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Queen Esther (1879) by Edwin Long

Esther, or Hadassah in Hebrew meaning “myrtle,” is one of only two books of the Bible that does not mention God or God’s name. the other is Song of Songs. In fact, the author, who is unknown, goes out of their way to avoid using it. The Book of Esther reads like a Hollywood script. There are heroes, villains, evil plots, and divine triumphs. It is one of the only two books in the Bible named for women. The other, of course, is Ruth. Esther was an orphaned child, a Jewish slave living in exile. When Esther’s parents died, she was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai. However, she would be taken from her home as a child to live in the palace of King Xerxes along with many other girls of his harem. Child trafficking is defined as “the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt” of a child for the purpose of exploitation”. Esther was clearly a victim of sex trafficking. It was the only reason why she was taken and brought to the Persian king.

The storyline is set during a time when the Jewish population suffered much racial hatred. They had been a minority in Persia for many years. The events in the book take place from 483 BC to 473 BC, during the first half of the reign of King Xerxes. This was 100 years after the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, and just over 50 years after Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Jerusalem. Many Jews remained in Persia. They were part of the diaspora, or “scattering” of exiles among the nations. Although they were free to return to Jerusalem by the Edict of Cyrus 1, many had become established and probably did not wish to risk the dangerous journey back to their homeland. Esther and her family had been among the Jews who stayed behind in Persia.

At the beginning of the book of Esther, King Xerxes throws a banquet and asks his wife, Queen Vashti, to look beautiful for him in front of the guests. It is thought that this was his request for her to appear naked before the guests. She refused, and after consulting his counsel, Xerxes has Vashti exiled. King Xerxes then orders a search of the entire kingdom for a beautiful virgin to become his next bride. Many young women are taken into the king’s palace where they receive twelve months of beauty treatments prior to their turn to go to the king. Esther is one of those chosen as part of the king’s harem.

As all Scripture is “God Breathed,” the Book of Esther gives us a direct message on God’s sovereign control over history. God would give Esther favor over all of those in the king’s harem and she would become the Queen of Susa. Susa, also called Shushan, referred to as the citadel of Susa, was the capital of the Persian Empire. It was the location of the Royal Palace of King Xerxes. Esther would not reveal her nationality or family background as Mordecai advised her. Although Esther had little control over her life, God would do great works in and through her life.

One of Esther’s strengths was her willingness to be mentored. She sought the advice of the harem director Hegai on how to please the king which assisted her in winning his approval to be crowned queen. In addition, on multiple occasions she trusted her cousin Mordecai and acted on his recommendations. Mordecai’s wise counsel and Esther’s application of it would save the king’s life from an assassination attempt and later saved the Jewish people from a plot to destroy them. Esther was courageous and humble, and used by God to protect His people.

After Esther is made queen, Mordecai uncovers a plot to assassinate the king and tells Esther, who alerts the king giving credit to Mordecai. The men involved in the plot are hanged. Sometime later, a powerful man named Haman is promoted to be the king’s top official. The king also commands that his servants at the gate bow down to Haman. But Mordecai will not bow before anyone except God. The others at the king’s gate asked Mordecai about this, but he continues to refuse to pay homage to Haman. Mordecai also told the others he was a Jew. The others tell Haman about Mordecai’s refusal to bow, and the official becomes furious. Haman is not satisfied to just seek vengeance against Mordecai, he also wants to destroy the Jews. Haman tells the king there is a group of people living within the kingdom’s provinces with different laws whom the king should not tolerate. He asks the king to make a decree that the people be destroyed.

(Esther 3:13) 2 – “Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews–young and old, women and children–on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”

Esther is not aware of the king’s decree until Mordecai tells her about it. Mordecai specifically asks Esther to intercede with the king on behalf of the Jewish people. However, even as queen, Esther is not allowed to see the king unless he summons her by name. He has not done so for thirty days. To go to Xerxes uninvited would be to risk being put to death. Mordecai extends a warning to Esther:

(Esther 4:13–14) – “he sent back this answer: “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?”

Esther agrees to approach the king without being summoned even though she could be put to death and says:

(Esther 4:16) – “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Esther urged all the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance for three days. Then, risking her own life, a courageous young Esther approached the king with her request. She requested and arranged for a banquet, inviting Xerxes and Haman. There she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king. Esther also revealed Haman’s plot to have her, and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows, the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai. Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. The people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance. In remembrance, the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.

You will need to read the Book of Esther 3 yourself to know the details of the entire story. Through the courage of Esther and Mordecai, the Jews living in Persia are spared. In this story, we see God’s interaction with the will of humankind, the hatred that can come from racial prejudice, God’s power to give wisdom and God’s help in times of danger. God is at work in the lives of His people. He used the circumstances in Esther’s life, as He uses the decisions and actions of all humans to providentially work out His divine plans and purposes. We can trust in God’s sovereign care over our lives. A simple child, trafficked as if she was property, was raised up to the same level as Moses, Joshua, Joseph, and many others to deliver God’s people from destruction. In the same way, through Jesus Christ, born to an unwed teenager, we are delivered from death and eternal suffering. God will save His children! And what else does the story of Esther tell us?

  • Everyone has a purpose within God’s creation, everyone
  • To follow God is never easy
  • To follow God takes submission, humility, courage, and wisdom
  • Prayer has an impact
  • God’s plans always prevail

Contemplations

  • What evidence do you see in Esther’s responses to her life’s issues that show you she was an intelligent young lady?
    • Ideas to Explore: How she handled advice and sought cousel even in difficult situations. 
  • Where did Esther show bravery?
    • Ideas to Explore: How did Esther approach the risks of going against her king’s laws. Why did she seek fasting and prayer? Why would she ask all other Jews in Persia to do the same?
  • In what ways did Esther honor her relationships?
    • Ideas to Explore: Saving the king’s life; promoting Mordecai over herself; Remaining faithful to God.
  • While it is hard to imagine her fears and experiences, what helped Esther survive?
    • Ideas to Explore: The importance of faith in God. Respect for Mordecai, her elder. Her overall honor to both a human king and God.
  • If someone is in a difficult situation, what advice might you give them from the story of Esther?
    • Ideas to Explore: Keep faith in God. Be smart, listen and work to survive. Other thoughts?
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