You might have just rolled your eyes at the subject of this post. I know that a couple years ago, I definitely would have.
I used to view Esther as just another focus of women’s Bible studies. I thought she was overhyped just because there were so few women who are the major focus of stories in Scripture. I lost track of how many times I heard about her at summer camp break out sessions for girls, in jr. high Bible studies, and in youth group discipleship programs. So when one of the girls in my small group asked if we could study the book of Esther almost two years ago, I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed. I thought I had left Esther behind in youth group.
Not that Esther didn’t inspire me – she did – but I think I thought that “if I perish, I perish,” while inspirational, was all there really was to Esther. I wanted to do a study that was “substantial” – something that would change the hearts of these girls forever. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s definitely a reason that the book of Esther was included in the Bible! After leading a study on Esther for the girls in my Gathering small group and really digging into and studying the Scripture, Esther now definitely stands close to the top of the list of Biblical characters I want to emulate in my life.
She was totally amazing. God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose her to help deliver the Jews, and He didn’t just choose her and throw her in – He stayed with her and empowered her and taught her so much about following His will.
The character traits that Esther shows throughout her story are these: an intense commitment to prayer and fasting, absolute and immediate obedience to the leadership placed over her, radical submission to God and to His plan, and an extreme desire to change her world and save not only her generation, but an entire people. Her statement “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) could stand alone in testament to her faith – but it doesn’t have to because she actually lived it out.
Her story would terrify anyone – she was a beautiful orphan taken away from her uncle Mordecai and all she’d ever known (2:8). This had to have been scary and seen (at least at first) by Esther as a negative circumstance – after all, she was young, probably had plans of her own, and the king was known for being quick to anger, irrational, egoistic, had a harem, and had banished his previous (and probably pregnant) queen. All of these are negative, but Esther takes it all in stride . She acts in wisdom, gains favor, and lets God position her for greatness though she knows nothing of the drama to come or her role in it (2:9). Her trust and obedience is amazing.
While reading Esther, I get the sense that she had a sense of what God would call her to do and did it – she ran “so as to take the prize” (Eph. 3:12-14). We see Esther throwing off the weights (insecurity, fear, discontent) and running her race faithfully. Esther prepared herself to meet the king for a YEAR (2:9). She could have become frustrated and maybe even asked “God, why am I here? What are You thinking? Why aren’t You using me?” God was teaching her to wait. Esther was so wise – she asked for what Hegai advised – she was in it to win it and to please the king. Otherwise she’d be just another concubine. She wanted to be his wife (just as an aside – you want to learn how to talk and relate to a guy? It takes wisdom. Read Esther).
Esther is crowned queen and is queen for FIVE YEARS and it’s NINE YEARS total before God’s purposes become clear and she recognizes God’s strategic placement that brought her to the palace (4:12-16). Once it is clear, she doesn’t cling to her position, her crown, or her life. Instead, she’s willing to lay it all down and potentially give her life for her people. She fasts and prays for wisdom, and then acts.
Esther gives us a model to follow when we feel God is asking us to do something difficult –
- Calculate the cost
- Set priorities (others before self)
- Prepare (Esther fasted and prayed, and got other people involved in the process)
- Determine a course of action and move boldly in the direction God has called you to follow.
- Esther and Mordecai do not despair or just wait for God’s intervention – they recognize their positions hold purpose.
Esther has the most compelling ending I can think of – because her obedience a WHOLE NATION was spared certain death and destruction – her life made a difference. The Jewish Feast of Purim was established to celebrate Esther’s life and to remember her bravery and obedience to God.
I’m not certain that I would react as Esther did and that’s one of the reasons I want to cultivate the patience, wisdom, and faith we see in her life. I feel like if I were thrown into a situation where I was torn away from my family and sent to be a concubine to a crazy king, I might be more than a little upset with God. While that particular situation is highly unlikely, I want to learn to handle difficult circumstances with grace and to never blame God for where He might decide to put me or what He might ask me to walk through.
Esther is a Biblical example of someone who learned to suffer well and to let her suffering shape and develop her character. Her life should definitely make us question how we handle difficult circumstances and how we can develop the same character attributes that we see bringing her favor with God and with men. God is just as sovereign and strategic in our lives and it’s important that we recognize that. Each of us is being shaped and placed exactly where God wants us to be and our actions echo into eternity as well. Esther is the perfect person for me to study again as I’m asked to step back, cede my life again to Christ, and simply obey.