“Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request.” — Esther 7:3
For many centuries, the dreaded disease of smallpox devastated people around the world. However, there is no reason to fear a smallpox epidemic in today’s world, due to the remarkable work of Edward Jenner and later developments based upon his research.
Edward Jenner was born on May 17, 1749. At the age of thirteen, he became an apprentice to a renowned surgeon in South Gloucestershire, England, where he worked for seven years gaining the experience needed to become a surgeon and medical doctor. By 1788, Jenner was a successful surgeon with a well-established practice.
Early in 1796, Jenner began working to develop a vaccination to prevent smallpox, based in part on the common belief that dairymaids who had suffered from the mild disease of cowpox were immune to smallpox. From this, he speculated that cowpox not only protected an individual from smallpox, but also that the matter from a cowpox blister could be a means of protection for others. He took the risk of testing his hypotheses by inoculating twenty-three subjects — including his own eleven-month-old son! No doubt he did this with significant apprehension. However, his hypothesis proved correct; everyone in his test group experienced either a very mild cowpox infection or no symptoms at all.
In light of that success, the following year Jenner left his practice and continued to work on perfecting the smallpox vaccine, initiating the first scientific attempt to control an infectious disease by the deliberate use of vaccination. Later, he presented his research and test results to the British government, though it took years before the extraordinary value of vaccination was publicly acknowledged.
Some days before Jenner died, he stated to a friend, “I am not surprised that men are not grateful to me; but I wonder that they are not grateful to God for the good which He has made me the instrument of conveying.” Today, Jenner is often referred to as “the father of immunology” in the scientific community. His work on smallpox inoculation is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human.”
Reading of Jenner’s efforts and the many individuals who undoubtedly escaped death because of his accomplishments made me think of Esther’s actions in today’s text, and the great deliverance the Jews experienced as a result. Esther’s revelation of her identity as a Jew and her plea to the king for her people made Haman’s criminal ploy apparent, though at great personal risk to her own well-being.
In our lives, we may try to avoid situations where we feel being followers of Christ could put us at risk of negativity or even overt hostility. We may be tempted to sidestep making our beliefs known, or hope that someone else will voice a Christian perspective on an issue. Had Esther refused to petition the king for her people, God would have raised up someone else. However, Esther chose to use her position as queen to plead for the lives of her people.
What has God chosen us to do? We may not have the dramatic opportunities of Edward Jenner or Queen Esther, but God will give us ways to take a stand for Him. And who knows? Souls may be saved from eternal death through our witness.
Chapter 7 of the Book of Esther records the events that took place at Esther’s second banquet for the king and Haman: the king’s repeated offer to grant Esther’s petition, her revelation of her identity as a Jew and the petition for her people, Esther’s indictment of Haman, and Haman’s execution. The first two verses of chapter 8 indicate that Mordecai was promoted to fill Haman’s position in the kingdom.
Esther showed wisdom in how she framed her request (verses 3-4). With humility, and without giving context, she appealed to the king’s emotions, stating her life was in danger.
The people of conquered nations frequently were sold into slavery in ancient times. However, the decree instigated by Haman enabled the Persians to kill the captive Jews, so Esther’s plea to the king in verse 4 was a life or death matter. Her statement that selling them into slavery would not “countervail the king’s damage” was an assertion that the contributions made by the Jews through their work as employees of the Persian Empire significantly outweighed what the king could have gained by selling them into slavery. Instead, the Jews were being “sold” to destruction. This was a reference to the money Haman had offered the king in chapter 3 verse 9, to persuade him to decree the elimination of the Jews. Esther was exposing the truth about Haman — that he was not a faithful servant of the king, but an adversary more interested in his own status than any benefit to the king.
The king and Haman both became aware of Esther’s identity as a Jew at the same moment, and Haman instantly recognized that his plot, while not directed personally at Esther, had put his relationship with the king in great jeopardy. Historians indicate that a king rising up in anger from a banqueting table (see verse 7) was an indicator that no mercy would be given to the one who caused the anger. The veil placed over Haman’s face (verse 8) signified that he had been condemned to death; in Persian custom, a king would not look upon the face of a condemned person.
It was customary for a king to confiscate the estate of a criminal, so the first verses of chapter 8 record that the king gave Haman’s holdings to Esther, who in turn gave them to Mordecai. This would have made known her desire to have Mordecai elevated to the position Haman formerly held. When the king took off the ring (the seal of designated authority) and gave it to Mordecai, that action indicated the king’s concurrence.
II. The deliverance of the Jews
A. The frustration of the plot
4. The hanging of Haman (7:1-10)
a. The request of Esther for her people (7:1-4)
b. The exposure of Haman (7:5-6)
c. The plea of Haman (7:7)
d. The demise of Haman (7:8-10)
B. The dissolve of the plot
1. The elevation of Mordecai (8:1-2)
Are we willing to step out for God even though there may be personal risk involved in doing so? Through our faith and actions, God’s purposes will be forwarded.