There are some topics I struggle to put words to when I write. Sometimes it’s out of fear. Sometimes it’s just plain writer’s block. Sometimes it’s doubt that I’ll have anything new to say. Esther has been one of those topics.
The young Jew-turned-Persian-queen has long been celebrated for her courage and bravery, yet I’ve found myself spinning my wheels, trying to find a different angle, something new for you to focus in on.
I didn’t want to say what’s been said before.
How often do we come at Scripture with a bit of a sigh because we either don’t understand and don’t know where to begin, or because we’ve read it before? But then again, what’s wrong with the familiar? For if we’re willing to spend some time there, and let ourselves dive in a little deeper than before, we’re bound to surface with buried treasure.
Though the story of Esther may be familiar, my prayer is that you’re able to see it in a new light, glean new insight and knowledge and understanding. Throughout this series we’ll look at the story through the unique perspectives of three of its heroes, and today we begin with Esther herself.
Esther, a girl of humility.
So many fairytales involve a lowly girl being chosen by the king and lifted to royalty, that I wonder if the writers drew inspiration from Esther.
As a young girl, Esther lost her parents. The facts are not given whether it was from illness, accident, or something intentional, but Esther was left an orphan. Her cousin, Mordecai, took the girl in and raised her as his own daughter–loved her with a father’s love.
When the king’s order came for beautiful young women across the empire to be brought into the king’s harem and groomed for the chance at being queen in place of Xexes’s recently dismissed queen, Vashti, Mordecai began to worry. Knowing that his Esther “had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (2:7), Mordecai warned Esther to keep her heritage a secret. She was not to tell anyone that she was a Jew. In fact, very name many know her by is Persian; her Jewish name was Hadassah.
Perhaps this seems odd. Most Jews were proud of their heritage as children of Abraham, God’s chosen people. But at this time many of the Jews were scattered, living as foreigners in a pagan empire since they were carried into exile generations before. Now they lived in a place where opinions of the Jews were varied and there was no telling what the powerful king of Persia thought of them.
Obediently, Esther agreed to the secrecy.
During the year long preparation for her one night with the king, she won the favor of Hegai, the man in charge of the women of the harem. It doesn’t say how exactly this happened, whether Esther lived out her Jewish name (Hadassah meant mytle, a flower that was said to represent living out good deeds), or if Divine Providence was at work here.
I can easily picture Esther reaching out to the other girls of the harem, giving them strength and courage in this place far from their families–a place they would never leave even if they weren’t chosen queen.
As a result, Esther was treated well and given only the best during that year. And when it was time for her to meet the king, rather than piling on the jewels as many of the others probably did, Esther “asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the the harem, suggested” (2:15).
She humbled herself before the knowledge of someone who knew better than she, and won over the king.
Esther, a woman of great courage.
Not too long after the crown was placed on her head, Esther received a report from her cousin. Mordecai had been sitting at the king’s gate and had overheard a plot against the king’s life. Hastily, Esther delivered the news to Xerxes, and the assassins were dealt with severely.
Perhaps in need of extra security after the attempted assassination, King Xerxes appointed Haman the Agagite as second in command. Haman used his influence to sway the king to issue an edict to destroy and completely annihilate the entire Jewish population. When Mordecai learned of this, he again went to Esther, pleading with her to “go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people” (4:8).
The request, though simple, bore much weight. After keeping her secret for so long, Esther probably feared what would happen if she exposed herself. And even more, when Mordecai’s message came, it had been more than three months since she’d been summoned into the king’s presence, and a law stood that anyone who went summoned was immediately put to death unless the king reached out his scepter and issued a pardon.
Esther expressed these concerns to Mordecai only to receive this response in return:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (4:14).
Her cousin’s words hit there mark. The palace had become a safe place for Esther, and there was no shortage of luxury. Going before the king could result in the loss of her position and even her life, and never be able to help her people.
Yet, she was willing to risk it.
Esther resolved in her mind that after three days of praying and fasting she would go into the king: “I will go to the king even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (4:16).
Boldly she went before the king and requested time alone with him and his right hand man, Haman. Instead of pleading for the lives of her people right then and there, she peaked the king’s curiosity by inviting him and Haman to two nights of feasting. Whether shrewdness or nerves, the plan played in her favor.
On the second night, when the king questioned her about what it was she wanted from him, she fell to her knees begging the king’s protection. “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life–this is my petition. And spare my people–this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed, and annihilated” (7:3-4).
When Esther identified Haman as the man scheming against her people, Xerxes, in a rage, had Haman hung, then appointed Mordecai in his place. Together Esther and her cousin concocted a way to save their people. Since the king’s first edict could not be revoked–and Haman had used the king’s signet when he spread the news about the destruction of the Jews–Mordecai wrote a new edict in the king’s name to all the provinces, giving Jews the ability to fight back and take the possessions of those who rose up against them.
And Esther, knowing that there were some who would come against the Jews and not stop after the first day, extended the edict into the day after the one appointed for the destruction of the Jews. Then when the fighting ceased, the celebration of Purim was established to remind the Jews of the day Haman tried to wipe out their people, but Esther had bravely gone before the king.
Esther is one of those women I’ve long admired. She didn’t get to choose the hand she was dealt–that she would lose her parents or be taken away from her home–but she chose to make a difference right where she was. She humbled herself and acted courageously, and we remember and celebrate her for it.
Perhaps the hand you’ve been dealt lately isn’t what you would have chosen. You’re longing for something different, something easier. But perhaps we can take strength from Mordecai’s words as Esther did. Perhaps you are here at this point in time, in this place for a reason.
Perhaps you are here for such a time as this.
Take courage, dear heart, remain steadfast, and move forward in humility. For you never know what sort of impact you might have simply by choosing to make a difference right where you are.
Live in His love!
Related: Mordecai, a Man of Action and Faith