Honor and Pride – Esther 6

Read the Passage: Esther 6

Ahasuerus’ Insomnia (6:1–5)

There are more verses in the Bible about sleep than one might first assume. For example, sleep is described as a blessing from God (cf. Ps. 127:2; Prov. 3:24) and God promises to sustain His people when they sleep (cf. Ps. 3:5; 4:8). Furthermore, there are instances in Scripture where God’s will is disclosed to individuals, via dreams and visions, while they sleep (cf. Matt. 1:20–21; Acts 10:9–15). So, while sleep is a gift from God that His people may enjoy, and God can supernaturally unfold His plans through sleep, Est. 6:1–3 records an instance where God providentially revealed His will via insomnia (cf. Eccl. 2:23). Indeed, Est. 6:1 records that on a certain night—that is, the evening after Esther’s first banquet—Ahasuerus could not sleep. Rather than call for a musician, a girl from his harem, or even for Esther herself, the king asked to be read the history of the Persian Empire.

While the servant reading from the chronicles of Persia could have presumably read from any part of the historical record, providentially he chose to read the account of Mordecai delivering Ahasuerus from the assassination attempt by two of the king’s doorkeepers, named Bigthana and Teresh (cf. Est. 2:21–23). Observe that this event had transpired at least five years earlier. Upon hearing this narrative, Ahasuerus asked, “What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” (Est. 6:3). The text does not indicate if the king had memory of this event, or if he was aware that Mordecai was Esther’s cousin. Note the fact that nothing had been done for Mordecai was certainly an oversight, as Persian kings were renowned for their public displays of personal generosity. Thus, Ahasuerus determined to reward Mordecai and inquired about who was in the courtyard to assist him with his plan to honor Mordecai.

Haman’s Pride (6:6–10)

Esther 6:6–9 is humorous, ironic, and tragic. Upon learning that Haman was in the court, Ahasuerus allowed for his approach and asked Haman, “What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” (Est. 6:6). God’s providence can be seen in that the king neglected to mention Mordecai’s name. This omission allowed for Haman’s pride to be stoked, as he simply assumed that he was the one whom Ahasuerus desired to honor! In short, Haman’s response is that Ahasuerus treat the elevated man as if he were the king. This answer, which betrayed Haman’s own desire to be king, entailed parading the man around the city on a horse with a herald proclaiming the rider’s honor. To Haman’s great surprise, Ahasuerus commanded him to enact this plan by honoring Mordecai—the same man whom Haman intended to execute that very day on his newly built gallows.

Mordecai’s Reward (6:11–14)

Observe that Mordecai’s name appears sixty times in the book of Esther, with him being referred to as “Mordecai the Jew” only six times. All six times Mordecai is referred to as a Jew occur after Esther’s first banquet, including here at Est. 6:10. This passage is significant, for it is King Ahasuerus who utters the phrase “Mordecai the Jew,” which shows that the king was unaware of the details of Haman’s genocidal plan to kill the Jews. Indeed, there would have been no need to honor Mordecai a short time before his planned execution. Note that earlier, at Est. 3:8–9, when Haman asked for permission to annihilate the Jews, he did not mention them by name; rather, he merely referred to “a certain people” (Est. 3:8) whom he intended to destroy. This is not to say that Ahasuerus was not responsible for allowing the genocidal decree to be issued. Yet, it does show that the king was not inherently antisemitic.

What a turn of events in the life of Mordecai. In Est. 4:6 he is in the city square, wearing sackcloth and ashes, mourning the genocidal decree to kill him and all of his countrymen. Then, less than 24 hours later, at Est. 6:11, Mordecai is again in the city square; yet now he is wearing Ahasuerus’ clothes, riding on the king’s horse, with his honor being declared by the same man who had written the genocidal decree he’d been lamenting! Now Haman is the one mourning as he returns home. Observe that the same ones who had stoked and indulged Haman’s pride the previous day, and who had suggested the construction of the gallows, now told Haman, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him” (Est. 6:13). Then, in the midst of his mourning, Haman was reminded of Esther’s second banquet.

Application Questions:

  1. What is the relationship between pride and destruction? What is the relationship between humility and honor?
  2. Do you value sleep as a gift from God? What are some warnings in the Bible about sleep?
  3. Have you ever been overlooked for a courageous act, for a well-deserved promotion, or just for your basic Christian service?
  4. Do you think Esther learned about these events before her second banquet? How could the king not be aware about the decree to destroy the Jews?
  5. Can you testify about God’s providential deliverance during times of persecution, suffering, or other personal trials?