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The book of Esther is the inspiring account of a lowly Israelite woman who is put into position to decide the fate of her people.


The Persian king Xerxes is throwing an extended party for his officials, and his wife Queen Vashti is throwing a separate one for the women. But when Xerxes and his guests get good and drunk, he orders Vashti to be brought to him to show her off to his guests. But she refuses, so the king gets irate. Though the text only mentions her refusal and not the reason, it is believed that it would have been shameful for her to appear there, since society kept women hidden from public view for the most part, especially from a room full of drunken men.

Commentaries list several other guesses as to motive, but the point is that her refusal was seen as a slippery slope to a women’s liberation movement as one commentary puts it. Society seems to fear nothing as much as freedom and equality for women. Liberation is not a dirty word, and modern Christianity should be ashamed to treat it as such. But the most important point lost on modern theologians is the fact that this is a heathen king in a heathen society, not a Christian marriage from which we should take any lessons or examples.

So Vashti is handed divorce papers, because disrespecting a drunken king for demanding his wife expose herself to shame is just going too far. They need to send a clear message to all the other uppity women who might get wild and dangerous ideas of their own from Vashti’s example. And yes, I am being sarcastic, because that’s what such attitudes deserve.

So in ch. 2 the hunt is on for a replacement, and a beauty pageant is conducted. Once again we see God working behind the scenes, because the plot to eradicate his people will not take him by surprise. It just so happens that one of the exiles of Israel was a man named Mordecai, who was the guardian of his cousin Esther since she had become an orphan.

Of course, the commentaries can’t resist making Esther a sinner for violating the laws of Moses, in spite of the fact that as a woman she would be in much less a position to disobey the heathen society in which she lived than a man would be. But a woman had far less choice even with an ordinary man, much less the emperor of the known world.

Some go so far as to accuse her of fornication and marrying a foreigner, as well as eating unclean food. As with Rahab and Bathsheba, this implies that God would have preferred for all the Jews to die, in spite of the fact that it was her foster-cousin Mordecai who advised her in all this. While some at least admit that she probably had no choice, why not lead with that thought? Scripture never condemns Esther or sees a need to overlook any alleged sins, so why do the commentators feel such a need to bring them to the forefront? And what would they have Esther do, defy the king or defy her foster-cousin? The Jews were in exile precisely because they had defied God, so why pick on Esther for non-compliance, especially while letting Mordecai off the hook, since he told her not to reveal her ethnicity? This is why we can’t have nice things.

In time, Mordecai learns of a plot to assassinate the king, so he tells Esther who in turn tells the king. But for now, this patriotic act is forgotten, though recorded in writing.

Eventually a man named Haman is appointed to high office, and he loves to have people bow down to him. But Mordecai refuses, and when people find out he is a Jew, they report him to Haman, who decids that all Jews should die. That sentiment still persists to this day; many blame the sins of a few on the whole race and/or nation.

So Haman lies to the king that all Jews disobey the king’s laws, and he recommends an irrevocable edict be issued to wipe them all out on a certain day. The king grants Haman’s request, so he sends out letters to all provinces to wipe out the Jews everywhere, including women and children, and confiscate all their possessions. And it’s all because one Jew wouldn’t bow to an egotistical tyrant.

Mordecai gets wind of this, so he and the Jews in every province wail, which gets Esther’s attention. Then he tells her to petition the king about this, but she tells Mordecai that she could very well die just for approaching the king without being summoned. He points out first of all that being queen won’t get her out of the edict of genocide. If she refuses to act, God will raise up someone else. Now what does this do to the theologians’ claims that women are God’s last resort? But Mordecai is not like the theologians; he tells her that she was likely in this position for just this purpose. So she sends word to Mordecai that all the Jews should fast for three days, and then she will take her life in her hands and approach the king.

Now Esther’s plan is to do much more than simply walk up to the king and expose the plot. She not only has a clever plan, she also is taking initiative. To most theologians, this is a great and terrible sin, but when the nobleness of the act cannot be denied, such impertinence is conveniently overlooked. So she first simply asks for a private dinner with the two of them and Haman, and the king grants her wish.

Now Haman is thinking he’s really being honored by this, so he goes home that day to brag to his friends. But he still can’t abide that Jew Mordecai, so they all tell him to build a gallows and then hang Mordecai on it after the private dinner.

But God is still working behind the scenes, and that night the king can’t sleep so he has historical records brought in to be read to him. (Sounds like an excellent sleep aid.) But it just so happened that the section read to him includes Mordecai’s earlier act of patriotism that saved the king’s life. The king is surprised that no honor was given to Mordecai for this, but before he can decide what to do, Haman shows up, intending to tell the king to hang Mordecai on his gallows.

When he enters the room, the king speaks first and asks him how best to honor someone. So Haman advises lavish honor, thinking he is the one the king wants to honor. But to his utter horror, the king tells him to do all that for Mordecai. Plot twist!

So off goes Haman to make sure everyone knows what an awesome guy Mordecai is, and then he goes home to cry about it to his friends and family. When they hear what happened, they realize he’s doomed, and just then the king’s servants arrive to take him to the private dinner. I’m guessing Haman suddenly lost his appetite.

After two days of this banquet, the king asks Esther what she wants, and she pleads for her own life and the lives of her people. The king is incensed that anyone would threaten his queen, so he demands to know who issued the edict. She points and says, The enemy is this evil Haman!, who at this point is likely turning ghostly white and wishing he were invisible.

So the king leaves the room to ponder Haman’s fate, while Haman throws himself at Esther’s mercy. But seeing him close to the queen when he reenters the room, the king blurts out, Will he even try to molest the queen while I’m still here? Upon hearing this, the attendants put a bag over Haman’s head, which likely is where some Hollywood movies got the idea. Then one of the attendants tells the king about the gallows Haman had made for Mordecai, and the king tells them to hange Haman on it instead.

For more irony, Mordecai is put in charge of Haman’s estate. But the problem still remained regarding the edict, so Esther begs the king to do something. His solution is to give Esther and Mordecai the freedom to write whatever edict they want. So they send a message to all the provinces that the Jews are permitted to do whatever they want in self-defense.

The big day finally arrives, the fighting ensues, and the Jews prevail. All Haman’s sons are also hung on his gallows, and this whole event is remembered in the Feast of Purim. For the Jews, it serves as a reminder of God’s providence even in exile, and for Christians, it should remind us that God takes any action against his people very seriously.

Notice another fact in all this: Esther does this with full authority. Mordecai does well after this too, but if the theolgians and commentators can go out of their way to lessen the achievements of women in the Bible, we can go out of our way to highlight them.

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