Lesser-Known Women: Esther
by Jay Newlin
Where do we find her in the Bible?
The entire book of Esther is her story.
Who was she?
- A young Israelite woman living in the Persian capital of Susa. Since she was an orphan, her uncle Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. “Esther” is a Persian name; her Hebrew name was “Hadassah.”
- Vashti, the wife of King Ahasuerus, was deposed as queen because she had refused a drunken command by the king to present herself at a banquet, in order to be admired by the guests for her beauty. This displeased the king – and his advisers – so she was banished.
- Mordecai learned that the king’s servants were searching for “beautiful young virgins,” from whom he might choose his new wife. He sent his niece to join them. Esther was chosen and became the queen. She kept her nationality/ethnicity a secret.
- Mordecai learned of an assassination attempt against the king. He passed the information along to the king through Esther.
- Ahasuerus promoted Haman to a position like Prime Minister. The king commanded that everyone ought to bow down in Haman’s presence. Mordecai refused to do so. This angered Haman, so he plotted to have Mordecai and the Jews exterminated.
- Mordecai learned of this plot, too, so he went to Esther, to have her intervene with the king on behalf of her people. After some convincing by Mordecai and a three-day fast by all the Jews in Susa, Esther does so. This part of the story is told beautifully in Chapter 4.
- Esther arranges a very crafty way to have the “tables turned” on Haman, so that he is publicly humiliated (and eventually hanged) while Mordecai is raised to a position of great power and prestige. In a true turning of the fortunes in the story, the Jews are allowed by the king to destroy their enemies throughout the Persian Empire.
What lessons do we learn from her story?
- Some interesting facts about Esther and her story ((Deen, Edith, All of the Women of the Bible, New York: Harper & Row, © 1955 and 1983, pg. 145.))
- She is the first notable woman of the Bible whose entire story occurs outside Palestine.
- No other Old Testament woman’s name is mentioned as many times (55 – compare that with Sarah, whose name is mentioned 51 times).
- God is never mentioned anywhere in the book. For this reason, the book’s inclusion in the canon of Scripture has been debated for centuries.
- The Jewish festival of Purim (a Spring festival) is established in Esther 9. The book may exist almost exclusively as a Festungslegende, to give the story of the reason for the festival. ((The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 3, accessed 7/15/2014))
- Some thoughts and questions raised by the story
- Don’t we admire Vashti for refusing to be objectified by her husband in his drunken boasting?
- How do we feel about Mordecai’s decision to have his niece/adopted daughter participate in the “try outs” for the position of queen, knowing that it involved her sleeping with the king?
- Why didn’t Mordecai or Esther want the king to know her ethnicity (2:10)?
- Where does the courage in 4:16 (“…if I perish, I perish.”) come from? This from the woman who wouldn’t share her ethnicity with her husband? What changes have come over her?
- The retribution against the “enemies of the Jews” in 8:11-14 and 9:1-17 is incredibly harsh (and the numbers of people killed astonishing). How do we react to such a violent turn of events?
- Esther 4:14 comes close to an acknowledgement of Divine Providence, but without mentioning God as the causative agent of Esther’s fortunate position and status. How do we feel about the inclusion of this book in the Bible?
- Perhaps God’s activity is understood to be behind some of the coincidences in the story, but humans have to act to bring about any results in this story. “Coincidences may reveal the hand of God, but…humans cannot know that for sure. All they can do is act, in the hope that their action corresponds to the plan and purpose of God.” ((NIB))
- Why do you think that Esther’s story is included in Scripture? What do you gain from her story and example?
May 10, 2016
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