Have you ever questioned God’s judgement? Why has He allowed you to go through so much? What if God is putting you right where you need to be in order to do a mighty work through you?
In today’s episode of All God’s Women we look at Esther, a perfect example of God at work behind the scenes in ways we may never understand.
King Ahasuerus had a problem. Four years had passed since he’d banished Queen Vashti. They’d been difficult years, full of political and military challenges. In an effort to cheer him up, his servants suggested they find him a new queen, but not going through the usual channels. No, why not find the most beautiful virgins in the city of Shushan and enlist them into a beauty pageant of sorts? This pleased the king, so the search began. A decree was sent out with the king’s commandment that all beautiful young women be brought to the palace to compete for the title of queen. One of those women brought to the palace was Esther, a Hebrew orphan girl being raised by her cousin Mordecai.
We’re told Esther was beautiful and lovely and that she impressed Hegai, the custodian of the women, and he gave her extra beauty treatments, and placed her in the best room in the palace along with seven maidservants.
At this point, no one knew she was a Jew, for Mordecai had told her to keep that information to herself until the time was right. In the meantime, Mordecai spent his days pacing in front of the court in front of the women’s quarters, so that he could keep up with what was happening to her.
For a full year the women went through a series of beauty treatments preparing for the introduction to the king. At the end of their year, they were given one night in which to impress the king. Each woman could take with her anything she thought would help. The next morning she would be led to the other end of the women’s quarters where the concubines were kept until the king again requested her presence.
When it came Esther’s turn, she brought with her only what Hegai suggested. Out of all the beautiful women, the king liked Esther the best, so he put the crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. In chapter 2 verse 18 we’re told the king hosted a great banquet, proclaimed a holiday, and freely distributed gifts to celebrate.
Things were looking good for Esther until the very next verse. Verse 19 begins with, “when virgins were gathered together a second time.” Wow! It didn’t take long for the king to get bored with the queen and concubines he had and start building up his harem again.
During that time is when Mordecai overheard a plot to kill the king. He got word to Esther. She alerted the king. The guilty parties were hung in the gallows. And the event was recorded in the chronicles.
The Bible then introduces a side story about Haman. The king promoted him to second in command and all the king’s servants within the king’s gate bowed down to Haman to pay homage. But not Mordecai. Of course, this greatly disturbed Human, and he vowed to not only get rid of Mordecai, but all the Jews as well. For you see, Haman was an Agagite, and Agagites and Jews had a long standing animosity.
Haman waited until he had an audience with the king, then he shared with him that there was a group of people scattered throughout the kingdom who didn’t abide by the king’s commands. He recommended that a decree be issued to destroy these people.
The king went along with it, and just like with Vashti’s decree, word was sent out to each of the provinces and sealed with the king’s official ring. The order was that on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, a year from the edict, that all Jews in the land were to be destroyed.
When Mordecai heard the decree, he went into mourning, tearing his clothes, dressing in sackcloth, covering himself in ashes, and going throughout the city wailing.
Esther’s maids and eunuchs informed her of what Mordecai was doing, and it distressed her. She sent him new clothes to replace his sackcloth, but he wouldn’t take them.
So Esther sent her eunuch to find out from Mordecai what was going on. Mordecai told the eunuch about what was going on, gave him a copy of the decree, and encouraged Esther to go to the king and plead for the life of her people.
Esther responded by saying that no one, not even the queen, could go before the king unless they’re called on.
Mordecai then gave his famous speech.
“Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
His words had the intended impact. Esther said that if he would gather up all the Jews and have them fast for three days, she and her attendants would do the same. And at the end of the three days, she would go before the king, and if she died, so be it.
Fortunately, the king was in a good mood, so when he saw Esther standing in the court in her royal robes, he held out his scepter to welcome her in. He asked what it was she desired, promising her whatever she wished, up to half the kingdom.
Esther could have pleaded her case then, but she took her time, waiting for the right moment. Instead, she invited the king and Haman to a dinner that she had prepared for them.
Who wouldn’t accept such a request? Haman was summoned, and the two joined Esther for a banquet feast.
At the feast, the king asked what it was she wanted. Again, she delayed, instead inviting the two of them to another feast the next day. And they were happy to oblige.
The Bible then takes us on another side story which we’ll cover next week when we talk about Zeresh. But for now, we’ll jump to the end of Esther’s story.
King Ahasuerus was unable to undo a decree once it was proclaimed. However, he allowed Esther to make a counter proclamation. Word was sent out to all the provinces that the Jews could gather together and defend themselves from anyone who attacked them. When the day came, not only did the Jews join together, but government officials joined with them to help them defeat their enemies.
After it was over, Mordecai and Esther established the Feast of Purim, a yearly celebration of feasting and gift giving so that they might all remember their great victory.
The Rest of the Story
Wow! So much to cover with Esther’s story.
Let’s start with the beauty pageant. As a teen, I competed in pageants. So I loved the story of Esther and imagined it being much like I experienced with girls crammed in dressing rooms, clamoring for attention, each eager to win the crown, then once it was over, everyone going on with their lives. But that’s not how it was at all.
First, it says that all the beautiful virgins were brought to the palace. They didn’t have a choice. I imagine many were flattered to be chosen and excited about the opportunity. But many others were likely less than thrilled. They may have been looking forward to a quiet marriage to the boy next door, having 2.5 kids, and living happily ever after. Instead, they were whisked away from their families and locked away in the women’s quarters of the palace.
For a year, the girls went through their beauty treatments. What did they do the rest of the time? Did they make friends with the other girls? Did they make enemies? Probably both. In Esther’s case, she made friends. Perhaps she stood out because she was at peace whatever happened so she wasn’t driven by a competitive spirit
Then the competition itself. Each night a girl went in to sleep with the king. One after another, they went in trying to be as seductive and enticing as they could be. Then in the morning, they were ushered into the harem’s quarters where they officially became a concubine. From that point on, they were secluded in the palace with the other women, never to live a normal life again.
Not nearly as glamorous as we’ve always imagined, is it?
This is the world that Esther found herself in. Not exactly the kind of environment that Jewish girls dreamed of being in. And yet, she made the most of it. She accepted her lot with dignity and grace, choosing to be a light in the world of darkness that surrounded her. And when the time came for her to take a stand, people listened because she had proven herself worthy to be listened to.
What about you? Did you have dreams and visions of your future that have been stolen from you? Have you been denied the life you expected to have? How are you handling it?
I’m reminded of my pageant days when I was competing in a pageant in Florida in July in a stuffy old building, and the air conditioning went out. To say it was hot would be an understatement. To make matters worse, we were wearing taffeta dresses, which don’t exactly breath. As I was fussing and fuming in the dressing room, complaining about how unfair life was because of what the heat was doing to my hair and makeup, my mother very quietly reminded me that I wasn’t the only one who was hot.
I joke not. It had seriously never occurred to me that anyone else was suffering. All I saw were my own problems.
You may be going through something similar right now. 2020 was unfair. You suffered, and you’re making sure everyone knows.
But what if, instead of fighting what you can’t control, you accepted it and made the best of it?
The book of Esther is unique in that God is never mentioned. And yet, He’s there, throughout the pages, working quietly behind the scenes, taking horrid situations and using them for His glory. He’s doing the same today. We may not like where we are right now, but who’s to say that He’s not been preparing you for such a time as this, so that you might be used as an instrument of light in a world of darkness?
Lord God, we come to You with heavy heart. All around us, it feels like our world is falling apart. Nothing makes sense, and for the life of us, we can’t figure out why we’re where we’re at nor what we’re supposed to be doing. But You, God, You know. None of this has caught You by surprise. You have us right where we need to be, and though we may feel overwhelmed by it all, You are right here with us, preparing us for what it is that You would have us to do. Thank You, Lord, for never forsaking us. Thank You for being our guiding light. We love You so very much. In Christ’s name. Amen.
That concludes today’s episode of All God’s Women. Be sure to tune in next week when we look at Zeresh and fill in the blanks of Esther’s story. I don’t know about you, but I am loving delving into these women of Esther. Each has a unique story that we can learn so much from.
Backstory – Esther 2:1-7
Her Story – Esther 2:8-19, 4:1-17; 5:1-8; 7:1-10
The Rest of the Story – Esther 8-10
Bible Study Review
- Why was Esther given preferential treatment?
- What did Esther and her attendants do to prepare for her confrontation with the king?
- What is the Feast of Purim?
Thoughts to Ponder
- Is there any indication that Esther was a devout Jew?
- Why is God’s name not mentioned in the book?
- What might have happened to the Jews had Esther not stepped up and intervened?
- Would you have wanted to be one of the young women competing for the crown?
- What you bring with you when it came your night to impress the king?
- How would you have addressed the king about your problem?
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