The famed foiling of the wicked plot of Haman to blot out the Jews is, of course, one of the more dramatic narratives in the Bible. In addition to the many twists in the plot, there are also some surprises hidden behind the text itself. It is significant that the name of the book itself, Esther, means "something hidden"!1
A Tale of Retribution
Orphaned as a child and brought up by her cousin, Mordecai, Esther was selected by King Ahasuerus to replace the queen when Vashti was disgraced.
Haman, the prime minister, persuaded the king to issue an edict of extermination of all the Jews in the Persian Empire. 2 Esther, on Mordecai's advice, endangered her own life by appearing before the king, without her being invited, in order to intercede for her people.3
Seeing that the king was well disposed toward her, she invited him and Haman to a private banquet, during which she did not reveal her desire but invited them to yet another banquet, thus misleading Haman by making him think that he was in the queen's good graces. Her real intention was to take revenge on him. During a second banquet, Queen Esther revealed her Jewish origin to the king, begged for her life and the life of her people, and named her enemy.4
Angry with Haman, King Ahasuerus retreated into the palace garden. Haman, in great fear, remained to plead for his life from the queen. While imploring, Haman fell on Esther's couch and was found in this ostensibly compromising situation upon the king's return. He was immediately condemned to be hung on the very gallows which he had previously prepared for Mordecai.5
The king complied with Esther's request, and the edict of destruction was then replaced with permission for the Jews to avenge themselves on their enemies.
The Feast of Purim was instituted by Mordecai to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's plot to kill them. Our Jewish friends continue to celebrate this feast to this day, which is based on the events in the Book of Esther. Purim (from Akkadian, puru, "lots") is so called after the lots cast by Haman in order to determine the month in which the slaughter was to take place.6
The Invisible Protector
God had declared that if His people forsook Him, He would hide His face from them.7 Here, in this very episode, that threat was fulfilled. But even though He was hidden from them, God still was working for them behind the scenes. And this is further emphasized by some surprises hidden behind the text itself.
It has been noted by many commentators that Esther is the only book of the Bible in which there does not appear the name of God, or any divine title, anywhere in the book. (Martin Luther favored eliminating it from the Bible on this basis.8 ) However, the name of God does appear in a number of places if one knows how and where to look!
An acrostic can be a mechanism for including a hidden message. In the Book of Esther we encounter some remarkable surprises. The name of God is hidden no less than eight times in acrostics in the text. Four times it appears as an acrostic, the famed Tetragammaton, "YHWH" or "Yahweh" or "YeHoVaH"; once as "EHYH" or "I AM" as at the Burning Bush. Also, Meshiach ("Messiah"), Yeshua ("Jesus"), and El Shaddai ("The Almighty"), also appear as equidistant letter sequences.9
As Gentiles, we need to remember that we are grafted into the true olive tree by the skin of our teeth.10 We must not forget that we were joined into what was a Jewish Church-with Jewish leaders, a Jewish Bible, and are worshipping a Jewish Messiah. Baruch HaShem.Bless His Name!
The more we look, the more we realize that there is still much more hidden, and thus reserved for the diligent inquirer. (Would you expect anything less in the Word of God?) The entire drama has deeper roots. Haman was a royal Amalekite, a descendant of the very king Agag whom King Saul was supposed to have slain (1 Sam 15:1-28). If Saul had followed his instructions, there wouldn't have been a Haman. For Saul's failure, his kingdom was taken away. Mordecai, too, a key benefactor in the tale, was a result of David having refused to take vengeance upon Shimei so many years earlier.11 It was Esther's marriage to the King of Persia that ultimately led to the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
The story of Esther also appears to be an elegant anticipatory preview in the Old Testament of the Book of Romans!12 Like so many books of the Bible, there are always surprises for the diligent student!
Our Expositional Commentary on the Books of Ruth and Esther is now available in MP3 CD-ROM.