Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber
The next Persian king who claims our attention is Xerxes, who is called Ahasuerus in the Bible. This monarch had married a beautiful princess named Vashti. Proud of her beauty, he once bade her appear unveiled before his courtiers; but as such a thing seemed immodest to an Eastern woman, she refused to obey him.
The Persian king, whose orders had never before been disregarded, was so angry at Vashti for this refusal that he vowed he would never see her again. He soon regretted these rash words, for he loved her dearly; but as the words of a Persian king could never be taken back, he could not recall her.
His courtiers, seeing him sad and lonely, now suggested that the most beautiful maidens from all parts of his realm should be brought together, so that he might make choice of a new wife among them. The king was pleased by this suggestion; but as some time would be needed before it could be carried out, he spent the time of waiting by making his great expedition against Greece.
On his return, the maidens were assembled, and he picked out from among them all a beautiful young Jewess named Esther, the niece of Mordecai, one of his government officers. Soon after the marriage had taken place, Mordecai made known to Esther a secret plot against the king’s life, and thus helped him to seize and punish the men who would have liked to murder him.
The account of this service, and the name of the man who rendered it, were written down in the annals of the king’s reign; for, like the other Persian monarchs, Ahasuerus kept a record of all that was done in his kingdom.
There was at the court, at this time, another foreigner, Haman the Amalekite, a cunning, cruel, and envious man. He hated all the Jews because they had been the enemies of his race, and he felt a special dislike for Mordecai, because this man had refused to show him the respect which he fancied was his due.
Haman, having reached the rank of prime minister and special adviser of the king, soon persuaded his master that the Jews in his kingdom were plotting a revolt. Thus he obtained from Ahasuerus a decree ordering a general massacre of all the Jews in his territory on a certain date.
In the time between the making and carrying out of this decree, the news came to the ears of Mordecai. He was in despair when he heard that he and all his unhappy race were doomed to die. In his grief, he tore his clothes and put ashes upon his head, which was the usual sign of mourning among the Jews at that time.
Then Mordecai went to sit at the palace gates, where some of the servants of Esther saw him. They went and told the queen that her uncle was out there, in deep grief.
So Esther sent to ask what was the matter, and thus heard of the terrible decree which Haman had obtained from the king. She too was in despair, and when Mordecai said that she must go to her husband and plead for herself and for her people, she said that it was impossible.
It seems that no one in the whole Persian court was allowed to appear before the king without being called. If anyone, even his wife, came into his presence unasked, the guards drew their swords and killed that person on the spot, unless the king stretched out his scepter to the visitor.
Urged by Mordecai, Esther finally said that she would risk her life to save her people, and, after spending some time in prayer, she dressed herself in her finest clothes, so that her beauty might help her to win the king’s favor. Then she went into the king’s room, but when she caught a glimpse of his stern face, she almost fainted with terror.
Ahasuerus now saw who it was that had dared to come into his presence without being asked. Touched by Esther’s great beauty and entreating gestures, he not only forgave her for coming, but promised to grant any favor she might ask, even to the half of his kingdom.
Esther timidly said that if he would only honor her by coming to a feast in her rooms, to which Haman was also to be asked, she would tell him what wish had driven her into his presence at the risk of her life.
The king promised to come, and when Esther had gone, he called Haman and invited him to supper in his wife’s name. Haman was delighted, for this was a very great honor; but as he left the palace he saw Mordecai, who again refused to bow down before him.
This second refusal made Haman so angry that he followed his wife’s advice, and had a gallows built over seventy-five feet high. He meant to get the king’s permission to hang Mordecai upon these gallows on the morrow, because he was too impatient for his revenge to wait until the day named for the killing of all the Jews.