Women of Scripture: Esther

LongQueenEsther

Posted by Zenaida

I recently watched “One Night With the King,” a dramatization of the story of Esther.  And dramatic it certainly is.  However, I’m not going to critique the movie.  A little trivia for you, though: the lead who played Esther, Tiffany Dupont, also played Lydia McBride in “The Work and the Glory.”

Here is a brief synopsis of the story line:

Esther is raised by her cousin, Mordecai, a Jew living in captivity, after her parents died.  The King, Ahasuerus, summons his queen, Vashti, to his court during a celebration, and she refuses.  So for fear of letting the word get out that the queen refused him, and allowing women to think it acceptable to disobey their husbands, Vashti is deposed, and virgins (including Esther) are brought to the palace for the purpose of choosing a new queen.  Esther is told by Mordecai that she should not reveal her Jewish heritage.  She is chosen as the new queen.

Haman rises to power, sees Mordecai refusing to bow and pay obeisance to him, and acts on his vendetta against all Jews by promising the King money for their destruction.  Then Esther is told by Mordecai that she must go before the King and plead for the lives of all Jews.   She goes to the inner court, risking her life by doing so, and asks the King to attend a banquet she will prepare for the King and for Haman.  Haman is about to have Mordecai hung, when the King remembers that Mordecai had been instrumental in thwarting an attempt on the King’s life and honors him instead.  At the banquet she reveals her identity and accuses Haman.  He is disgraced and then hung on the gallows he had intended for Mordecai, who is elevated.  Jews are given power to defend themselves.  And everyone lives happily ever after.

I am going to avoid the implications of Vashti’s fall from grace.  The point I found interesting was that Esther is told by Mordecai to hide her Jewish heritage.  This does not seem in keeping with traditional values.  And, when she asks him to do the same, Mordecai is willing to die to avoid showing the “proper respect” to Haman or to hide his heritage in keeping with Jewish values.  But, Esther becomes Queen to a heathen King.  She is asked to become someone she is not.  Did she have to compromise in certain areas?  Prayer?  Modesty?  Eating habits?  Was she happy at the palace?  It must have been a privileged life.  Did she mourn the ability to be a practicing Jew?  But, when the fate of the Jews is at stake, she is moved into action by fear of losing that heritage altogether.

13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.

14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there aenlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a btime as this?

Mordecai convinces her by telling her that deliverance will come with or without her, and she will not escape the destruction by remaining silent.  The famous line “…and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” expresses uncertainty.  It seems that if Esther had been a man, she would have been told that she had been saved for this time to do God’s work.  But, being a woman, her position is only speculated.  Is it because God would never tell her to hide her identity?  Is this an example of God creating something good out of a poor choice?

There is in fact no reference that I can find to any divine connection to Esther.  Only her Jewish heritage.  She is not ‘favored of God’ or placed at that time and place for divine purpose.  She was in the right place at the right time, and found favor with the King by being beautiful and bringing tearful pleas before him.  She disobeyed the law by appearing in court without being summoned, but was given power to overthrow Haman, give royal authority to the Jews to destroy 500 men and take the spoils if they wished (which they did not), and hang Haman’s 10 sons, and set a remembrance called Purim.

When Mordecai asks her to go before the King, she does fast for three days and asks Mordecai to do the same.  However, there is no divine manifestation.  Only the interpretation of events to confirm divine influence.  Is there an example of God speaking to woman?

Also, Esther seems little in control of her decisions.  She is not the initiator of her choices.  They are always suggested by Mordecai first.  “…for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.”

What is Esther’s message?

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14 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    This is one of my favorite accounts in Scripture. To me Esther’s message is that God can use ordinary women to accomplish extraordinary things. Esther faith in God, her fasting, and her courage risk her life by going before the king show amazing courage. Because she was the king, she did not have to follow Mordecai’s request. She chose to go, and her willingness to speak up for truth made all the difference.

  2. Anita says:

    I’ve always been a little disturbed by the issue brought up in Esther 2:13-14 (but neglected in church lessons) that Esther had to sleep with the king in order to be chosen–the royal speed-dating seemed to involve a night with each potential queen. That compromised a few values of modesty and purity for the Jewish maiden!

    • angie says:

      Esther 2:8,9,16,17:
      Esther taken to “the house of the women for the prescribed beauty regimen..then “taken to King Ahasuerus..after reading you can see the Bible does not say the she ‘slept with the king and thus gained his favor. It also does not tell of her being taken to the house of concubines but to “king Ahasuerus royal house’. Recall that earlier without any sexual compromise of her virtuous and virgin state, she won the “loving-kindness’ of Hegai the guardian of the women”…”All the while Esther was contually gaining favor in the eyes of everyone seeing her” So Esther clearly impressed the King & won his respect even as she had won the respect of others. We could conclude with confidence Esther acted with true virtue and in accord with godly principles enough to be used by Jehovah God for His purpose towards his covenent people.
      respectfully submitted

  3. EmilyCC says:

    Esther is one of the few OT women we talk about a lot in the Church, and yet, I’ve heard her being primarily discussed in terms of her obedience.

    I like how Carol made important points in her comment, showing how Esther did take her spirituality in her own hands when she went directly to God in fasting and prayer. And, it did take a lot of courage to do what she did. I’d like to think that we’ve just lost the part after the prayer and fasting, where we see God revealing to Esther what she should do. Maybe the editors didn’t feel like it was necessary to include.

    But, Xenaida, you make a good point about records of God speaking directly to a woman. I remember the book of Ruth doesn’t have much in the way of direct revelation to Ruth or her MIL. Miriam and Eve talk with God but only when they’re in trouble. Surely, there’s someone…

  4. Zenaida says:

    Well, Mary was visited by an angel, and then carried away in the Spirit…

  5. Heather P. says:

    This was one of my favorite Old Testament stories when I was a child. We had a book-and-tape set of stories from the Bible. I still hear the voices on some of the lines (“If I perish, I perish,” for example). I guess I always admired Esther for being courageous.
    I always thought it was Esther’s idea to go before the king, but the King James version does show that Mordecai suggests it first. And I never knew that Esther concealed her heritage because Mordecai told her to.
    It’s interesting the the entire book doesn’t mention God at all, not in connection with Esther, not in connection with Mordecai, just maybe an oblique reference to God (“deliverance … from another place”) and an assumption that being Jewish means serving God.
    It is also interesting that Esther “wrote with all authority” the decree that confirms the days of Purim.

  6. mb says:

    If your take on this account is right I can think of three possible messages from the story of Esther:
    1. God’s children don’t have to be specifically designated as particularly divinely chosen in order to do his work and do tremendous good.
    2. God’s children don’t have to be self-directed or definitively called in order to do his work and do tremendous good.
    3. Don’t roll your eyes at beauty queens. Like the rest of us, when they engage in courage and fasting, they can use their God given talents to do amazingly good things.

    As an inveterate eye-roller, I should probably remember that third one.

  7. Moniker Challenged says:

    Not a story I’ve used a lot in my “daily life”. I get the part about her mustering courage to take part in the plan to save her people whilst endangering herself, and that’s admirable. Otherwise, she seemed pretty passive, and Uncle Mordi appears to be running the show. Take the courage bit out, and the moral always seemed to me that if you were hot enough you could use sex to manipulate powerful men. I’m not neither so favored nor so inclined, so it’s not a parable I’ve found a use for yet.

  8. Starfoxy says:

    I often get the feeling that this is a story that teachers try to salvage. As in, it doesn’t directly teach anything we really want to be teaching, but we try to force it to mean something since it’s in the Bible and there are precious few stories about women anyways.

  9. Deborah says:

    Jana: Deborah! Her riveting story and subsequent psalm are sorely neglected in the Sunday School manual: http://exponentblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/namesake.html

  10. mark steed says:

    Great post!
    Esther is a difficult story.
    I really hope that it’s been edited over the centuries because of the cultural expectations of women.

    The Deborah story is beautiful. I also like Abigail. Until I read (Peacegiver? not sure) I didn’t realize that she is type of Christ. That’s pretty powerful for a woman in the scriptures.

  11. Kelly Ann says:

    I think this story can be interpreted many ways. I too agree that is interesting to note that how often does sex play a role in stories of women in the bible. This has been discussed here before but always find it fascinating, although I don’t understand it.

  12. Tammy says:

    Mordecai Represents the Holy Spirit.

  13. Leland Cabanas says:

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