Esther 6:1, On that night the king could not sleep.
The verse appears straightforward – the king was unable to sleep on that particular night, seemingly by chance. Had King Ahasuerus been able to sleep soundly that night, Esther’s story would have concluded in chapter 5.
This particular book is regarded as the least spiritual among the 66 books of the Bible as it does not mention the name of God even once. Esther, the book’s protagonist, is never quoted in the New Testament, and it is also the sole Old Testament book that does not appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This has led some scholars to question its inclusion in the canonization of the Old Testament, labeling it a secular book. Maybe by coincidence too.
The book contains numerous instances of coincidences, which happen with such frequency that they are difficult to dismiss as mere happenstance. The story of Esther gives insight into why modern-day Israelites celebrate the holiday of Purim annually on the 15th day (starting on the 13th and 14th) of the month Adar, which in 2021 fell on February 26. Festivities involve dressing up in costumes, street parades, and communal eating and drinking, with men encouraged to indulge in wine drinking.
Purim is an occasion commemorating the Hebrews’ triumph over their adversaries who sought to obliterate them on the 13th day of the month of Adar. Through Esther and Mordecai, God intervened, turning the day into an opportunity for self-defense and retribution against all those who threatened the Hebrews. Reading the book of Esther in its entirety will allow you to witness for yourself the wondrous ways in which God’s providential hand protected his people in their foreign land, within the Persian Empire.
But what is interesting to note here is the coincidences that occur in this book. Well, doesn’t God work together in all things for good to those who love Him? Romans 8:28. Isn’t He God directing every step of those who please Him? Psalm 37:23.
The first coincidence, the drunken King!
Esther 1:1, Now in the days of Ahasuerus, verse 3, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants.
Verse 11-12, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused…
King Ahasuerus was the fourth Persian king who reigned from 485–465 BC, of the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire. Known as Xerxes 1 or Khshayathiya Khshayathiyanam, King of kings. On those days, (verse 3) in the third year of his reign, King Ahasuerus held a great banquet, a feast that was (almost) never stop, for days, up to one hundred and eighty days, (verse 4). In verse 5, there are still 7 more feast days. And of course, at a party like this, alcoholic drinks are a must. It is not forced (verse 8) but served according to everyone’s wishes. By the end of the seventh day, the king had consumed copious amounts of wine and was feeling quite intoxicated. In his inebriated state, he made a foolish decree that, upon further reflection, was deemed quite absurd.
The King’s intention was to display his stunning wife to the masses, including all the people and nobles. If King Ahasuerus were alive today, he would have fit right in with modern society’s obsession with social media, where everyone flaunts everything to anyone. Privacy is nearly non-existent in today’s world. If the King lived in the present era, verses 10 and 11 would likely read: “As decreed by the King, videos showcasing the beauty of Queen Vashti were played, and the King and Queen’s FB and Instagram and TikTok accounts were to be flaunted throughout the entire kingdom!“
One might argue that there’s nothing wrong with the king wanting to show off his kingdom, greatness, and achievements, as he was a king after all. But we must remember that the era of Ahasuerus, in the year 488 BC, was a time with vastly different values than our own. There were no moral values as we know them today, and Persian society was known for its debauchery and promiscuity. Moreover, King Ahasuerus was highly intoxicated at the time, was very drunk, which further clouded his judgment.
It is evident that Queen Vashti refused to appear before the king and his guests. She showed sound judgment in opposing the king’s foolish actions, as described in verse 12. However, as the king had issued a decree, the queen found herself in a difficult position. As a result of her refusal, she was banished from the king’s presence, and her title as queen was stripped from her, as stated in verse 19.
Obviously, Queen Vashti refused! She was still sane against this foolish king’s actions, verse 12. But since it was the king who decreed, the queen fell into a very bad situation. She was then banished before the king, and the title of Queen thereof was stripped of her, verse 19.
If only that day, the queen would have agreed to be “shown off”. In modern times, many women, not just queens, often seek validation by showcasing themselves on social media. The number of likes and comments they receive can significantly impact their self-esteem, leading to stress and anxiety if their posts don’t receive the expected engagement. Or if only the queen had also drunk wine, she would not have lost her queen title, and her position would have remained secure. After all, if she had been drunk at that time too, wine could have been a good excuse for her to behave stupidly in front of everyone. Oh, she was just drunk! said many people.
According to many, particularly feminists, Queen Vashti’s choice demonstrated that she possessed dignity, self-respect, and a refusal to comply with her husband’s foolishness, despite his status as a king. Although she faced the consequences of being banished and stripped of her queenly title, she had proven herself to be a woman of superior character.
The name Vashti itself means goodness, and it represents the best of a woman, an excellent lady! However, according to the Midrash of Israel, she was considered wicked and evil, someone with an independent mind who did not want to submit to her husband. But others view her as a feminist. You may read more about this perspective at the following link.
According to the Midrash, Vashti was the great-granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, the granddaughter of King Amel-Marduk and the daughter of King Belshazzar. During Vashti's father's rule, mobs of Medes and Persians attacked. They murdered Belshazzar that night. Vashti, unknowing of her father's death, ran to her father's quarters. There she was kidnapped by King Darius of Persia. But Darius took pity on her and gave her to his son, Ahasuerus, to marry.
Based on Vashti's descent from a king who was responsible for the destruction of the temple as well as on her unhappy fate, the Midrash presents Vashti as wicked and vain. Since Vashti is ordered to appear before the king on the seventh day of the feast, the rabbis argued that Vashti enslaved Jewish women and forced them to work on the Sabbath. They attribute her unwillingness to appear before the king and his drinking partners not to modesty, but rather to an affliction with a disfiguring illness. One account relates that she suffered from leprosy, while another states that the angel Gabriel came and "fixed a tail on her." The latter possibility is often interpreted as "a euphemism for a miraculous transformation to male anatomy."
According to the Midrashic account, Vashti was a clever politician, and the ladies' banquet that she held in parallel to Ahasuerus' banquet represented an astute political maneuver. Since the noble women of the kingdom would be present at her banquet, she would have control of a valuable group of hostages in case a coup d'état occurred during the king's feast.
R. Abba b. Kahana says Vashti was no more modest than Ahasuerus. R. Papa quotes a popular proverb: "He between the old pumpkins, and she between the young ones"; i.e., a faithless husband makes a faithless wife. According to R. Jose b. Ḥanina, Vashti declined the invitation because she had become a leper (Meg. 12b; Yalḳ., l.c.). Ahasuerus was "very wroth, and his anger burned in him" (Esth. i. 12) as the result of the insulting message which Vashti sent him: "Thou art the son of my father's stableman. My grandfather [Belshazzar] could drink before the thousand [Dan. v. 1]; but that person [Ahasuerus] quickly becomes intoxicated" (Meg. l.c.). Vashti was justly punished for enslaving young Jewish women and compelling them to work nude on the Sabbath (ib.).
As a feminist icon
Vashti's refusal to obey the summons of her drunken husband has been admired as heroic in many feminist interpretations of the Book of Esther. Early feminists admired Vashti's principle and courage. Harriet Beecher Stowe called Vashti's disobedience the "first stand for woman's rights." Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that Vashti "added new glory to [her] day and generation…by her disobedience; for 'Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.'"
Some more recent feminist interpreters of the Book of Esther compare Vashti's character and actions favorably to those of her successor, Esther, who is traditionally viewed as the heroine of the Purim story. Michele Landsberg, a Canadian Jewish feminist, writes: "Saving the Jewish people was important, but at the same time [Esther's] whole submissive, secretive way of being was the absolute archetype of 1950s womanhood. It repelled me. I thought, 'Hey, what's wrong with Vashti? She had dignity. She had self-respect. She said: 'I'm not going to dance for you and your pals.'"
Indeed, it is interesting to see how events unfolded in the story of Esther. Vashti’s refusal to be displayed like an object for the pleasure of the drunken king led to her being deposed, and Esther eventually taking her place as queen. It just goes to show how one person’s negative action can create opportunities for positive change.
The second coincidence, Esther was chosen!
After King Ahasuerus desired the return of Queen Vashti in Esther 2:1, a competition was initiated within the Kingdom to select a new queen to replace the exiled one. Chapter 2 tells us, a young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, verse 7, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. Verse 8 says that Esther also was taken into the king’s palace.
What sets apart the “quest for a new Queen” is that it involved the participation of young, attractive, and chaste women from all corners of the expansive Persian empire, as detailed in Esther 1:1 and 2:2-3. Each of them underwent a rigorous 12-month preparation, as mentioned in verse 12, before being allowed to spend a single night with the King. If the King found the woman pleasing and to his liking, she would be summoned again; otherwise, she would not see him again, according to verse 14. When Esther’s turn arrived, as recorded in verse 15 and historical accounts, she only met the King in the 10th month of Tebet, in the 7th year of King Ahasuerus’ reign in 479 BC, four years after Vashti’s banishment. Despite having met and considered many other girls and women before, the King chose Esther as the new Queen to replace Vashti.
The quest for a new Queen in this case differed significantly from modern-day talent shows, beauty pageants, or contests to crown Miss Universe. It was a search for a woman who would be willing to fulfill the King’s every desire, including becoming his concubine, with the possibility of eventually being chosen as the new Queen of the Kingdom if she managed to win his heart. As stated in verse 17, it is miraculous that the King loved Esther more than any other woman, and she found favor and grace in his eyes above all the other virgins who had participated in the search.
Proverbs 21:1, The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.
The third coincidence, Mordecai happened to stumble upon a plot to assassinate the King!
Verse 21, In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai, verse 22.
Mordecai was not a spy or a politician at the time but was simply Esther’s uncle. As mentioned in verse 21 and also in verse 19 and 11, Mordecai would frequently sit at the gate of the king’s palace. When Esther was first brought to the palace in verse 8, Mordecai would stand near the court of the women’s hall to keep tabs on her and check on her well-being, as described in verse 11. After Esther was selected in verse 17, Mordecai continued his habit of monitoring her by taking a seat at the gate of the king’s palace, as mentioned in verse 19, much like he had done before in verse 11. Essentially, Mordecai acted as a concerned father, keeping a watchful eye on his niece and her activities within the King’s palace.
However, this habit of Mordecai proved to be instrumental in unraveling an evil plan concocted by two of the King’s eunuchs, Bigtan and Teresh. As servants of the King, eunuchs were entrusted with the care of the King’s wives and concubines and were usually castrated to prevent them from engaging in any sexual activity with them. For some unknown reason, Bigtan and Teresh became bitter and disgruntled toward the King, and hatched a plot to assassinate him, as described in verse 21. Because Mordecai always sat at the gate, he overheard their scheme and promptly informed Esther, who in turn reported it to the King on Mordecai’s behalf. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. Verses 22 & 23.
Mordecai was not intentionally eavesdropping on the conversations of others or spying on them. His presence at the gate was simply a result of his concern for Esther’s well-being and his desire to keep an eye on her. It is possible that Bigtan and Teresh were not particularly cautious in their conversations around Mordecai because they didn’t view him as a threat, given his relatively low status as a parent of one of the King’s women. Therefore, Mordecai’s involvement in uncovering the plot to assassinate the King was purely coincidental.
This event was recorded in the Persian chronicles, as stated in verse 23, and credited to Mordecai in verse 22. However, no further details are provided. This may be another instance of coincidence, as Mordecai was not directly given the recognition and reward he deserved for saving the king. It is possible that Mordecai’s report was disregarded by everyone at the time, and his presence at the gate may have been considered inconsequential. Therefore, it was perceived as just a coincidence and nothing more significant.
Mordecai continued his routine of being present at the King’s palace gates, as stated in chapter 3 verses 2-3. On one occasion, Haman, son of Hamedata and Agagite, passed by and everyone at the gate was required to bow down and pay homage to him. However, Mordecai refused to do so, which led to him facing trouble as Haman developed hatred towards him and all the Jews.
In the Bible, it is stated that Haman, son of Hamedata, was an Agagite, meaning he was a descendant of King Agag, who ruled over the Amalekites. This is significant because in 1 Samuel 15, God commanded Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions, sparing no one, including men, women, children, infants, and even livestock. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey, verse 3.
Yes, in 1 Samuel 15, God commanded Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions, sparing no one and showing no mercy. This command might seem cruel and inhumane to us today, but it was given in the context of God’s justice and judgment against the Amalekites. God’s reason for this command was stated in verse 2, where He reminded Saul of what the Amalekites did to Israel when they came out of Egypt. The Amalekites had attacked Israel when they were weak and vulnerable, showing no regard for God’s chosen people or for God Himself. Therefore, God’s command was an act of judgment against the Amalekites for their wickedness and rebellion against God.
The story of the Amalekites’ attack on Israel is first mentioned in Exodus 17:8-13, where the Israelites, led by Joshua, engaged in battle with the Amalekites. Moses, Aaron, and Hur watched the battle from a distance, and when Moses lifted up his hands to God, the Israelites prevailed. However, when he lowered his hands, the Amalekites gained the upper hand. Therefore, Aaron and Hur helped to support Moses’ hands until the sun set, and the Israelites emerged victorious. This event demonstrates the significance of Moses’ leadership and dependence on God, as well as the ongoing struggle between God’s chosen people and their enemies, including the Amalekites.
In Deuteronomy 25:17-19, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget!”
But King Saul did not do the Lord’s command as it should, 1 Samuel 15:7-9, And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag… And according to Jewish tradition, Saul’s disobedience went beyond sparing King Agag’s life and some of the best livestock. He also spared members of King Agag’s family and household, who were supposed to be completely destroyed along with everything else. Some of them managed to escape, and Haman was believed to be one of the descendants of King Agag who survived. This further explains the hostility between the Jews and Haman, as well as the significance of the Amalekites and their history in Jewish culture and tradition.
1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,and to listen than the fat of rams.
Proverbs 21:2-3, Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
If Saul had fully obeyed God’s command and destroyed all the Amalekites, including King Agag and his descendants, then Haman would not have existed, as he was believed to be a descendant of King Agag. Without Haman’s existence, the events of the book of Esther, including the plot to destroy the Jews, would not have occurred.
If Haman had not existed, perhaps the Purim festival would never have come into being, and the book of Esther may not have been written. However, because of Saul’s error, God began to plan and arrange everything to save the Jews during Esther’s time. Nothing escapes His notice, and from the very beginning, He has orchestrated the steps of His chosen people.
This is what Haman son of Hamedata the Agagite did. Esther 3:10-15, So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.” Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.
By comprehending Haman’s identity, we can gain insight into the extent of his wickedness, which can be traced back to his predecessors, including those who lived during the reigns of Saul, Moses, and Joshua.
It didn’t even stop there, for Mordecai in particular, this was what Haman and his wife, Zeresh, were planning. Esther 5:14, Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.” This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.
The fourth coincidence, on that night the king could not sleep!
It just happened in the very night after the gallows stood at Haman’s house, King Ahasuerus could not sleep!
Esther 6:1, On that night the king could not sleep.
It sounds plain and simple: the king could not sleep.
We all experience sleeplessness at times, right? The causes can vary, from financial worries to excitement about plans for the next day, from troubles and fears to something as simple as hot air at night which might prevent the air conditioning from functioning properly. But did you know that in the case of King Ahasuerus, his inability to sleep was deliberately caused by God in order to promote Mordecai and humiliate Haman simultaneously? So, while it may seem like a simple case of insomnia on the surface, the king could not sleep at the very same night, it was actually a crucial turning point in history.
Esther 6:1-3, On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king’s young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.”
As the reading continued throughout the night, the King learned that Mordecai had not been rewarded for saving his life. Coincidentally, at that moment, Haman arrived to speak with the King about hanging Mordecai on the very gallows he had prepared for him (as described in Esther 6:4).
But before he could say a word, the King first asked him. What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor? Verse 6. To our surprise, Haman immediately thought that this must be for him. Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?
He immediately answered everything that he wanted the King done to him, verse 7-9, And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’”!”
But unexpectedly, the King gave him an order like this. Verse 10, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.“
It was remarkable how Haman’s countenance changed as he frowned and muttered to himself. He was forced to carry out the very actions he had wished on himself, but now upon his own enemy he hated the most. The person he had so eagerly wanted to hang in the courtyard of his own home was now the very person he had to honor in the courtyard of the Persian Empire.
Esther 6:12-14, Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered. And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.” While they were yet talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried to bring Haman to the feast that Esther had prepared.
God intervened through a seemingly ordinary event – the King’s insomnia – to change Haman’s plans from the day before. The next day, instead of being hanged on the gallows, Mordecai was exalted in the city square, an act carried out by none other than Haman himself, who had intended evil for Mordecai.
The irony of the situation is striking, as recounted in Esther 7. Haman’s wicked scheme against the Jewish people was exposed by Esther to the King, leaving Haman unable to defend himself. The King subsequently ordered Haman to be hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. In Esther 8:1, we learn that all of Haman’s possessions were given to Esther, including his seal ring which had symbolized his authority over the Persian kingdom. This ring was then taken from Haman and bestowed upon Mordecai, who was appointed ruler over all of Haman’s property. It is remarkable to see how God was able to reverse the evil plans of Haman, turning the situation around for the benefit of Mordecai and the Jewish people.
We can now understand why the Jewish people celebrate Purim each year on the 15th day of the month of Adar (usually in March). The name Purim comes from the word “pur”, which means “lot”. This is because Haman had cast lots to determine the day on which the Jewish people would be destroyed. However, through God’s intervention, this day of destruction was turned into a day of victory for the Jewish people over all their enemies. Therefore, Purim is a time of rejoicing and celebration for the Jewish people, as they remember the faithfulness and deliverance of God.
Although the book of Esther does not mention the name of God, He still holds the main role throughout the story. He orchestrates events in such a way that Esther is placed in a crucial position close to the King, allowing her to defeat the plans of the evil Haman who had risen to the position of number two in the Persian Empire. God’s hand of providence is at work in the book of Esther, often through what may seem like coincidences, but are in fact His perfect plan unfolding. Even though His name is not written in the book, God continues to work behind the scenes, just as He does in our lives today. His presence may not always be visible, and His name may not always be shouted, but He is always at work, guiding and directing our paths toward His perfect plan for us.
This writing is dedicated to Dr. Marvin Wilson which through his teaching I have and continue to learn so much about the Old Testament, Jesus’ Bible.