Are you familiar with the story of Esther? Most of us know that Esther is one of only two books in the bible named for a woman. The other is, of course, Ruth. Esther is known for her beauty, so perhaps you know that she was a Jewish woman that won a beauty contest of sorts and became a queen. Oh and then there’s that thing where she saved her people.
But have you actually read the book? It’s right there in the Old Testament between Nehemiah and Job. So go ahead and give it a read. It won’t take long…it’s only 10 short chapters. Takes about 30 minutes to read, go ahead. I’ll wait……………………………………..
Wow! There’s a lot of drama packed in those chapters. But what’s it about really? I mean there is no mention of God anywhere in the book. Did you notice that? Isn’t that the first thing we are to look for when we are reading His word? Where is God? What does this story tell us about the nature and character of God? Can we see His redemptive work in what we are reading? Those are questions I ask when I am digging into a passage of scripture. So let’s dig in and see what we can find.
The story… in a nutshell.
The story is set in Susa, one of the capitals of the ancient Persian Empire. The time was during the reign of King Ahasuerus, also known by his Greek name, Xerxes, who reigned 486-464 B.C.
“This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials… ” Esther 1:1-3b.
Here’s my long-story-short version.
So, basically King Xerxes gives a banquet for all the important people in the whole Persian Empire…it’s a huge deal! Celebrating past and possibly future conquests. Then he throws a big week-long bash for the men, from the greatest to the least of all the people present in his fortress at Susa. The wine is flowing and on the seventh day, feeling pretty good from all that wine and wanting to show off the beauty of his queen, he requests the presence of his Queen Vashti, who happens to be off in another part of the kingdom throwing her own party with the girls in the palace. She refuses to come. Maybe because he asks her to come wearing her crown, and possibly nothing else. He gets really ticked off and deposes her.
Now there is a lesson in the details of this part of the story, but we’re here to talk about Esther. So we will save the implications of Vashti’s situation for another time.
Now this is where Esther enters.
A plan to choose the new queen is set in place. The King appointed commissioners to each province to go out and assemble all the beautiful young girls and bring them to the harem at the fortress of Susa. Hadassah (Esther) was taken to the palace (Esther 2:8).
She did not go on her own…and there is no indication that her cousin took her. As a matter of fact, once she was assimilated into the harem to prepare her to meet the King, we are told that “every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.” (Esther 2:11). This sounds more like the actions of a concerned ‘parent’, not the actions of a parent who would be delighted to have her in the palace of the king’s harem. Also, side note: he had instructed Esther not to reveal her birthplace or her ethnic background. So in light of this, I hardly think of this as her winning a beauty contest as much as a beautiful young girl who was taken, most likely against her own will, at the command of the highest ruler of the land.
Esther was put under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem. Esther pleased him and won his favor. Nothing sexual here, because…EUNUCH…look it up. He began at once to provide special beauty treatments and special food for her. Apparently she was his choice for queen and he wanted to make sure she had the best advantages of being chosen. It worked! The King sees her and is blown away by her beauty, so she is chosen to replace Queen Vashti.
Meanwhile…stay with me here. There is a reason for the details.
Meanwhile, Mordecai overhears a plot to kill the king. So he reports it to Esther, who in turn, reported it to the king’s messenger giving credit to Mordecai…the plot is thwarted and the incident gets written down in the books that are kept for the king.
After this, Haman is honored by the king by being given a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. So high that they were commanded to bow down to Haman to pay honor to him. But Mordecai being a Jew would not bow down to any man. This enraged Haman, who then concocted an idea of killing not just Mordecai, but all of his people, the Jews. Without actually naming the Jews, he convinces the king that it would be in his best interest to let him order a decree to kill all these people who do not follow the king’s laws. So the decree goes out.
Mordecai, hearing all that had been decreed, tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. And, in public, began wailing loudly and bitterly. As a matter of fact, all the Jews throughout Persia did the same. It was a Jewish thing. Thus began a string of communication between a frightened Esther and a determined Mordecai through one of the king’s eunuchs.
It basically boils down to this:
Mordecai tells Esther about the decree (the plot against the Jews), and tells her she needs to go to the king, ask his favor, and then plead with him personally for her people.
Esther is basically terrified to do this. Why? Because there is one law that applies to every man, or woman who approaches the king without being summoned. You die. The only exception would be if the king extends his gold scepter to that person. Then you live.
She hasn’t been summoned for the last 30 days. Maybe she has fallen out of favor with her husband, the king? If she has the audacity to go to him without being summoned, she might not live to tell about it.
“Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” Esther 4: 13-15.
Esther comes back with a plan. Have all the Jewish people in Susa fast for her for 3 days and nights. Esther and her girls did the same. Then she will go to the king. “...even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” So she goes. As soon as the king sees her standing in the courtyard she wins his approval. He extends the scepter and she asks that he and Haman attend a banquet that she has prepared for them.
Several more things happen…Mordecai, once again fails to bow to Haman. So, at the urging of his wife and friends, Haman builds a gallows 75 feet high and plans to ask the king to hang Mordecai on it. But before that can happen the king has a sleepless night and asks the book with the daily recorded events to be read to him. A weird bedtime story. But in the reading he learns of Mordecai’s earlier reporting of the plot to assassinate him. And when he finds that nothing had been done to reward Mordecai, he glances out to find someone to consult about this. Haman just happens to be loitering around in the court so he brings him in and asks what should be done for the man the king wants to honor. Haman, being the narcissist that he is, assumes the king must be talking about himself. So He suggests some awesome stuff to be done. Great honor should be shown to the man in front of pretty much all the people. Much to his chagrin…the king ordered that Mordecai be honored…and Haman had to make it happen.
Then Esther threw a second banquet for the king and Haman. Not sure if this was the original plan or she just chickened out the first time. No matter, because it worked out even better that this second banquet just happened to occur after Haman’s second run-in with Mordecai. She told the king about the plight of her people and asked him to spare her life and spare her people. He seemed a bit clueless, and asked, “Who would devise such a scheme?” She replied, “The adversary and the enemy is this evil Haman.”
The King was mad, and left the room to get a handle on his anger. Haman began begging Esther for mercy. The king returned to see Haman literally falling all over Esther, which further enraged him so he had Haman hung on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. On that day the King gave Esther all that belonged to Haman. He also gave his signet ring to Mordecai. The king’s edict could not be revoked…it was a thing. The king allowed Esther and Haman to send out another edict that declared the Jews had a right to defend their lives from those who wanted to annihilate them.
Mordecai was raised to prominence and power in the kingdom, and the Jewish people were saved. There’s actually a little more to this story. Which explains how this event, the deliverance of the Jews from genocide, became the Feast of Purim celebrated the same time every year. “The month when their sorrow was turned into rejoicing and their mourning into a holiday.”
This is not just Esther’s story, if it were there would be no reason to include it in God’s Word. This is God’s story, and yet, how can that be when God is not even mentioned anywhere in this story? I think that is the point. Even when we don’t see God, He is working behind the scenes through things that the average reader would call coincidence. Because we know that God is in every story, we can see His hand in the details. All those coincidences, those times of “...just happened to…”, we see throughout the story? That is where we can see God working out His plan.
It amazes me that He chooses to use a young girl and her guardian to save His people. He does not force their help or coerce their cooperation. And yet, He works out a way they can be used to accomplish His purpose.
Esther was beautiful. She had been forced into harem life and became Queen of Persia. She was reluctantly brave and chose to go ahead and petition for the life of her people at risk of death. “If I die, I die.” This was her defining moment. She was wise enough to ask for her people to fast for three days. Now it does not mention prayer, but I cannot imagine jewish people fasting without prayer. God works through the prayers of the righteous. The Jews were saved.
Names are so important in the Bible and I found that Esther, her Persian name, means Star. Her jewish name, Hadassah, means Myrtle. When you crush the leaves of a Myrtle tree they release their fragrance. Surely her experiences were crushing, and yet in the crushing her true God-given character was revealed. She rose to her calling, and walked out the role God had chosen for her. To be a shining star who rose above the evil of her day. A light that we can still see as we read the book that bears her name.
God orchestrates the circumstances of our messy, broken lives to accomplish His purpose. That means He can use me, and you despite all that the enemy does to derail us. God is working behind the scenes of the circumstances of your life, even when you don’t see Him.
Perhaps we all have a defining moment of our life and our faith. Or, because of the grace of God, many defining moments. The question is: How are we going to respond?
We will be talking about women of the Bible all year in Pretty and Wise. Don’t worry…most are not as long as the story of Esther.
It is our hope that in fleshing out these women’s stories and their impact in God’s kingdom, you will be encouraged to walk out your own defining moment in your walk of faith. Our prayer is that you are able to clearly see His hand in your life and circumstances every step of the way.
Written By: Gay Idle
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