Summary: Often times our attempts to be faithful servants of God make us feel so alienated from those around us, that it seems impossible to both “serve God” and “be in this world” at the same time.
Dean Willimon of Duke University tells of a conversation he had with a student who had recently transferred to the university and joined their Bible study. Willimon relates:
“The student told me how much he was enjoying his Bible study group here at Duke University.” I asked him, “Were you in a Bible study group in high school?”
“Are you kidding?” the student replied. “I told you I was an Episcopalian.”
Willimon persisted, “Well, why do you think that Bible study has become so important to you here?”
Exasperated, the student declared, “Dean Willimon, have you ever tried to be a Christian AND a high school student at the same time?” (illustration from SermonCentral.com)
Often times our attempts to be faithful servants of God make us feel so alienated from those around us, that it seems impossible to both “serve God” and “be in this world” at the same time. To make matters even worse, sometimes God sends us to places and among people that we would never intentionally choose to go on our own. Such is the story of Esther.
Some Christians have avoided teaching this story. One reason has been that the name of God, or even a reference to God, does not appear in the entire book. Admittedly, it is a different kind of story, but then we should be accustomed to unusual stories when dwelling on the Old Testament. God’s ways are often mysterious to us as they unfold. Frequently, they don’t make any sense at all until long after the events have come and gone. Such is the story of Esther.
The story of Esther takes place sometime between 485 and 465 BC during the reign of King Xerxes I of Persia. Esther was an orphan raised by her uncle Mordecai during the time when thousands of Jews were held in captivity in Babylon. Esther was raised in captivity and grew to be a very beautiful young woman. Then one day King Xerxes went looking for a new wife, and he commanded all the young virgins be brought to him for a beauty contest. In this matter Esther and Mordecai had no choice. Mordecai does, however, instruct Esther not to reveal her nationality to the king. She obeys her uncle, and her uncle relocates with her so he can keep an eye out for her best interest. Esther 2:11 says,
“Everyday he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.”
As the story unfolds, Esther is favored by King Xerxes and eventually became the new queen. Meanwhile, Mordecai saves the king’s life and Xerxes learns of Mordecai’s service. It was Esther who reported this to the king. These seemingly unrelated events occur, and still Esther’s heritage is kept secret. Then a crisis arose in which all the Jews in captivity were to be destroyed by an edict of the king. It was then that God pulled together the invisible strands of His divine plan.
Learning of her people’s imminent destruction, Esther risked her life in order to save her people. Mordecai’s deeds were also brought again to King Xerxes’ attention. The mystery of how God could allow a Jewish woman to marry a pagan king suddenly became apparent. God was looking beyond the immediate needs of one person and into the future needs of a nation. Esther’s favored status with King Xerxes gave her the golden opportunity to change the king’s mind, and all the Jews in exile were saved.