Today’s Scripture is not from one of the prophets but rather from a narrative book in the Bible. This story touches on a theme we have already seen several times in the Prophets
Why does it seem that people’s evil deeds go unpunished?
The story of Esther takes place during the exile, after the Babylonian Empire had been conquered by the Persians. A young Jewish woman named Hadassah (called Esther by the Persians) is chosen by the Persian king, Artaxerxes (Ahasuerus), to be his new queen. Esther bravely stands up for her people against the schemes of the king’s vizier, Haman, who is bent on destroying the Jews throughout the Persian Empire.
The book of Esther is unique in that it is the only book in the Bible that never mentions God, nor are any of the characters depicted praying or worshiping. But even though God is not invoked by name, God’s providential care for the Jewish people is evident throughout as Esther and her relative Mordecai are protected from destruction, along with the rest of the Jewish community.
The events of Esther are the basis for the celebration of Purim: a joyful feast that remembers how a brave young Jewish woman saved her people from genocide. The story of Esther is a beautiful reminder that God sees and takes note of the schemes of wicked people, such as Haman, and that there will indeed be recompense, in God’s timing, for those who practice evil.
Gracious God, you have promised to be with us, even when we are unaware of your care. Be present now as we encounter you in your Word. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Esth. 7:1–10 7:1So 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. 7 The king rose from the feast in wrath and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him.
8 When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining; and the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the words left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face.
9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
It may seem strange to have a section on prayer from a book of the Bible that never mentions God. And while it is true that no character is depicted as praying to God in this book, we do find insight into prayer.
The language we use for prayer comes from the language of entreating a ruler or a court for justice. Such language still survives in our legal system. A prayer, in legal terms, is a specific request of a court for a judgment or for relief. Terms such as petition and pleading are other concepts we have applied to prayer. In today’s passage, King Ahasuerus asks Esther what her “petition” or request of him is (v. 2).
This is how one would formally address a king. We have adopted this language for prayer because when we pray, we are approaching the Ruler of creation. Esther’s petition of King Ahasuerus can be a model for our approach to God in prayer.
First, we notice that Esther is reverent: “‘If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king . . .’” Her reverence, however, does not preclude her being honest and direct in her prayer to the king: “‘Let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people— that is my request’” Her request is also very specific: “‘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’” (v. 4).
When we come to God in prayer, we believe and confess that God already knows what is on our hearts. When we are specific in our requests, we are not telling God anything God does not already know. Rather we are helping ourselves: specificity in prayer allows us to “cast our anxiety” on God (1 Pet. 5:7).
After Esther petitions the king and names Haman as the one who is plotting to destroy her, the king rises in anger and leaves the banquet hall (v. 7). He is probably moved by the sincerity of Esther’s prayer, but his reaction no doubt stems mainly from his great love for his queen (see Esth. 2:17). When we bring our petitions to God in prayer, God hears and answers us not because of the eloquence of our words (or lack thereof) but because of God’s love for us (see, for example, Matt. 7:11 and Luke 12:24).
What is your response to this question: “If God already knows everything, why pray?” Irony describes a situation in which something that was intended to have a particular result ends up having the opposite result. In literature, irony is often used for humorous effect, but it can also be used to drive home a dramatic or tragic point.