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Esther: A queen in deed (VI)

By Ebere Nwankpa


That same night, the king could not sleep. As a consequence, he decided to occupy the time with a review of the records of notable deeds and achievements in his kingdom. That someone who had dined and drunk is unable to sleep is strange enough. That this disposition is followed by a singular desire to review written material is stranger still. The thesis that the king was a highly functional alcoholic is further buttressed here. During this nocturnal exercise, the records revealed the report of how a certain Mordecai saved the king’s life by reporting in a timely manner, the assassination plot of two of the king’s guards, Bigthana and Teresh. Following this discovery, the king inquired whether Mordecai had been rewarded for that sterling deed. The king’s attendants answered in the negative. So, that night, in a consensus of one, the king resolved to correct that anomaly and honour Mordecai. 

The king’s resolve threw up a most interesting dynamic that ought to be explored. In a development that is difficult to account for, except by way of divine intervention, after a dinner with the queen, the two most powerful men in the kingdom had one man on their respective minds, the same night. The intentions of each man for the life and destiny of Mordecai could not be more divergent and contradictory. Haman was intent on hanging Mordecai. The king had resolved to honour him for a saving his life. The same man and the same night. As a consequence, Mordecai’s life and destiny hung in the balance. The contention for his life had reached a tipping point. Such was the urgency animating the resolution of each man that they both separately and independently made the matter of Mordecai an immediate priority.

Come morning then, the king had at least two items on his agenda for the day – first, honour Mordecai and second, attend the queen’s banquet. Likewise Haman’s itinerary had two highlights for the day – first, hang Mordecai with the king’s permission and second, attend the queen’s banquet. Indeed, unbeknown one to the other, the king and Haman were about to confer on the man uppermost in their respective minds. The narrative at this point acquires the aspect of dramatic scripting common to the better cinematic features of our age. One can almost hear the attendant crescendo musical accompaniment.

Haman arrived at the king’s court bright and early with nefarious intentions. The king was also in his court early seeking to execute his nocturnal resolve. In this frame of mind, the king sought to know which of his nobles was in court that morning and was told of Haman’s presence. The king bid Haman come in. As befitting his rank, the king spoke first and asked Haman a leading question. He sought Haman’s advice on what should be done for a man the king desires to honour. For the second time in two days, Haman’s self-importance took center stage. Apprehending that he was to be the recipient of the honour the king spoke of, he recommended that the honouree be availed of a royal robe that has been worn by the king, a royal steed upon which the king has ridden and a royal crown.

He recommended further that the royal accouterments be handed over to a high noble official whose duty was to dress the honouree and lead the royal horse upon which he was to be seated through the main square of the city, proclaiming to all that this is the man the king wishes to honour. As a spectacle and a strong statement of royal intent, it was excellent advice.  However, as a matter of Haman’s intent, the advice part was merely incidental. And yet, even though King Ahasuerus and Haman were working at cross-purposes, the outcome of their deliberations could not have been more productive and poignant.

Only then did the king provide the punch line. And what a gale force punch it was to Haman’s very psyche. The honouree was to be Mordecai, and the high noble official whose duty it was to dress and parade the honouree through the city was to be Haman. The king was not finished yet. There was some sting still in the tail. As if the big reveal and ultimate switcheroo was not enough, the king instructed Haman to make sure he fully implemented his recommendations, leaving nothing out. Also, among the king’s instructions was one ordering Haman to make haste. Even the timing of the project was not to be one of his choosing. This was ‘do ye unto others as you would that they do unto you’ on steroids.

Not only was Mordecai to take the place of honour and regard that Haman meant for himself in his heart, Haman was to administer that privilege in the most public manner possible. The honour he envisioned for himself was given to his mortal enemy while the supporting role he envisioned for another was given to him. It is a forceful illustration of this classic of the holy writ, ‘thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of my enemies’. In this construction, the elevation is not complete without the active participation of adversaries. Hence, as a result of that fateful early morning discussion with the king, Haman took the afore mentioned garment, crown and horse and paraded Mordecai through the city center, at perhaps the same time when he had planned that the honouree would be swinging from the gallows he had erected only the night before.

And what of Mordecai? It would be difficult to find any better example of the triumph of faith over adversity as this one. It should not be forgotten that before this recognition and elevation, Mordecai was beside himself with mourning over the sentence of death and dispossession implicit in the king’s decree. In fact, in an irony that should be noted for its perfection, Mordecai had refused the fine clothing sent to him by the queen as a measure of her concern for him. And yet, as he mourned in sackcloth and ashes, steadfast in his faith, the king instructed, nay commanded, his sworn adversary, Haman, to dress him in the king’s robes and parade him through town, proclaiming him as worthy of the king’s honour. Death and honour never were so proximate as in this narrative. It may be said of Mordecai that he ate at a table prepared by his enemy, but it is also true that he walked through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ to get there. He, who was meant to ride the gallows of Haman’s design, rode the king’s horse at Haman’s recommendation. The allegory to our salvation is clearly illustrated; we, who were marked for death, have been rescued from that fate and elevated to reign with the king.

Speaking of the spectacular, what a spectacle this must have been to anyone who had been following the course of recent events. What were Mordecai’s erstwhile colleagues to make of this blast out of left field? Mind, these were the people, more than anyone else, who observed the phenomenon from the very beginning, when it was just about Mordecai’s stubborn virtuous religious objection. They watched with varying degrees of approbation, disapproval, menace and perhaps dismay as matters deteriorated for Mordecai, and for the Jewry of the empire. And then, that descending narrative was profoundly interrupted by this sudden elevation. The sheer jolt to the senses must have produced a bout of schizophrenia in many of them. It is not everyday that one is confronted with a sight that the mind struggles to explain. For those who merely observed this Jew who had spent a while crying aloud in the streets in sackcloth and ashes, seeing him in his elevated pomp and dress, being acclaimed by the most powerful official in the kingdom, save the king, must have led to many double takes. A viral moment was this, long before it became a thing.

After the performance of that national duty, Haman hastened to his home. Mordecai returned also to the king’s gate and his duty post. Recall, that last night, Haman had the gallows built on the consensus advice of his wife and friends. That morbid lot had assembled the morning after to witness the outcome of their design. But, contrary to the expectation that the execution would happen as a matter of dispatch, they were made to wait. And wait. When Haman finally showed up in the evening, he, with the same mouth with which he boasted of his wealth, influence and progeny, the night before, and of the impending doom that was soon to befall Mordecai, told the assembled of how the king had elevated the very one they all had marked for destruction, and of his part in it. Not to be outdone, Haman’s wife and friends reached another consensus, this time with a prophetic dimension. They told him that since Mordecai before whom he had suffered a profound loss of status was a Jew, he would not prevail in the matter of his design, but would fall before him. While they were yet speaking, the king’s eunuchs arrived to convey Haman to the queen’s banquet.

No one spared a thought for the gallows.

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