Faithful Foreigners: Harbona and Company


Read: Esther 6:14-7:10

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that” (Esther 7:9).

Nobody pays much attention to the eunuchs in the book of Esther. Just like some people don’t pay much attention to getting their oil changed until their car goes up in smoke.

Every time one turns around in the book of Esther, a eunuch is there with a quiet word that makes a positive difference. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that, without the eunuchs, this story would not have a happy ending.

Of course, not all of the eunuchs are admirable. A couple of them try to assassinate King Ahasuerus in chapter two. But by a stroke of luck (or providence), even their unsuccessful plot sets up a beneficial plot twist.

Which brings us to Harbona, the eunuch featured in the dramatic scene from chapter seven. We don’t know much about him, except that he is a eunuch. In the ancient world, captive men were often involuntarily castrated so that they could “safely” guard a king’s harem. This is pretty much what Harbona is doing in chapter one, when he is mentioned as one of the seven eunuchs sent to fetch Queen Vashti. Here in chapter seven, we see him in a similar role—close to both the new queen and the central action of the story.

There is no substitute for reading the whole book, of course, but even if you’ve stumbled into this story late in the game, it’s easy to feel the tension in this scene at the end of chapter seven. Haman’s plot to commit genocide has been revealed, and he attempts to save himself by throwing himself on Queen Esther’s mercy. Unfortunately for him, he also throws himself on the Queen’s couch, which is, of course, frowned upon. The king, who has been out in the garden taking a time out, comes back into the room just in time to see the incriminating tableau.

If you have read the whole story, you will know that King Ahasuerus is not the brightest light in the harbor. So as readers, we are hardly surprised when he misinterprets the situation. But since we know that Haman is guilty as sin (he was plotting genocide, after all), we hardly care if Ahasuerus condemns him for the wrong reasons.

But here is where Harbona comes in. He knows King Ahasuerus as well as anyone. And he knows that this king cannot be trusted to make good decisions. Ahasuerus always needs a nudge (if not a shove). So Harbona is there to give him one. “Oh look,” he points out casually, “that great big gallows that Haman built for the guy who saved your life is just outside the window….”

The rest, as they say, is history. Or at least, it is a crucial turning point in the story.

Harbona will never win “best supporting character in a biblical story.” I get that. But I would like to nominate him as a “faithful foreigner.” He and most of the other eunuchs in the book of Esther use their limited power to protect those who are threatened by unlimited power. Their actions make a big difference.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m feeling like the world could use more people like Harbona and company.

Ponder:  Who are the “Harbonas” you know? What difference have they made in your life, in your community, or in the world?

Pray: When we feel powerless, remind us that your power is made perfect in weakness. Give us the wit and the courage to speak truth to power.


Introduction to the Faithful Foreigners Series

Sprinkled throughout Scripture are stories of “faithful foreigners.” These are people who are perceived as outsiders, but who often behave more faithfully than the insiders.

In our xenophobic age, it seems a good time to get reacquainted with these faithful foreigners. The Holy Spirit preserved their stories for a reason, after all. It’s my hope that we can learn some things about faith and faithfulness from what they have to teach us.

The first piece in the series explores Jesus as refugee. While it may not technically qualify as a “faithful foreigner” story, it does introduce us to some themes that will be important for understanding the faithful foreigner motif—and our resistance to those we perceive as “other.” After that, we’ll meet Rahab, Uriah, some eunuchs, a Roman centurion, and yes—even a couple of faithful foreigners from the animal kingdom!

As it happens, I am writing this series while on sabbatical in Rome, Italy. It will be interesting to see how my own experience of being a foreigner influences my engagement with these stories. You can decide if I’m a faithful foreigner or not!