Just to review where we are as we look at Esther 6-7 we will recall the Dillard-Longman outline of the book and also test the argument that Karen Jobes makes that the feasts follow a particular pattern in the book and what that means for interpreting Esther 6 and Esther 7.
Remember the Dillard-Longman Outline:
I. The Feasts of Xerxes (1:1-2:18)
II. The Feasts of Esther (2:19-7:10)
III. The Feasts of Purim (chapters 8-10).
Thus far we have looked at the first part and the first half of the second part. Esther 6:1 begins the second half of the Feasts of Esther.
Take a look at the outline provided in the image. Jobes commentary put it this way:
1. Xerxes’ banquet for the nobles of the empire (1:2-4) A1
2. Xerxes banquet for all men in Susa (1:5-8) B1
3. Esther’s coronation banquet (2:18) C1
4. Esther’s first banquet for the king and Haman (5:1-8) D1
5. Esther’s second banquet for the king and Haman (7:1-9) D2
6. Feasting in celebration of Mordecai’s promotion (8:17) C2
7. The first day of Purim feasting throughout empire (9:17, 19) A2
8. The second day of Purim feasting in Susa (9:18) B2
And the commentary puts brackets around A1-B1 and A2-B2 and brackets linking those two groups, plus brackets for C1 and C2 and D1 and D2. I think that the formatting that I have given you makes it much easier to follow.
Jobes says that Esther 6 is ”arguably the most ironically comic scene in the entire Bible.” Why? Because Haman is plotting the death of Mordecai on the gallows while the king is planing to honor Mordecai’s for his so-far unrewarded help. She also says that Haman ”trips over his own pride.” Indeed, this is a good description of the text. But even more persuasively she argues that each of the seeming coincidences in the story are believable in themselves and are out of Haman’s control, but added together it is a beautiful picture of the providence of God.
So let’s review the major events of Esther 6. First, the king happened not to be able to sleep that night. Therefore, the king called for the book of memorable deeds – the chronicles – to be read to him. One would think that this would help him to get back to sleep. But ”it was found written” concerning Mordecai saving the king’s life and to his surprise the king discovered that Mordecai was never rewarded for doing so. In a climate where assassinations happen often, you want to be sure to reward those who inform on such plots. Then at this point it is morning so Haman arrives at the king’s court. The king, having no idea that Haman is there to ask for Mordecai to be hanged on the gallows, asked his young men if there was anyone standing in the court. Sure enough, it so happened that Haman was there standing in the court. So the king summoned Haman in to ask him, ”What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman, still on cloud nine except for this Mordecai the Jew ruining his joy, assumes that the king is speaking of him – of Haman. Thus Haman describes how he would want to be honored himself. Haman never suggests that the man whom the king delights to honor be promoted, for example, because Haman has nowhere higher to be promoted – he is already second to the king. Rather Haman suggests that the man be arrayed in royal robes that had been worn by the king and seated on the horse that the king rides and on whose head is a royal ‘crown’ (likely a headdress). Actually it is better than that. He suggests that the robes and horse be brought and given to ”one of the king’s most noble officials” and that official would dress the man and lead him on the horse through the city square. And that most noble official was to say to all as he paraded the man through the city square: ”Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.” This pleased the king as a fitting reward – therefore, he told Haman to go and do this immediately for ”Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate.” After doing all this, Mordecai returned to the king’s gate but Haman went home and mourned with his head covered and told his wife and friends what had happened. And it is while Haman is talking with his wife and friends that the king’s eunuchs showed up to escort him to the second feast with Esther. Moreover, they tell him this first, ”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.” (Esther 6:13). Yet, Haman had never mentioned that it was the Jewish people that he sought to have exterminated to the king. Thus this chapter between the two banquets by Esther marks the beginning of Haman’s humiliation.
This chapter then marks the beginning of the great reversal of fortune regarding Haman the Agagite and Mordecai the Jew. Jobes argues that the ”Reversals in Esther” follow a chiastic pattern, which she shows through the means of a chart. Since the verses where the reversal happen are not in the expected order, I don’t think that this is properly speaking a ”chiastic structure.” Nevertheless, the chart is striking in showing the reversals. Some of these reversals include what we have recently seen with Zeresh’s advice to build the gallows for Mordecai in Esther 5:14 but then Zeresh saying that Mordecai will be Haman’s stumbling-block to destruction in Esther 6:13. Also, earlier we had seen Mordecai going through the city weeping (Esther 4:1) but now Mordecai is led by Haman through the city in honor (Esther 6:11). Fitting the recurring motif of apparel is the reversal from Mordecai wearing sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1) and now wearing the king’s royal robes (Esther 6:11, 8:15). Jobes gives a much more extensive list, but that is enough for you to understand the point. Essentially then Esther 6 serves the same purpose as the climax of a chiasm. Jobes tells us that the literary device is called ”peripety,” which she defines as ”a sudden turn of events that reverses the expected or intended outcome.” She also mentions that the three references to the King’s chronicles serve to add to the symmetry of the book: Esther 2:23, 6:1, and 10:2. Note where these references fall in the book.
Jobes commentary has been particularly well argued on this chapter. One more really important point she makes concerning this chapter is that we would expect the peripety to be the point of the highest dramatic tension – like when Esther confronts Haman at the second banquet or perhaps earlier when the king pardons Esther’s uninvited approach. However, Jobes says, ”By making the pivot point of the peripety an insignificant event [Esther 6:1 – the king could not sleep] rather than the point of highest dramatic tension, the author is taking the focus away from human action.”
Esther 7 begins, ”So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, ‘What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.”’ (Esther 7:1-2). Notice again the double question and it is the second day, details mentioned no doubt because of the author’s love of pairs. Queen Esther’s response: ”If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. 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 been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king” (Esther 7:3-4). And so King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther: ”Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” (Esther 7:5). And Esther said, ”A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” (Esther 7:6).
The second half of the chapter is framed by the wrath of the king. Jobes claims that the king’s wrath is clear in Hebrew, ”which sound like machine-gun fire when pronounced aloud.” Esther 7:7 says, ”the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking” and this is resolved in Esther 7:10, ”then the wrath of the king abated.” The reason his wrath abated was that Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Harbona the king’s eunuch informed the king that Haman had gallows at his home prepared for Mordecai – the same Mordecai ”whose word saved the king.” This is a clear reversal. Perhaps the most interesting and unexpected part of this whole scene is that Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther while the king had gone out into the palace garden. The text seems to imply that the king did this so that he would not act rashly but could cool down some, though Haman was terrified that the king would have him killed. And the king just happened to walk back into the room when ”Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was” and the king interpreted this as Haman attempting to assault the Queen.
Some additional background may be helpful. The proper court protocol, according to Jobes, was that Haman had to leave the room when the king did. That is, no one was allowed to be alone with a woman in the king’s harem (including the Queen) and apparently even if the king was there another man was not to be within seven steps of such a woman. Thus for him to fall on the couch where she was sitting is shocking. Also, when you think about it Haman did not really have any other options. If he followed the king then that would not have ended well and if he left that would make him appear even more guilty. Thus this is the last of Haman’s missteps, of which he has made several. Ironically, as Jobes notes, he falls before a Jewess when the whole thing began because Mordecai the Jew would not fall before him. Haman’s fall marks his fall. It is enough of an excuse to charge Haman with treason and have him executed. And by mentioning how Mordecai had saved the king’s life, the reasonable inference is that Haman is to be associated with the traitors.
If you are curious about the exact method of death involved there is a translation issue. That is, in English we think of gallows as something where we hang with a rope around the neck. However, it appears that in Persia the ”gallows” were wooden stakes on which someone would be impaled or hung for display. We simply have no word for that in English. In any case, Haman the Agagite’s death on those ”gallows” fulfilled God’s command to King Saul back in the book of Samuel. Esther the Queen, now identifying herself with the Jews, rightly refused to intercede for his life.