Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Anger: The Story of Esther

Esther or Odalisque

Image via Wikipedia

Esther is a story of a person that rises above her circumstances to become a powerful influence for the common good.  The subtext though is a story of anger unchecked.  Let's take a look at the subtext and see if there is anything we can learn from this amazing story. 

On the seventh day, when the king was feeling good from the wine, Ahasuerus commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who personally served him, to bring Queen Vashti before him with her royal crown. He wanted to show off her beauty to the people and the officials, because she was very beautiful. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command that was delivered by his eunuchs. The king became furious and his anger burned within him.
Esther 1:10-12 (HCSB)

As we jump into this story we right off the bat see vice that is so often associated with anger.  Alcohol has  been well researched and implicated in aggressive behavior.  Alcohol is involved in half of all murders, rapes and assaults by some estimates1.  The Bible describes alcohol as a brawler (Prov 20:1).  So King Ahasuerus went from feeling good buzz to being angry very quickly. 

The second vice here is sexual provocation.  The king was not interested in treating his wife as a beautiful fine vessel, but rather as a crude display of sexuality for the entertainment of his guests.  He sought to dishonor her by making her into a sex show. 

Queen Vashti appropriately refused.   However the king's pride was wounded and he became angry that she did not obey his command.  His anger was fury and burning.  This is the third vice: Prideful anger. 

As the story continues we learn something else about anger.  Often anger is an expression of the desire to control others in a relationship. 

For the queen's action will become public knowledge to all the women and cause them to despise their husbands and say, 'King Ahasuerus ordered Queen Vashti brought before him, but she did not come.' Before this day is over, the noble women of Persia and Media who hear about the queen's act will say the same thing to all the king's officials, resulting in more contempt and fury.
Esther 1:17-18 (HCSB)

The root of misogynistic anger is the desire to control women.  The Bible unfortunately has been used to perpetuate this sin against women, but this story stands in testimony against such actions.  Anger is often the response when a person has a misplaced desire to control others.  It is an expression of emotional immaturity in that "I want it, you have it, so give it to me."  It is almost as if the individual never learned while growing up that in order to get along a person has to give a part of themselves contrary to the selfish desires of the flesh.  Notice the perversion of respect here.  My wife dishonored me, by refusing to dishonor herself at my command.  What is more there is a cultural hatred toward women as his wise men are threatened to the point that they want to make an example of the queen. 

The result was that the king deposed the queen and sent a message through out the kingdom announcing his judgment in order that women would "honor their husbands (Est 1:20)."  This is the message then, "My wife refused to be sexual entertainment at my party.  I was angry with her for dishonoring me in this way so I removed her from being queen.  So women you better listen to your husbands and do what they say." 

After a while the King then goes through a drawn out process to select an new Queen.  That person is Esther.  Esther's uncle who raised her is Mordecai. 

During those days while Mordecai was sitting at the King's Gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two eunuchs who guarded the king's entrance, became infuriated and planned to assassinate King Ahasuerus. When Mordecai learned of the plot, he reported it to Queen Esther, and she told the king on Mordecai's behalf. When the report was investigated and verified, both men were hanged on the gallows. This event was recorded in the Historical Record in the king's presence.
Esther 2:21-23 (HCSB)

We do not know what these two eunuchs were angry about, but notice out of their anger hatched a plot to kill the king.  This anger came to the attention of Mordecai who took quick and decisive action to warn the king. 

Next we are introduced to Haman.  Haman is elevated to a high position in the kingdom.  He is very pleased to have others bow down and pay homage to himself.  Mordecai is not pleased to do this and refuses. 

THE JACKASS IN OFFICE

AN Ass carrying an Image in a religious procession, was driven through a town, and all the people who passed by made a low reverence. Upon this, the Ass supposing that they intended this worship for himself, was mightily puffed up, and would not budge another step. But the driver soon laid the stick across his back, saying at the same time, "You silly dolt! it is not you that they reverence, but the Image which you carry."

Fools take to themselves the respect that is given to their office. 2

Haman's character was soon to be revealed to the king, but notice his reaction to Mordecai's supposed offence. 

When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing down or paying him homage, he was filled with rage.
Esther 3:5 (HCSB)

His rage spilled over into the ethnic hatred that had existed between Haman's people and Mordecai's people.  Haman, a likely descendent of Agag, king of the Amalekites who were the enemies of the Jews (See Est 3:1; 1 Sam 15:8; and Ex 17:8-15), developed a plan to wipe out the Jewish people because Mordecai had refused to bow to him.  He used the King to bring about his plot by getting the king to agree to kill off the Jews because they followed different laws. 

Next Mordecai finds out about the plan.  He goes to Esther to warn her and ask her to talk with the King about this plan.

If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father's house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.
Esther 4:14 (HCSB)

Esther agrees to talk with the king and asks that the people to fast while she seeks audience of the King.  She plans a banquet for the king and asks that Haman attend.  Meanwhile...

That day Haman left full of joy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai at the King's Gate, and Mordecai didn't rise or tremble in fear at his presence, Haman was filled with rage toward Mordecai. Yet Haman controlled himself and went home.
Esther 5:9-10 (HCSB)

Haman could not let it go so he and his wife plotted:

His wife Zeresh and all his friends told him, "Have them build a gallows 75 feet high. Ask the king in the morning to hang Mordecai on it. Then go to the banquet with the king and enjoy yourself." The advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows constructed.
Esther 5:14 (HCSB)

The king could not sleep.  He was reading through some records and realized that Mordecai had never been honored for saving his life.  He calls Haman to ask him how he can honor.  Haman seeking to ask the king to hang Mordecai thinks, "Who could the king want to honor but me."  He describes an elaborate plan to honor this person.  The king then orders Haman to bestow this honor on Mordecai.  Haman's anger is turned to bitterness.

He then attends the feast prepared by Esther.  Esther reveals the plot to kill the Jews to the king and then exposes Haman as the author of the plot.  Again:

Angered by this, the king arose from where they were drinking wine and went to the palace garden. Haman remained to beg Queen Esther for his life because he realized the king was planning something terrible for him.
Esther 7:7 (HCSB)

The king returns finding Haman lying on the couch with Esther.  Haman was prostrate begging for his life.  The king however thinks that Haman is attempting to have sex with her.  Wanting to defend her honor and repay for the treachery against the Jews the king decides to hang Haman from the very gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai. 

They hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king's anger subsided.
Esther 7:10 (HCSB)

As the story continues the King gives the Jews the legal right to take up arms and defend themselves.  The crisis of pending genocide is averted and Esther becomes a Jewish national hero. 

What are we to learn from this account?  Anger is a passionate and destructive emotion.  It drives to take action, but that action is not always tempered with sound judgment.  In this case anger led to broken relationship, misogyny, plotting murder, violent racism, and eventual death of one of the angry person.  On that last one the king is believed to be Xerxes I of secular history.  If that is the case then the King was murdered (Matt 26:52).  I believe that we can learn to watch out for anger.  Great evil can come about in our lives if we do not.  We also can learn how Esther in great wisdom handled this angry king in great power of gentleness.  It reminds me of the proverb.

A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.
Proverbs 15:1 (HCSB)

One of the most important things to learn from this account is that anger is ultimately destructive to the person themselves.  Anger unrestrained overpowers the angry man. 

Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated-it can only bring harm.
Psalms 37:8 (HCSB)

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it in check.
Proverbs 29:11 (HCSB)

Don't let your spirit rush to be angry, for anger abides in the heart of fools.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 (HCSB)

Let us walk wisely as we discern what to do with this power passion and emotional we call anger.  God Bless You.

 


1) http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/abuse/a/blacer030616.htm

2) An argosy of fables
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