THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD LEVERAGES DIVINE APPOINTMENTS, PROTECTS GOD’S PEOPLE AND DESTROYS GOD’S FOES
The pattern of reversals continues in this next banquet narrative. Once again the dynamic interaction of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility and initiative are in play. Esther can no longer remain silent and hide her Jewish identity. “For such a time as this” she must intercede before the king. We are dealing here with dramatic issues of life and death – both of individuals and of nations. How ironic that Haman ends up being executed on the very device he had just erected to put Mordecai to death. Now the tension mounts as to how these events will lead to the rescuing not just of the life of Esther but the fate of her fellow Jews as well.
John Schultz: Esther’s timing was perfect. As observed before, the fact that she postponed her request one more day heightened the expectations. It was clear that she had something in mind that was of great importance. The fact that the king had accepted her invitation guaranteed that her request would be granted.
Karen Jobes: This scene is about who gets life and who does not. Both Esther and Haman plead for their lives in this chapter. Neither is in control of their respective destinies. Both are caught up in a complicated web of intrigue that has taken on a life of its own. Esther’s destiny lies with that of her people. Haman’s destiny overtakes him like a thief in the night.
The scene is steeped in irony. Consider how the entire conflict between Haman and the Jewish people begins when Mordecai the Jew dishonors Haman the Agagite by refusing to fall before him. In his final scene, Haman falls before a Jew (and a Jewish woman at that!), whom he has unknowingly condemned to death, to plead with her for his life! On the couch of this Jewish queen he “falls” all the way from his exalted position as second over the empire to an ignominious death as a traitor. The enemy of the Jews is executed for being an enemy of the king. This sudden reversal of expected outcomes gives Haman’s story a tragic irony. All of a person’s best laid plans can in an instant be turned to produce the opposite of the intent. It is especially ironic when that person has all the power of a great empire behind him and when his downfall begins with something as insignificant as someone’s night of insomnia.
Breneman: These proverbs teach by expressing contrasts, which the author of Esther frequently used: Haman celebrated, but the people were bewildered (3:15); Esther and Mordecai fasted, but then Esther invited the king and Haman to a banquet (4:15; 5:4);
Haman expected honor, but Mordecai received that honor, and Haman was humiliated (6:11–12); Haman schemed to execute Mordecai, but he himself was condemned.
McConville: The demise of Haman now quickly ensues. The fatal blows have been struck, and the reader awaits the villain’s exposure and come-uppance. Once again, of course, the characters involved know less than we do. The king still does not know that his queen is a Jewess, and Esther cannot know how he will take the news. Nor is she aware, it seems, of Mordecai’s advancement and therefore of the turning tide. Haman remains as oblivious as the king, presumably, both to Esther’s Jewishness and her close relationship with Mordecai. He may yet have hopes, therefore, of salvaging some honour for himself following his humiliation — which was known to be such only to himself and his closest associates — in the Mordecai affair. The stage is set for revelations.
I. (:1-4) PROVIDENCE LEVERAGES DIVINE APPOINTMENTS ON A GRAND SCALE
A. (:1) Intimate Setting for Divinely Planned Interaction
“Now the king and Haman came to drink wine with Esther the queen.”
Quite an intimate and privileged gathering. Lots of wine flowing.
B. (:2) Invitation to Make Request on a Grand Scale
“And the king said to Esther on the second day also as they drank their wine at the banquet, ‘What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done.’”
Hyperbole but very generous
C. (:3-4) Issue = Life vs. Death – Both Personal and Ethnic
1. (:3) Dramatic Request
“Then Queen Esther answered and said, ‘If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request;’”
Duguid: Esther also backed up her request with reasons. Why was her petition to the king necessary? It was necessary because she and her people had been sold to be destroyed, killed, and annihilated. Here Esther is simply quoting verbatim from the royal edict. If it had merely been a matter of enslavement, she said, she would not have brought it up at all. Esther was well aware that for Ahasuerus the empire’s needs trumped issues of mere personal freedom. There was no constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Persian Empire. Indeed, there is a sharp irony in this sentence, since in a manner of speaking being sold as a female slave was precisely what had happened to her personally. She herself had been enslaved as the personal toy of the king. This was not the issue she was protesting, however. Of course the king’s personal interests would far outweigh any such small injustices. To this point, the king was nodding happily along in agreement with Esther! Her logic appealed to him thus far. But genocide, said the queen, especially a genocide that may very well involve her personal death, is a different story altogether.
2. (:4) Desperate Request
“for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king.”
Tomasino: Esther’s statement, “We have been sold,” is certainly a reference to the money that Haman paid to the king for the Jews’ destruction (Esth 3:9; 4:7), though it is also reminiscent of the language used in Deut 32:30, which states that Israel could not be put to flight by a single individual unless their “Rock” had sold them. Esther is making ready to implicate Haman in the conspiracy against the Jews, but the narrator may be taking an opportunity to remind his readers of the real reason Israel finds itself in this predicament: it is not only Haman who has “sold” them, but Yahweh. Berlin (66) also sees here an echo of the story of Joseph, who was sold by his brothers. It should also be noted that it was often the fate of adulteresses to be sold into slavery (Isa 50:1; Hos 3:1–2). Esther announcing that she had been sold would have mortified the king, since the imagery would have cast him in the role of a cuckold. . .
In short, then, we should understand the bulk of Esther’s appeal here to be a request for her people to be spared, but couched in terms of the king’s financial interests. The Jews have been sold, but not as slaves. Presumably they would have brought market value in the slave trade, and the king would have benefitted handsomely. But they have been sold simply to be destroyed, and the compensation the king received (grand though it was) was not sufficient to offset the loss of revenue from tribute, gifts, and labor that the king would receive from allowing the Jews to live.
Constable: Esther was in a very dangerous position. Not only did she now identify herself with a minority group that Haman had represented to the king as subversive, but she also accused one of his closest confidential advisers of committing an error in judgment. Nevertheless she appealed to the king to do what was in his best interests (v. 4; cf. Gen. 37:28, 36; 45:4).
II. (:5-7) PROVIDENCE PROTECTS GOD’S PEOPLE IN SURPRISING WAYS
A. (:5) Identification Demanded
“Then King Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther,
‘Who is he, and where is he, who would presume to do thus?’”
Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship: The kingʼs response is astonishing; the English translation cannot come close to disclosing the amount of emotion, anger, and rage conveyed when he commands Esther to reveal who this man may be. Things continue to crescendo as Esther matches the kingʼs emotion and boldly declares, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman!” (Esther 7:6). “Brilliantly, she left out Hamanʼs identity in verse 3 so she could put a bow and arrow in Xerxesʼ hands before she pointed him toward the target. Had he known from the beginning that the culprit was his own right hand man; the king might have protected him. What could he do but follow through?” (Beth Moore) Once again, we see Estherʼs great wisdom as she uses the perfect place, time, audience, and words to deliver the truth. This day could have resulted in disaster just as easily as triumph. Esther put her life on the line again at this banquet hoping, praying, and believing the king would be favorable to her over Haman and he was. Her moment arrived and she did not hesitate to reveal the truth.
Laniak: Esther articulates her request with clear resolve. She is asking the king to make a critical choice between his queen and his prime minister. Her request is crisp, and she delivers an accusation without so much as hinting at the king’s complicity. Like Nathan with David, she elicits the king’s anger before identifying the culprit (2 Sam. 12:1–6). Once Xerxes hears of this unnamed threat to herself and her people (compare 3:8), he is agitated (indicated by the Hebrew syntax) into demanding details: “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Without hesitation, she answers (with similar staccato in Hebrew), “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman” (v. 6). Her enemy is now his enemy and thus The Enemy.
B. (:6) Indictment Leveled
1. Characterization of Wicked Haman
“And Esther said, ‘A foe and an enemy, is this wicked Haman!’”
– “foe” — A traitor to the king
– An “enemy” to the Jews
2. Cowering of Terrified Haman
“Then Haman became terrified before the king and queen.”
Breneman: Esther’s answer was short and exact, “This vile Haman.” She made her case as strong and clear as possible. By announcing Haman as the guilty person, she revealed her Jewishness. Haman must have felt doomed immediately because he realized he had not condemned to death just a people from another land, for that had never bothered him. What was troubling was that the king’s favorite wife also was a Jew. This would be certain trouble for Haman. “Haman was terrified,” and he had every right to be afraid for his life. His plots and lies had now been uncovered by the one who had more power than he, the king.
C. (:7) Implications Drive Various Responses
1. Implications Drive the Response of the King
“And the king arose in his anger from drinking wine
and went into the palace garden;”
Karen Jobes: Esther’s words send Xerxes into an enraged quandary that drives him out of the banquet room and into the garden. In his commentary, M. Fox reads the questions circulating in Xerxes’ mind: “Can he punish Haman for a plot he himself approved? If he does so, won’t he have to admit his own role in the fiasco [and lose face]? Moreover, he has issued an irrevocable law; how then can he rescind it?”1 The king’s dilemma will soon be resolved by Haman’s further folly.
Tomasino: Surely, the king has had adequate cause to be enraged. Earlier, his anger flared when Queen Vashti refused to appear before him. Now, it appears that someone is trying to deprive him of his current queen—and that someone is his trusted advisor, Haman. Torn between loyalty to his wife and the vizier that he himself appointed, the king feels a need to retreat before investigating the matter further. Clines notes that the king’s first instinct when faced with the dilemma is to flee. He is not a decisive man, and does not commit himself to a course of action without input from his advisors. But now, it is his chief advisor who stands accused. From whom can he seek counsel?
McConville: The king’s first instinct in the wrath that he feels following the accusation of his Prime Minister is to take a walk in his garden! Is this a likely response? He may well have been somewhat confused, of course. Certainly, he was involved in a far more complicated situation that he had anticipated when the party began the day before. Who was more dispensable, queen or Prime Minister? If these questions were in his mind when he went off for his stroll they were quickly answered on his return. The sight of Haman “falling on the couch where Esther was”—no doubt reclining—looked like the kind of advance towards his queen which under the harem (understood as an abstract idea, namely the prohibition of all approach to the king’s wives) was absolutely taboo. (The word used by the king and translated “assault”, v. 8, has the overtones of a sexual attack.) As if this were not enough (though the immediate covering of Haman’s face, v. 8, as of a criminal, suggests that it was), Xerxes discovers in the next moment that the villain also harbours hostility against his benefactor, Mordecai. The only offences which King Xerxes recognizes, therefore, are offences against himself.
2. Implications Drive the Response of Haman
“but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther,
for he saw that harm had been determined against him by the king.”
Joyce Baldwin: The king’s departure enabled Haman the opportunist to make one last bid for an escape from his alarming danger. Having estimated that he stood no chance of mercy from the king, he decided to beg his life from one whose life he had threatened, and from a member of the Jewish race which he had scorned. But had she not chosen to request his company, and might she not soften towards him? In the momentary relief of tension caused by the king’s departure he would turn his charm on the queen; the irony is evident.
III. (:8-10) PROVIDENCE DESTROYS GOD’S FOES IN IRONIC FASHION
A. (:8a) Inappropriate Conduct – Governed by Providence
1. Compromised Position
“Now when the king returned from the palace garden into the place where they were drinking wine, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was.”
Laniak: Irony gives way to slapstick when the king returns to find what he identifies (perhaps conveniently) as attempted rape.
Breneman: In this verse the character of the three protagonists is brought out. Haman was a prideful man with a cowardly heart. The king was easily influenced and weak in spite of his appearance of power. Esther was courageous and steadfast.
2. Convenient Narrative
“Then the king said, ‘Will he even assault the queen with me in the house?’”
Chi Alpha Fellowship: The king may have already been jealous since Esther kept inviting Haman to banquet. . . He knew Haman had eyes and could see how beautiful Esther was, already probably jealous, it was the final straw. Moreover, in that culture no man is to be left alone with any woman in the harem except the king, and Haman also violated a cultural rule.
Tomasino: The meaning of the verb כָּבַשׁ (kābaš) in this context has been disputed. Its basic meaning is “to subdue” or “subjugate.” In this verse, it is usually understood to mean “rape.” It has been argued, however, that Haman certainly had no intention of attacking the queen, so perhaps the word here refers rather to the violation of court protocol, of simply coming too close to the queen (Bardtke, 359). But though Haman had no intention of violating Esther, the fact that Xerxes emphasizes that the offense was occurring in his presence implies that he interpreted the scene as more than a mere proximity breach. One might even wonder if Xerxes deliberately misinterpreted the scene, in order to simplify his decision regarding Haman’s fate (Bush, 433). While it would have been difficult for Xerxes to condemn Haman for attempting to execute a decree issued in the king’s name, he could certainly execute him for attempted rape of the queen.
B. (:8b) Inexcusable Conduct – Governed by Providence
“As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.”
No hope left for Haman; he is now being prepared for execution
Whitcomb: The ancients sometimes covered the heads of those about to be executed.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: The import of this striking action is, that a criminal is unworthy any longer to look on the face of the king, and hence, when malefactors are consigned to their doom in Persia, the first thing is to cover the face with a veil or napkin.
C. (:9) Impulsive Condemnation of Haman – Governed by Providence
1. Suggestion of Available Instrument of Execution
“Then Harbonah, one of the eunuchs who were before the king said, ‘Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!’”
MacArthur: Haman heard the third capital offense charged against him.
– One, he manipulated the king in planning to kill the queen’s people.
– Two, he was perceived to accost the queen.
– Three, he planned to execute a man whom the king had just greatly honored for extreme loyalty to the kingdom.
Tomasino: As is typical of the unimaginative monarch, Xerxes needs help to decide how to respond to the problem of Haman’s treachery. Once the suggestion is made, Xerxes agrees to it readily.
2. Simple Solutions are the Best Solutions
“And the king said, ‘Hang him on it.’”
Tomasino: As Berlin (66) notes, it is in keeping with the comedy of this story that that the villain is condemned for crimes that he did not commit (swindle and rape). Indeed, Haman has committed no crime worthy of death, in terms of the law: his decree was approved by the king.
D. (:10) Ironic Execution of Haman – Governed by Providence
1. Subverting of the Intentions of Haman
“So they hanged Haman on the gallows
which he had prepared for Mordecai,”
2. Satisfaction of the King’s Anger
“and the king’s anger subsided.”
Tomasino: With the vizier executed, the king’s anger abates. The wording is reminiscent of 2:1, where the king’s wrath against Vashti abated. In chapter 1, the flaring of the king’s anger led to the removal of the queen; when it abated, he chose a new queen. In this chapter, his wrath meant the removal of Haman. The abating of Xerxes’ wrath signals the coming of Haman’s replacement, which will occur in the next chapter.
Duguid: With that the king’s fury abated. Game over. Issue resolved. Threat to Esther removed. “Now that we’ve taken care of that little unpleasantness, what’s for supper?” we can imagine Ahasuerus saying casually to Esther. Except that from Esther’s perspective, it was far from over. Even though Haman personally had been dealt with, his edict still remained out there, like a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode and destroy the Jews. Esther herself might be safe, guarded within the king’s palace, but that wasn’t what she had gone through this whole routine to achieve. At this point, she must still have wondered if she would be able to achieve her goal of rescuing her people.