The Bible is full of encouraging stories about the lives of women, which is quite amazing considering their second-class status of their day. I’ve written about a few- Mary and Martha, Hannah, Lydia, etc., and wanted to get back to the topic. The story of Queen Esther kept popping up and the #1 thing I remembered was God’s name is never mentioned. So what made Esther so special? Her book is one of only two named for women!
Facts about Queen Esther
Where did Esther Live?
Esther was living in exile in Persia, as were many Jews scattered throughout this vast empire. By decree, the Jews had been given permission to return to Jerusalem. But Esther’s parents were among those who opted to stay. She lived in the capital city of Susa.
Esther Family Tree
Esther’s father’s name was Abihail and her parents named her Hadassah at birth- (it was a common practice of the Jews to have double names).¹
Her parents both died at some point, and her cousin Mordecai adopted and raised her.
“Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother…. And Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.” Esther 2:7 NIV.
Losing her parents at a young age must have been very difficult for Esther. It is one of the many times we see how God worked behind the scenes to provide for her, and her people.
History of Esther
Esther’s rise to Queen begins with the Persian King Xerxes’ problems with his present Queen, Vashti. We read about Xerxes’s 180-day display of wealth and majesty, followed by a 7-day banquet where the “royal wine was abundant” (1:7) and free flowing. (He was preparing to invade Greece and needed to flex some muscle/show off…)
Queen Vashti, meanwhile, was holding her own banquet for the women of the palace. On the seventh day, the King, “in high spirits from the wine”, instructed his servants to bring the Queen to him so he could flaunt her beauty to all.
But Queen Vashti refused- it went against Persian custom for women to appear before a public gathering of men.
Fearing the fallout from his wife’s refusal, the King huddled with his advisors. Queen Vashti’s actions, they impulsively decided, would cause other women to act in the same way. “There will be no end of disrespect and discord.” (1:18b) So a royal decree went out declaring every man ruler of his own house and included a provision for the removal of Vashti.
The search was on for a replacement. The king’s advisers proposed to round up beautiful young virgins from throughout the kingdom. They would bring them to the palace and spruce them up with 12 months of beauty treatments. They took many young women (they had no choice), including Esther, who was described as “lovely in form and features.” (2:7) She immediately became a favorite, received special food, seven maids to attend to her, and moved “into the best place in the harem.” (2:9)
Esther hid her Jewish background because her cousin Mordecai feared for her safety and forbid her to reveal it. He worried about her terribly, walking back and forth every day near the courtyard of the harem to discover how Esther was faring.
How Did Esther Become Queen?
Each girl was taken to the king at night, and in the morning, she would return to the harem. She would then become his concubine, whose sole purpose was to entertain the king at his whim.
Esther’s turn came, and they took her to the king.
He was “attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her Queen.” (2:17)
Meanwhile, Mordecai sat daily at the king’s gate as his job of government official, associating with other men of influence. He overhears a plot to assassinate the king and tells Queen Esther. She reports it to the king, giving Mordecai all the credit. While they recorded his good deed, Mordecai received no reward or acclaim.
Again, we see God working behind the scenes- to place Mordecai where he can overhear the plot, and the forgetfulness of the king to reward him.
Mordecai and Haman
At some point in Queen Esther’s reign, the king elevates a man named Haman to be his advisor/prime minister. Haman’s ancestors were Amalekites, enemies of the Jews, and Haman held tightly to his hatred of them. So when Mordecai obeyed God and refused to kneel before Haman and pay him honor, it enraged Haman. He had learned Mordecai was a Jew (the reason he wouldn’t bow to him), and plotted to annihilate them all.
Mordecai’s faithfulness to God came with a price.
Haman went to the king with a purposely vague description of a scattered people in his kingdom that disobeyed his laws. He talked the king into issuing a decree to destroy and kill them all, taking their possessions as their own on a specific day (almost a year later.)
The king didn’t know that he had just signed a death warrant for his beloved Queen.
Mordecai and Esther
When Mordecai learns of Haman’s evil plot, he instructs one of the king’s servants to explain the situation to Esther. He asks her to go before the king and “beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.” (4:8b)
Unfortunately, this could have been a death sentence for Esther. She sends a message back to Mordecai- everyone knew that “any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned… be put to death.” (4:11)
The only way out was to hope the king was feeling especially benevolent and spare their life by extending his gold scepter for them to touch.
Mordecai points out, however, that her position as Queen would not save her, and her silence would also doom her people. Her silence, he told her, meant deliverance for the Jews “will arise from another place…” But-
“Who knows that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14)
Mordecai reminds Esther that God had placed her in a leadership position for a reason. She needed the courage to see it as well, and to act.
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For Such a Time as This
Mordecai reminded Esther that he expected God to deliver His people through her station in life and actions.
Yes, He could do it through someone else, but Esther needed to trust God.
Are we not put in similar positions? God has placed us in this world, with gifts, talents, and opportunities, to lead His lost ones to Him. Will we shrink back in fear, or go forward in faith?
Esther faithfully decides to risk her life in submission to God, but makes a request of Mordecai. She asks him to gather all the Jews in the city to fast and pray for her mission for three days. She and her maids would do the same. Only then would she would break the law and go to the king.
She boldly proclaims her plan to take the risk and go forward in faith: “If I perish, I perish.” (4:16b)
Where do you seek help and wisdom in times of need? We tend to “lean on our own understanding”, or go to friends and family first. Esther shows us a better way- diligent prayer accompanied by many prayer partners!
In this time of intense prayer and fasting, God reveals a plan to Esther.
So on the third day, Esther put on her royal robes and approached the king. When he saw her, he was pleased and held out his scepter to her. He invited her to ask for anything, even up to half the kingdom!
But Esther began her planned intercession by asking the king and Haman to a banquet, on that day and the next.
God’s Perfect Timing
On the night before the second banquet, the king suffered from insomnia, so he ordered the book containing the record of his reign to be read to him. He heard of Mordecai’s uncovering of the assassination plot against him. The king asked what honor and recognition Mordecai had received. When he discovered the oversight, the king honored him the next day.
In God’s perfect timing, He reveals to the king the previously unrecognized life-saving actions of Mordecai- on the very day Esther would plead for her people’s lives!
What did Esther reveal at the banquet?
At the second banquet, the king asked Esther to reveal her request. She finally revealed the plot to destroy her and her people and begs the king to spare their lives. The king was enraged and asked her, “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?” (7:5)
Esther names Haman as the perpetrator. The king sentences Haman to die, and because of Mordecai’s recent recognition, the king named him to take over Haman’s position. The king revises his previous edict of destruction of the Jews, allowing them to defend themselves against those who would try to destroy them.
Esther and Purim
Mordecai documented all the events that happened and encouraged an annual holiday to be held, commemorating this time when God saved them from their enemies and turned their sorrow into joy. It was a 2-day feast named Purim and remains a feast still celebrated today.
Lessons from Esther
•We see God working in Esther’s life even though His Name is not specifically found. Esther was a faithful Jewish woman who used her faith to bring her through the loss of her parents and her freedom in life. We see how God can bring blessings into the direst circumstances. We truly worship the God of the Impossible!
•When you look back on your life, can you identify times when God was working “behind the scenes” for you? Or bringing people into your life to point you to Him or come alongside you? (A prayer journal is a wonderful way to look back and see God at work!)
•If you feel God is absent from your life, does Esther’s story help you see He is ever present, always close by with His comfort and love?
•Esther used intense prayer and fasting to discern God’s will, bringing in scores of people to intercede with her. Do you face a spiritual battle today? How will your prayer life reflect your boldness and faith?
•Esther showed amazing courage when she risked her life to go before the king. We may never be in her position, but we may risk persecution for being bold for Christ. What would your response look like?
•Have you discovered God’s purpose for your life? Perhaps you were made “for such a time as this!”
The book of Esther contains even more intrigue, plots, and workings of God than I have covered here. I highly recommend reading its ten brief chapters this week to uncover even more lessons from her unusual circumstances and see how God’s sovereignty and care is worked out through her actions.
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
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