Summary: Esther's story reveals the powerful presence of God in the midst of every circumstance.
What is a good story without good characters? The AMC series Breaking Bad has a cast of characters that the writers develop incredibly well. We’ve met the main character Walter White—chemistry teacher turned drug king-pin. There is Walt’s wife, Skylar, who never really quite knows whether to trust Walt or not. There is Walt’s special needs son, Walter Jr., and Walt’s Drug Enforcement Agency brother-in-law, Hank. And, we must not forget Walt’s partner-in-crime, Jesse Pinkston, his former student who is Walt’s first connection to the drug underworld. Throughout the five seasons of the series, the writer’s do a masterful job telling Walt’s story. Yes, when it comes to story, the character’s matter.
So it is with Esther’s story in the Old Testament. The story, and I hesitate to call it a story, though it could rival the best Hollywood has to offer, is filled with a cast of interesting characters, and the author, who remains unidentified, does a masterful job developing those characters. There is a villain, a hero, a damsel in distress and a surprising climax, not to mention everyone (well, almost everyone) lives happily ever after. A real, made-for-Hollywood story—except it’s true.
The book of Esther was almost not included in the canon of Scripture because nowhere is God mentioned in the book, and there are no overtly religious activities anywhere in the story. Then why include it? Esther tells the story of the Jewish nation living in the Babylonian exile after 586 B. C. As a matter of fact, the events of the book of Esther take place approximately 100 years into that exile period. So as the story unfolds, the Jewish people in Babylon are probably more Babylonian than they are Hebrew, but that doesn’t keep the story from getting interesting. In today’s passage (Esther 4: 10 – 14), we encounter the heroine, Esther in dialogue with her cousin Mordecai. We hear about the King and we hear about something about deliverance for the Jews. We don’t know it yet, but this really is a defining moment, not only for Esther, but for the Jewish people. How did she get here?
The story takes place in Persia – also called Babylon. One of the great kings of ancient history ruled there, an empire builder named Xerxes. His queen was a beautiful woman named Vashti. One day, the King ordered his wife to appear before him at a party so he could show everyone just how beautiful she was. Not wanting to be paraded around before a bunch of drunken men clad only in her royal tiara, Vashti refused. When she refused, the king was furious. To make matters worse, the officials of the King suggested that if word of her refusal to obey got around, no one else’s wife would think she had to listen to her husband. Imagine, a woman who dared not listen to what her husband said! The King had her banished from the Kingdom.
King Xerexes wasn’t happy for long without a queen, so he decides to have his kingdom searched for beautiful young women to come and make their bid for the throne. The girls would be groomed and pampered for several months, then each one, in turn, would spend some time with the king (if you know what I mean?). He would then decide which one would become his new queen. Picture The Bachelor on steroids.
The King’s scouts happened upon Esther. Esther was beautiful, gracious and kind—just what the king was looking for. In no time at all, Esther was married to the king. Esther was a Jew. The Jews had been driven out of Israel about 100 years before and exiled in Persia. Although they did their best to make a living in this strange land, they prayed that someday they would be able to return to their home. Esther’s cousin Mordechai, who had raised Esther after she’d been orphaned, was the leader of the Jews and a very shrewd fellow. Mordechai encouraged Esther to hide her faith from the King and his advisors, which she did.
A fellow by the name of Haman had, by this time, become a powerful man in the kingdom - Prime Minister, in fact. He decided that given his rise in power, it would be appropriate for everyone to bow down to him. But Mordecai refused to bow down to him. Haman was angry, and asked the King to authorize a royal decree to annihilate the Jews. Haman cast lots to determine the day this was to happen. And so it was decreed that in Adar of the coming year, on the 13th day of the month, all the Jews were to be killed, in every province and every nation of the land. Yes, the Jews have been facing bad circumstances since the beginning of their history. There would be no place to run, and no place to hide. This is where we pick up the story in today’s scripture reading.