Week 9 – Esther
Beauty pageants, public impalings, and tons of drinking; we see all that and more in the story of Esther, with plenty of ethical questions along the way. Check out the Bible Project video on Esther for the full story, it’s super interesting.
The book of Esther is a classic hero story, and Esther’s backstory is fascinating. When we’re first introduced to her in Esther 2:7 we learn that Mordecai was raising her after she lost her parents, so there’s some Bruce Wayne-esque heartache in her past. Then we see her get rounded up, maybe even against her will, with other young women to participate in this beauty pageant for the king. Before going, Mordecai told her to hide her Jewish identity, so she started going by a Persian name, Esther, rather than her Jewish name, Hadassah. She then spent a year in the king’s haram with all of the king’s mistresses, going through specialty spa treatments and likely dealing with the incongruity of her Jewish upbringing and the wildly indulgent Persian court. To her surprise she ended up winning the pageant and marrying the alcoholic pagan King of Persia, who could have her killed or sent away like his last wife at any time. Yikes.
So, by the time Haman set up his genocidal plot and Mordecai asked for Esther’s help, Esther had a lot of skin in the game and very little political power to do anything about it. Which makes her statement in 4:16 all the more heroic: “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Esther wasn’t being a drama queen (pun intended); she was legitimately at risk of execution for going to the king without permission. But, in a moment when she could’ve abandoned her Jewish identity and used her royal privilege to insulate herself from danger, she jumped into the fight, leveraging her position and privilege to save her people.
On our historical side of the cross, it might be hard for us to look back at the story of Esther and draw conclusions for the Christian life. God is a shadowy figure in the background of Esther’s story, using things like coincidence and chance to write history for the good of his people. Much like the story of Ruth, there are parallels here for our own lives and the way God works in them. We also see echoes of Christ in Esther, who was willing to lay down her life for her people. Self-sacrifice isn’t just an element of Jesus’ ministry; his life was the very definition of self-sacrifice. Like Esther, we shouldn’t be surprised if God puts us in situations at our own peril to the benefit of others. That’s really just following in Jesus’ footsteps.
The Bible Project: Esther
Questions for Discussion
• Let’s look at Esther 4:12-17.
• Skim back over chapters 3 and 4. What has happened leading up to the section we just read?
• What do Mordecai and Esther seem to believe about deliverance here?
• What do you think the deliverance of the Jews in this story has to do with us today?
• Notice that God isn’t mentioned at all in this passage. What do you think we can learn from that?
• How does Esther’s story help you understand how God works through us?