Esther’s Thirty Days (Esther 4:11)

After discovering that an edict had been issued for the extermination of the Jewish people, Mordecai urged Esther to take action by making an appeal to the king. Esther’s response was that, as everyone knew, going before the king without a summons was very risky. Unless the king extended his golden scepter, any such person would be put to death.

Esther then makes a very interesting statement: “I have not been summoned to come before the king for these thirty days.” Although this could be taken as a simple observation, the way events unfold in this section of Esther may point to a more sinister issue.

There are two chronological anchor points in the nearby narrative. In Esther 3:13, the scribes were summoned to process the edict of Haman “on the 13th day of the 1st month.” A little more than two months later, Mordecai issued the edict allowing the Jews to defend themselves, “in the 3rd month, on the 23rd day” (Esth 8:9). Where in this two-month period was the death of Haman, and how is it related to Esther’s “thirty days”?

The time required to process Haman’s initial edict to exterminate the Jews is not stated, but it is easy to underestimate it. It could have taken several weeks from the calling of the scribes to the actual issuance of the edict. It would have been necessary to establish the exact wording of the edict and translate the edict into dozens of  languages (for example, Elamite, Babylonian, Hittite, Luwian, Egyptian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Phoenician, Greek, etc.). The scribes then needed to make sufficient copies to go to hundreds of different cities. It is not unreasonable to think that they would have made several hundred copies, and perhaps in excess of a thousand. Those that were in cuneiform languages would have been written on clay tablets which would then need to be fired in order to harden them. Finally, provision must have been made for the couriers who would travel across the empire with the new edict. The Persians had the means to do this, but it was an expensive and time consuming task nonetheless. Because of these processes, it is possible that the edict was not actually published in Susa itself before the end of the first month, and perhaps not even that quickly.

On the other end of this two-month period, some time is required between Esther’s banquet with Xerxes and Haman and the proclamation of self-defense for the Jews. Not only was Haman executed (which likely happened fairly quickly), but Mordecai was promoted (Esth 8:1), the house of Haman was assigned to Mordecai by Esther (Esth 8:2), and a separate request was made for the self-defense edict. That this was a separate incident is indicated by the fact that Esther again went to the king un-summoned, and again the king extended the golden scepter (Esth 8:4). It is not unreasonable to imagine that these events also covered a couple of weeks.

If these estimations are correct, then there was about a month between the official announcement of the edict in Susa and Esther’s banquet. This would imply that Esther had not been called to see the king since the edict to exterminate the Jews. One can only imagine that she wondered if the king had discovered her Jewish heritage, and perhaps had not summoned her because he planned to have her killed. The bravery required to appear un-summoned before the king under such circumstances is astounding. Knowledge of this thirty-day period greatly heightens the suspense of the reader, and points up the extreme gravity of the situation when Esther took her life in her hands on account of her people.

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