Character Close Up: Esther

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.

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Guidance Needed?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where everyone in your life (including those you trust absolutely, those with whom you have very little true relationship, and all the people who fall in the middle) thinks they alone have the answer and that they know, without a doubt, the path you should take? What serves to make life even MORE complicated (as if it needed any help at all) is that each of these dear advice-givers, who usually do have your best interests in mind, tends to offer a wide variety of different advice and admonitions. Such guidance many times falls to extremes, or you get a few suggestions for all the different options involved, which leaves you once again, where you began.

Not all of this is unsolicited advice, either. I generally seek it out and ask for it… I tend to desperately need to bounce ideas and thoughts off of people and process circumstances out loud.  The results though, of such a practice, can be one of the most frustrating things ever, especially if you’re honestly seeking guidance and wisdom. I’m definitely pretty hard-headed and stubborn… but I like to think that I at least try to be teachable and try to seek out opportunities to be taught. I’m constantly praying that if I’m moving in a direction that isn’t God’s will that He’ll stop me, and that if I’m seeking anything that isn’t in His plan, that He’ll change my heart. In fact, I don’t ask, I beg.

The problem comes when  no one seems to quite understand… I guess I’m learning that each person brings their own biases into a conversation and such lenses provide the filter through which each individual sees the world. No one can truly understand my heart or my life or my situation in the same way I can, which thankfully forces me to turn to the only One who really can. I’m finding more and more that the best perspective is the heavenly one, one that focuses on others, the kingdom, and eternity… and not on me or what’s best for me.

I’m learning that even though I truly crave to communicate and to be known and to be taught, the best teacher is the Holy Spirit Himself. Now, please don’t misunderstand – I am not at all negating the value of the wisdom of those around us… I feel that mentorship by godly men and women is definitely one of the most amazing experiences ever and is so vital to our maturity in the faith. I’m merely saying that at some points in life it is necessary to trust your heart and the promises of God and move and live in faith, according to Scripture, rather than in what people tell you based on the way they perceive a situation. The advice that the world has to offer is false, has no merit, and exists in a sphere that has no idea of the true meanings of faith, hope, and love.

So, when seeking wisdom and guidance, I’m learning I have to be selective with where I turn. And I’ve found the best place to run is to God. Scripture is so full of promises regarding wisdom and understanding… and of God’s promise to let us hear from Him. Here are a few I’m holding on to:

1 Kings 4:29-31: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations.”

Job 12:13: “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.”

and Job 28:12-28:

But where shall wisdom be found?

And where is the place of understanding?

13 Man does not know its worth,

and it is not found in the land of the living.

14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’

and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’

15 It cannot be bought for gold,

and silver cannot be weighed as its price.

16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,

in precious onyx or sapphire.

17 Gold and glass cannot equal it,

nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.

18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal;

the price of wisdom is above, pearls.

19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,

nor can it be valued in pure gold.

20 “From where, then, does wisdom come?

And where is the place of understanding?

21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living

and concealed from the birds of the air.

22 Abaddon and Death say,

‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’

23 “God understands the way to it,

and he knows its place.

24 For he looks to the ends of the earth

and sees everything under the heavens.

25 When he gave to the wind its weight

and apportioned the waters by measure,

26 when he made a decree for the rain

and a way for the lightning of the thunder,

27 then he saw it and declared it;

he established it, and searched it out.

28 And he said to man,

‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,

and to turn away from evil is understanding.’ ”

Wisdom is so important that Proverbs tells us many times to seek it above all other things. I find myself praying Colossians 1:9-11 over myself daily (and changing it up a bit to make it personal):

“Lord, I ask that you will fill me with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that I can walk in a manner worthy of You, fully pleasing to You, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in my knowledge of You. Strengthen me with all power, according to Your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”

These verses all point in the right direction – to the true source of all wisdom and seem to encapsulate all that I need – knowledge of His will, wisdom and understanding, fruit, strength, endurance, and patience.