Esther 6: 14 – 7: 10 While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman off to the banquet that Esther had prepared. So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, ‘What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.’ Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have won your favour, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.’ Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, ‘Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?’ Esther said, ‘A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!’ Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. The king rose from the feast in wrath and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him. When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining; and the king said, ‘Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?’ As the words left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, ‘Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.’ And the king said, ‘Hang him on that.’ So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
Reflection I read Esther and find it a gripping tale. Good folk in difficult situations, bad folk in positions of power, an idiotic king who can’t see what’s before his eyes, eunuchs and women simultaneously on the edge and in the centre of the story as they vie for power. It’s reminiscent of so many tales – both ancient and modern. As I write the latest saga with Mr Cummings and Mr Johnson is being played out and conversations that were expected to be private, and so were rather careless, are now revealed for all the world to see. We look to our political, not royal, masters for palace plots and intrigue these days!
I am interested, however, in how the outsiders end up as central to the story. Esther’s beauty and skill at playing the royal game ensured she rose in power. Mindful, I suspect, of the fate of her predecessor, she made sure that no fault could be found by the king in her. In playing this game she gained power but it must have felt like walking on eggshells or working now with a narcissistic bully. The unnamed eunuchs, ever present, are always happy to step forward to be helpful if they themselves aren’t thereby endangered.
I wonder how we function in the brutal world of church or office politics. Do we keep our heads down? Are we like the Eunuchs deciding when to risk acting? Are we like Esther having to play a role in order to survive? Are we able to change the rules so that we don’t play the game in the way that the world wants? In Jesus’ own encounters with power I’m always taken by the ways in which He doesn’t play along but subverts in order to free. Are we able to understand and then subvert the rules of the games we’re often asked to play in order to allow ourselves, and others, to be free?
Prayer Living God, You have always inspired your people to work against the odds, to find ways out of difficult situations, to turn the tables when all seems lost. Help us to use our positions, like Esther of old, to make the world a better place, that Your people might be freed. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four URC congregations in and around Glasgow.