power again by setting up another apparent power base equal to the one we earned by saving his life. And since that saves my life, he doesn’t owe us anymore! He’s paid the debt in kind. .Very wise man, our King, and clever as a basket of snakes! Don’t ever cross him ---- or underestimate him!”
Uncle left then, and I thought about what he’ said. It made sense. It also explained why Vashti’s refusal was so terrible, and why she had to be removed, and left alive . She was challenging him for his royal po\ver, upsetting the crucial balance of power completely. If she were not punished, the King could lose the Kingdom. But she could not be killed, for with Vashti dead, the incident was over, but with her alive, her offense and its consequences were an active reminder to everyone of who was King and what that meant. As Uncle said, clever as a basket of snakes and a dangerous man to cross. ‘Takes one to know one!” I thought.
But a couple of days later, I really began to wonder. My wise and prudent Uncle, I learned through the harem grapevine, was defying Haman and scorning his power, and the King’s orders, by refusing to bow and prostrate himself before that slug! Now that was unbalancing the power of the Kingdom spectacularly! Oh, I understood why, all right. I knew that we Jews only bow and prostrate ourselves before the Lord God, as He is the only God there is or can be. And that’s that. Uncle couldn’t bow. And so he told the Chancellery officials when they asked. But still — what he was doing was more than dangerous. It was suicidal.
In fact, it proved worse than that. When the Chancellery officials reported
Uncle’s refusal to Haman, he saw for himself that Uncle would not do him homage, so he asked Uncle’s race. When he learned Uncle was a Jew, he declared war on us all.
Not openly, of course — he just reported to the King that there was this one race of people who consistently defied all the King’s edicts, to the detriment of the Kingdom and the King’s interests, and that if the King would decree their destruction, he, Haman, would put ten thousand talents of silver in the Royal Treasury .That is a lot of money!
Haman was being a barrelful of snakes at that point! He played on the King’s fear of revolt, of usurpation and of destabilization of the Kingdom, and on his greed and the fact that the Treasury always needed more money ---- and it worked!
“Keep the money,” said the King, giving Haman his signet ring, “and take the people; do as youu please with them.”
That’s when Uncle caine to me. Not directly, of course — that wasn’t possible. The edict Haman had sent out, under the King’s name, had put a death sentence on Uncle and every one of us Jews. We were to be slaughtered, men, women and children, on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month, and there was no appeal — not to the King or the government, that is.
For us, however, there was the Lord God. Weeping and tearing his garments, Uncle put on sackcloth and ashes, came to the gate of the Chancellery, and stayed there wailing loudly and bitterly.
It took about three minutes for news of that to get to me! I sent out some clothes for Uncle to put on instead of the sackcloth. He refused . So I sent Hathach, the eunuch the King had appointed to wait on me, and told him to find out what was going on. When he came back, he had the whole story, a copy of the edict of extermination that had been published in Susa, and a note from Uncle, reminding me of what I owed him for bringing me up — talk about politics! — and telling me to pray to the Lord God and then go to the King and plead for our people.
Well! I sent a message back explaining that I couldn’t just barge into the King’s inner court any time I wanted, that I had to wait to be summoned, and anyone who did go in without a summons would be killed instantly, unless the King extended his scepter to him. That was the law --— still is, for that matter.
Uncle’s answer was classic — the balance of power again , only this time
the Lord God was at the heart of the equation. “Don’t think for a minute,” he said, that you’re going to be the one Jew to escape just because you live in the harem of the royal palace. I promise you, you’re not! If you keep your mouth shut and think you can hide your race behind a Greek name, you’ll perish, and your father’s house will vanish with you — and the Lord God will deliver us through someone else’s help!” Then, for good measure, he added, “Who can tell? Maybe this was the Lord God’s reason for having you come so close to the throne in the first place!”
What could I do? There I was, caught at the balance point of the powers of earth and Heaven, standing between the King and my people, the Lord God’s people, to speak His word and, maybe, save us all, or to he silent and certainly die. No contest! But I was terrified ---- I tell you!
I sent word to Mordecai to start a strict fast with all the Jews in Susa — nothing to eat or drink, day or night, for three days. I promised my maids and I would keep the same fast, and then I would go to the King if I had to die for it.
And that’s what we did. I put on sackcloth, put ashes and dung in my hair and spent the three days and nights in prayer to the Lord God for His people. I reminded Him that He was my only helper, and told Him that though His punishment of exile was all we deserved for sinning against Him, these enemies were planning to wipe us out entirely. I begged Him to save us, to save His power on earth. And then I asked Him for courage, and to transform the fires of the King’s enmity toward His people, lit and fanned by Haman, into love and favor for us . There was more, I guess, but I can’t remember it right now.
After the fast, I bathed, had my hair washed and dressed, put on my very best clothes and every single one of my jewels, al1 gifts of the King. Two of my maids walked with me — I couldn’t have moved without them, I was so weak. I still didn’t know what I was going to say, but as I didn’t know whether I’d be alive to say anything once I put a foot inside the door of the inner court, that didn’t seem a problem.
At the door, I took a very deep breath, then stepped over the threshold, raised my eyes and saw the King’s face . Startled? Enraged? Something! I didn’t stop to study it. I sank right down in a court obeisance as the room spun. I leaned on my maid and held my breath. The next several seconds lasted a century or so. Then I felt his arms around me and heard him asking frantically, “What’s the matter, Esther?” He held me tight, assuring me that I would not die, that the order was meant only for ordinary people. “Come to me!” he finished, and laid the golden scepter on my neck.
I was overwhelmed so grateful! I babbled something about his looking like an angel and being frightened on that account, and then, to my shame, I fainted completely . What a champion the Lord God chose in me! He saves many life and I pass out!
When they finally revived me, the King kept telling inc I should ask for \whatever I wanted and he would grant it. I guessed I should bring up Haman and the Jews, but when I opened my mouth I was as surprised as anyone in that room to hear myself inviting him and Haman to come to a banquet that very day! He laughed in relief, said of course they would come and sent for Hamnan to tell him, and I went back to the harem wondering how on earth we would get a royal banquet ready in four hours.
Bless Hegai! He set every slave in the palace to work on that meal and it was splendid! Haman arrived with the king, they feasted with pleasure, and the King asked inc again what I wanted, that even if were half his kingdom, it was mine.
Now that scared me. I was remembering that balance of power and Vashti’s fate, you see, and glancing at Hamnan’s face, I realized that I already had too much power to keep. Somehow, things had to shift back, but Uncle had tiever taught me how to do that. “Lord God, help me now!” I prayed, and opened my mouth.
What came out was an invitation to both of them.to another banquet the following day, and a promise that then I would make my request .They were delighted — Haman especially. He had never been so honored!
Let me tell you, I was shocked! What was the point of a second banquet? Then it occurred to me that the Lord God must have sent the words — I never would have said them on my own. So I got Hegai started on the next banquet.
Later on, of course, I learned what the Lord .God was doing between that day and the next... Unable to sleep that night, the King had had the Book of Chronicles read to him, had heard the passage describing Mordecai’s saving his life from the would -be assassins, Bigthan and Teresh, and, in asking, had learned that Mordecai had never been rewarded. He decided that that would never do, and as Hainan had just arrived on his own business — to get the King’s permission to execute Uncle for contempt, using the fifty-cubit gallows he had just had built — the King asked his advice about a reward for someone unnamed.
Assuming that someone was himself, Haman went all out! The King’s clothes, his horse, a diadem, a street parade with proclamation by a high noble -----all that was to be this person’s reward!
“Hurry, then,” the King said,”and do all that for Mordecai the Jew who works at the Chancellery. On no account leave anything out that you have mentioned!”
Shocked to the core, Haman opened his mouth but, fortunately for him, could say nothing. Instead, he smiled and set off, no doubt grinding his teeth once he was well away from the palace. He knew he had to carry out for his enemy, to the letter, the reward he had designed for himself. That’s how the Lord God restores the true balance of power — and that was only the beginning.
Hamnan finished up, went home and told his wife Zeresh and the others what had happened. They were the ones who had advised him to build the gallows and execute Mordecai in the first place, but they gave him no comfort. Indeed, they reminded him that, if Mordecai, who had just risen above him so dramatically, happened to be a Jew, Haman would never be able to surpass him . And at that point, the servants from the palace arrived to bring him to my banquet.
I knew nothing of Harnan’s forced honoring of Mordecai that day, of course, and it was a good thing. I was frightened enough as it was of the man’s hatred and envy and of that decree hanging over us. The banquet passed for me in a blur, and we got to the last of the wine in what seemed like ten breaths, though I know it was three hours or more.
Once again the King asked me what I wanted of him and promised he would give me anything I asked. This time when I took my deep breath and opened my mouth, the words that came out were no shock to me, for they were the truth of my heart and my being. I asked him to grant me my life and the lives of my people, for we had all been condemned to die. I told him I wouldn’t have asked if we were simply to be enslaved, but since we were to be killed, the one man who persecuted us could not possibly repair the damage that would be done to the kingdom, nor undo the King’s own loss.
Don’t look at me! That whole speech was the Lord God’s doing, first to last! Remember, the King had to keep power in his realm in balance, but the Lord God holds the hearts of Kings in His hands, and can arrange matters as He wishes for His chosen ones.
“Who’s the man?” the King demanded, breaking in. “Who would dare to do such a thing? Where is he?” He was white with rage and angrier than I had I’ve ever seen him. Angrier than 1 ever hope to see him again! That was the Lord God’s wrath, I believe, burning through the King.
“Who is he?” I repeated. “The one who bates us and has condemned us to die? Why it’s Haman — sitting right there!”
Well, Haman started to quake. The King flung himself from his couch and plunged out into the garden in his fury, and Haman , knowing his life was forfeit, threw himself across me, blubbering and begging for his life.
I never got a chance to answer him. The King stormed back in to the banqueting hall, saw Haman prostrate across my couch pinning me in, and froze, his mouth dropping open. Then, very softly, in a tone so deadly it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, he said, “And now he’s going to rape my Queen in my palace before my very eyes?”
And that was the end of Haman. They hanged him on the gibbet he had had built in front of his house, for Uncle Mordecai.
Happy ending? Well, yes. But that decree of extermination was still in place, remember. So back I went to the King, weeping arid pleading with him to send a written decree to undo the decree Haman had issued. He just smiled and told Uncle to write out in the King’s name whatever kind of decree he wanted for the Jews and to use the King’s signet to seal it so it would be irrevocable.
And that’s just what Uncle did! The decree, which countermanded Haman’s decree, took effect the same day Haman had hoped to slaughter us all.
So that’s what happened, and that’s how the Lord God takes care of His own. Men balance power. The Lord God IS power. Blessed is His Name!
ALL THE WOMEN OF THE BIBLE
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