Commentary on Esther 5

Notes (NET Translation)

1 It so happened that on the third day Esther put on her royal attire and stood in the inner court of the palace, opposite the king’s quarters. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the palace, opposite the entrance.

The royal attire is intended to inspire the king’s respect, not to stir his passions. From the inner court of the palace the king can see Esther.

2 When the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she met with his approval. The king extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter.

Esther has not been summoned to appear before the king for thirty days and is risking her life by appearing before the king unsummoned (4:11).

3 The king said to her, “What is on your mind, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even as much as half the kingdom will be given to you!”

The Persian monarchs were renowned for such extravagant oaths, and their sometimes fateful outcome. According to Herodotus (Hist. 5.24), Darius used similar hyperbole in his effort to lure Histiaeus, tyrant of Miletus, to accept a position as his advisor in Susa: “All I have will be yours.” Herodotus also depicts Xerxes as a man who made ill-considered promises to the women in his life. In Hist. 9.109–113, Herodotus reports that Xerxes, who had been having an affair with his niece, vowed to give her anything she requested. She foolishly demanded that he give her the robe that he was wearing, which had been hand-made by Xerxes’ wife, Amestris. Though he tried to persuade her to take another gift, she would have none of it. So Xerxes gave her the robe, which she decided to wear in public. When Amestris was told that the robe she had made for Xerxes was being worn by the niece, her suspicions of the king’s infidelity were confirmed. Rather than take vengeance on the mistress, Amestris decided that it was the woman’s mother, the wife of Xerxes’ brother, who was really behind the affair. At the king’s birthday banquet, Amestris asked that Xerxes place the mother in her power. Xerxes felt compelled to honor the request, because “it is impossible among them that one who makes request when a royal feast is spread before the king should not receive it” (Hist. 9.111). Amestris had the woman horribly mutilated and sent back to her home and husband.1

4 Esther replied, “If the king is so inclined, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.”

Why doesn’t Esther just ask the king to deliver the Jews? “It will be seen as the story continues that Esther has carefully orchestrated her actions to produce the ruin of Haman and the deliverance of her people.”2

5 The king replied, “Find Haman quickly so that we can do as Esther requests.” So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared.

6 While at the banquet of wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your request? It shall be given to you. What is your petition? Ask for as much as half the kingdom, and it shall be done!”

The “banquet of wine” probably means that after the food had been eaten the guests drank wine.

7 Esther responded, “My request and my petition is this: 8 If I have found favor in the king’s sight and if the king is inclined to grant my request and perform my petition, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them. At that time I will do as the king wishes.

Despite what the translation of verse 7 might imply, the second banquet is not the queen’s request. The second banquet is a prelude to the true request.

From a literary perspective, Esther’s delay in asking for her people’s deliverance sustains the tension and allows us to learn of Haman’s self-aggradnizement (5:11-12) and Mordecai’s reward (6:6-11).

But from the point of view of the characters, we are perhaps meant to know that it is impolite (and risky) to take monarchs’ extravagant promises at face value and that some more delicate bargaining needs to be done before the safety of her people is secured. And who is to say what will count as half the kingdom, especially if the head of the prime minister is at risk? In this narrative we have simply the first exchange in a play of oriental courtesies.

Even more surprising is her refusal, at the first banquet (5:6-8), to say what her request actually is. But what she commits the king to, in extending the invitation to a second banquet, is the granting of her petition sight unseen, without any quantifying of fractions of the kingdom. Unlike the first banquet, which she said she had already prepared when she invited the king, the second will be prepared only when the king has agreed, by accepting her invitation, to give her exactly whatever she will demand. So ingenious is her logic that by the end of her speech she is able to represent what she wants as “what the king has said” (5:8); it has all been a subtle play of bargaining.3

Esther’s request is meant to set Haman up rather than entertain the king.4

9 Now Haman went forth that day pleased and very much encouraged. But when Haman saw Mordecai at the king’s gate, and he did not rise nor tremble in his presence, Haman was filled with rage toward Mordecai.

In 3:2-6 Mordecai does not bow for Haman but in 5:9 he does not rise for Haman.

10 But Haman restrained himself and went on to his home. He then sent for his friends to join him, along with his wife Zeresh.

These friends are called “wise men” in 6:13, so they are probably advisors.

11 Haman then recounted to them his fabulous wealth, his many sons, and how the king had magnified him and exalted him over the king’s other officials and servants.

Haman’s ten sons would surely have given him some “bragging rights” in the eyes of the Persians. According to Herodotus (Hist. 1.136), the Persians regarded it as the “greatest proof of manly excellence” to father many sons. In fact, Herodotus reports that each year the man with the most sons would be sent a special gift by the king.5

12 Haman said, “Furthermore, Queen Esther invited only me to accompany the king to the banquet that she prepared! And also tomorrow I am invited along with the king.

13 Yet all of this fails to satisfy me so long as I have to see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”

14 Haman’s wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows seventy-five feet high built, and in the morning tell the king that Mordecai should be hanged on it. Then go with the king to the banquet contented.” It seemed like a good idea to Haman, so he had the gallows built.

As noted on 2:23, the “gallows” are probably a stake. It may be that the 75-foot stake was a more modest pole erected on a hill or that this is a case of hyperbole.

The domestic setting of [the scene in verses 9-14] makes Haman’s malice all the more sinister. There is a parallel with Ahasuerus in the setting of his palace in chap. 1: Haman at home, worsted by his inferior, Mordecai, and in desperate need of counsel about his next move, mirrors Ahasuerus in the palace, worsted by his inferior Vashti. Like Ahasuerus, who must put every woman in the kingdom to her place in order to assert his own dignity, Haman must butcher the whole race of Jews to conquer his own sense of inferiority and alienness. All his honors do him no good, he pathetically admits (5:13), as long as one Jew does not offer him the customary support. Haman’s friends rightly understand that Haman has been so publicly dishonored that something more than Mordecai’s death is required: it must be public humiliation. The pole 50 cubits (80 feet) high, on which Mordecai’s body is to be impaled, will stand in Haman’s courtyard but be visible throughout Susa. And Mordecai’s death must not be an act of private vengeance, but authorized by the king.6

Bibliography

Barker, Kenneth L. ed. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

Brown, Raymond E. ed. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Mays, James L. ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (Revised Edition). San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2000.

Meeks, Wayne A. ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Tomasino, Anthony. Esther. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013.


  1. Tomasino EEC 5:3 
  2. Tomasino EEC 5:4 
  3. Mays 356 
  4. Brown 578 
  5. Tomasino EEC 5:11–12 
  6. Mays 356 
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