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I recently did a meditation on the fourth chapter of Esther at my church. As I was studying, I noticed something that I knew before hand, but I had never really thought to seriously about.

Why did Esther invite Ahasuerus and Haman to a second banquet at her first banquet instead of putting her request directly before the king then and there?

Obviously, a 100% certain answer might be difficult, but is there any light that could be shed on this question in the literary composition, historical context, etc.?

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The subtle chronology of the Esther story has been well set out in another answer.1 This answer is simply a supplement to it, suggesting another rationale for the sequence of events of interest to OP ("Why did Esther invite Ahasuerus and Haman to a second banquet at her first banquet instead of putting her request directly before the king then and there?")

Possibilities?

Jon D. Levenson, Esther: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), pp. 90-91 offers a good set of possibilities on the question of "why the second banquet":

  • to allow passage of time for the king to forget her unbidden entry;
  • to seek a time when the king (likely tipsy) will be more compliant;
  • to promote a jealous interest towards Esther against Hamah;
  • to reflect a "loss of nerve" on Esther's part (OP's title question);
  • to "impart dramatic intensity to the tale" (working at the level of narrator's art, rather than demands of plot).

None of these quite satisfy, however: the king is already happy to see her, and quite compliant. The narrative gives no whiff of a hint that Haman might be seen as a threat to the king's favourite. Esther seems throughout to be in control, and hardly a shrinking violet. The narrative tension does build: but is that the reason for the second banquet?

A Solution

Levenson concludes his discussion by noting that "at the second banquet, Esther will indeed reveal her deepest wish. The die is cast, but it is not Haman's pûr [lot]!" (P. 91, punning on "die/dice/lot"). But Levenson does not develop that insight.

David Clines, however, does. He observes the timing of Esther's banquets, along the lines set out by @Joseph (D.J.A. Clines, The Esther Scroll: The Story of the Story [Sheffield, 1984]). He considers OP's narrative conundrum on p. 37:

As for the two banquets themselves, it is often thought that the reason why Esther does not state her business directly at the first banquet is merely to prolong the suspense. That it certainly does; but there is a more subtle narrative reason. At the first banquet..., Esther's first response has been to invite [the king] to a second banquet (5.4). But her second response (5.7-8) is to oblige the king in advance to 'grant [her] petition and fulfil [her] request'--sight unseen--and to signify his obligation publicly by attending that second banquet with Haman. Unlike the first banquet..., the second will be prepared only when the king has agreed--by his acceptance of the invitation--to meet the demand Esther will make. ... [So] Esther manages to achieve her goal without ever disclosing the object of the play. [emphasis added]

Clines offers more observations on the implications of the narrator's art, but this observation seems to me to be the crucial one for the movement of the plot: the first banquet sets up what the second banquet is guaranteed to deliver: the life of Haman.


Note

  1. As David Clines notes (drawing on the same source throughout this answer), there is an irony in Esther proclaiming a fast at the time of a Jewish feast, while she herself feasts with the pagan king while her people fast.
  • I've always thought we don't give Esther nearly enough credit for just how intentional, crafty, cunning and manipulative she shows herself to be. Truly a woman to contend with. – Joshua Mar 28 '17 at 12:23
  • This is absolutely fascinating! I missed that little phrase in 5:8; I think you've got it nailed! – anonymous2 Mar 28 '17 at 12:31
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The Idea in Brief

The events in question in this portion of the Book of Esther occurred over the Jewish Passover, which was a time for the Passover meal and then Feast of Unleavened Bread, which had immediately followed Passover. While Haman relied on the timing of the divination of dice, or the purim, Esther had banked on the timing of Passover. In other words, Haman hanged on the gallows on the same day that Pharaoh and the Egyptian Army were destroyed in the Sea of Reeds. The timing was inauspicious for Haman, and Esther would have known this as a devout Jewess, which is why she delayed the disclosure to King Ahasuerus by one day (the 17th of Nisan), which was the historic day when God had destroyed the enemy of the Jews (Pharaoh and the Egyptian Army).

Discussion

Haman announced the proclamation of the destruction of the Jews on the eve of the Day of Preparation, which is the 13th of Nisan (which is the eve of Passover).

Esther 3:12 (NASB)
12 Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and it was written just as Haman commanded to the king’s satraps, to the governors who were over each province and to the princes of each people, each province according to its script, each people according to its language, being written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. (emphasis added)

According to the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Batra, Folio 15A), the Book of Esther was written by Jews for Jews. From this point in the text until the end of Chapter 7, the events in the Book of Esther span the Passover meal on the Jewish calendar (13-17 Nisan). That is, the Law of Moses had commanded the Passover meal and then the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, Esther invoked a fast instead. The three days of Esther's fast are remarkable because they coincide with the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. If this hypothesis is correct, then Esther may have chosen three days to fast because that was the time that Moses had told Pharaoh was the time necessary needed to flee from Egypt (Exod 5:3 and Exod 8:27). The following graph depicts the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in relation to the destruction of the Egyptian Army, which was the apparent "script" followed by Esther. Please click to enlarge.

enter image description here

Esther fasted during the 14-16 Nisan, and prepared her banquet for the king on the late afternoon of the 16 Nisan. (As noted, she and her fellow Jews would therefore not have eaten the Passover nor have partaken of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.) The late afternoon would mark the end of her fast for three days "night or day" according to Esther 4:16. At this very point in the Book of Esther (when she gives the first banquet) appears the following verse.

Esther 5:7 (NASB)
7 So Esther replied, “My petition and my request is [. . . .]
(ellipses added for emphasis)

In the Hebrew text, she does not finish the thought of the sentence. This verse is pivotal, because it occurs in the very center of the Book of Esther according to the endnotes of the Masoretic Text, which is found at the top of Page 932 of the PDF version online. This verse is in the very middle of the book, and so is the literary "tipping point" in the narrative. This verse is also the day that Esther breaks her fast, which coincides with the Festival of First Fruits, when a sheave offering was waived before the Lord in anticipation of his blessing to the Jews. Fifty from this date was when God gave the Law to the Jews at Sinai according to the Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim, Folio 68B). In other words, these very days portended very ominous spiritual power, but in the favor of the Jews. This was the apparent "script" followed by Esther.

Why Esther postponed her disclosures to the King until the following day

If the foregoing paragraphs are correct, then Esther was following the "script" of the Exodus narrative. While there is no explicit mention of God (or even prayer) in the Book of Esther, it is very evident that Esther relied on the literal Torah (the Word of God as divine revelation) as her guide through the darkness of an imminent holocaust event. She met spiritual darkness with the divine power of the Word of God as typified in the Exodus narrative. In this regard, she postponed her disclosures, because the following day was the 17th of Nisan, which was the historic day when God had destroyed arrogant Pharaoh and his army, who were the enemy of the Jews. This logic was the apparent "script" followed by Esther. She did not know what tomorrow would portend, but she followed the "script": that is, the following day would somehow have to be the very day that God would destroy arrogant Haman. And that is what happened.

Summary

The Book of Esther revolves around the timing of Passover and its significance for the demonstration of the power of God. This divine power destroys not only the enemies of the Jews, but also defeats the wicked spiritual powers behind them. Haman relied on dice (purim) to divine the most auspicious time to destroy the Jews, and implied here was divination, or reliance on outside wicked spiritual power. The Torah and Psalms are replete with references to defeating "the gods of the Egyptians" during the Exodus narrative, and of course, as many, many scholars have observed, the ten plagues of Moses appeared to be in direct confrontation with Egyptian deities, or wicked spiritual powers. In the same way, following the same "script," Esther's faith had demonstrated that complete reliance and trust in the Torah (divine revelation) was sufficient power to defeat the Jew's enemies and the wicked spiritual powers behind them. Prayer and God are never mentioned in any explicit terms in the Book of Esther, but the "script" of the Exodus narrative is very pronounced. Thus the climax of the narrative "script" was not going to occur on the 16th of Nisan, but on the 17th.

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According to Rabbi David Nativ's lecture "The Historical Framework of Megillat Esther," (translated by David Silverburg), Esther's goal is to create tension between Haman and the King. So by hosting the first banquet, where her only request is the mysterious request that the two come to a second banquet on the following day. As a result of the odd request, the King becomes "tense and uneasy." At the same time, her request put the egotistic Haman off guard as he revels in the honor the second invitation entailed. So when she reveals her heritage and the threat to her people at the second banquet, both the king and Haman are caught off-guard -- the king becomes outraged, and Haman becomes panicked.

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Chapter 4 does not go into detail on what the Jews were doing during those 3 days of fasting. In reality, those days were the most important and they are there to teach us that G-d listens to our Prayers.

When Esther heard that the people were relying on her instead of Hashem, she decided to have a 2nd banquet with both the King and Haman and thus appearing to her People that she was a turncoat - for why else would she invite Haman yet again? This created an outpouring of prayer that spearheaded the repentance necessary due to joining the king at his celebration.

Notice - no politics - no wondering what the King was thinking, etc. It was all about the Esther bringing out the best in every Jew. Simple - straight forward - and true.

  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our tour. Re: Questions and answers, we'd like to see Biblical text to analyze. In this case though, maybe you can/can't summarize an entire Chapter. Thanks. – John Martin Mar 17 at 19:09
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It seems to me that the natural reading of the text is that Esther is following divine prompting - the additional delay allows for the King to have a restless night and for the deeds of Mordecai, and his lack of reward, to be remembered. This sets up the dramatic denouement!

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Esther did not make her request on the first day because, firstly, she wanted to be sure that the king was in the best frame of mind to consider her request when she made it. On the first day Esther came uninvited and unannounced, and therefore the king was not expecting her and unprepared for her. The king would have had compelling reasons why he kept himself away from the public for a period of time, and these could include serious issues weighing on his mind which he needed to attend to. As far as Esther is concerned, this was a serious possibility which should not be ruled out.

This leads to the second reason, which is that Esther was politely acknowledging the king's state responsibilities are important, and that she should not be presumptuous in putting her interest above his at such short notice. Hence the tacit acknowledgment that her request is secondary to the king's more important state responsibilities.

This leads to the third reason, which is that the king was put on notice that her request would be an important one, and not something routine or simple. If it had been a simple or ordinary request she would have made it at the first banquet.

This then leads to the fourth reason why it became appropriate to make her request on the second day. The king would no longer be suddenly surprised by Esther's uninvited presence, and would be in a better frame of mind to consider Esther's request (reason one addressed). Esther would also not be making a sudden intrusion into the king's state responsibilities, as the king would by then have made suitable time allowance to attend Esther's banquet including rescheduling his work flow if necessary (reason two addressed).

On the second day the king would also know by then that she would be making an important request, and he would have enough time to mentally prepare himself to seriously consider her request (lesson three addressed). Hence the request on the second day and not the first day.

  • Welcome, Loo Khee Sheng, from another relatively new member. I edited your well-conceived response, by adding commas to set apart clauses, and inserting line breaks between paragraphs. The line breaks are formed by adding TWO spaces and a carriage return at the end of the line. I would also like to point out that you will get more attention to your responses if you work with the current questions. This particular question was asked 18 months ago. I found your answer to be quite logical, with good insight into the possible workings of Esther's mind, and I hope to see more of your work. – Papa Pat Dec 20 '19 at 3:26

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