Summary: As disciples of Christ, we have an obligation to
Let’s talk about this woman, Esther. And I actually want to start today, at the end of her story. Were any of you able to read through Esther this week? If so, then you know that the ending of the book seems a bit strange. Here’s how it goes, “Certainly, Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus in importance. The Jews also admired him greatly, and his many brothers and sisters were proud of him. He always wanted to do good things for his Jewish people and to speak up for all his family whenever they needed help.”
It seems a little strange doesn’t it; that the book that bears Esther’s name ends with extravagant praise of Mordecai? Now, we could very easily make all kinds of snide remarks about how men get all the credit and so on. But I don’t think that’s really what’s going on here. The Jews needed a reason to celebrate, and they were celebrating everyone and everything they could at this point in their history because things were awfully tough. And they have celebrated Esther, too. In fact, there is still a Jewish holiday, called Purim, which celebrates Esther alone. And she does have the distinct honor of being one of only two women in the entire Christian canon who has a Biblical book that bears her name. So why was it so important for the Jewish people to celebrate Esther and Mordecai? Well, to understand that, we need to understand why things were so tough for the Jewish people at this time.
As was the case last week when we learned about Huldah, we are still at a point in Israel’s history when division reigns. You will remember from last week that Israel divided into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom had then been conquered by the Assyrians, and where we pick up this morning, the Southern Kingdom, too, has now been conquered, twice; first, by the Babylonians, then later, by the Medes and Persians. The result of all these conquests is that the Jewish people were ripped from their homeland and scattered all about the now vast Persian empire. Now, as many of us would discern, a key to survival in a foreign and hostile place is to sort of “lay low” and not “rock the boat,” so to speak. And that’s how the Jewish people lived during this time of exile. They did their best to assimilate into the culture around them, while at the same time remaining true to the one true God.
So it was that when one of the ruling elites in a little corner of the Persian Empire decided to have a beauty contest to pick his next wife, the Jewish women were included in the pageantry. They didn’t reveal they were Jewish, it would seem, nor did anyone ask. You see, King Ahasueurus had decided his wife, Queen Vashti, was a bit too rebellious, and he needed a Queen who would be more submissive to her King. Well, the King’s little beauty pageant served its purpose well, and a young Jewish woman named Esther was chosen to become the next Queen. Esther had been orphaned as a young child, and she had grown up in the home of her cousin, Mordecai. Now, the way the story is written, we are intended to believe, I think, that Esther would not have been chosen if her heritage and background were known. But it wasn’t known, and the King seemed to be so enraptured with Esther’s beauty that he didn’t bother to ask about those pesky little details like her past.
Yet, it seems there was much more to Esther than just good looks. I think it’s fair to say that Esther also possessed a certain “inner beauty.” Even by all measures of physical beauty, eventually one turns to something that is beyond measure: the person. Esther had such unique qualities that she “was admired by all who saw her,” the Bible says. And “the king loved Esther more than all the other women” that were brought before him. But the King’s Court wasn’t such a place of complete beauty. Of course, we’ve already seen that in the fact that the King decided to dismiss his wife because she refused to be at his every “beck and call.” But within the court, there was one even more corrupt than the king, a man named Haman.
If every story has a villain, this is the guy in Esther’s story. His sole focus was gaining more power for himself, and he was slowly moving up the ranks within the king’s court. Things were going his way and he loved it. As Haman would make his way to the royal palaces each day, the citizens would bow at his feet, and anyone did not, he would stop his procession and order that person to bow before him. There was one citizen, though, who refused; a man by the name of Mordecai. Yes, the very same Mordecai who raised the young woman that now sat on the Queen’s throne. Well, Haman found out that the reason Mordecai wouldn’t bow to him was because he was Jewish, because of course, the Jewish people only worship the one true God. Well, Haman concluded that no honor would satisfy him as long as this one man continued to ignore him. Still, Haman felt it was beneath him to destroy one insignificant person, so when he learned that Mordecai was a Jew, he decided that all the Jews needed to be destroyed. So, he persuaded King Ahasuerus to sign a document that would allow, on a particular day, the complete destruction of this relatively small but significant immigrant group. The King did give his consent, and even at this point, King Ahasuerus did not know that his fair Esther was a Jew herself, nor did Esther know that the king had signed this edict against her people.