Profiles of the Bible: Esther
If you were in a position of power and could do something to help others, but at the risk of your standing, your position, and even your safety, would you do it? It’s a scenario that is played out in many stories (Spiderman, A Few Good Men, The Hobbit to name a few). It’s a challenge that many of us hope that we would fulfill if and when the time came. It’s a position that Esther in the Bible found herself.
Esther was one of the Jews living in the Persian Empire. The Babylon ians sent her family long ago out of the land of Judah. As it often happens in history, the Babylonian Empire faded and Persia had emerged as the new dominant power. One of these Persian Kings, a man named Ahasuerus, was not a scrupulous man. His wife, Queen Vashti, defied his command to appear before him to show off her beauty. In response and according to the counsel given him by his advisors, she was banished from his presence and stripped of her title.
After a while the King missed his wife and his less than scrupulous advisors devised a plan: get him a new wife. This is where Esther comes into the story. Her Jewish name was Hadassah and she was descended from the tribe of Benjamin. Her cousin Mordecai watched over her and helped to raise her. Esther was brought along with many of the other maidens of the land to be presented to the King. Mordecai instructed her to keep her Jewish identity a secret, presumably for her own safety. When Esther was presented to the King, he was immediately impressed with her and Esther was given the royal crown in place of Queen Vashti.
Not long after that, a man named Haman (an even less scrupulous fellow) was appointed as the King’s chief advisor. Haman developed a strong hatred of the Jews and convinced the King that the Jews were a problem that needed to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. The King, who probably wasn’t thinking too carefully about the situation, trusted Haman and a date was set where the people were allowed to rise up, slaughter the Jews, and seize their property.
Mordecai came to Esther and told him of the plot against their people. Esther, somewhat caught off guard was not sure what to do. Mordecai told her to appeal the case of their people before the King. However, this was not without risk. In Persian law, no one is allowed to go before the King unless summoned. To do so was to risk death. The only way this act of presumption was to be forgiven was for the King to extend the royal scepter as an act demonstrating the King’s favor. Given that the occupant of her position was banished for an act of defiance against the king, this was not outside the realm of possibilities.
Mordecai reminded her that while deliverance for the Jews would come, she and those with her would not be saved if she shied away from her responsibility. With great courage, Esther conceded and went to appeal for her people. The King indeed extended the scepter. After awhile, Esther eventually revealed Haman’s plot and the injustice of the edict. She also revealed her own identity to the King and thus saved her people.
There is much in the account of Esther’s actions that we can learn. Her courage, her faithfulness, her negotiating skills are all worthwhile things we are called to teach and imitate. However, one of the things that the New Testament teaches is that the Scriptures all point in some way or another to the main character-Christ. How does Esther offer us a glimpse of Jesus?
Theologians and Literature professionals point to a literary device called, “foreshadowing”. Foreshadowing is something in the narrative of a book that gives a hint of what is to come. Jesus taught his disciples that many of the heroic and faithful acts of God’s people indirectly pointed to Him. In the lives of many of the people recorded in the Bible gave us a glimpse of what Jesus himself would do. In Esther we see how her identity was hidden and that allowed her to fulfill God’s task of saving the people. Jesus’ divinity too was not fully obvious to those around him to fulfill his mission of being the sacrifice for our sins. Esther risked her life so that she could save her people. Jesus not only risked His life, but also actually gave it up so that his people could be saved.
Esther truly is an epic history. Though she was a real person in a real situation, God used her mightily. But within the story of Esther we hear not only the story of how God used a brave woman to save his people, but also we see echoes of the King of Kings who would come and save us from sin and death.