Thursday 9th September
On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. Then the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. So Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.
Then Esther spoke again to the king; she fell at his feet, weeping and pleading with him to avert the evil design of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. The king held out the golden sceptre to Esther, and Esther rose and stood before the king. She said, ‘If it pleases the king, and if I have won his favour, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?’ Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, ‘See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.’
The king’s secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language. He wrote letters in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed them with the king’s ring, and sent them by mounted couriers riding on fast steeds bred from the royal herd. By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. A copy of the writ was to be issued as a decree in every province and published to all peoples, and the Jews were to be ready on that day to take revenge on their enemies. So the couriers, mounted on their swift royal steeds, hurried out, urged by the king’s command. The decree was issued in the citadel of Susa.
Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king, wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honour. In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.
How exhausting this all is. Esther clearly has a better mind than the king but has to feign distress, weep, and plead for her people. Clearly she can’t be seen as an equal even though she was the queen. Mordecai is given a position of power and authority and the place of the Jewish people within the Empire is secured. However, the Empire’s tools are used to secure the Jews’ place. Violence, plunder, and revenge become tools used to ensure a people’s security. We know from our own age that such actions lead to resentment, anger, and war. As Ghandi once said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
In the story the Jewish people don’t have much choice and such stories are, of course, told and retold to learn from. This story might be used to justify violence, plunder, and revenge now or it might be told in different ways. What if Esther got up from her knees and told the king to grow up and act as a responsible adult and not have people fawn over him? What if Mordecai simply asked for security but not revenge? What if the Jewish people declined the kind offer to plunder and commit violence against their potential oppressors? Could this story be retold?
In recent years historians have begun to look at the British Empire in new ways. The trade that enriched Britain came at the expense of violence and plunder, of captivity and brutality. We even kid ourselves that we gave the Empire away peacefully – and ignore the stories of resistance that hastened its demise. Now we argue about statues in the public sphere and art works in our museums plundered from less powerful peoples. Our own stories are exhausting. Could our stories be retold?
Lord of history
help us to learn from the past,
to question the stories we tell ourselves,
stories of conquest and empire,
stories of violence and war,
stories of patriarchy and prejudice,
and, instead, listen to Your story anew.