We are now at the climax—Esther 7 and 8! The stakes are high, but God rescues His people and brings them “light and gladness and joy and honor” (Esther 8:16-17) in these two chapters. As always, I recommend that you read them for yourself, but here’s a quick run-down:
- Esther has a second feast with the king and Haman, and once again, the king asks what she would request of him.
- This time, Esther asks the king to let the Jews live and reveals that Haman has betrayed them.
- The king goes to the palace garden, and when he comes back in, Haman is falling on Esther’s couch, begging for his life.
- The king views this as an assault and has Haman hung on the very same gallows Haman built for Mordecai.
- Haman’s decree to kill the Jews cannot be revoked, so after Mordecai is promoted, he makes a counter decree that the Jews are allowed to defend themselves.
- All the Jews celebrate because this decree shows that the king is on their side, so their lives are saved. Hooray!
Esther 7 and 8 are two very happy chapters, but they can be a bit confusing. Let me go into a little more detail. I’m no pastor, but I’ve picked up a few things here and there as I’ve studied Esther.
What does Esther mean that “our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king”?
This is definitely an exaggeration since the Jews’ affliction would be a lot more than the king’s. Esther is appealing to the king’s self-interest since his kingdom would lose a valuable asset if Jews were wiped out.
Why does the king hang Haman for begging Esther for his life?
And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king. And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. – Esther 7:7-8 (ESV)
This passage brings up a few more questions than it answers. Was Haman assaulting Esther? Why did the king think he was? Why didn’t he order Haman’s execution as soon as Esther told him that Haman had ordered the Jews to be killed?
I can’t answer all the questions that you may have perfectly, but here’s my understanding.
According to my ESV Study Bible, Haman was probably kneeling with his hands or his arms on the couch to seek mercy from Esther. Since the king was angry (“in his wrath,” verse 7), his perception may have been distorted, causing him to see this as an assault on his beloved queen.
That explanation may still leave some questions though. I read a Bible fiction called Esther: The Star and the Sceptre that offered some additional possibilities.
In the novel, the king went outside to the garden to think because he wasn’t sure what to do. In their law, they need two accusations in order to hang someone, so what evil Haman had done wasn’t enough. But when he goes inside, and Haman appears to be assaulting Esther, the king sees this as the perfect excuse to hang him.
We don’t know for sure what is going on in that passage, but hopefully that helps you understand it a little better. =)
Another question that passage brings up: why did they cover Haman’s face?
I don’t know about you, but I found this kind of weird!
To quote my ESV Study Bible: “Covering the head of a condemned prisoner is a custom well known in both ancient and modern times.” Who knew?!
Why couldn’t the king just cancel Haman’s decree?
We find the answer to this one right in Esther 8:8:
…for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.
Since Haman had signed his decree with the king’s signet ring, it couldn’t be canceled. That’s why Mordecai needed to make a counter decree.
Wasn’t the second decree kind of harsh and ungodly?
…saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods… – Esther 8:11
Wow! That sounds pretty awful, but you have to understand that Mordecai needed to make his counter decree just as harsh as the first one. You see, after Haman’s decree, there were probably a lot of people waiting eagerly for the 13th of Adar, when the king gave them permission to kill the Jews and take their life savings. Mordecai wanted them to know that they wouldn’t be able to lay a pinkie on God’s people.
On top of that, the Jews only used Mordecai’s decree in self-defense. Even though they were allowed to plunder their enemies in return, chapter 9 repeats three times that they didn’t!
…the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they laid no hand on the plunder. – Esther 9:10
The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder. – Esther 9:15
Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies and killed 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. – Esther 9:16
(Emphasis added on the three verses above.)
By the way, in case you would like to study Esther further or test your knowledge, here’s a crossword puzzle I made for my Bible study I’ve been co-leading. 😉
Note: This crossword was created with a young audience in mind, and I edited it to be as clear as possible.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever asked any of these questions while you were reading Esther? Which of the answers did you find most intriguing? Do you have any questions or insights about Esther 7-8 to add?