Throughout the Bible, we see many figures who reflect ourselves. We see ourselves in their struggles and hope for their same victories from God. In many ways, for those of us who have grown up with these stories, the names and actions of these people can become almost second nature. In that way, the story of Esther is not an unfamiliar one. The teenage girl who became a queen and used her influence to save her people. But the wider implications of the story have a much more impactful legacy of faithfulness in the face of impossible odds.
To contextualize the story of Esther, I think it’s important to get a little historical background. All too often we look at the events with the knowledge of how they ended and/or we gloss over the gritty details of the period. The unfortunate result is that we turn Esther into some sort of ancient Cinderella story where the only major hiccup she faced was feeling nervous about asking the king to dinner.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, the faulty Cinderella story. The Jews of that time were living in exile. Under Persian rule, they lived in a society that placed a fantastic emphasis on near worship of the ruling body. Not exactly a great environment to be in when you believe in only giving worship to God.
Then there’s the situation Esther finds herself in. I’m not a complete expert on the inner workings of the Persian empire, but I’m willing to bet when the kings advisors issued the order for all the young women to be brought to the palace, it wasn’t an order that you could easily say no to. If you look at it just from the idea that these girls were taken to a palace and given beauty treatments, it doesn’t sound so bad. The endgame of all that pampering is the sobering part. These girls, Esther included, were being prepared to be sent to the king for a night. After which, they were taken from the harem and moved to the apartments of the other concubines. Recognize exactly what this means. Esther was seen as a means to an end with no real value beyond that and had no say in her fate.
To address the watered-down version of her just being nervous about talking to the king, it wasn’t just a matter of favor or rejection. Esther wasn’t fearing the idea that the king might not like her or would get angry with her. An audience with the king was contingent on being summoned by him first, and the consequences of initiating that contact alone was suicide. As Esther herself said, “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives.” She was fearing the idea that, if her gamble didn’t pay off, her life was forfeit.
This was a matter of life and death any way she faced it.
As always with Bible stories, we can’t help but look for the application or comparison to our own lives. As a young(ish) woman, Esther is an easy enough figure for me to identify with, but her circumstances are uncomfortable for me to consider. I can’t imagine going through what Esther did just to reach the point where the king noticed her, let alone willingly putting myself in a situation that could easily be signing my death warrant to save my people.
We have the added benefit of knowing how the story ends. Esther had no such benefit. When Mordecai told her to address the king, it could have just as easily been a death sentence as it was a means for victory. Esther knows how uncertain her fate is in the way she appeals to Mordecai, citing the circumstances in which she can address the king. Knowing all that, Mordecai still scolds her for her reluctance and still urges her to act, saying the unforgettable words: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther’s story is not a Cinderella story of getting lucky and being in the right place at the right time to make a difference. It’s a story of having the faithfulness to do what you have to even if you don’t know what the outcome will be. Yes, it works out for Esther. Yes, the king shows her favor. Yes, the day is saved and the Jews’ enemies are destroyed. But when Esther made the decision to speak to the king, she didn’t know that, and still, she acted.
As Christians, we will have no shortage of moments in our lives that are completely dependent on having faith in what God is asking us to do. It would be wonderful if we could always know if we will come out on the other side as right as rain, but that can’t have any bearing on whether or not we obey. Because at the end of the day, we are living for a purpose that goes beyond the days of our life on earth. Our fears can’t matter so much that they stop us from doing what we must. We know the ending to the big picture story, that God’s will prevails. So as a wise man once told me “The safest place in the world for you is in the center of God’s will.” May the knowledge of that safety drive us to courage that doesn’t need to know the present, earthly outcome.
Whatever God might be asking of you, and whatever hesitation you may have to do it, remember a teenage girl who risked everything she had to play her part in the bigger story. Remember that you may have been born “for such a time as this”.
Let’s find some joy,