Deception. Revenge. A double-cross. A beautiful queen. A wrathful king. Political intrigue. A nation hanging in the balance.
Believe it or not, this is not a description of the latest Netflix series or an update on the Harry and Meghan story. No, this twisting plot is from the Old Testament, and is found in a book that never mentions God once.
Esther was a beautiful jewess who was given to the Persian King Xerxes after she won a beauty pageant that was held to find a new queen. Her benefactor and older cousin Mordecai received a position in the palace as well, infuriating a jealous and insecure man named Haman. Haman then plotted to annihilate the jews in order to rid himself of this competition. But the plot backfired when Esther, now the queen, leveraged the king’s favor and asked him to save her people:
Esther 7 (Contemporary English Version)
7 The king and Haman were dining with Esther 2 and drinking wine during the second dinner, when the king again said, “Esther, what can I do for you? Just ask, and I will give you as much as half of my kingdom!”
3 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, 4 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.”
5 “Who would dare to do such a thing?” the king asked.
6 Esther replied, “That evil Haman is the one out to get us!”
Haman was terrified, as he looked at the king and the queen.
In a beautiful twist of events, Haman’s scheme to hang Mordecai is used against him:
9 Then Harbona, one of the king’s personal servants, said, “Your Majesty, Haman built a tower seventy-five feet high beside his house, so he could hang Mordecai on it. And Mordecai is the very one who spoke up and saved your life.”
Earlier, Mordecai had uncovered a plot to assassinate the king, and acted quickly enough to save the king’s life. Xerxes is infuriated to learn that Haman is now plotting to execute Mordecai.
“Hang Haman from his own tower!” the king commanded. 10 Right away, Haman was hanged on the tower he had built to hang Mordecai, and the king calmed down.
20 Mordecai wrote down everything that had happened. Then he sent letters to the Jews everywhere in the provinces 21 and told them:
Each year you must celebrate on both the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Adar, 22 the days when we Jews defeated our enemies. Remember this month as a time when our sorrow was turned to joy, and celebration took the place of crying. Celebrate by having parties and by giving to the poor and by sharing gifts of food with each other.
And thus began the celebration known as Purim, which commemorates this turn of events that saved a nation, and celebrates the woman who used her influence to bring it all about. Esther understood that she had been brought into the kingdom ”for such a time as this,” and trusted that the time would come when she could save her people. And so she did.
This story is a great reminder to us today to celebrate the victories that come in the midst of hardship. It is important to acknowledge even small steps forward when you are in the midst of a trying time. Every kindness shown to you, every good health report, a child getting all A’s on their report card, the completion of one more chemo … celebrating these moments center your faith on the One who provides them. Purim is a Jewish feast designed to remember when a time of sorrow had turned to joy, and celebrants are encouraged to share that joy by giving to the poor and sharing gifts of food. Perhaps we also could give a gift of generosity when we receive a small triumph.
Do you have something to celebrate today? Can you recall a time when God put you in a place of influence to do something good for someone? God’s invitation is to pause and remember … and mark your joy with a gift of generosity. We give thanks to God in ALL things! He is our provider, our sustainer, and our rescuer.