Esther is one of the most recognized Jewish heroines of the Old Testament, and she is one of only two women in the Old Testament to have a book bearing her name (the other is Ruth). Hadassah, her birth name, means “myrtle,” but Esther derives from the Persian word
Mordecai told her not to remain quiet about being a Jew. There were those in the kingdom who hated Jews, including advisors to the king. one day, Esther was taken into the harem of King Ahasuerus.
The king felt an immediate attraction to her. After he had banished Queen Vashti, the king came to love Esther more than all of the other women available to him. Not knowing Esther was Jewish, King Ahasuerus made her his queen. The book of Esther details her story and makes note of her remarkable courage.
Haman Planned to Exterminate the Jews
The king's prime minister was named Haman. He was an egotistical and self-aggrandizing man, who hated Esther's uncle Mordecai because the Jew would not bow before him. Haman sought a way to eliminate Mordecai and all of his kind. He went to King Ahasuerus and complained that there were people (the Hebrews) in his realm who did not follow the laws of the king, and that the king should no longer tolerate them. “If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries. And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy” (Esther 3:9–10).
Haman Refined His Plot
The decree, sealed with the king's ring, went out all over the palace and into every province. Haman's plan was to draw lots in order to determine which day to carry out the massacre of the Jewish people. When word reached Mordecai, he covered himself in ashes and a sackcloth, and sat near the king's gate.
Esther Fasted for Three Days
Esther's heart sank whenever she saw her uncle, but she understood the gravity of the situation: Haman had secured the king's decree to pay 10,000 talents of gold. Mordecai went to Esther and asked her to seek the audience of the king. Once she had his attention, she had to try to thwart Haman's plan to massacre the Jews. What Mordecai had asked Esther to do could have gotten her killed; no one could have an audience with the king unless summoned. Esther, not sure of what to do, undertook a fast for three days.
The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated each year in February or March, in memory of the averted pogrom of the Jews thanks to Esther and her uncle Mordecai. The holy festival is observed with a feast and expressions of joy. Noise is made to drown out the name of Haman as the story is retold. The fasting part of the festival is called the Fast of Esther.
The King Sided with Esther and Her People
Esther must have had a knot in the pit of her stomach as she entered the king's presence. But instead of anger, the king was happy to see her. He promised to give her half his kingdom, whatever she wanted. She invited him and Haman to a banquet that she had prepared.
Esther had captured the king's heart, and when she revealed Haman's plan to exterminate the Jews, including her and her uncle Mordecai (who had previously saved the king's life when two guards had tried to assassinate him), he ordered the death of Haman and his ten sons upon the very gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The king then made Mordecai prime minister, and granted the Hebrew people the right to mount a defense for themselves when necessary. This enabled a series of attacks by the Jews against their enemies throughout the empire.