Viewing Esther from the 20th Century
A conversation with my teenage daughter and some of her friends was on my mind recently as I read the 17th book of the Bible, Esther. Ten short chapters long, it’s a story of romance, intrigue, revenge, and God’s provision for His people. I was struck by the parallels between the issues we face in our lives and a story from ancient Persia.
There are three primary characters. The first is Esther, a young Jewish girl who tragically loses her parents as a young child and is raised by her older cousin Mordecai, the second hero of the book. He is a wise and respected man in the community of exiles. The third main character, Haman, is the villain of the story who plots to annihilate the Jewish people because of his intense hatred for Mordecai.
As the book opens, we find the King of Persia, Xerxes, throwing a boisterous party at his palace. When his current queen, Vashti, refuses his demand to parade in front of his drunken guests, the king deposes and exiles her. Years later, when the king decides to pick a new queen, Esther is rounded up with a large group of beautiful young women, one of whom will be chosen as queen, while the rest will remain stuck in the king’s harem. Esther is ultimately chosen as the new queen, and keeps her national identity a secret.
Meanwhile, Haman is gaining more power in the kingdom. He hates Mordecai because he will not bow down to him, and his anger turns in to a vendetta against all Jews. He asks the king for permission to destroy them throughout the empire. The king agrees without questions and a decree is sent to all the provinces with the date of destruction.
Mordecai manages to get a message to Esther and encourages her to speak to the king on the behalf of her people, stating “Who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Esther’s response is typical of many of us, initially listing all the reasons she couldn’t do what Mordecai asked. It was a capital offense to enter the king’s presence without an invitation, and Esther had not been summoned for a month. However, she agrees to fast and pray for three days, asking the rest of the community to do the same.
As the events unfold over the next few days, we can see the Hand of God guiding Esther and Mordecai in their actions. Ultimately, the Jewish people are saved from destruction, and Haman and other enemies are killed. Mordecai becomes a trusted advisor to the king, second in command. These events are remembered in the yearly celebration of Purim.
It might be easy to dismiss these events as an ancient story with no application for our lives. After all, not many of us will marry a king and save our people from destruction! However, the Bible says that God does prepare each of us for a specific purpose. David explains that God “knit him together” and knows everything about him (Psalms 139). God is described as a Potter that fashions the clay exactly as He desires (Isaiah 29:16). In Jeremiah, it states, “’I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah. 29:11) My favorite is found in Ephesians 2:10: “For you are God’s workmanship (masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
God carefully designed each one of us for a unique purpose. It can be frustrating to wait, and we may even look for reasons to not obey Him. However, He will let us know His plans at the right time, and will give us the skills we need to accomplish them. Like Esther, once we are aware of an opportunity, we can look to people we trust for advice, and ultimately ask the Lord to guide us. He knows us, He loves us, and He will direct us if we let Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).