Esther: for such a time as this

The Book of Esther

Queen Esther ©MicahHayns

Yesterday’s post ended with the deposition of Queen Vashti for her disobedience to the King Ahasureus’ demands. This opened the way for one of the great heroines of the Hebrew Scriptures and a story that is told each year during the festival of Purim. It is the story of Esther, the woman who saved her people from extermination.

Esther was very different to the aristocratic Vashti. She was an orphan and so had been brought up by her uncle Mordecai, and she was Jewish. This was at a time when the Jews were still in exile but they were able to live in relative peace under the authority of the Persian rulers.

The king had sent out his servants to find a suitable replacement wife and so beautiful young women from around the land were taken to the palace to join the harem under the watchful eye of Hegai, the king’s eunuch. Esther, being ‘fair and beautiful’ was one of them. She quickly became one of the favoured women.

Those of us who enjoy the odd beauty treatment might like to pause to reflect at the description of the process whereby these women were prepared for their ‘audience’ with the king:

Their cosmetic treatment [was] six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics for women.

Esther 2.12

A whole year of beauty treatments!

Esther pleased the king and he ‘loved her more than all the other women’ and so he ‘set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti’. There was a banquet and national holiday in her honour, and the king distributed gifts around his kingdom in celebration.

She had a secret however: she didn’t tell anyone that she was Jewish. She continued to keep in touch with her uncle Mordecai, who spent his time sitting at the king’s gate, perhaps so he could hear news of his adoptive daughter. One day Mordecai foiled a plot against the king by overhearing rumours of rebellion: he informed Esther who told the king and the rebels were hanged.

Esther and Mordecai by Arent de Gelder, circa 1685

If this was a fairy tale and Queen Esther was the beautiful princess, then the evil villain now comes on the scene: Haman. He was promoted by the king to be his ‘first official’ and is given authority over all other public servants. A vain and arrogant man, Haman demanded everyone pay him homage on bended knee. Mordecai refused to bow. Haman is furious and used this slight as an excuse for his anti-Semitism and he determined to ‘destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom’. (Esther 3.6).

Haman erects a vast gallows to carry out his murderous plan, the king passively agrees to his proposal, and the city is ‘thrown into confusion’ as edicts to kill the Jewish people are sent out.

Queen Esther is deeply distressed. Mordecai asks her to intercede with the king for their salvation and tells her that she has been put into the palace ‘at such a time as this’ for the purpose of helping her people.

But Esther realised it wasn’t going to be simple. She would have remembered what happened to Vashti. She would need to tread carefully.

She takes control of the situation, first asking all Jews to fast (and, we assume, pray) for three days. She then goes to the king and asks him if she can host a banquet for him and Haman. The king is delighted and offers her anything she desires, but she holds back and hosts a second party the next day. At the second banquet Esther makes her request, and by this stage the king is fully on her side, particularly as during the night he had had a dream where he remembered the loyalty of Mordecai who had warned him of the assassination threat.

Esther’s request is bold. She discloses her background and tells the king of the ensuing massacre:

let my life be given me… and the lives of my people, that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed 

Esther 7.3-4

The king’s eyes are opened to what is being done is his name, and the wicked Haman is killed on his own gallows, and the Jewish people are saved. In a final twist to the tale, Mordecai is given Haman’s position in the palace and Esther and her uncle are given his house and household.

for the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honour…a festival and a holiday

Esther 8.17

The festival of Purim was instituted and every year Queen Esther continues to be remembered for her part in the salvation of the Jewish people.

Reflection and Prayer

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives..he knelt down and prayed, 
'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; 
yet, not my will but yours be done'
Luke 22.42 

Before taking any action Esther’s first instinct was to insist all her people spent three days in prayer and fasting. This week is Holy Week and today we remember Jesus in Gethsemane before his arrest where he spent time in prayer grappling with his Father as to whether this journey was really his to take.

There is a wonderful line in Esther’s story where Mordecai tells her that perhaps she had been placed in the palace at that particular time for a particular purpose that only she could fulfil. ‘Who Knows?’, he says, ‘perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this’.

For such a time as this

I wonder if Jesus thought of Esther as he pleaded with his Father in Gethsemane? I wonder if he recalled her courage to face the king when he was being dragged in front of Pilate? I wonder if he found himself realising that he too had been chosen ‘for such a time as this’.

O Lord, who when thine hour was near, didst go without fear among those who sought thy life; give us such boldness to confess thee before others, and such readiness to bear thy cross, that hereafter thou mayest confess us before thy Father which is in heaven. Amen
A prayer of Joseph Oldham, 1874-1969

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

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