For Such A Time As This

Esther Chapter Seven

I

Haman entered the queen's second banquet as one of the most powerful government officials in the entire Persian Empire. And even despite the humiliating incident with Mordecai in chapter six, Haman still a man with all the status of a wealthy and influential leader.

But Haman also arrived at Esther's banquet with a point of view that was actually very different from reality- and he left that dinner party as an emotionally devastated man who was condemned to be executed upon the very instrument of death he intended to use on someone else. Haman's life (or what was left of it) was about to take a sudden, unexpected turn and Esther chapter seven gives us the explanation of how that happened...

"So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther. And on the second day, at the banquet of wine, the king again said to Esther, 'What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!'" (Esther 7:1-2).

It was during Esther's second dinner party that the king revealed the fact that he not forgotten how she had risked her life to appear before him as an uninvited guest. The king knew that whatever had caused Esther to make her unannounced visit to his throne room had to be something critically important- and he wanted to know what it was. 

After all, Esther's surprise visit surely generated some important questions in the king's mind: "What could be important enough to compel Esther to come and see me at the possible cost of her life? Why won't she tell me? Why has she staged these two banquets? And what is Haman doing here?!? 

Well, the king was about to get some answers to those questions...

"Then Queen Esther answered and said, 'If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king's loss'" (Esther 7:3-4).

So the time had finally arrived for Esther to reveal the secret reason behind her dinner invitation- but the manner in which she chose to approach the king has an application that reaches far beyond the queen's banquet table. We'll take a look at that application (and what it means for people today) next.

II

"Esther answered, 'Your Majesty, if you really care for me and are willing to help, you can save me and my people. That's what I really want, because a reward has been promised to anyone who kills my people. Your Majesty, if we were merely going to be sold as slaves, I would not have bothered you" (Esther 7:3-4 CEV).

So just as she had done previously, Esther chose to address the king with wisdom and humility. You see, Esther could have verbally unloaded everything she knew about Haman's plot and asked the king to punish him immediately. But instead of using that approach, Esther chose to speak to the king with an attitude of reverence and respect

In her reply, Esther began by saying, "If it please Your Majesty to grant my humble request, my wish is that I may live and that my people may live" (Esther 7:3 GW). In other words, Esther made no demands upon the king, nor did she treat him rudely, angrily, or impolitely even though the king was the one who was responsible for approving Haman's request to enact the very law that was sure to result in the end of her life. Instead, Esther made her request to the king with an attitude of respect and humility.

In speaking with the king in this manner, Esther's example helps to demonstrate the right way for God's people to approach Him whenever we come to Him with requests of our own. This is important because people sometimes approach God with a long list of prayer requests but never really stop to think about communicating with God in a way that gives Him the respect and honor He deserves. 

For example, what if a friend started every conversation with you by saying, "I want you to do this" or, "I want you to give me that" without even stopping to say, "Hello" or "How are you" first? Would you feel used or disrespected if someone spoke to you in that manner? 

Well, the sad truth is that people sometimes take that very same attitude with God by speaking to Him only when they need something and then presenting Him with a list of their requests. But instead of praying to God in that manner, it would be better to follow Esther's example and converse with God in a way that demonstrates courtesy, appreciation, and respect for Him. In this way, Esther's conversation with King Ahasuerus can help to serve as a good model to follow whenever we approach God in prayer.

III

So Esther began her response to the king's question with an attitude of respect and humility before making her request: "...Your Majesty, save my life and the lives of my people" (Esther 7:3 TLB). This was surely not something that the king expected to hear so Esther went on to explain a little further...

"For we are sold, my people and I, for destruction, for murder and for perishing. But if we had been sold for male slaves and slave-girls, I would have kept silent, though the adversary could not make up for the king's loss" (Esther 7:4 LITV).

From the moment that Esther decided to try and save her people, she dedicated herself to finding a way to the reverse the death sentence facing the Jewish race. Her commitment to fasting, her potentially life-threatening visit to the king, and her carefully prepared banquets were all designed to help bring about this very moment- the point in time when Esther could effectively reveal the information that the king had not been told.

But instead of immediately identifying Haman as the mastermind behind this plot to exterminate the Jews, Esther instead chose to frame her response around the law that Haman had worked to enact. She even used the very same kind of language that Haman had used to author his decree against the Jewish people by saying, "...we are sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to perish" (MKJV compare with Esther 3:13).

Now if you think back to the time when Haman originally spoke to the king about his desire to eliminate the Jewish people, you may remember that he presented his proposal to the king as a good business decision by saying, “Why not give orders for all of them to be killed? I can promise that you will get tons of silver for your treasury” (Esther 3:9 CEV)

If Haman had simply asked for the Jewish people to be condemned to a life of slavery instead of death, then at least the king still would have received the benefit of their hard work. In fact, Esther specifically mentioned this fact when she said, "If it were nothing more serious than being sold into slavery, I would have kept quiet and not bothered you about it..." (Esther 7:4 GNB). However, the complete destruction of the Jewish race was certain to cost the king more than he would ever receive under Haman's twisted scheme.

But there was another, more important problem with the way that Haman presented his original request to the king- and we'll take a closer look at that problem next. 

IV

"...a reward has been promised to anyone who kills my people..." (Esther 7:4 CEV).

For King Ahasuerus, there was another problem hidden away within Haman's request to eliminate the Jews. You see, Haman made sure to disguise the true motivation behind his desire to annihilate the Jewish people by phrasing his request in a misleadingly general manner...

"'There is a certain race of people scattered all over your empire and found in every province. They observe customs that are not like those of any other people. Moreover, they do not obey the laws of the empire, so it is not in your best interests to tolerate them'" (Esther 3:8-9 GNB).

In presenting his request to the king in this way, Haman planted the suggestion that the king was dealing with a group of foreigners, misfits, and strangers who didn't really belong. And if that wasn't enough, the people of this particular race were supposedly lawbreakers as well. But even though Haman advised the king that it was in his best interest to eliminate this collection of outlaws, notice that he never actually identified the group of people he was speaking of.

Haman had represented this unidentified race to the king as nothing more than an isolated people group among many in the Persian Empire. But now the queen had revealed that Haman was no longer talking about a group of nameless, faceless outsiders. His edict of death was about to reach into the very heart of the king's palace for this "sale of destruction" included the queen herself. 

As you might expect, this revelation had quite an effect upon the king...

"So King Ahasuerus answered and said to Queen Esther, 'Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing?'" (Esther 7:5).

The king had waited a long time to get the real explanation behind Esther's life-threatening visit to his throne room. And now that the queen had revealed that her life was in danger, the king's worst suspicions had been confirmed- there was something seriously bad going on. The king was not so foolish as to believe that his queen would risk her life to appear before him unannounced- unless, of course, her life was already at risk. 

So now as far as the king was concerned, the time for waiting was over and the time for answers had now arrived: "'What are you talking about?' King Ahasuerus demanded. 'Who would dare touch you?' (Esther 7:5 TLB). The irony is that neither the king nor the person who was responsible knew the answer to that question- but each will find out next.

V

"And King Ahasuerus answered and said to Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is the one who dares presume in his heart to do so?" (Esther 7:5 MKJV).

Before we go on to the climatic answer to the king's question, let's stop for a moment to review the scene that was rapidly beginning to unfold around the queen's banquet table. 

First, the king, the queen and Haman, the prime minister had just finished their meal. The dishes had been cleared and the three were now relaxing over the ancient Persian version of "dessert." The king had decided to ask the queen once again to explain the reason behind her earlier decision to risk her life. He also made a promise to look favorably upon anything she might ask of him.

That's when things started to get seriously out of control. The queen responded with the emotionally charged revelation that her life and the lives of "her people" were in danger. Upon hearing this, the king immediately demanded to know who would dare to make such an attempt on her life. 

And seated quietly throughout this unexpected change in conversation was Haman.

Remember that Haman really didn't know what was going on between the king and queen. He apparently didn't know that the queen had risked her life to see the king nor did he understand why the queen had yet to reveal the reason behind her life-threatening visit to see him. He was also unaware that Esther was a member of the very race that he was seeking to destroy. So while Haman was seated at the queen's banquet table, he was really only aware of two things:

  1. He had received the well-deserved honor (in his opinion) of two personal invitations to dine with his and her Majesty.
  2. Something unknown to him had suddenly started to go very, very wrong.

Actually, there was more thing that Haman didn't know: he also didn’t know that he had just eaten his last meal for in answer to the king's question, Queen Esther made this startling response...

"And Esther said, 'The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!" So Haman was terrified before the king and queen" (Esther 7:6).

Adversary! Enemy! Wicked! Haman! These powerful words landed with all the force of an explosive charge: “A man who hates, an enemy—this wicked Haman!” (CEB). The full impact of what he had done now became clear to Haman as he slowly began to grasp the meaning behind the queen's response to the king's question: "...we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated..."

VI

"Esther replied, 'That evil Haman is the one out to get us!' Haman was terrified, as he looked at the king and the queen" (Esther 7:6 CEV).

A feeling of sheer terror began to overwhelm Haman as he suddenly realized that the queen was a Jew. This meant that the king's own wife was subject to the death sentence that he had written earlier. In his twisted desire to extract the ultimate revenge against a person who had failed to show him respect, Haman had unknowingly sentenced the king's own wife to death.

That was bad enough but the immediate question for Haman was this: how would the king respond to this new information? Well, as it turned out, Haman would have to wait awhile for an answer...

"Then the king arose in his wrath from the banquet of wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman stood before Queen Esther, pleading for his life, for he saw that evil was determined against him by the king" (Esther 7:7).

The king was visibly angry at this startling revelation but he chose to respond in a way that may seem out of character from what we know of him- he decided to go for a walk in the palace garden. So why would the king leave the queen alone with the very man who wanted to put her to death? Well, it may be that the king had changed his ways, at least to some degree.

First, the king had little reason to be concerned for Esther's personal safety. Haman was clearly too terrified to seriously think about a personal attack upon the queen, and even if he did, the king could count on his servants to quickly subdue him. Of course, that's not how it appeared to the king when he returned from his walk in the palace garden, but we'll get to that part soon enough.

Anyway, the king may have decided to take a walk and think things over as a result of an earlier experience when a hasty decision came back to hurt him. Remember that prior to his relationship with Esther, the king had been married to a queen named Vashti. The king's relationship with Vashti seemed to be fine until he decided to throw a party for “...all his officials and administrators... (the) armies of Persia and Media... as well as the governors and noblemen of the provinces” (Esther 1:3 GNB).

We'll see how that event may have impacted Haman's situation next.

VII

"In the third year of (King Ahasuerus') reign he gave a banquet for all his officials and administrators. The armies of Persia and Media were present, as well as the governors and noblemen of the provinces" (Esther 1:3 GNB).

It was during this banquet that the king ordered his staff to "...bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials..." (Esther 1:11). Unfortunately however, "...Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him (Esther 1:12). That's when the king made the decision to permanently demote Vashti from her position as queen.

But later on, we're told that the king “...remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her” (Esther 2:1 ESV). This eventually led the king's advisors to suggest a sort of "beauty contest" to choose someone to replace Vashti and that's when Esther became the new queen. So even though the king cared deeply for Esther and was surely concerned to hear that her life was in danger, it's also possible that he remembered the way he felt after his hasty decision to banish Vashti and was determined not to make a similar mistake with Haman.

After all, this new information was sure to become a personal embarrassment to the king after it became known that Haman had misled him so thoroughly. Not only had the king allowed himself to be talked into a bad decision by a man he should not have trusted, his approval of Haman's plan had placed the life of his own queen at risk. The king had been used, manipulated, and played for a fool- and he needed some time to think.

But aside from his personal feeling about what Haman had done, the king also had to consider the fact that Haman held a highly visible position within the Persian government. Haman was one of the top leaders in the country and a man who had served as an advisor to the king. Even though the king was deeply angry over what he had learned, he also had to consider the political consequences of punishing (or executing) an important government official, especially one who was so closely associated with himself.

However, there was at least one positive thing from the king's perspective: he had now learned the identity of his real enemy. The question was, what would he choose to do about it?

VIII

"The king got up in a fury, left the room, and went outside to the palace gardens" (Esther 7:7a GNB).

While the king was out in the palace garden thinking about his response to Esther's startling admission, Haman had already decided on a response of his own: "...Haman stood up to beg for his life from Esther the queen, for he saw that evil was determined against him by the king" (Esther 7:7 MKJV)

It seems that Haman knew the king well enough to know that this response did not bode well for him. He must have also realized that it was useless to try and talk the king out of anything that he might have been planning to do while he was outside thinking things over. That left Haman with one option- beg for his life from the only person who could help him: Esther, the queen.

You see, it no longer mattered that Esther was a member of a race of people that Haman despised. It no longer mattered if he was forced to suffer the humiliation and indignity of begging for his life. The same man who insisted that others bow down to him was no longer concerned about his appearance, his status, or anything else. The only thing that mattered to Haman now was saving his life.

It's been said that desperate people sometimes do desperate things- and Haman was clearly desperate to save his life as he begged for mercy from the queen. After all, didn't the king promise to give Esther anything she asked for, even up to half his kingdom? All he had to do was convince the queen to intercede for him and he still might be able to escape with his life. But unfortunately for Haman, his utter desperation caused him to make a fatal mistake that sealed his fate...

"When the king returned from the palace garden to the place of the banquet of wine, Haman had fallen across the couch where Esther was. Then the king said, 'Will he also assault the queen while I am in the house?' As the word left the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face" (Esther 7:8).

To understand why the king responded to this scene in such a ferocious manner, it helps to know something about the Old Testament customs of eating, drinking and social interaction. We'll take a look at those customs and see how they may have influenced the king's response next.

IX

"The king exclaimed, 'Would he actually violate the queen while I am in the palace?'" (Esther 7:8 HCSB).

To really understand the king's reaction as he returned from his walk in the palace garden, it helps to remember that the cultural customs of eating and drinking in those days were very different from the customs we often follow today.

For example, the usual practice when taking a meal in Biblical times was to sit on the floor (or a small couch) and recline back upon cushions while eating. This dining area was commonly arranged in a "U" shaped pattern with one side left open so the dishes could be delivered and taken away. This allowed everyone to enjoy a very relaxed and casual style of dining and helps to explain why Esther was seated on a couch during this banquet.

The real problem for Haman was the fact that the king had returned from the palace garden just in time to see him "...kneeling on the couch where Esther was reclining" (Esther 7:8 CEB). This indicates that Haman was so utterly consumed by his terror and desperation that he unthinkingly committed a serious breach of Persian conduct.

You see, there were strict rules that governed when a person could approach someone like the queen, just as there are similar rules in place to protect a modern head of state today. One such rule was that it was strictly forbidden for any man other than the king (or his designated eunuchs) to be in contact with the queen or even to be in close proximity to her.

For instance, one source tells us that,"The Persians had strict rules about contact with the harem by any male other than the king... Haman was in danger merely by being near her." (1) Another commentator says, “...one must remember that in antiquity very strong feelings and strict regulations centered on the harem. ...Had Haman knelt as much as a foot away from the queen's couch, the king's reaction could still have been justified.” (2)

With these details in mind, the king's response is a little easier to understand: “Is this man going to rape the queen right here in front of me, in my own palace?" (Esther 7:8 GNB). In hindsight, it probably would have been better for Haman if he had decided to follow the king into the palace garden to explain himself, but that option had long since passed. Now the king had returned just in time to see him in a place with the queen where he shouldn't have been- and that meant big trouble for Haman. 

(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible : New King James Version. Includes index. (Es 7:8). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers. 

(2) Carey A. Moore, "Eight Questions Most Frequently Asked About the Book of Esther," Bible Review 3:1 (Spring 1987):30-31. Quoted in Dr. Constable's Notes on Esther pg. 21 http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/esther.pdf

X

"Then said the king, ' Will he even forcibly assault the queen in my presence, in my own palace?'" (Esther 7:8 AMP).

At that moment, any hope that Haman may have had of saving his life immediately vanished for the king had seen and interpreted his act as a sexual assault upon his wife. This by itself was a capital crime worthy of death and it prompted the king's staff to act immediately: "As soon as the word left the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face" (Esther 7:8 NIV). While it's not entirely clear what the act of covering Haman's face represented, there are a few possibilities, none of which were good for him.

First, it's possible that this act indicated that Haman was no longer worthy to look upon the face of the king. For Haman, a man who had been a confidant, advisor, and drinking partner of the king just a short time earlier, this was an amazingly steep fall out of favor. It's also possible that this act represented an ancient version of the hood that is placed over the head of a condemned criminal in preparation for execution. 

But whatever it's exact meaning, one thing is clear: Haman was a man who was condemned to die. It was at this point that one of the king's staff members decided to speak up... 

"Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, 'Look! The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king's behalf, is standing at the house of Haman.' Then the king said, 'Hang him on it!' So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king's wrath subsided" (Esther 7:9-10).

You may remember that Harbona was one of the assistants who had originally been sent to bring Queen Vashti to the king's banquet back in chapter one. Judging from his knowledge of what Haman had done in preparation for Mordecai's execution, it's possible that Harbona was one of the officials who had been sent to escort Haman to the queen's banquet earlier. That may explain how he knew about the gallows that Haman had constructed and who it had been designed for.

But regardless of how Harbona came to find out about the existence of Haman's gallows, he had a thinly veiled suggestion on how the king might use it. And not surprisingly, given the king's angry mood, he decided to take immediate action: "'Hang Haman from his own tower!' the king commanded” (Esther 7:9 CEV).

XI

"So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai" (Esther 7:10 ESV).

If the book of Esther was just an ordinary piece of literature, Haman's death would be classified as “poetic justice,” a term that's used to identify the literary device in which a bad character is punished in a trap of his or her own design. But in reality, Haman's death was not a simple plot device conceived by a human author- his death actually serves to illustrate a number of important Scriptural warnings.

For example...

“If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a boulder down on others, it will crush you instead. (Proverbs 26:27 NLT).

“The Lord has made himself known by his fair decisions; the wicked get trapped by what they do...” (Psalm 9:16 NCV).

"There are people who think up evil and plan trouble and tell lies. They dig a hole to trap others, but they will fall into it themselves. They will get themselves into trouble; the violence they cause will hurt only themselves" (Psalm 7:14-16 NCV).

Haman's demise also serves to illustrate an important New Testament principle as well:"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7 NIV). This Scripture brings to mind the image of a farmer who plants (or "sows") the seed that he or she will harvest (or "reap") later on. In Haman's case, he “planted” the instrument of Mordecai's destruction only to watch it grow to become the implement of his own death.

Like Haman, people may believe that it's possible to carry out great works of evil and get away with them because they assume that God doesn't exist, or if He does exist, then He doesn't really care. In fact, one Biblical passage actually speaks about this kind of attitude when it says,"Because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong" (Ecclesiastes 8:11 TLB)

But while it may be easy to think that people can get away with the things they've done wrong, Haman's life demonstrates that nobody "gets away with it" forever. The consequences always come; it's just a question of when. Or as we're told in the New Testament book of Romans, “God 'will give to each person according to what he has done'" (Romans 2:6 NIV).

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