Esther lived in the home of her cousin, Mordecai, and his family. Mordecai was a gatekeeper at Shushan, the palace of King Ahasuerus of Persia, who lived about five hundred years before Jesus was born.
When the king desired to choose a new queen, the most beautiful young women of the kingdom were presented to him, including Esther. King Ahasuerus fell in love with Esther and chose her to be his queen. He placed the crown on her head and held a special feast in her honor.
One day, while he was guarding the palace gate, Mordecai overheard two unfaithful servants plotting to kill the king. He told Esther, who quickly informed the king. The men were arrested, tried, and hanged.
Though Mordecai served the king loyally, he refused to obey a law that all the king’s servants must bow down before Haman, the king’s adviser. Haman was furious. Learning that Mordecai was a Jew, Haman schemed to punish all the Jews in the land. He told the king lies about he Jews, saying that they lived their own laws only and did not keep the laws of the land. Cunningly he asked the king’s permission to have all the Jews killed, and he promised that if this decree were carried out, he would contribute ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s treasury. Because he trusted Haman, King Ahasuerus agreed to the plan and told Haman to keep the talents.
When the Jews learned of the plan to kill them, they began to fast and to pray to the Lord. They dressed themselves in sackcloth and covered their bodies with ashes to indicate their mourning. Mordecai, too, put on sackcloth and ashes and cried aloud at the gates of the palace.
Esther was afraid for Mordecai, because appearing near the palace in sackcloth and ashes was against the law. She sent him fine clothes, but he refused to accept them. Instead, he told her servants about Haman’s plot and gave them a copy of the king’s proclamation ordering the death of the Jews. He asked that his cousin plead with the king to not destroy their people.
Esther sent word to Mordecai that to go unbidden to the king might mean her death and she was afraid. When Mordecai heard this he sent word to Esther that because she was a Jew she would be killed anyway. He told her that perhaps she was queen at this time just so that she could save her people. Esther asked Mordecai to have the Jews in Shushan fast for three days and told him that she and her servants would do the same. She concluded her message with this promise: “And so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”
After the three days, Esther dressed herself in beautiful clothes and entered the inner court of the palace. She stood in front of King Ahasuerus and waited. If he was pleased to see her, he would raise his golden scepter and she would not be killed.
King Ahasuerus motioned Esther to come forward. After she touched the scepter, he asked, “What wilt thou, Queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.”
Esther asked that he and Haman have dinner with her. Then, as they enjoyed the feast, the king again asked what Esther wished of him. She asked only that he and Haman again have dinner with her the next day.
Haman bragged to his wife and friends about the special attention shown to him by the queen. However, he was still angry that Mordecai refused to bow down before him. His wife and friends suggested that he build a gallows from which to hang Mordecai, and Haman had it done immediately.
That night King Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep, so he asked that the daily records be brought to him. While studying them, he became aware of Mordecai’s part in saving his life. The next day, desiring to reward Mordecai, he asked Haman what he thought should be given to a man deserving great honors. Haman believed that the king was speaking of him. He answered that such a man should wear royal clothing, including a crown, and ride a beautiful horse through the city while his honor was proclaimed. Haman was very sorrowful when King Ahasuerus directed him to so honor Mordecai!
Later, when the king and Haman once more dined with Esther, the king again asked Esther what she desired. Esther then revealed that she was a Jew. She reminded him of the decree to slay all her people and told him how Haman had plotted against them. Accusing the king’s adviser required tremendous courage, but Esther didn’t waver. Under Persian law, the king’s orders, once given, could not be changed. Knowing this, Esther requested that the Jews be allowed to defend themselves on the day that Haman had named for their slaughter. The king granted his permission and also ordered that Haman be hanged from the gallows that he had had built for Mordecai.
After the fighting had ended, a special feast was held to celebrate this deliverance of the Jews. Called the Feast of Purim, it was then established as a yearly celebration of the blessings received from the Lord during this time. Mordecai was appointed to be next to the king in power, and he and Queen Esther received honor from the Jews for saving their people.