Esther – for such a time as this

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Esther serves as the title of this book of the Bible. Along with the book of Ruth, they are the only Old Testament books named after women.

‘Hadassah’ meaning myrtle was the Hebrew name of Esther. The more commonly used name of Esther came either from the Persian word for star, or possibly from the name of the Babylonian love goddess, Ishtar.

As the orphaned daughter of her father Abihail, Esther grew up in Persia with her older cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his own daughter.  The Bible story found in the book of Esther is fascinating, a tale with all the mystery of a modern day drama, complete with deception, palace intrigue and a murderous plot.

Even more compelling is Esther herself. This mysterious beauty appears from obscurity and captures the heart of the most powerful man on earth, the pagan King of Persia.

Her attributes of grace and godliness eclipse even her outer beauty and gain her king’s respect. Their subsequent marriage positions her strategically to fulfil her destiny – to step into her place on the world stage, and to end a horrible scheme to annihilate her people, the Jews. Esther was chosen… ‘for such a time as this.’

After Esther became queen, her safety and well-being were ensured. Wrong. As queen, Esther faced a double-edged threat to her life. She still held secret the fact that she was a Jewess. As events unfolded she was forced to choose between revealing her secret or watching the destruction of all her people and living out her days in fear of being exposed and killed.

Who brought about these events? The evil Haman, a member of the court whom King Ahasuerus had made Grand Vizier, second in command, over all Persia. The king ordered all the people in the kingdom to bow and do homage to Haman whenever he passed, and Haman delighted in his importance. He had the pleasure of seeing everyone in the empire bow to him wherever he went. Everyone, that is, except one: Mordecai. He refused to bow to Haman and this was brought to Haman’s attention.

He decided that he would not only have Mordecai’s life – he would wipe out all the Jews in the Persian Empire.  Haman went to the king and let him know that ‘a certain people’ were disobeying the laws of the kingdom. He never named the Jews. He asked for permission to destroy them and the king gave him permission.

In the King’s name, he wrote a decree ordering that the Jews of all the provinces – including women and children of any age – were to be killed, and annihilated on the day that was chosen. He cast lots, or ‘pur’, to determine the day they were to be destroyed. (The Jewish celebration of Haman’s defeat is called the Festival of Purim for this reason.)

Now Esther, residing safely in the palace, was unaware of these events until she heard that her cousin Mordecai was wailing in front of the King’s Gate. Mordecai sent her a copy of Haman’s decree. He urged her to go to the king and plead for the lives of the Jewish people. Esther, our portrait of courage, lived every day at the king’s pleasure and she was aware daily of the risk to herself if she displeased the king. Everyone knew there was a law that if anyone went into the inner court without being summoned, that person was to be immediately killed.

‘I might never even get a chance to plead our cause,’ she said.

Mordecai’s reply was the challenge of Esther’s lifetime. ‘You are facing death, too, if you remain silent now.’ Then he spoke of his faith. ‘Deliverance will come from somewhere else, but you will have missed your opportunity. Who knows – maybe you have come to this place just for such a time as this.’

One thing that we can learn from Esther is her ability to wait upon God to bring about the perfect timing for her to go before the king. In her case, it meant life or death. After the third day of fasting, Esther ‘rolled the dice’. Scripture says that she found favour in his sight (ch 5:2). He was so pleased to see her that he promised to give her anything she wanted, even half his kingdom.

She must have felt relief and then she invited him to a dinner party that night – and invited Haman as well. After dinner, the king again asked Esther what she wanted. She replied that if she had found favour in his sight her only request was that he attend another dinner party the next night, along with Haman.

After that dinner, she would tell him what she wanted. The king agreed. After the second dinner, the king again asked for Esther’s request. Now if you can just imagine how she must have felt as she spoke. ‘If I have found favour in your sight… and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.’

The astonished king asked, ‘Who would do such a thing?’ Esther then delivered the death blow by simply naming him – the adversary and enemy, the wicked Haman. Wow – what a dramatic end to a dinner party. The king was outraged and ordered Haman to be hanged on the same gallows he had built for Mordecai.

Esther’s legacy remains today. The fruit of her sacrificial life lives on in Israel and through all who read about her in this book. She stands in God’s Hall of Fame as a bold woman of faith. In future years, a festival was instituted commemorating Esther’s bold act and the deliverance of the Jews from the plot of Haman. It is known to this day as the Festival of Purim.

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