Listen to this segment: “Esther: For Such a Time as This” on Anchor for the short audio version.
‘Esther’ means ‘hidden’ – her Jewish identity was hidden from the King. Esther’s Jewish name Hadassah, means ‘myrtle’, a tree whose leaves release their fragrance when crushed.
Queen Esther’s story has three parts:
- Vashti was banished, and Esther became Queen.
Queen Vashti disobeyed the orders of her husband King Ahasuerus, so he divorced her. Lonely, he sought a new queen who was to be the most beautiful woman in the land. A young Jewish orphan, Esther, was chosen. She kept her Jewish identity secret. Her cousin Mordecai, a servant of the king, overheard a plot and warned his master through Esther.
- Esther saved Mordecai from Haman.
Mordecai offended a high court official called Haman, who decided to kill not only Mordecai but all the Jews in the Persian empire (the first recorded slaughter against the Jews). Esther turned the tables on Mordecai. She pleaded with the king at two banquets she gave, and Haman was horribly punished. He was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai.
- Esther saved the Jewish people.
Letters were sent throughout the kingdom revoking the order and the Jewish people in Persia were saved. There was great rejoicing, and an annual festival was celebrated to remember the courage of Esther and the deliverance of the Jews. This festival was called Purim.
Why did Esther’s story mean so much to Jews?
- Esther was a symbol of Jews who lived successfully in an alien culture.
- As a woman, she was not in a position of power, just as Diaspora Jews were not members of the power elite.
- As an orphan, she was separated from her parents, as Diaspora Jews are separated from their mother-country.
- With both these handicaps, she had to use every skill and advantage she had, as Diaspora Jews did. They, like Esther, had to adapt themselves to the situation.
What are the main themes in Esther’s story?
- Let God be your ruler: Esther’s story was a political ridicule, showing the danger of giving absolute power to someone who might be a fool. Ahasuerus governed by whim rather than by wisdom, becoming the tool of anyone shrewd enough to exploit him. The lesson is clear: do not give too much power to any one person; in the long run, God alone should rule us.
- Right Living: the Book of Esther was written for Diaspora Jews (Jews who lived outside Israel), to show them how to live in exile. If they encountered bigotry and prejudice, they must act with courage, wisdom, and integrity.
- The origin of Purim: the story explained the origin of a major Jewish feast day.
Christianity is sometimes accused of causing the anti-Semitism that has shamed the modern world. This story shows this prejudice existed long before the birth of Jesus.
The book of Esther doesn’t suggest that the goal of proper Jewish living is to return to Judah; rather, it encourages the idea that Jews can live personally fulfilling, and even socially successful, lives in exile from Palestine. It asks who are we; if we not only don’t live in Judah but also don’t even want to?’
- Esther’s courage and wisdom were used by God to save His people from extinction.
- Beauty and creativity are also useful tools for a God-fearing woman.
What are your thoughts on this story? Comment, let’s interact!