And therefore Queen Esther grieves silently in the palace for her people. Even while she strives to think out a course of action she receives a messenger from Mordecai bringing a copy of the terrible decree.
It is not unnatural that the inexperienced young queen should at first hesitate to approach the king on behalf of her people, for it is instant death to man or woman who dares to come into the presence of the mighty potentate without being summoned. Mordecai becomes impatient with Esther's hesitation, and sends her the taunting message: "Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house more than all the jews."
It is an hour of bitter trial for the fair young queen, mistrusted by her kinsman and people, and an isolated and probably suspected figure in the palace of Shushan. She has not even seen the face of the king for thirty days. It strikes us with surprise that at this supreme moment of distress Esther does not appeal for guidance to the God of her fathers. She stands before us, however, solely as a patriot uninfluenced by the religious fervour of her race. Even the name of the God of Israel does not occur throughout the story. Probably the Jews did not exercise their religion in the land of the idolators, and perchance followed the pagan rites of the people among whom they dwelt. Esther, concealing her Jewish origin, could not publicly worship Jehovah in the palace of Ahasuerus. One incident, however, suggests that Esther was not wholly forgetful of the religious rites of her nation, for in a final interview with Mordecai she begs that he and all the Jews in Shushan will "fast for her" three days and three nights while she and her maidens likewise fast.
Thus fortified by spiritual exercise, Queen Esther makes her great and noble resolve: "So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law, and if I perish, I perish."
Esther has reached the supreme height of heroism; her cause has become more to her than life itself. "If I perish, I perish!" Those words uttered by a woman's pale lips in the marble halls of Shushan, echoing down the ages, have spurred heroic souls to death or victory. In such spirit Charlotte Corday braved the tyrant, so Anne Askew faced the flames, and with the same magnificent determination Joan of Arc rode forth to battle.
The great resolve changed Esther from a merely beautiful girl into a woman of fibre; it gave her wisdom, tact, discrimination. Her idealism, however, did not blind her to practical issues, and, knowing that her beauty was her great asset in the eyes of the king, she arrayed herself in her most attractive apparel for the momentous interview.
Dressed in her royal robes, she came and stood in the inner court of the king's house with an air of appealing beauty, not with regal, commanding attitude, as Vashti would have done. The king was touched; he held out the golden sceptre of invitation, and as the fair vision bowed herself said:
"What wilt thou, Queen Esther, and what is thy request? It shall be even given thee to the half of my kingdom."
The "request" of the fair suppliant must have sounded to the enamoured king more like offering a favour. She desired that the king and his favourite Haman, would attend a banquet which she had prepared in their honour. If Esther understood the value of choice foods and wine in stimulating the generosity of man, Ahasuerus was not deluded into supposing that the fair giver of the feast had no ulterior object. At the banquet he again demanded the nature of her petition, promising that it should be granted, even to the half of his kingdom. Esther showed great self-restraint; she still delayed to name her petition, but invited the king and Haman to another banquet on the following day.
That delay secured the success of her object beyond her most sanguine expectations. Haman, flattered by the queen's attention and spurred by his wife, Zeresh, determined to use his power for the destruction of Mordecai, and ordered a gallows to be prepared for his execution, all unmindful of the fact that he whom he plotted to kill was the kinsman of the queen. His machinations were circumvented, for "on that night could not the king sleep," and he called for the book of the chronicles to beguile the weary hours. As he read he found a record that Mordecai had once saved his life when it was plotted against by two of his chamberlains; he found also that the deed had been unrewarded.
The king still placed trust in the judgment of Haman, and next day asked of him: "What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?" Haman complacently judged the honour to be intended for himself, and suggested, agreeable to his own desire, that the favoured individual should be arrayed in the crown and royal apparel of the king, and, mounted upon the king's horse, should be brought through the city in triumphal progress.
The answer of Ahasuerus came like a bolt from the blue upon Haman:
"Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai, the Jew."
There was no withstanding the royal command. Retributive justice was complete, and Haman, who had come to the palace to ask the king's mandate to hang
Mordecai, left it to honour the Jew as no man in the dominion of Persia had been honoured before. When Haman, after leading Mordecai in triumphal procession through the streets, returned to his house Zeresh, his wife, somewhat of a Job's comforter, warned him that he would surely fall before Mordecai, the Jew.
The story of Esther now moves swiftly to its triumphant climax. At her second banquet to the king and Haman she discloses the plot for the destruction of the Jews, avows her own nationality, begs that her people may be spared, and denounces Haman to his face before the king. Ahasu-erus rises in wrath and condemns Haman to be hanged on the gallows which he has prepared for Mordecai, and, further, gives the house of Haman to Esther. The pendulum of justice could not have swung more evenly.
But now comes the crucial test in the patriotism of Esther. Never has she stood higher in the favour of the king, her archenemy is ignominiously defeated, and her adopted father fills his place of honour.
Why trouble further? But she is not satisfied with safety and honour for herself alone, her tender heart yearns towards her people, and she speaks yet again unto the king. This time her appeal is passionate in its intensity; she falls at the feet of the king, and with tears beseeches him to cancel the decree devised by Haman.
The patriot queen triumphs, and in the palace of Shushan that day the king's scribes are writing in hot haste to the lieutenants, deputies, and rulers of the provinces from India unto Ethiopia, unto every people according to their own language, to make it known that the decree against the Jews is revoked. The letters are carried by post on horseback and by riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries, and whithersoever the bearers of the king's commandment came "the Jews had joy and gladness, and a feast and_ a good day."
Henceforth, even unto the present time, the occasion was annually celebrated on the 14th and 15th of the month Ader (March) by the Feast of Purim, instituted by the decree of Esther, the queen, in memory of the deliverance of her people.