Queen Esther – A Character Study

 

BACKGROUND

Esther was a young Jewish orphan who grew up without a mother or father (Esther 2:7) in a foreign country around 500 B.C. She was born and raised in the splendid capitol city of Susa (Esther 2:5), where the Persian Empire’s winter palace towered some seventy-five feet above the city. It was in this pagan province that her life would be influenced. Her ancestors were among the exiled Jews that were taken captive to Babylon in 586 B.C. (Esther 2:6). She therefore, never lived in her homeland where she would have been exposed to her religious heritage or participated in the sacrificial system at Jerusalem’s temple. The Jewish exiles had been granted permission in 537 B.C. to return to their mother land by a decree given by King Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-3). She therefore lived in a time when she was free to leave and was not under compulsion to remain in Susa. In fact, the earlier prophets foretold of Yahweh’s deliverance and return of His people to their native homeland. And with the temple now rebuilt in Jerusalem, the Jews could once again resume their spiritual life as ordained by the Lord. Most likely the decision not to return to Jerusalem was made by her guardian and older cousin, Mordecai. It is apparent that Mordecai and Esther had comfortably assimilated into the Persian way of life and chose to live in Susa instead. This may explain why there seems to be a lack of evidence in showing any passionate interaction with Yahweh by both Mordecai and Esther. They had grown accustom to foreign religion and the social/political structure. From this, we can better understand why Esther’s faith was not something she practiced openly. But instead, the knowledge of her faith was acquired by family tradition, a religion handed down to her by way of her ethnicity.

Esther had nobility in her blood. As Mordecai’s cousin, she wasn’t a complete stranger to the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Mordecai himself could trace his royal ancestry through his great grandfather Kish to Israel’s first king, Saul (Esther 2:5). So Esther would have been familiar, being reared by Mordecai, with what it meant to walk among the politically powerful, though she would have lived modestly and as a commoner in the social circles of her city.

Hidden Things

There seems to be things ‘hidden’ that surround Esther’s life. Even her name cloaks her identity as a Jewess. The biblical record discloses her real Hebrew name to be Haddaseh (Esther 2:7), which means ‘myrtle’. This was a tree that was known to be fragrant and beautiful. It is curious to see how her name accurately describes her. It can be seen that many found her female form to be stunning and her facial features to be captivating (Esther 2:7). Her personality emitted a fragrance that gave her favor with the king, his harem attendants and her own personal maids as well (see Esther 2:8,9). She kept the floral name, ‘myrtle’, which in the Median dialect was pronounced ‘Astra’. This became ‘Ishtar’ in the Persian tongue, the fertility goddess of love and war. And so in taking the Persian name of ‘Esther’, this becomes a telling sign of her connection to its culture. This became beneficial when she finally would be enthroned.

Her nationality would remain hidden from the eye of the Persian crown until the need arose for her to intervene for her people (see Esther 2:10). As we shall see, it is peculiar that in some ways Esther personified Ishtar, the pagan goddess of love and war. Other things hidden in Esther’s story was Haman’s plot to specifically exterminate the Jews, while making a nondescript appeal to King Ahasuerus to destroy ‘a certain people’ (Esther 3:8), thus hiding the ethnicity of the people whom he truly hated.

Noticeably, God is hidden from view as well. The narrative strains to find any reference, from any person, calling upon God or seeking His counsel. Esther is never observed in prayer or worship of Yawheh, nor is seen fulfilling the requirements of His Law. Yet, it is clear that God was the sovereign prime mover of the events that unfolded.

Also of interest, is the hidden agenda of God that lied behind one man’s throw of the dice. Haman sought a date for his holocaust of the Jews by the casting of ‘lots’ or ‘Pur’ (Esther 3:7). What appeared a superstitious act, was in effect God tumbling the numbers to land on a day of His choosing. This suspended Haman’s desired genocide for a year.

Once more, Mordecai’s report of uncovering an assassination attempt against King Ahasuerus and the reward he never received remained hidden in the court annals. Only to come to light when the king suffered insomnia and requested a bed side reading to help him sleep (Esther 6:1,2). And so it can be observed in this classic tale of poetic justice, that Yahweh directs the flow of history as easily from behind the curtain of human drama, as He can as the lead role on center stage.

The Awful King Ahasuerus

Esther was one of a number of young virgins in the empire summoned to compete for the privilege to become Persia’s new queen. She showed obedience and trust in her guardian, Mordecai, when she was instructed to keep her nationality a secret from the empirical court (Esther 2:10). This notable respect for the man who took care of her in her common life would also introduce Esther to the man who would become her husband, King Ahasuerus. This is no more evident than when she warned the king of an assassination plot headed up by two palace guards (Esther 2:22,23). This demonstrated her respect for the royal office and a genuine love for her husband. She showed herself to be an honorable woman, who desired to protect those who were in danger as well as holding a high regard for exposing injustice. The passionate and loyal character of Esther begins to really glow when we understand something about the man she married. Her husband, King Ahasuerus was an alcoholic who was prone to angry outbursts (Esther 1:7,12). He enjoyed throwing lavish drinking parties and having the pleasure of many women, even displaying them as trophies to his friends (Esther 1:11 and Esther 2:3,4). His edicts were irreversible and his punishments inhumane. His fits of rage were known by all. Esther was most certainly familiar with the king’s reputation for his heartless dealings with others. After all he did divorce his last queen for not wanting to be a trophy wife for his friends.

The Greek historian, Herodotus, writes of some incidents that inflamed King Ahaseurus. One story was of a concerned father who requested that one of his five sons be removed from military service. This was to assure the continuation of the family name. Instead of showing understanding, the angry king had the father’s favorite son cut in half while the Imperial army rode between the two halves. The other incident recounts the ill tempered Ahaseurus becoming enraged when his building project was destroyed by a storm. He cursed the sea, and had the project supervisors beheaded. This is the man, whom Esther loved and respected. It was ultimately, Queen Esther’s beauty, love and loyalty that gave her such favor in the eyes of the king (Esther 2:17). With this in view, we can more fully appreciate Esther’s selfless courage when she approached the king regarding his irreversible edict to have her people destroyed (Esther 3:8-11).

For Such A Time As This

The moment of truth had come for her. What was hidden was about to came to light. Esther faced her destiny with the words of Mordecai ringing in her ears,

“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13,14).

Life and death sway in the balance. Esther knew that the law of summons meant her swift death. For no one was allowed to approach the king unless they had been summoned by him (see Esther 4:11). Esther had met her Gethsemane and called upon Mordecai to relay a message to the Jews for a city wide fast (see Esther 4:16). This is a notable appeal for Yahweh’s intervention. Yet prayer accompanying the fast is not mentioned. We can assume that perhaps it was to go without saying that prayer was invoked along with the fast. But the scriptures are silent, and in an hour of such gravity we would expect to hear no less appeal for petitioning Yahweh. We can gather that in that moment of extreme crisis, Esther was stirred to an act of spiritual hope that would provide her with the strength to complete her mission. With the fear that lied before her and the anguish for the souls of her people upon her, she finally gave herself to the call of self-sacrifice should it be necessary. We read her bold resolve,

“And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16).

She eventually requested of the king to rescind the order to exterminate her people, the Jews, as well as plead for her own life to be spared (Esther 7:3,4 and Esther 8:5). The king’s astonishment that someone would devise the death of his queen inflamed him. Esther exposed Haman as the culprit of the intended genocide, upon which he met his death, by being pitched on a pole of his own making (Esther 7:9,10).
Knowing that the decree to exterminate the Jews could not be reversed, she once again approached the king. Her desire for justice and protection are witnessed by her heartfelt plea for Imperial intervention. Here Esther’s heart is revealed. She implored the king prostrate and weeping (Esther 8:3). This is in contrast to her first appeal where she courageously stood face to face with Ahaseurus (Esther 5:2). The love she had for God’s people outweighed the crown on her head.

Yahweh had positioned her uniquely as His instrument of salvation. What becomes clear is Esther’s courage and sacrificial love. But is Esther a lawbreaker? Perhaps, but certainly not with criminal intent. She dared to challenge King Ahaseurus’ law of summons by seeking a hearing when not called upon, yet at the risk of her own life. More importantly, she violated 3 laws of Moses. First, as a virgin in the Persian harem, she willingly had pre-marital relations with a man that was not her husband (see Exodus 20:14 and Esther 2:17). Second, she married a pagan (Deuteronomy 7:1-4 and Esther 2:17). This in some way speaks of the Esther (Ishtar) of love. And third, she ate unclean foods (see Leviticus 11:46,47 and Esther 2:18). We should keep in mind that her disconnection with her Jewish religious roots and the assimilation into Persian culture affected her worldview.

Esther – A Christ Figure

Even so, in what is perhaps her most shining moment, we can see the shadow of a true Christ figure. Her submission to God’s sovereignty and self-sacrificial mindset. Her desire to rally her kinsman to join her in a fast when news of their annihilation was declared, is somewhat akin to Jesus’ desire for his closest companions to join him in prayer at Gethsemane (Esther 4:16 and Matthew 26:36). This figure is further paralleled in Esther’s submission to give her life for God’s people and Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will, in sacrificing His life for humanity (Esther 4:16 and Matthew 26:42).

Esther the Just

Furthermore, as a true Jewish patriot and political activist, she persuaded her husband to have the bodies of Haman’s 10 dead sons impaled on stakes as a witness of the Jews’ victories over their enemies (Esther 9:13). This speaks of the Esther (Ishtar) of war. It can also be observed that Esther was a woman of wisdom. She sought the counsel of her guardian, Mordecai on many life-changing matters (Esther 2:20). She also pondered thoughtfully when making critical decisions. For instance, when she wanted a hearing before the king to plead her cause she first graced him with a banquet (Esther 5:3,4). Throughout her life, Esther demonstrated subservience, self-sacrifice as well as being culturally engaged, as seen in her actions for political involvement and social justice.

God’s Sovereignty

It may be said that while Esther’s physical beauty helped her gain the crown, it was her inner beauty that crowned her with favor, wisdom, honor and compassion. Like all other biblical personalities, the human element of failure is evident in the story of Esther. But this ensures us that we are truly dealing with fallible beings and not ones wearing the halo of spiritual perfection . It is in the personal lives of men and women, like Esther, that we are able to see God’s sovereignty to bring about his purposes regardless of human shortcomings, whether by ignorance or rebellion. Our investigation of Queen Esther has uncovered many facts about her life and personality. Now, it is for us to adopt those traits that best model Godly character. We can see that the Master Sculptor, as with all of His elect, fashioned an individual that resembles some aspect of His own image. In Esther, we can see an example of selflessness that our own life should reflect. We can learn by her love for friends and kinsmen, to highly esteem our own family and fellow believers. We can also see the importance of standing up to social injustice. Finally, in view of Esther’s crisis moment, we may ask this penetrating question: “As Christians, who recognize the sovereignty of God, are we willing to give our life away for the sake of Christ and His people?”

Copyright © Steve Covarrubias 11/2013

Bibliography

Atteberry, Shawna R.B. God Uses Harem Girls: Esther. Internet @ crivoice.org. 2007. Curtis, Donald E. Esther-Irony and Providence. Internet @ bible.org. 2001. Constable, Dr. Thomas L. Notes on Esther. Internet @ soniclight.com. 2007. John Gill’s Expositor. Revised Matthew Henry Commentary. The Online Bible Software-Deluxe edition CD-ROM.

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