Esther 5: 1-8
On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, opposite the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne inside the palace opposite the entrance to the palace. 2 As soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won his favor and he held out to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the top of the scepter. 3 The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” 4 Then Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet that I have prepared for the king.” 5 Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther desires.” So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared. 6 While they were drinking wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 7 Then Esther said, “This is my petition and request: 8 If I have won the king’s favor, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them, and then I will do as the king has said.”
In George R.R. Martin’s book, The Game of Thrones, there is a scene where Ned Stark reveals the knowledge that will eventually get him killed to Cercei who simply replies back to him, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” which proved true for Ned and many others throughout the series of books. In Esther, Esther and Haman (unknowingly) are playing a game of thrones and while I don’t want to draw to close of a line between Esther and Cercei (who is a character despised by most readers of The Game of Thrones), she does understand the game she is playing and she plays her part very well here.
Much is at risk for her and her people here, and so she prepares carefully and plays cautiously. Unlike Vashti who refused to go to the wear the royal crown before the king, Esther adorns herself in royalty before approaching the king. It is not a fair world in which she must make her appearance and the image of the golden scepter would probably be rich territory for someone wanting to interpret this from either a feminist or Freudian position, but suffice to say the king’s authority compared to the queen’s is significantly different and the game she must play is real and dangerous (especially in a world where rulers have good reason to be paranoid, even of family). The king gives her leave to approach, let’s her know figuratively (no one really expects him to give up half his kingdom, and this also occurs in Mark 6:23 and parallels with Herod Antipas) but as a reassurance to make her request. The king realizes that Esther would not have risked approaching this way without a reason and so he attempt to reassure her.
In our world we would ask as soon as the possibility came, we are impatient for games-and we would not survive long with our impatience in the ancient Near East (and I would hazard a guess that this continues to be a problem with the interaction between Western and Middle Eastern societies where the rules of interaction are much different-in even modern Middle Eastern societies one never makes one’s major request right away). Esther invites the king and Haman to a banquet, and the king gladly attends giving indication that he is disposed to concede to Esther’s request. Once again, when he is once again drinking wine the king asks again what her request is, and Esther’s reply is indeed shrewd. If I have won your favor, fulfill this request (coming to a banquet with Haman tomorrow) and I will indeed know that I can safely lay my petition before you because you have truly shown me your favor. She has played her hand well in the game of thrones, in a matter of life and death for her people, and Haman is unaware (again the sign of a well played hand) that the game is being played in this way, indeed he views his presence as a sign of his increased honor, but he has just been played.