"Please don't make me go," begged Esther.
"You must, Esther. Every girl in the kingdom to enter by order of the king," her cousin Mordecai explained. Esther's parents had died when she was young and he had raised her ever since.
Esther crossed her arms and said, "I'm happy where I am. I certainly don't want to be a Queen. Besides, I'm Jewish and the King isn't. There are lots of Persian girls entering the beauty contest ' they don't need me."
"You have to enter and that is final. Besides, there are so many girls entering, you likely won't be chosen anyways," Mordecai assured her. "And when you go, I don't want to hear about you pouting. I know what a lovely person you are and I want to make sure you stay that way."
The girl smiled and hugged the man, unable to refuse him for long, "All right, Mordecai. For you, I will go cheerfully."
Mordecai smiled gratefully and then frowned slightly, "Esther, wait. There is one last thing you must promise me."
"Yes?" said Esther, somewhat concerned by the serious look Mordecai had taken.
"You must not let ANYONE know that you are a Jew. Do you understand?"
She nodded sadly, "Yes, I understand."
When Esther was falling asleep that night, she began to think about what it would be like at the palace. She'd have to spend an entire year there, away from family and friends, before the King would even choose his new bride. "Ah well," she thought, "at least I'll get to return home after that. After all there's no way the King would end up picking a peasant, Jewish girl as his Queen ' no matter how lovely people thought she was." Esther shivered even though it was a warm evening.
The next morning, Esther packed her bags. She was happy that her cousin would be able to visit her quite often as he worked at the palace as a minor official. Esther carefully combed her long dark hair and gazed longingly out the window. She'd miss the sights and sounds of her home and wanted to commit every detail to memory.
Mordecai walked by, stopped and turned back. "You look so thoughtful Esther," he said with a smile.
Esther nodded. "I hope I'm not chosen to be the Queen. I prayed all last night that God would make the King choose someone else."
"Esther!" Modecai chided, "You mustn't pray only for what you want, but for what God wants of you."
Esther looked confused and Mordecai smiled gently. Sometimes he forgot how young she still was.
"What I mean is," he began again, "that God may not always give us what we want, but he does provide us everything we need. You can't just ask for what you want all the time, because it might not be what God wants. So you must ask for what God wants."
Esther thought a second and responded slowly, "But ' I don't know what God wants. How can I pray for something I don't know?"
Mordecai said, "Well, you could simply pray, 'God, I want whatever you want. I put my trust in You.' Do you understand?"
"I think so ...does that mean, instead of saying, 'God, please don't let the King choose me for his queen,' I am to say, 'God, if you want me to be Queen, then I will be happy with your decision. Please help me do my best to be a good one'?" Esther asked.
Mordecai smiled and kissed Esther on the forehead, "That sounds perfect."
The year passed quickly, but Esther missed her home every day. Just as she'd promised Mordecai, she did her best to remain cheerful and kind. And every night she prayed that God would help her do His will.
Esther didn't like the way some of the other girls teased each other and tried to be kind to everyone she met. She'd been placed in the care of a man named Hegai. Because of her gentle nature Esther became friends with him. Hegai placed Esther and her servants in the best room in the palace and brought her small gifts.
Twelve months passed and it was time for Esther to go see the King. As Hegai led the beautiful girl to the King's palace, people stopped to stare at Esther's gentle beauty.
"Esther, do not be afraid of the King," Hegai said to her as they neared the throne room.
When they had reached the throne room, Esther took a deep breath and knelt before King Xerxes.
"Dear God," she prayed silently, "give me the strength to do Your will."
The King gazed down at Esther. "My goodness," he thought, "this one is young. She's very beautiful, but I don't know'"
It was at that moment that Esther finished her silent prayer. Without thinking, she raised her head (something she shouldn't really have done without the King's permission, but it was her habit when she'd finished her prayers.) The look on her face was so serene, it increased her beauty ten-fold ' and the King's heart was hers.
He broke into a wide smile, happy that he'd finally found his bride, "What is your name?"
Esther realized her error, bowed her head and looked at the floor. "Esther, my lord."
"Esther, it's alright you can look up now," said the King. She looked up at his smiling face and blushed slightly, which pleased him too.
"You have a beauty beyond all beauty. Beauty of the flesh and of the heart!" he exclaimed.
King Xerxes beckoned to Hegai, "This woman, Hegai, shall be my Queen. You have cared for her well, and her beauty surpasses all others, inside and out. Thank you."
Hegai nodded and said, "You are most welcome, great King, I am honored to be of service to you."
Xerxes then called for a servant to bring Queen Vashti's old crown. He took it and placed it gently on Esther's head. "You, Esther, are now my Queen."
Mordecai sighed and leaned against the inside walls of the castle. He missed Esther but was happy to be able to see her almost every day. He was saddened that she had to hide the fact that she was a Jew from the King. It was all so dangerous for her' and she was so young. What if...
Mordecai shook his head. "It is not good to think of such things," he thought to himself. "Esther will be fine."
Low voices close by startled him out of his reverie.
"No, that's too long to wait and far too public a place," said another voice. "It is best to do it while he is sleeping. Perhaps we could bribe one of the servants."
Mordecai peeked around the corner and saw the men standing there. His eyes widened when he recognized two of the King's men, Bigthan and Terish. He flattened himself against the wall for fear of being seen and continued listening as they finalized their plot to kill King Xerxes in his sleep the following night.
As soon as it was safe, Mordecai rushed to see Esther.
"Mordecai, you must have misheard. Bigthan and Terish are the King's men. Why in the world would they want to do something like that?" Esther argued
"I know it sounds impossible, but it is what I heard. You must warn the King right away," Mordecai urged.
Esther frowned, "But what if we're wrong. The King will think I'm a foolish young girl with an over-active imagination!"
Mordecai thought a moment. "Perhaps," he said thoughtfully, "but won't you risk looking a fool to save his life?"
Esther nodded, "You're right, Mordecai. I will tell him immediately."
When Mordecai had left, Esther hurried through the outer gardens toward the palace courts. Reaching the King's throne room, Esther adjusted her crown and smoothed her skirts. This was IMPORTANT business! She walked in quietly but quickly and made her way to King Xerxes' throne. Esther bowed and the King took her hand.
"What is it, my Queen?" he asked.
Esther rose and said, "Terish and Bigthan are plotting to kill you, my lord."
The King frowned. "How do you know this, Esther?"
"Mordecai, my cousin, heard them talking at the gate. They plan to bribe your servant and kill you tomorrow night while you sleep."
The King leaned forward and asked, "Are you sure of this?"
"Yes, your majesty," Esther replied solemnly.
King Xerxes then called over several guards and told them what Esther had said. The guards were immediately dispatched to find the servant, who fearfully confirmed Esther's story (he didn't think it too wise to lie to the King when questioned directly about the plot).
"Thank you, Esther. You've saved my life," King Xerxes said, looking at Esther with a smile.
Returning his smile, she said, "You're welcome, but it is really Mordecai's doing, sir."
"Please give him my thanks, and thank you for coming to me without delay."
"You're welcome, your majesty." Esther bowed and left quickly.
Meanwhile, Mordecai sat outside the palace gates watching the people run around, doing their various activities. Just then a loud trumpet was blown.
Mordecai looked down the road to see several men carrying another man in a tall chair. It was Haman, a court official. Mordecai frowned. Haman always made people bow to him, but Mordecai never did -- he bowed before God and no other. When Haman passed by him, Mordecai sat quietly, only looking at the ground. Soon he looked up again when he heard the other man pass by.
Haman was FURIOUS! Mordecai's refusal to bow made him furious. Didn't he know how important Haman was!
"I'll get RID of him then," Haman thought with a wicked grin on his face. "Better yet, he's a Jew, miserable lot. I'll get rid of every one of them!" He chuckled at the thought as he and made his way towards the palace.
He marched into the throne-room and bowed with a flourish. "Your majesty," he said importantly, "it has come to my attention that there is a group of people in this land that do not respect you or your laws. They are a bad example for your other subjects and must be dealt with before they begin to plot against you and cause discontent throughout the entire kingdom."
"Who are these people?" King Xerxes demanded.
Haman bowed low and said, "My Lord, they are the Jews."
King Xerxes was infuriated at the thought that there was another plot of some sort brewing in the kingdom. Perhaps it was these Jews who had turned Terish and Bigthan against him!
Haman could see he had the King's attention and quickly added, "Your majesty, I have a plan to get rid of them."
The King nodded, and, taking his signet ring off his finger, handed it to Haman. "Do with the people as you wish," he said solemnly.
Haman bowed and scurried quickly out of the room. "Ha, ha!" he chuckled with glee. "I've got Mordecai now! He'll wish he had kissed my very feet!" Haman immediately issued a decree that every Jew in the land would be put to death on the 13th day of the 12th month.
When the news reached Mordecai, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and went out into the city, wailing loudly. In every place to which the decree of the King came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay on sackcloth and ashes.
Esther soon heard the mourning and crying outside the palace and sent two servants to find out what was wrong. When the servants came back, they had a message from Mordecai.
"Queen Esther, Mordecai says that King Xerxes has signed a decree that says every Jew must die on the 13th day of the 12th month," said Hathach. "He wants you to go to the King and get him to change the law," the other man said.
Esther put her hands on her head and began pacing back and forth. "But it's been 30 days since I was last called by the King. If I go to his throne room without being asked to, it will be me who is put to death."
Esther awoke from her sleep that night with a start, "Perhaps God wanted me to become Queen to stop the Jews from being put to death! Why else had she been chosen Queen?"
The next morning, Esther said to her servant, "Go now and tell Mordecai to get all the Jews together and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days. I too will fast and when it is done, I will go before the King, even though it may mean my death."
Esther leaned against the door outside the throne room and sighed heavily. This was going to be even harder than she'd thought. She was weak from her fast and very scared at the prospect of the King's wrath. But she pushed her hair out of her face and took a deep breath.
The king looked up angrily. He hadn't invited anyone to come to the throne room that morning. Why couldn't people understand how much work it was to run a kingdom. How dare they interrupt! Why he would'
But he softened as soon as he saw Esther's beautiful face. He could see how scared she was and she seemed quite a bit paler than usual.
A broad smile spread across the King's face. Esther almost fainted with relief when she saw that the King would forgive her for her interruption.
"What is it that you wish, Queen Esther? Whatever you want, you will get, even if it is HALF my kingdom," King Xerxes said with a welcoming smile.
Esther swallowed and said in a rush, "My lord, if it please the King, would you and Haman come to a banquet I have prepared for you both today?"
King Xerxes smile widened. Why the pretty young thing missed him! Yes, it had been sometime since he'd seen her. The King turned to his aides and said, "Tell Haman to hurry and get ready that he may do as Esther has said."
So the King and Haman came to Esther's banquet. King Xerxes knew Esther wanted to ask some sort of favor of him, so he asked her again what it was. "My Queen, what is it that you wish for? I will give it to you, even if it means HALF my kingdom."
Esther answered, "Please come with Haman to another banquet that I shall prepare for you tomorrow. Then I will tell you what it is that I want."
Haman was proud that he had been invited to both banquets - he and no one but the King - but, as he was leaving the palace, he passed Mordecai outside the gates. Not only did Mordecai refuse to bow, but he didn't even stand up when Haman passed.
When Haman returned home he was absolutely fuming. He paced back and forth, complaining bitterly about the nerve of Mordecai the Jew. How dare he not show Haman more respect.
Then Haman's wife made a suggestion. "Make a gallows seventy-five feet high and tomorrow ask the King for permission to hang the man! Then you'll be able to enjoy the Queen's banquet in peace."
Haman was SO pleased with this suggestion, he had the gallows made that very evening.
That night, the King could not sleep. He called to his servants to bring him the history book telling of the most important events of his reign. As the servants read to the King, he noticed the item about how Mordecai had saved his life, for he had been the one to tell him about the plot through Esther.
"Stop! Wait a minute!" King Xerxes commanded. "How has Mordecai been rewarded for this?"
"My lord, I don't believe anything has been done for him," they replied to the King.
The next day, Haman went to see the King to ask permission to hang Mordecai, not knowing that Mordecai had once saved the King's life.
Hearing some whispering in the outer court, the King asked, "Who's there?"
"Haman is here," replied the servants.
"Let him come in," said King Xerxes.
When the King saw Haman, he immediately asked, "Haman, what should be done to the man I want to honor?"
Haman smiled, thinking selfishly, "Why, of course, the only man King Xerxes could be talking about is me!" So he answered, "Send the King's robe, the King's horse, and the King's crown, to one of the King's MOST noble princes, and let them dress the man in your robes, put your crown upon his head, and lead him throughout the city on your horse, proclaiming to all the people, 'SEE HOW THIS MAN IS HONORED BY THE KING!'"
Then King Xerxes smiled with much pleasure. "I knew you'd have a good idea Haman. Now hurry and take these robes of mine, get my personal horse and do as you have said to Mordecai the Jew that sits at my gate. Do not fail to do ONE thing of all that you have said!"
Haman did his best to hide how shocked and angry he was at the king's command, but it wasn't easy. The very man he wanted to hang was going to be HONORED by the King - with all these things he himself had suggested!
Haman relunctantly dressed Mordecai up in the King's robe and crown, and led him through the city on the King's personal horse shouting, "THIS MAN IS BEING HONORED GREATLY BY THE KING!"
Afterwards, Mordecai returned to his post at the gates, and Haman hurried home in despair. He poured out the story of how the King honored Mordecai over him at his VERY suggestion, and he cried bitterly. His wife and his friends could do nothing to comfort him.
While they were still talking, a few of the King's messengers came to the door. "We are come to bring Haman at once to the banquet Queen Esther has prepared." Haman hastily straightened his hair and dared not let on the way he was truly feeling.
Haman met the King at the palace, and, together, they headed for the second banquet with Esther the Queen.
"What is it that you want, my Queen? What is your request? Whatever it is, I will give it to you, even if you desire half my kingdom," the King repeated when everyone had settled.
"If the King is pleased with me, I request that the King will save my life and the life of all Jews. We face death soon. I and all my people are to be killed; every one of us must die."
King Xerxes became very angry. "Who would dare touch you or any of your relatives?"
Esther looked directly at Haman and pointed. "This wicked Haman is our enemy."
Haman was so eaten up with envy, he tried to destroy an entire people just to get to one man - Mordecai the Jew!
Now Haman turned white as a ghost with fright. The King got up from his seat and stormed out of the room into the palace garden.
As soon as the King went out the door, Haman quickly left his seat and went over to Queen Esther, begging for his life desperately. He knew the King was ready to have him slain for the evil he had planned to carry out on the Jews.
By the time the King returned, Haman had thrown himself upon the Queen, begging for mercy. Seeing this, the King yelled and servants came running to hold Haman back from the Queen.
"Why not hang him on the gallows he built for Mordecai?" someone suggested. The King sat back at the table and nodded. "YES!" he spoke with authority. "HANG HIM THERE!"
And that is the way Haman died, for, in the end, Haman's jealousy cost him his life. He was hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. Peace was restored to the kingdom. Esther and her people were safe because Esther was willing to go before the King, even if it cost her her life.