I think most women can identify with Esther, the rags to riches queen whose story is found in the Old Testament. Out of the 66 books that make up the Bible only two, two, I say, bear women’s names. Esther is one of them.
In my camp, this makes Esther an important read. The Bible gives us glimpses of lots of important, world-changing women (hello Hannah, Mary, Judge Deborah, Ruth), but the book of Esther is a narrative surrounding a specific time in this main character’s life. The story starts with Esther at a lowly place as an orphan and descendant of the Jews taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar. She’s raised by her older cousin Mordecai but ends up queen of an empire that stretches from India to Ethiopia.
Yes, I think women can identify with Esther, or maybe better said, women should identify with Esther.
Here’s the story: through a series of dynamic events, Esther gets chosen as a candidate for queen of the surrounding empire. Crazy, but she and other young beauties found in the kingdom are gathered up for a beauty contest of sorts where the king will choose a new queen. This is not a gig that one can turn down, and before Esther gets whisked away to prepare for her one chance with the king, Cousin Mordecai warns her to not reveal her ethnicity. Antisemitism existed back then, too.
Be it the multiple princess Disney movies of our youth, or our true nature as royal daughters of the King, I think every woman dreams of being swept off her feet on a fateful night-of-nights and waking up as queen of a vast kingdom. Not only is there intoxicating power in this scenario, but there are gorgeous dresses, essential-oil therapy sessions, and a whole staff of pampering eunuchs and maids in waiting. Talk about arrived.
Things go extremely well for Esther. The king’s enthralled and she gets the job, the title, and the first-class pass to all kingdom socials. Life is full of surprises and, for Esther, life couldn’t be better.
But while Esther is living the dream, her cousin discovers a diabolical plot to kill the king. Mordecai gets this information to Esther, and she, in turn, shares the awful news with the king while giving Mordecai full credit for the tip off.
The would-be-king murderers are found and put to death and everything is hunky dory and back to palace normal. Until. Until someone gets jealous. Doesn’t that always happen?
In the narrative, we’re told that one of the king’s top officials had it out for Mordeca because he refused to bow to this newly appointed bureaucrat even though the law required it. Mordecai’s act likely inspired those radical teens Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego years later (Daniel 3). But that refusal started a chain of royal gossip among the disgruntled-with-the Jews court. This top official then seeks to destroy all the Jews, even convincing the king to sign an edict that on a day in the not-too-distant future, government officials of all provinces were to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, women and children included. Some history scholars believe King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) practiced Zoroastrianism while others say he was religiously indifferent. It remains a mystery how he so easily accepted the evil official’s accusations about the Jews. But now, there is a bounty on every Jew’s head.
Remember, no one in the castle knew Esther was a Jew. But some folks in the lower ranks of the kingdom-dwellers knew. And that put the Queen at risk.
A few desperate messages get passed between Esther and Mordecai with Mordecai urging his queen cousin to go to the king, beg his favor, and plead on behalf of her people.
But…the king doesn’t know…she’s a Jew. And there’s that law about entering the king’s court….
Esther knows palace protocol. No one can go to the king in his inner court without being summoned. She can’t just bust in and demand an audience of her husband. There are rules— deep, traditional laws, and those laws say she’d be put to death if she pulls a stunt like that. He is the king, after all and he hadn’t summoned her for 30 days. For a palace woman (queen or not) to go a month without being summoned by the king meant she was as good as forgotten. This king had several wives and a whole harem of concubines. If he wasn’t sending for Esther, he was spending evenings, most likely, with another.
She sends a message to Mordecai explaining the situation and her fears.
But Mordecai pushes back. He reminds Esther from where she comes from. She’s a Jew, an orphan of captives. He warns her no palace wall or fortress of silence will save her from the day of death ordered by her own husband. And then, Mordecai utters my favorite line of all times. He told the messenger to tell Esther, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for a time such as this.”
I love to paraphrase that infamous line. Here’s my rewording: “You’re in the position you are in so you can be the hero.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
Now back to the story. Mordecai’s insightful answer gives Esther pause. Those words give me pause, too.
Ester requests that all the local Jews fast and pray for three days. She declares she will go to the king though it is against the law. Then, Esther utters another great biblical line. “If I perish, I perish.”
On day four, she gets ready. I try to imagine what she whispered to her hand maidens as they, confused, put her make-up on. I wonder if her hands shook when she slipped her earrings into place, or if she wanted to turn and run in the other directions as she walked the long, marble halls to the inner courtyard. Dressed in royal robes, smelling of spicy perfume, how ironic it must have felt that day, donning a beautiful gown, imagining it soaked in blood.
I wonder if she wore white.
You can take a breath now, good news ahead.
The king sees this lovely creature proudly in the court alone, and…he…extends his scepter to Esther! That’s an invitation to come to the throne.
That girl is summoned. She is in!
Esther doesn’t run to the king and fall at his feet begging mercy. She doesn’t whimper or cry. Nope. She plays her hand like a shrewd woman. Esther, my friends, appeals to the king’s stomach. She has planned a grand feast (in case she lived), and she’s inviting the king (and his top, evil official, btw) to dine in with her.
Three days of fasting and prayer will render us iconic moves like that. Just saying.
After he’s eaten a stomach full and obviously pleased with his queen, the king tells Esther he’ll grant her half the kingdom if she wants it. But Esther doesn’t take him up on the offer. No, she lays down another step, another opportunity to gain his favor. Instead of grabbing at the proposal and saying, Okay, husband, because you’ve just given me fifty-percent of the kingdom your officials can’t kill Jews living in my half, she plays another card of patience and asks the king and the evil official to join her tomorrow for another feast.
Esther doesn’t want half the kingdom. She wants salvation for a her people.
Now the evil official is strutting around like a rooster with a crown on, bragging about how he’s been invited to a second private party with the queen and king. He’s feeling so confident that he has gallows built specifically for Mordecai and the day-of-death for the Jews.
Pretty presumptuous move.
Interestingly, the king can’t sleep that very night. He orders the book of memorable deeds to be read to him. And lo and behold, he hears the story of how Mordecai exposed the evil plot to have him killed. King Ahasuerus doesn’t recall appropriately honoring Mordecai for his help. His folks let him know he’d let that one slip.
Meanwhile, that evil official, who is rubbing his hands in murderous glee, comes to the king to ask if he can have Mordecai hanged, for the murderous day of the Jews will soon be at hand. But before he gets his request out, the king asked him, “What should be done to a man the king wishes to honor?” The official presumes the king must be dropping hints about his own future and comes up with this elaborate, over-the-top suggestion of a parade with the honored man wearing the kings own royal robes, riding the king’s royal horse.
The suggestion backfires and the king commands this murderous official to hurry, grab the royal robes, and set up the parade…for Mordecai. And he tells the official to not only plan it, but to lead the horse that Mordecai sits on through the city streets.
After the quick pageantry around a couple of blocks, the humiliated bureaucrat is licking his wounds with his friends and family when messengers arrive to take him to the queen’s banquet. Oh yeah, there was…that…other thing today.
At the second banquet, the king once again informs Esther that he will give her half the kingdom if she’ll only request it. There is no doubt, she has his attention now. Esther makes her move. She doesn’t take this second offer but requests her own life and the lives of her people be spared because one man has bargained them into death.
Furious, the king asks who has dared to do this. And Esther points to the jealous, seething official and says, “This wicked man.”
The rest of the story is bad news for the wicked official and good news for the Jews. The official is hanged. Esther’s people are saved.
Great story. I love a good, heroic ending. But I keep going back to those hours when Esther prepared to meet with the king or meet her death. The uncertainty gives me anxiety! What would I have done in her sandals?
I heard a teaching that said safety is an American value not a Christian one. Esther was in a place of safety, tucked away in the palace surrounded by people who loved and cared for her. But she took a very unsafe action to save an entire people group from slaughter.
I can’t help but compare this to my life today. I live in luxury. I live where I can freely practice my religion and make decisions based on my own values. But there are people groups out there who are persecuted or worse, at risk of dying without the Gospel of Christ. Am I willing to use my power, my freedom, my position to save them?
Is this my hero moment?
With the Coronavirus looming like the day-of-death for the Jews, at times I feel in the midst of danger. But God can and will use these scary circumstances to His glory. What can we do together or individually at a “time such as this?” You or I may not be positioned to save an entire people group, but I know we’re positioned in our own neighborhoods and social groups for a reason—a godly reason.
Let’s pray, fast, then enter His court to dine with The One True King. Miracles all around the world just might happen.
Laurie, March 21, 2020