Following the 70 years’ desolation of their land, the more faithful Jews had gone back from Babylon to Jerusalem to repair its wastes and rebuild the temple. But the Lord still cared for the remainder of the people who had not been sufficiently zealous to return to “the land of promise” under the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1: 1-4). Hundreds of thousands of Jews then resided in all parts of the Persian empire. While special lessons and peculiar trials were given to those who were rebuilding the temple, the Lord’s favor was upon the remainder of His chosen people to the extent that He permitted them to experience a great trial, a severe testing, which undoubtedly taught them a valuable lesson in their far-off homes.
The book of Esther records this great testing. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus, otherwise known as Xerxes, who chose for his queen the beautiful and accomplished Esther, a Jewess – the niece of Mordecai, a keeper of the palace gate. Haman, a noble and a favorite with the king, became enraged against Mordecai because the latter would not show him as much respect as did others of the people. His opposition to Mordecai caused him to convince the king to sign an edict which directed the people throughout the Persian empire to kill all Jews on the 13th day of the 12th month. Mordecai and all the Jews became greatly troubled. They fasted and prayed, in sackcloth and ashes.
Queen Esther’s Providential Opportunity
Mordecai suggested to the queen that perhaps God’s providence had given Esther her position to be His agent for preserving the Jews from the evil intent of their enemies. The queen was hesitant, but determined that she would risk her life in approaching the king. She requested that Mordecai and all the Jews of the city should fast with her for three days. When the queen approached the king, he extended to her the golden scepter. He inquired what he could do for her, but instead of revealing her request she invited him and Haman to a banquet. At the banquet the queen again evaded the inquiry, asking that the same two attend another banquet the following day.
Meantime, the king spent a sleepless night, inferring that he had failed to reward someone who had done him a favor. The court records noted that two of his trusted palace servants had conspired to take his life, but that their plot was exposed by Mordecai. Learning that Mordecai had not been rewarded he asked Haman to offer suggestions. Haman, thinking that he was the one to be honored, suggested the king’s horse, the king’s robe and the king’s crown be used, and that one of the king’s chief men lead the horse throughout the city, while proclaiming in a loud voice that the king was thus honoring the one who rode. Imagine Haman’s surprise when the king directed him to carry out this program with Mordecai as the honored man, and himself, leading the horse and proclaiming the king’s favor.
Later, during the second banquet the king again asked the queen her request. She besought the king for her own life and the lives of her people, informing him that their enemies had plotted for their utter destruction. When the king asked who that wicked person was, she replied that it was Haman. The king commanded that he be hanged at once upon the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The king then issued another decree permitting the Jews throughout the entire realm to defend themselves against their enemies.
The Feast of Purim
From that time onward the Feast of Purim has been celebrated annually by the Jews on the 14th and 15th of the month Adar (Esther 9: 18-32). They were to be “days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor” (v. 22), celebrating their preservation as a people when their destruction was threatened.
This story of Esther provides us with a wonderful lesson regarding God’s providential care over those who trust in Him. All who thus affirm to their own hearts their loyalty to the Lord, their faith and trust in Him, may be assured that all things are supervised for their good and working out for their welfare, in matters temporal and eternal.