The book of Esther

This fantastic girl has a whole book of the Bible - ten full chapters - written about her, along with her cousin Mordecai. This study shows what our wonderful, almighty, all-knowing, all-powerful God can do with one small, insignificant life that is given, even if rather timidly, to Him. Truly, He takes the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

God has big plans for His people but only He can see all facets of the picture at the same time. The story of Esther takes place during the reign of a Persian king, Xerxes, who was probably Xerxes I (486-465 BC). For God to have His person in the right place to save His people at that time, the royal queen, Vashti, is removed. There are many different opinions as to why Queen Vashti behaved as she did, prompting her own downfall, but just make sure that, when your husband asks you to do something and you are in the middle of chatting to your girl-friends, you do not ignore or humiliate him however, hard that may be for you! We are blessed that our husbands cannot just cast us off and throw us out of our home for such an action, but we should be aware that something can die in him when we behave like Queen Vashti. We need to respect one another, even if it means being humiliated ourselves at times. Respect does not come from forced obedience (as the king’s men suggested - Esther 1:16-20) but from humility and God-like love. What position has God put us in just now, perhaps with a far-reaching plan that we cannot see or even imagine?

Esther was a Jewish girl - originally called Hadassah - and a refugee in the foreign land of Persia. The Jewish people had been free to return to Jerusalem from Persia for some fifty years, but many had chosen not to. (Ezra 1:2-4) Both of Esther's parents had been killed and her only living relative was her cousin, Mordecai. He adopted her after the loss of her parents and treated her as his own daughter. Such a difficult start in life could have been used by Esther as an excuse for poor behaviour and self-pity, but she never chose to be a victim of her circumstances. Instead, she grew up obeying and learning from Mordecai. It proved to be great training for her when she was under pressure in the palace. She never forgot that the best thing to do was to heed Mordecai's advice. (Esther 2:10; Esther 2:20; Esther 4:8)

Beauty salon plus!

Physically, Esther was a beautiful girl. When King Xerxes wanted to replace the wife he had discarded for her disrespect, Esther was one of the young girls chosen to form part of a grand beauty contest to select a new queen. All the "contestants" were brought into a "harem" where they were showered with beauty treatments, special food and special privileges. Esther soon caught the eye of the person in charge of the harem and he appointed a special team to look after her and gave her a prime position. “Esther won the favour of everyone who saw her.” (Esther 2:15) After twelve months of preparation, the time came for Esther to be presented to the king. “Now the king was attracted to Esther more than any of the other women and she won his favour and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. The King gave a banquet... proclaimed a holiday... and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” (Esther 2:17-18) She really had arrived - the first lady to the king.

The perils of palace politics

Not long after Esther had been crowned as queen, her cousin Mordecai uncovered a conspiracy to assassinate the king. He reported the plot to Esther who passed it on to her husband. The report was investigated and found to be true. The traitors were arrested and put to death and the circumstances were recorded, but Mordecai was not particularly recognised or rewarded for his contribution and life moved on. On Mordecai's advice, Esther had not spoken about her Jewish heritage and background. Several years passed and things went smoothly for her. Mordecai also had a prominent position, being one of those entitled to sit "at the king's gate". (Esther 2:21) However, the politics of the time were turbulent and competition amongst the nobles and court officials was fierce.

One particular noble, Haman, soon came to the king's attention and was singled out for special honour. All other nobles and officials were obliged to kneel down and pay homage to him whenever he appeared. However, for Mordecai this was a step too far. For him, only God was worthy of such honour and he avoided bowing down, kneeling or paying honour to Haman as required. Other officials were aware that Mordecai was Jewish and that this was the reason for his behaviour. They decided to test whether his conscientious objection would be accepted or not and reported his refusal to obey the king's edict directly to Haman. Rather than tackling Mordecai outright, Haman sees here an opportunity for something much more ambitious. He formulates a plan to destroy not only Mordecai, but all the Jewish people throughout all one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Persia. Haman persuades the king that the Jewish people are a threat to his throne because of their religious beliefs and customs and suggests a plan to wipe them out. The king agrees and seals a royal edict granting Haman authority - on a given day - to attack all Jewish people, annihilating them and seizing their property. The edict is published throughout the land and the Jewish people learn that, in eleven months, they will be destroyed. The plan is for nothing short of an holocaust.

Impending disaster

  • What would you do if you only had eleven months to live?
  • How would your priorities change?
  • Which relationships would you keep and which would you abandon?

Esther is the key to God’s plan for saving His people. This time, God has chosen to use a single person rather than a miraculous event to deliver His people. The ordinary people were bewildered by this turn of events but Mordecai sees a faint ray of hope. He is able to get a message to Esther, explaining what has happened and asking her to speak to the king; to beg for mercy and plead for deliverance. Esther replies, pointing out that nobody - not even she - can waltz in to the king's presence without an invitation. Mordecai's final word is that she should not think that she will escape because of her position. He suggests that she has been placed there by God for precisely this moment.

Choosing the right course

Esther now has a choice. She must have been sorely tempted to secure her own personal safety by relying on her charm and beauty to keep her safe in the palace. She knew that, if she went to see the king without his invitation, she could face death. Mordecai had amazing faith in God. He believed that, even if Esther chose not to speak to the king, God would send help through some other means. (Esther 4:14) This is an important point for us to note. Yes, Esther could have tried to preserve her own life but it would only have stopped God's plan for her life, not for the lives of all His other people in Persia. When we hear God's call to do something, we can always say, "No". But there will be no peace for us, no assurance of His presence with us or of His hand upon our life, until we say, "Yes, OK, I'll do it."

It didn't take Esther long to say, "Yes". God takes many years to prepare us for His service. Think of how long he took with people like Joseph, Moses and Paul. He wants to build our character through our experience of His grace and goodness. He wants to make it easy for us to make the right choices. Even Jesus spent some thirty years in preparation for His three years of service on this earth! Esther is in "great distress" but she steps up and takes on the responsibility that has been thrust upon her. She tells Mordecai to gather all their people together for three days to fast and pray for her. Then she will go to the king... "and if I perish, I perish". (Esther 4:16)

Thomas (Didymus) later echoes her words when Jesus tells the disciples that He is going back to Jerusalem (where people were threatening to kill Him) to "wake up" Lazarus. (John 11:11-16) It was in "losing her life", that Esther actually found her life’s purpose: to save God’s people. It is the same for us as we choose to follow Jesus Christ and give Him our all. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for Me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Obedience brings the joy of a right relationship with God. (Proverbs 16:3) We too are living in dangerous times. Who knows but that God may have placed us where we are for such a time as this? We need to make sure that we are totally available to the directions of the Holy Spirit, so that God can use us in this generation, even if it means that we have to lay down our physical lives.

A God-given solution

God responds to the fasting and prayers of His people and gives Esther the first part of His plan. (Esther 5:4) She invites the king and Haman to a special feast. The plan relies on Haman's own defects of character. He had a vastly inflated estimate of his own importance. He was a proud man but also a devious liar, capable of masking his true emotions in order to disguise his ultimate purpose. He used his anger to strengthen his ambition and loosen all restraint in his planning and plotting. Esther's special invitation for Haman to join the royal table feeds his insatiable desire for recognition and approval to the point where he loses all sense of perspective. At this point, only God could have turned the tables so neatly by giving the king a sleepless night and, in seeking to banish his insomnia, dredging up the earlier incident in which Mordecai had saved his life and his throne. (Esther 6:1-3)

The rest of God's plan then unfolds in rapid steps. The king has just resolved to honour Mordecai when Haman appears, intending to ask the king about having Mordecai executed. The king asks Haman to suggest a way of honouring someone important and Haman mistakenly thinks that it will be him so proposes something that would delight him. Imagine his consternation when it turns out to be Mordecai who is to be honoured! It only gets worse as Haman is then rushed off to join Esther's second feast. By now the king is getting impatient to hear why Esther is doing all this, at which point she explains everything: the fact that she and all her people are under sentence of death. The king is enraged and demands to know who is behind this... only to be told that it is Haman! Read chapter seven (and the rest of the book) to savour the full details of how Haman and his plans are thoroughly undone and brought to nothing.

An insight to our enemy

In this story, Haman is, in many ways, a picture for us of all the characteristics and tactics of the devil. Satan was full of his own importance (Genesis 3:1-6), proud (1 John 3:8) and devious (Revelation 12:9). He is a liar (Matthew 4:8-9), becomes angry (Revelation 12:12), steals and destroys. (1 Peter 5:8-9). He can only be in one place at a time. (Job 1:6-7) He cannot see into our minds or foretell the future. (Job 1:9-11) Most important of all, we know that his plans will backfire on him in the end. (Galatians 6:7) His power over us is limited, especially if we are prepared to resist him. (Luke 22:31-32; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; James 4:7) God has turned the tables on him by using the very thing that he planned to use to destroy us (our sinful humanity) and, through Jesus becoming human Himself and allowing Himself to be put to death, breaking the power of death over us and setting us free. (Hebrews 2:14-15) We no longer belong to the kingdom of darkness because Jesus approached the Father and paid the price with His life for us, so we can be free and no longer in fear and bondage to sin.

If Haman had not been so full of his own importance and pride, encouraged by his wife to even greater vanity and wickedness, the two of them would have seen that he was being set up. Similarly, would Satan have conspired to have Jesus crucified if he had known about the subsequent resurrection and pentecost? (1 Corinthians 2:8)

For such a time as this

Now is not a time for us to live small-minded lives, nursing hurt emotions because we have suffered abuse or rejection, not had the right upbringing, nor been blessed with abundant money. This is rather a time to fulfill our potential and respond to God’s calling on our lives. Of ourselves we are nothing but, in Christ, we really can do all that He calls us to, through Him that gives us strength. (Philippians 4:13)

  • Esther had a divine assignment which only she could complete. She was God’s number one choice. What has God chosen us to do? Do we rise up each morning and get on the starting blocks, prepared to live that day in the power and authority God that has for us to complete the task? Not everyday is spectacular but everyday can be supernatural.
  • We need to see the possible in the impossible as we follow His directions. (Matthew 19:26)
  • Esther paid a high price to follow God’s directions but, after some thought and prayer, she was more than willing to pay that price. Are we also willing to pay the price for what God has asked us to do in our generation? Are we willing, if necessary, to lose reputation, money, "me-time", holidays, home comforts and so on, just so that one person can have eternity in heaven rather than hell?
  • Esther maintained right relationships, even with her enemies. Are we willing to forgive and pray for our enemies so that we can be a clean channel of blessing to all people with whom we have contact?
  • Emotions did not dominate Esther’s decisions. We must make sure that we set God’s will above our feelings or these could result in long-term problems. Esther was discreet, as Mordecai had instructed her. (Esther 2:20) Do we know when to keep our mouths shut?
  • We need to keep our eyes on God at all times. We can enter into the King’s presence at any time. He will always listen to our requests and will never cast us out. (Esther 4:11)
  • Fasting is so helpful when wanting to hear direction from God. It will not change His mind or bend His arm, but it will bring our thoughts in line with His will. (Proverbs 16:3)
  • Let's be persistent, pushing towards our vision at all times. Esther did not give up. She was bold and courageous, even when in danger. (Esther 5:1-8)
  • Remember God will restore all that the devil has stolen from us. God is no one’s debtor. When we are faithful to God and willing to give up everything, we will be rewarded, just like Esther.

A place in history

The planned day of the "holocaust" turned to a day of great rejoicing, which is still celebrated by Jewish people today at the feast of Purim when the book of Esther is read. Thirty years later, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. That would have been impossible without Queen Esther. If she had not been obedient, there would not have been a people of Israel to welcome and nurture the Messiah; without the Messiah, the world would have been lost. What an effect one young woman had, being available to God for His purposes at the right place and time!

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