Ever notice that the story of Esther involves two women, both queens of the most powerful man of their time, who outrightly disobey?
Queen Vashti, King Xerxes’s first wifey, refuses the king’s command to come to his party in Esther 1:12. There’s much debate in commentator world on why Vashti chose to disobey. Some believe she had political motives and others suggest she was taken ill with leprosy. Maybe being asked to come flaunt her naked body in front him and his drunk friends had something to do with? Either way, Vashti’s disobedience landed her in trouble and she was cast from the king’s presence. Her incompliance also paved the way for a sort of Cinderella circa 479BCE “bring all the virgins to the palace for me to choose my next wife” moment.
We’re told that Esther is an orphan who has been adopted by her cousin, Mordecai. The author tells us that Esther was “lovely in form and features” and was taken to the city to become entrusted to the king’s harem.
Esther and all the other virgins of the surrounding providences were commanded by the king’s edict to join his harem. Culturally, these women likely had no choice in the matter. And as virgins, they were most probably under the age of 13 (as women were married once they came of age back then.)
The text does not tell us what Esther thought or felt at this time in her life but I think we can do due diligence in putting ourselves in her shoes. What would you have felt or thought as a tween taken from your family/community/life to serve as a concubine for a man who just banished his last wife for refusing to comply with him?
I’m not sure I’d be too excited.
I’m also sure that my mind would be racing with questions about my future and my heart would be battling fear and anxiety.
As we read on in the text, we learn that people like Esther. She receives favor from many, including the king himself. However, we are not explicitly told why.
What makes a person likable? Did Esther receive favor because she was submissive and compliant? Maybe. Seems like that was what the king was looking for after his bout with Vashti.
But maybe there was more to Esther than her good looks and potentially docile demeanor.
Maybe Esther was kind. Maybe she was hilarious. Maybe she was wise or cunning. And maybe, despite any of these things, she had upon her the hand of God.
Ultimately, the king is so attracted to Esther that he chooses her over all others to become his new queen, not knowing that she is a Jew. (Esther 2:17)
Eventually, Esther receives word from Mordecai that Haman, one of the king’s officials, has plans to kill all the Jews throughout the kingdom. Haman has been given a blessing from King Xerxes to carry out his vengeance in the twelfth month and an edict was sent to all within the provinces to prepare for their annihilation.
Mordecai goes to Esther and pleads with her to stand up to the king to save her people—to which Esther first refuses.
“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 one law: that he be put to death…thirty days have passed since I’ve been called to go to the king.” Esther 4:11
First, Esther does not feel she is in good standing with the king as he hasn’t asked for her for a month, which leads us to believe that she saw him more frequently prior to this dry spell. This is significant because Esther would need the king’s favor to revoke his edict.
Second, Esther does not want to disobey the law as it could mean her death. In this moment, I cannot believe that Esther was not recalling the story of the woman who came before her – Vashti. I wonder, also, if Esther internally wrestled with losing the life she had become accustomed. Surely approaching the king would risk her comfort as queen; she may not have wanted to rock the boat.
Esther’s approach of the king would have been much like Vashti’s reluctance to do so. Esther knew that if the king did not accept her, she would die just as Vashti was shamed and cast away for her reluctance to follow instruction. In either case, both women risked their lives by challenging the institution and defying the cultural and legal norms of the Persian kingdom.
Mordecai responds to Esther’s hedging with the following:
“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 4:13-14
Let’s take some time to review what Mordecai said. Let his statements sink into your souls. Rephrased for emphasis:
Do not think you’re special. You are a Jew, too. You will not be spared because of your high position. Your position does not change who (or whose) you are.
If you remain silent, you (and they) will die.
God will continue His plans to deliver his people with or without you.
Consider the idea that you were made queen for such a time as this!
Those are some powerful words.
Apparently, Esther thought so too. She asks the community to fast and pray for her and after three days, she approaches the king to advocate for her people’s lives. Esther was moved to stand up for what she knew was the right, even though it put her comfort, safety and privilege in jeopardy.
Who in your own community needs your advocating?
Esther had a choice. She could have stayed silent. She could have chosen to continue to hide and not rock the boat. Esther could have ignored the problem set in front of her. She could have set aside her faith and identity in God to preserve herself as a woman of high position in a pagan kingdom.
Instead, Esther chose to use her voice, her position and her favor to change history.
With God’s provision, Esther’s challenge to authority worked to save God’s chosen people and bring peace. In a way, Vashti did much the same for her defiance resulted in providing a path for Esther.
To this day, Jewish people celebrate Purim, a holiday which commemorates Esther and the saving of the Jewish people from Haman.
What will people celebrate because of how you choose to participate in God’s kingdom?