What many Christians may or may not know is that tonight at Sundown begins the celebration of Purim in the Jewish faith. Purim has playfully been called Jewish Halloween, a time to have big dinner parties and dress up in costumes. But at the heart of these festivities is the Story of Esther. A story where God raises up a courageous young woman to a seat of power to save her people.
Tonight, I wanted to talk a little about the story of Esther, thoughts that I?ve had after researching her story, and the history surrounding it.
First of all, did you know, Esther and the Song of Songs are the only books in the Bible that don?t feature God as an active speaking ?character?? Every other book of the Bible details stories of how God clearly and eloquently spoke to his prophets and followers and gave them guidance through signs and audible commands. Esther never receives any guidance from Angels or from an audible voice from God, not that we?re made privy to in the book of Esther, but she is still lead by God to accomplish a feat that only God could have ordained.
When reading the book of Esther, and when studying the many complex facets of her story it occurs to me that this is often very similar to our way of relating to God today.
So often we talk about being called to be like David, a friend of God who worships without abandon. Though very little are we called to be like Esther, to stand up and enact the will of God, even when the cost could be our standing in society or our own safety. Things that are hard to do when we don?t audibly hear the voice of God when we are only led by the Holy Spirit.
In Esther 1:1 – 21 (no need to read the entire passage) the Story is set up that the King is indulging his friends and nobles in a grand feast. In verses 1 – 9 there is a lavish description of the decorations which is a setup to show us the vast wealth and stretch of Xerxes empire. If you?ve seen the movie 300 the Xerxes that invades Greece in that story is the SAME Xerxes in the book of Esther. So the stage is set that historically we know Xerxes is a man of wealth, and of war, someone not to be trifled with. He calls for his wife Vashti to come to him and she refuses, as she doesn?t want to be jeered at by drunks and treated like yet another prize ornament in the treasures of her husband. Vashti?s disobedience is often taught to women as a cautionary tale about why they should obey their husbands. But in verses 16 – 19 we see that Vashti was made an example of standing up for herself. Vashti was used by God even if she didn?t know it, she stood her ground not because she was rebellious but instead resisted objectification. She sacrificed her place in society so that God could usher in Esther to save her people. Also, given the historical context probably set her up for a good life in her own palace away from Xerxes.
In chapter 2 of the book of Esther, the story continues with details about the mindset of the search for the new Queen. The hunt for young virgins was a tactic to distract the king from his decree about Vashti. In verse 5 we see that Mordecai was serving in the palace of Xerxes, setting the stage for Esther, known by her Jewish name, Hadassa, to be involved in the search for beautiful young women. In verse 9 we?re shown that Esther was immediately impressive to the eunuch Hegai. Who was in charge of the young women. He prepared her especially according to what he knew would catch the King?s eye, in a way that separated her from the young women. This special training and the interest Mordecai took in making sure Esther was safe and prepared gave Esther wisdom in her circumstance. We see in chapter two that each woman was given their choice of jewels and ornaments to make themselves appealing to the King but Esther asked for only what Hegai knew the King would find pleasing.
The King enjoyed Esther so much he crowned her Queen and held a feast in her honor.
The book of Esther shows us a depiction of a woman who was in modern term brought to the palace to become a sex slave, a member of a harem. She was one of many women who were thought of so little they were uprooted from their lives, and their identities and made to be something entirely different to please a king who was enacting a will to take the power and identity away from other women in the land. But Esther?s destiny rose above what the King?s wise men had instore for her. Esther?s story differs from the other women in this royal search because of her identity. Jewish people in Exile often had two names, one which was a common or local name to the land they were staying and a second name which was at the center of their faith and their heritage as Children of God.
Like Esther we are called to have a dual identity. Our first identity we are born into when we are brought into the natural world. Our nationality, our personality, and our names are made up of natural experiences and choices. But our second identity is in Christ. We choose to put on our identity in Christ, and like Esther we should take this identity and let it lead us to make wise choices.
In Chapter 3 our story begins to take shape, and the conflict that Esther must endure takes the stage. Haman, who we all know isn?t the best guy, is elevated to the second in command position to the King and he comes into direct conflict with Mordecai. In the story we see Mordecai emboldened by his faith and nationality will not bow down to Haman. Some scholars believe this is due to the fact that Haman was a descendant of the King of the Amalekites. Who if you remember Saul was supposed to kill every last man, woman and child descended from. Just as a side note, when God leads you to conquer your enemy do not let even the smallest of your enemies go.
Haman and Mordecai?s disagreement begins a chain of events that plays out in Chapter 3 and part of Chapter 4. Haman so enraged that Mordecai will not give up his hebrew customs and bow to him plots to have every person of Jewish descent in the Kingdom of Xerxes killed.
In Chapter 4 the Jewish people are lamenting for their fates, and when Esther reaches out to Mordecai to find out what is happening she is met with the fateful passage:
Esther 4:13 – 14
?Don?t think for a moment that because you?re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this??
Esther is given a choice about where her destiny is leading her. Just like we saw in when she was a part of the selection process to become the Queen she reaches out (this time to the other jewish people) and asks them to fast and pray for guidance.
In the book of Esther we see that destiny and prayer lead to 3 feasts. The first is the feast thrown in honor of Esther as she is crowned Queen. The second is the Feast was a bold move for Esther under the law set up when Vashti ignored a command of the King. She broke the command of her station and approached the King without being called for. Esther knew that her place in the Kingdom was at stake, but she knew her calling led her to break away from tradition. She invites the King to a feast (the second feast). In this feast she judges the heart of the King and she weighs what she believes God is telling her to do. Even as Haman works behind the scenes to kill Mordecai Esther?s wisdom and her discernment to hear God saves not only those she loves, but all of her people.
The third feast Esther prepares for the King and for Haman unveils her as a hero, and a savior to her people.
Esther understood that her time and her calling as Queen was not just a circumstance she had been placed in. She wasn?t just one of many women who were rounded up to become members of the Royal Harem. She had been prepared and selected by God. She was born for just a time as this.
Esther understood also that wisdom was sought by fasting and prayer, that she also received the wisdom God was giving her by listening. She was chosen because she listened to what was desired by the King by those who knew him best. She was able to save her people because she listened to what God wanted from his people.
Esther is a story that begins, climaxes, and ends with feasting. Esther continually is made to feast with those who would be her enemy. Instead of becoming fearful of this, she allows it to embolden her to then lay a feast in the presence of her actual enemy Haman, and save her people.?