HEN Darius, the great king, died, his son Xerxes, who is called in the Bible Ahasuerus, took his place upon the throne of Persia. Ahasuerus was not, like his father Darius, a wise man. He was hasty in his temper and did many foolish acts.
At that time the palace where the king of Persia lived was no longer at Babylon, but at a city named Shushan, among the mountains of a region called Elam. King Ahasuerus held at Shushan a great feast with his nobles. When the king and his company were all drunken with wine, he sent for his queen, Vashti, that he might let all the nobles see how beautiful she was. Among the Persians it was held to be very wrong for a woman ever to allow her face to be seen by any man except her husband. Queen Vashti refused to come to the feast that these drunken men might stare at her. This made the king very angry. He said that because Vashti would not obey him, she should not be queen any longer, and he put her away from him and from his house.
After this King Ahasuerus thought to choose another woman to be his queen instead of Vashti. He sent commands throughout all the kingdom that in every land and province they should find the most beautiful young women and bring them to the royal city of Shushan. There the king would see them all, and among them he would choose the one that pleased him best, and would take her as his queen. So from every land in the great empire of Persia the loveliest young women were brought to Shushan, and there they were left in the care of Hegai, the chief of the king's palace.
At that time many Jews were living in the cities of Persia, for we have seen that only a small part of the Jews went back to the land of Israel when King Cyrus allowed them to return. (See Story 104.) There was a Jew living in Shushan, named Mordecai. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, and came from the same family and line with Saul, the first of the kings of Israel. At the house of Mordecai lived his cousin, a young girl named Hadassah, or Esther, a name which means "Star." Her father and mother had died, and she had been left alone; so Mordecai took her to his own house, and brought her up as his own daughter. Esther was very beautiful, and was as lovely in her heart as she was in her face. Among the other beautiful young women she was taken to the palace as one of those who were to be brought before the king.
Queen Esther coming to the king
When King Ahasuerus saw Esther, the Jewish girl, he loved her, and chose her out of all the young women to be his queen, and set upon her head the royal crown of Persia. Esther was taken into the king's palace; rooms and servants were given to her, and she lived in the state of a queen. When the king wisher to see her he sent for her, and she came to his room. No one could go to the king or could see him unless sent for. And if any one, man or woman, came before the king without being called, that person was seized by the guards, and was led away to death, unless the king held out toward him his golden scepter, the rod which he held.
In the palace Mordecai could no longer meet his cousin Esther, for no man except the king could enter the rooms set apart for the women. But Esther from her window could see Mordecai as he walked by, and by her servants she could send word to him, and in the same way could hear word from him. Mordecai loved the lovely young queen who was to him as a daughter, and every day sat at the gate of the palace to hear from her.
While Mordecai was sitting by the gate he saw two men who were keepers of the gate often whispering together. He watched them closely, and found that they had made a plan to kill King Ahasuerus. He sent word of this to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king of it. The men were taken, and, as Mordecai's word was found to be true, they were both slain by being hanged on a tree. And an account or story of all their plan, of how they were found out by Mordecai the Jew, and how they were punished by death, was written in the book of records of the kingdom.
After this a man named Haman arose to great power in the kingdom. The king have him a seat above all the other princes, and asked his advice in all matters, and allowed Haman to do whatever he pleased. Of course everybody in the palace showed great respect to Haman, the man who stood next to the king. When he came near, all the men in the palace and in the city bowed down before him, and many fell on their faces, even in the very dust. But Mordecai was a worshipper of God, and he would not fall upon his face before any man. Haman noticed that there was one man who did not bow down, as did the others around him. He said to his servants, "Who is that man sitting by the gate, who does not bow down when I pass by?"
They answered Haman, "That is Mordecai the Jew."
But they did not tell Haman, for they did not know, that Mordecai was the cousin of Queen Esther, and that the queen of Persia herself was a Jewess.
When Haman found that Mordecai was a Jew he became very angry, not only at Mordecai, but at all his people. He hated the Jews, and he resolved to have revenge on Mordecai, and on his account to make all Mordecai's people suffer. Haman went in to the king, and said to him, "O King Ahasuerus, there is a certain people scattered abroad through your kingdom and apart from all other peoples. Their laws are different from those of every other nation, and they do not keep the king's laws. It is not well to allow such a people to live. If it is pleasing to the king, let a law be made that this strange people be destroyed. I will myself pay all the cost of putting them to death, and will place the money in the king's treasury."
The king, living in his palace and never going out among his people, knew nothing of the Jews, and believed Haman's words. He took from his hand the ring on which was the royal seal, and gave it to Haman, saying:
"Do as you please; write whatever law you wish, and stamp it with the king's seal. The money is yours, and I give this strange people to you. You can do with them as you please."
Then, by Haman's command, a law was written, and sealed with the king's seal, that on a certain day, which was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, all the Jews in every part of Persia might be slain. Any one who chose to kill them might do so; and those who kill them might take for their own all their money, the gold, and silver, and garments which they might find in the houses of the Jews.
The copies of this law were sent to every city of the empire of Persia, to be read everywhere, so that all might know that the Jews were to be destroyed. Everybody who heard of it was filled with wonder, for no one knew of any evil against the king that the Jews had done to deserve death. They could not understand why the law had been made; but everywhere the enemies of the Jews made ready to destroy them, that they might have the Jews' riches; for in those times, even as now, there was great wealth among the Jews.