The book of Esther opens with a grand celebration given by the king. This scene introduces us to the opulence and power of the Persian court. The king and all the great men of the huge, powerful Persian empire wine and dine for six months. SIX MONTHS! This party of parties was capped off by another party that only lasted a week, but everyone was invited. The author describes the party decorations, the interior design, the custom stemware, and most importantly, the extreme generosity of the king.
“He directed all his servants to give his guests what they asked for.”
Yet the king could not get what he asked for – the presence of his wife, Vashti, who was throwing a week-long party of her own. Her refusal to attend the king at his party sends the ruling men in a tizzy, and fearing the collapse of the Persian patriarchy, they persuade the king to divorce Vashti and to make a law that all husbands are to rule their family. (On a side note, it is interesting that making the right of husband to rule was not already a law at this point, isn’t it?) They had to keep those uppity women in check!
“Then all women will have respect for their husbands, from the least important to the most important.”
Whew – disaster averted.
This extended description of the party, the disobedient wife and the law-making serves a number of functions relative to the story.
- It provides the backstory for the ascendancy of Esther (1:19). The role of queen opens up with the divorce of Vashti, leaving “fate” to pick a Jewish girl for the spot.
- It introduces the binding nature of Persian law which plays a pivotal role in the deliverance of the Jews and the reversal of their fortunes (1:22; 3:2, 12; 8:8). Instead of assuming the reader understands the binding nature of Persian Law Codes, the author makes this immutable quality a plot device to be evoked later in the story.
- This introductory story sets the stage for the deliverer to appear in strategic position to power, reminiscent of other deliverance stories in Jewish literature set within a royal court. For example, Joseph meets his brothers in Pharaoh’s court and their deliverance from famine is in the hands of his royal power (Gen. 41:39-40). Moses also seeks to deliver Israel in relationship to the king of Egypt (Ex. 4:21).
- This initial party also foreshadows the feasting that serves as the backdrop for deliverance at the banquet of Queen Esther, and also in the jubilant celebrations that inspired the feast of Purim. Feasts are a reoccurring motif throughout the book.
The Point of all the Parties?
The story of Esther begins with a party and ends with a party, and there is even a party thrown into the middle for good measure. What is the point of all the parties? For a book that has no advice or promises or commands, it is difficult to be emphatic about personal application in Esther. In fact, the only instruction can be found in Mordecai’s institution of Purim. Did you get that? The only direct instruction of Esther is how to throw a party.
At the end, we see that the story set forth in Esther is an elaborate explanation of Purim. This story is why Jews everywhere, in all generations, are to celebrate Purim every year with “feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor (NIV 9:22, 28).” The Jews must never fail to celebrate their survival! (9:28) They must remember the terror of holocaust with festivity and reflection, so they never forget.
What should they never forget?
That God sends salvation. That God promised that the Jews would always survive. That God’s promises to those who believe in a Jewish Messiah will come to pass. That God wills. This is reason to celebrate with gladness and generosity.