Endgame: Esther 7:1-6

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rinj- Ahasuerus, Haman and Esther at the Feast of Esther

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rinj- Ahasuerus, Haman and Esther at the Feast of Esther

Esther 7: 1-6

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 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.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, 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. 4 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.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

The plot has reached it’s decisive moment, Esther lays out her petition and what remains to be seen is how it will play out with the king. Esther has played well, she has patiently waited until the proper moment and this puts the king in a difficult situation for he, although perhaps through negligence and failing to investigate who the people he allowed Haman to consign to destruction, is the one behind the edict. It is his signet ring that marked the letters and decrees that went forth. The king has become so isolated from what is going on in his kingdom, so dependent upon his advisors that his own actions have placed his beloved queen at risk. Nobody knows that Esther is Jewish, or that Mordecai is her uncle but the king is furious.

Part of the appeal of Esther is it is the type of story that allows a veiled critique of whichever person is in power. Ahasuerus becomes a cipher for the king or governor that people want to laugh at, and are able to do it within the confines of the story even when they may be talking about another (and sometimes rather obviously). I am not sure if Purim (where the book of Esther is read) ever becomes a ritual of reversal, like Carnival, where the normal social rules are suspended for the duration of the festival and it becomes a time and space for the social rules to be suspended to express disapproval of the current state of affairs by a people who do not have the ability to change them. (See James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts for more about rituals of reversals. (Scott 1990, 172-182) )

The king may not be the sharpest nail in the toolbox, but ultimately action falls back to him. Ahasuerus is the one in the story who the buck stops with, and ultimately he must provide the solution to the problem. At stake is a decree and law which cannot be altered, and his own complicity in the action.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

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