The villain, Haman, appears on the scene. The text does not explain why Mordecai refused to bow down when Haman passed by in a royal parade. Perhaps it was because he deeply distrusted Haman.
Fellow officials who saw Mordecai's act reported his behavior to Haman and identified him as a Jew. Fierce anger gripped his soul.
Anger and prejudice combined to engender in Haman's mind an evil desire. Here was an opportunity to implicate all Jews and justify a procedure to wipe them all out.
With like-minded friends, court officials cast lots to determine a proper time when this deed could be carried out. The lots designated the month of Adar (February/March) almost a year later.
At a chosen time, Haman presented a report of a serious threat to the wellbeing of the empire. An unnamed people had customs that caused them to disobey the king's laws. Such lawlessness should not be tolerated. Haman offered to pay the costs, an amount equivalent in weight to 375 tons of silver. Haman suggested that a royal decree be issued authorizing the destruction of these lawless people. Evidently Haman expected to obtain the silver from the plunder of the possessions of the people killed. Xerxes gave permission to issue the decree, and it was immediately written and distributed throughout the empire.
Haman celebrated by drinking wine. He had gained control of the procedure to do away with the hated Jews. The emperor had been easily persuaded to issue a decree that could not be altered. His enemies, including Mordecai, could not escape. The people of Susa were bewildered. Who were these people with such customs that they would disobey the commands of the king?
When Mordecai heard the royal heralds read the decree publicly, his heart was broken. How could his people could escape destruction? Unable to contain his emotions, he tore his clothes. In their place he robed himself in sackcloth (a rough burlap-like material), rubbed himself with ashes, and roamed the streets of Susa wailing loudly and bitterly. Jews everywhere did the same. This easily identified the people against whom the decree was directed. The death of all Jews was certain.
When word came to Esther, she was puzzled about Mordecai's behavior; she did not yet know about the decree. Mordecai sent her a copy of the published decree and gave instructions to an attendant to ask Esther to appeal to Xerxes for help.
In 4:9 an acrostic of a name of God occurs in reverse sequence in the first letters of four words. In transliteration, these words are ẖtk w̱ygd ḻ'str 'ṯ, “Hathach . . . reported to Esther [what].” Reading the underlined letters in reverse sequence, one finds 'lwh, or with vowels, 'eloah.
Ordinarily, people must be summoned to appear before the emperor. The penalty was death unless the king gave mercy by holding out his gold scepter.
Esther's problem was that the king seemed to have lost interest in her. For thirty days he had not requested her to visit him.
Mordecai saw the extreme danger inherent in his request. If the ruler was angered by Esther's bold approach to him, she could be executed immediately. If nothing was ventured, Esther, Mordecai, and all Jews would lose their lives. There was only one small ray of hope: perhaps Xerxes would be in a good mood and grant mercy. Maybe relief and deliverance could come from another source (a hint of faith in divine providence) for other Jews, but that would not protect Mordecai, Esther, and their family.
Mordecai's appeal was directed to Esther's deepest sense of family loyalty, but also to her importance as queen and her unique access to Xerxes.
The text lacks a description of Esther's agony or a reference to prayers she may have offered to God. The author does indicate that Esther was religiously sensitive. He notes that she asked Mordecai to send a notice to all Jews in Susa to fast for three days and nights. Esther and her maids would do the same.
Her final statement is one of profound commitment: If I perish, I perish. She was ready to offer her life as a sacrifice for the possible deliverance of her people.
At the chosen time, Esther prepared herself to approach the throne. By implication her courage is highlighted by the apparent casualness of her act.
Her heart must have leaped with unbelief and joy when she saw Xerxes extend his gold scepter. A marvelous thing had happened; Xerxes was in a good mood. The king even offered Esther half the kingdom if she wanted it. Esther's request was brief; she invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet she had prepared.
In 5:4 another acrostic occurs in forward sequence. The following Hebrew words, in English symbols, have the key letters underlined: y̱bw' ẖmlk w̱hmn ẖywm (“let the king, together with Haman, come today”). The first letters of each word in forward sequence spell yhwh (Yahweh).
Xerxes summoned Haman, and they went to the banquet. Esther promised she would reveal her real petition at a banquet the next day. The king accepted her promise.
Haman left in high spirits; he really was an important man. However, he saw Mordecai at the king's gate still refusing to show him respect. Joy turned to rage, but he did nothing at the moment. Instead he bragged before his wife and his friends about his importance to King Xerxes and Queen Esther. There was only one problem; Mordecai refused to show him respect and honor.
The divine name is present in 5:13. The last letters of the four Hebrew words, in English symbols, are zẖ 'ynnw̱ shwẖ ly̱ (“this gives me no satisfaction”). These letters in reverse sequence spell yhwh (Yahweh).
Haman's audience had a ready solution: build a high gallows and hang Mordecai on it.
That night, unable to sleep, Xerxes ordered that the daily government records be read to him. Xerxes noted that Mordecai had not been rewarded for his report of the plot against the king's life.
The divine name, Eloah, is repeated in 6:1 in reverse sequence. The Hebrew words in English symbols follow: ẖmlk w̱y'mr ḻhby' 'ṯ spr (“The king . . . ordered the book . . . to be brought in”). The letters underlined spell 'lwh (Eloah).
Haman arrived at the palace to ask permission to execute Mordecai. Before he could speak, Xerxes requested advice on how best to honor a person who had benefited the king. Haman assumed that the king wanted to honor him, so he suggested an opulent parade. Haman was amazed at what he heard but had no choice. He obediently prepared the parade, led the horse on which Mordecai rode, and proclaimed that this man was honored by the king.
Haman dared not express his emotions publicly, but as soon as his painful ordeal was finished, he went home and poured out his grief to his wife and friends. They too were shocked and told Haman that he was doomed and that Mordecai would win.
At this crucial point in the story, the basic consonants of the divine name, Eloah, appear. The Hebrew words in 6:14 are shown below in English symbols and the key letters are underlined: ẖgy'w w̱ybhlw ḻhby' 'ṯ hmn (“[eunuchs] arrived and hurried Haman away”). In reverse sequence, these letters spell 'lwh (Eloah).
Xerxes seemed intrigued by Esther's delaying tactics; so during the banquet, he requested Esther to state her petition. Begging the king's mercies, she pleaded that her life be spared. She then identified herself as a member of the Jewish people who had been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation, and she pleaded for their deliverance too. If slavery had been involved, she would have said nothing; but this was death.
Xerxes demanded the name of the man who proposed to destroy the Jewish people.
A word associated with the divine name Yahweh is in both forward and reverse sequence in 7:5. The key consonants appear on the last letter of each word and with an overlap of three letters, each of which is underlined as follows: my hr'_ zẖ w'y̱ zẖ hw'_ (“Who is he, and where is the man?”).
The underlined consonants spell 'hyh in both directions. This Hebrew word means “I am” and is the same Hebrew word that occurs in Ex 3:14 where God says to Moses, “I am who I am.”
The impact of Esther's identification of Haman as the culprit was dramatic. Haman was terrified, and Xerxes left the table in a rage. While the king was in the nearby garden, Haman threw himself on Esther's couch, pleading for mercy. The man, who was angry because Mordecai would not prostrate himself before him, now fell prostrate before Mordecai's cousin.
In 7:7 the divine name occurs in two forms in sequence, as the last consonants of these Hebrew words shown in English symbols: ky̱ r'ẖ ky̱ kltẖ 'lyw̱ (“realizing that the king had already decided his fate”). The two divine names are yh yhwh or Yah, Yahweh (Lord, Lord). The acrostic is like a great shout of triumph because the enemy is now doomed.
Xerxes saw the act, interpreted it as an assault, and reprimanded Haman. Guards immediately arrested and blindfolded Haman, and their leader suggested that the man be hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. Xerxes ordered it, and it was done. The execution assuaged the king's anger.