In honor of International Women’s Day last week, I want to talk about a woman named Esther. While the name may bring to mind either an older woman or a newborn of hipster parents, her story is still very relevant today. She utilized her beauty, her circumstances, her wit, and her courage to save her people.
Before we start, I think it’s important to note that there are several sketchy and odd parts of this story, not unlike many other stories from the Bible. These accounts were written not as an exact instructional for what we should do; they are simply telling how the story happened. Our culture has a tendency to think that if it’s even mentioned in the Bible, it has God’s seal-of-approval. But that’s simply not the case. Would we really be able to relate and learn from a story where everyone was perfect and never got caught up in a bad situation? Esther’s story is one that involves beauty-as-worth, pre-marital sex, multiple sex partners, using sex to gain status, treating women as possessions to be marketed, men making major choices for women, and banishing women for not wanting to be exploited. These are not things God endorses. However, God uses imperfect people for his glory. He delights in it, in fact. There isn’t a person in the Bible (apart from Jesus) who hasn’t fumbled at some point, some worse than others. But God is the master of using the circumstances we find ourselves in, the stories we’ve experienced, and the things we’ve learned to make something beautiful. We see that here in Esther’s story.
This story starts with King Xerxes throwing a tantrum because his wife, Queen Vashti refused to dress up and display her beauty for his nobles enjoyment. He and his advisors decide that news of this outrageous marital disobedience (feel my sarcasm) may encourage every woman to start disobeying their husbands, so they make an example of her by banishing her. This rash decision led the king to be in need of a new queen, so he called for beautiful women to be brought to him for his choosing. Esther was one of the women brought to the king. The king’s eunuch thought Esther had good chances, but what the king’s servants didn’t know about was her Jewish background. She kept it quiet under the instruction of her cousin, Mordecai, who wanted her to succeed in this endeavor. The king “sampled” the women (cringe), and liked Esther so much that he named her queen.
Later, the king promoted a man named Haman. It was customary that people would bow to Haman when they saw him due to his new ranking. However, Mordecai refused to bow down to him because he felt it to be against his Jewish religious beliefs. This upset Haman so much he decided to kill all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ reign. He got King Xerxes’ approval, and it was determined the Jews would all be killed March 7th. What a nice thing to add to your calendar. Mordecai heard the news and reached out to his cousin, Queen Esther, hoping she would speak to the king and get him to change his mind. She responded with an understandable reluctance because the law stated that if someone were to appear before the king without invitation, they would be killed. The king hadn’t called on her for some time, so finding an opportunity would mean appearing in court uninvited. Mordecai responded with, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Esther agreed to approach the king and responded to her cousin, “Though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.” (verse 16)
So Esther approached the king, and she got past the initial threat of death since he welcomed her presence. She then invited the king and Haman to a dinner where she told the king that Haman’s planned genocide included her and her family. This made the issue hit close to home for the king, and he had Haman killed. This took care of the mastermind behind the genocide, but the plan was still a go, with many people out there crossing off calendar days, waiting for March 7th to implement this mass killing. Esther risked her life yet again to approach the king uninvited, asking him to stop the planned killings. Since the message was already sent and sealed with the king’s signet ring, it could not be revoked, but he allowed another message to be sent stating that the Jews could unite to defend their lives. To conclude our story, on March 7th, the Jews banded together. Even the kings highest officers helped them, and together they overpowered their enemies.
Can we just address the fact that Mordecai was the bachelor in distress and Esther saved the day?
We build ourselves up. We seek promotions, we seek to learn more, we try to collect friends and connections and build a social media following. We want more money, more stuff, more comfort and ease. But why? Is it to create our own kingdom so we can sit happy and comfortably? What if we’re focusing so much on our own wants that we miss what God is calling us to do for his Kingdom? Esther could have sat back and enjoyed her lavish lifestyle. She may not have been found out to be a Jew. She could have taken her chances and done nothing. But with her cousin’s convincing, she realized that maybe God allowed her to be favored by the king so that she could take this very risk. For such a time as this. Now, I doubt if the fate of a whole race of people relies on your decisions right now. However, there’s something to take from this courageous move Esther took. Part of celebrating International Women’s Day is celebrating that we aren’t only as valuable as we are beautiful. We celebrate all different types of beauty, and we understand the harm it does to place such a weight on outer appearance. But in the time of Esther, people didn’t feel this way. A woman's worth in this instance really did depend on her beauty. And just like he does with everything else, God used an ugly concept and turned it into something good. Esther’s beauty gave her the king’s ear, saving many many people. She used the place she was already in (in the king’s favor) to do what God called her to do. As much as God orchestrates things, he gave us free will. And ultimately, it came down to Esther choosing to obey or not to obey. She said yes to God when she could have said no. Remember, Mordecai said “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place…” (Esther 4:14) The job God wants done will get done. But man, if you have the chance, don’t you want to be the one to do it?
Set your interests aside. Ask God what it is he needs you to do in your current situation, to bring glory to him. There are times that God calls us to uproot our current circumstances and take risks with a new situation, but most of his work is done right where we’re at. We seem to think if everything in our window of vision is going fairly well, we’re safe. But there is a battle going on all around us. The devil is at work, and he loves when we sit comfortably, because that’s when he sneaks in. God gave you your job, your wisdom, your resources, and your talents. He didn’t give you these so you could sit back and revel in how great life is. He equipped you for battle, his battle.
As for me, I quit working as a nurse a couple years ago to stay at home with my kids. When I was working, the “for such a time as this” moments showed up readily. In the hospital, we faced life and death situations with our patients. There was opportunity after opportunity to pray with a patient/family. I was constantly offering encouragement and hope for my patients. God made it clear that at that time, he made me a nurse at that hospital, assigned to those patients for such a time as this. Now, at home, life can become a bit mundane. Each day is timed to a tee, my toddler gets up 4+ times each night and declares the day starts at 5am. I’m tired. I wipe noses, faces, and butts. Maybe you’re like me where your “for such a time as this” moments in your current situation aren’t so clear. Well let me tell you, don’t give up, they’ll show up. I had one the other day when I was driving my kids to one of their activities. I’ve learned that our car rides are the best time to teach my kids about Jesus because, well, they’re stuck in their seats and can’t move. I call them my car sermons. In this particular conversation, my daughter was asking about why Jesus had to die. I explained to her that he died so that we could be reconnected with God after making bad choices. I was expecting it to end shortly after that, but her interest really took off. She wanted to understand why bad things happen still, and why people sin in the first place. We talked for about 20 solid minutes with really good questions on her part. Based off of our many car sermons, I can tell you she has a better understanding of the doctrine of our faith than many adult Christians I know. She’s six. It dawned on me that she is listening, she’s absorbing it, she wants more. I am home, with her, available for conversations for such a time as this. I am arming her for battle just as God arms me, because it is without a doubt that the world will try to teach her other things. I want her to live relationally with Jesus, not religiously, as religion may taper off but a relationship with Jesus is live-giving and sustaining.
So where has God placed you? Could he have placed you there for such a time as this?
Imagine what Esther would think about the progress (or lack thereof) we’ve made with how women are treated. Her well being depended on a man: first her cousin taking her in, then King Xerxes. Women were not allowed to own land. They didn’t have a voice. They were at the mercy of men. Esther used her [quite limited] liberties to save her people. We live in a time with much more freedom. What are you doing with your circumstances? Take advantage of the place you’re in. If you have a following, or if you have the ear of people, speak truth and teach about the redemptive love of Jesus. Don’t let opportunities slip by.
A.j. is a wife and SAHM, an eager follower of Jesus, and a chronically loud-laugher. She loves finding new ways to look at the Bible, in hopes to grow closer to Jesus and to find fresh ways to learn and teach others.
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