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Esther: A queen in deed’  (v)

By Ebere Nwankpa.

The invitation

For someone facing long odds and a date with mortality, Esther did not delay or drag her feet, despite her legitimate earlier misgivings, as some in situations far less onerous are wont to do. Not only did she meet the situation with resolve, she did so with dispatch. And so, on the third day of her fast, even before that exercise was officially over, she put on her royal robes, made her way to the king’s inner court and positioned herself strategically in the king’s line of sight. Given that the king had not summoned her, this was a death wish. So, her first task was to survive the encounter.

One wonders if one of the prayers Esther prayed during her fast might not have been for divine intervention to prompt the king to summon her and thereby save her the risk of mortality. If she did pray that eminently sensible and understandable prayer, it was not answered. The totality of the prayers of all the Jews in Susa and that of her servants did not spare her from taking the initiative either. It would seem that prayer is not designed for situations where taking responsibility and initiative would do, regardless of the risk. Prayer in this case was not a substitute for action.

Having arrived in the king’s inner court, Esther deployed the first bit of wisdom in her considerable arsenal. Her physical approach indicated a certain level of thought and tact. Rather than force the issue and approach the king, she took a position in his line of sight and waited for him to acknowledge her presence. Or not. She gave the king and herself some room for maneuver. She took initiative, but was not impulsive about it. When the king saw her standing in the court, he invited her formally into the royal presence by extending to her the golden scepter in his hand. The first hurdle had been successfully navigated.

Having been granted audience, Esther subsequently waited for the king to take the initiative in the discourse that was to follow. Though she had an almighty agenda, she tactfully allowed the king to lead the conversation. This is instructive in at least one way. It allowed Esther to gauge the king’s disposition to the request she had in mind before making it. Her instinctive deference and poise was being put to good effect. King Ahasuerus immediately apprehended that a matter of considerable importance lay behind the queen’s unscheduled appearance. His inquiry into the purpose of her visit left Esther in no doubt that she was favoured, as the king framed his inquiry in the most courtly and generous terms possible.

Now, Esther could have taken that cue and perhaps prematurely pleaded her cause, but she had a more sophisticated plan in mind. A thing to be admired is the supreme focus of this queen. So then, according to plan, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet she had prepared. Apparently, Esther hadn’t spent the entire time before her appearance in the king’s court praying or in deep thought. She had also been busy preparing a banquet. This invitation was deft and inspired. The change in location gave her control of the logistics. This was logistics before Efe and Big Brother Nigeria. It provided her with exclusive access to both the king and Haman and the conversation that was be had would be as confidential as she wanted it to be. And given that she was on her turf, she could be as unrestrained and as expressive as the situation required.

There are other considerations worthy of note here. The banquet of three envisaged by Queen Esther had the effect of isolating the king from his regular courtiers and schedule. It also set off a high level of curiosity in the king’s mind regarding the queen’s intentions. A psychological prep of the queen’s design for what was to come. For Haman, the promise of exclusivity fed his considerable ego and pride. It also completely blindsided him to Esther’s real motive. The fact that Esther kept her real intention a secret until the last moment contributed to and heightened the intrigue. Her choice of activity, a banquet with a liberal serving of drinks, was pitch perfect. It was a pastime of which the king was fond. It was also to prove strategic since that the king was often mercurial in decision-making when he imbibed. Perhaps most importantly, since previous to her unscheduled appearance in the king’s court, Esther had not seen the king for thirty days, the banquet furnished an opportunity to reestablish the inter-personal dynamic she shared with the king ahead of her request.

King Ahasuerus responded to Esther’s invitation with alacrity, ordering that Haman be quickly notified and produced for the purpose of honoring the invitation. The enthusiasm the king exhibited is that reserved for situations and occasions where what looks like a big problem initially, turns out to require a simple solution. Esther could have asked for anything, however, all she asked for was the pleasure of the king’s company. King Ahasuerus was pleasantly surprised and relieved. Temporarily. But still, the king was curious. As the wine flowed that evening, the king asked Esther for the second time what her request was and for the second time she demurred. Instead, the queen invited the king and Haman to another banquet the next day with a promise that on the morrow she would make her request. The effect of this delay on the two men was powerful and profound. Haman left full of himself, the king could not sleep and God was at work.

Haman ate it up. The banquet he had just attended fed his deep need for extravagant affirmation. He viewed the entire thing as just another feather in his cap, another testament and ode to his importance and influence. He missed out entirely on, or conveniently forgot the fact that a transaction between the king and the queen was taking place. His self-regard had already consumed him. The rest as it turned out was just a matter of time.

Before he left the palace premises, Haman encountered Mordecai at the king’s gate. Then and as always, Mordecai refused to bow to him. This is significant. Under normal circumstances and perhaps as Haman expected, the publication of the decree under which all Jews were to be killed and their property plundered should have reduced the likes of Mordecai to a quivering and cowering mess in his presence. After all. Mordecai had dared Haman and now his life and that of his people were forfeit. Haman had gained the upper hand. Haman would likely have expected that the present circumstances would break the will of Mordecai. But, Mordecai was far from normal in this respect and his obstinacy further infuriated Haman. Nevertheless, comforted by his thoughts of the queen’s favour and the fate he plotted for Mordecai, he kept his peace, for the time being.

When Haman got home that night, he called his wife and friends to an impromptu after party and held forth; boasting about his eminent and lofty position, wealth and the multitude of his children. He declaimed the recognition the queen had given him in inviting just him and the king to a banquet and proclaimed his delight in a similar exclusive invitation the next day. His pseudo soliloquy did not stop there. He disclosed to his audience his most recent encounter with Mordecai and confessed that he could take no pleasure in his good fortune while Mordecai lived, revealing the extent of his psychotic fixation. In response, his wife and friends gave him a piece of fateful advice – Build a gallows, ask the king to have Mordecai hung on it and attend the queen’s banquet afterwards. Haman concurred and had the gallows built that night.

What a consensus.

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