The story of Queen Esther is well known by readers of the Old Testament. Christian women relate to Esther’s story because of her character, her endurance, and her faithfulness to her God. Esther lived under a most challenging situation for her as a person, for her oppressed people, and for her religious views.
Esther and Her Struggle for Survival
Esther is recognized and praised for what she did to save her people from extermination by a wicked man. When Esther became queen, the Jewish people were living in exile in Persia. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and the Jewish people were taken into exile and were dispersed throughout the Babylonian empire. After Cyrus, the king of Persia, conquered the Babylonians, the Jewish people became subjects of the Persian empire for many years.
During their time in exile, the Jewish people had to learn how to live without a king, without a temple, and without the priesthood. Although some people prospered in exile, the majority of the population experienced great distress because of their oppressive situation.
The story of Esther occurred in the days of Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes, the king of Persia who ruled from 485–465 B.C. Ahasuerus’ palace was in the fortress of Susa, a site located at the foot of the Zagros Mountains in Iran. Ahasuerus ruled over a large empire; he ruled over 127 provinces which extended from India to Sudan.
Esther’s story began when King Ahasuerus deposed his Queen, a woman named Vashti. In order to replace her, Ahasuerus sought a woman out of all the virgins in the Persian Empire to be his new queen. Out of all the women who came to the king’s palace, Esther, a beautiful Jewish woman, was chosen to be the new queen.
Esther’s story, however, is more than just a beautiful romance story. Esther’s story reflects the survival of a woman of character and wisdom who learned how to survive under difficult circumstances.
Esther, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah (Esther 2:7), was a young Jewish woman living in exile in a pagan world. Esther was a devoted woman who worshiped Yahweh, the God of Israel. In exile, Esther had to learn how to live in a pagan culture. Against her will, she was taken from her Jewish home to live in the palace of the king of Persia. Esther became a queen not because of her character or wisdom, but because she “had a beautiful figure and was very attractive” (Esther 2:7).
Esther was the daughter of Abihail. Abihail was the uncle of Mordecai (Esther 2:15; 9:29). Mordecai adopted Esther as his own daughter (Esther 2:15) because Esther was an orphan (Esther 2:7). In Ahasuerus’ palace Esther and Mordecai were opposed by Haman, a man driven by his desire for honor and power before the king. In his desire to achieve his goal, Haman devised a plan to kill all the Jews in the empire. The reason Haman desired the extermination of the Jews was because Mordecai refused to bow to him.
In order to punish Mordecai and his people, Haman went before Ahasuerus and said to him:
“Your Majesty, there is a certain nationality scattered among-but separate from-the nationalities in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws differ from those of all other nationalities. They do not obey your decrees. So it is not in your interest to tolerate them, Your Majesty. If you approve, have the orders for their destruction be written” (Esther 3:8-9).
Because of Haman’s deceptive words, the king ordered his officials to wipe out, kill, and destroy all the Jews-young and old, women and children-on a single day, and seize their possessions (Esther 3:13).
When Mordecai heard about Haman’s plan, he asked Esther to go before the king and intercede for her people. But Esther’s situation was not easy. She told Mordecai, “All the king’s advisers and the people in the king’s provinces know that no one approaches the king in the throne room without being summoned. By law that person must be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to him will he live. I, myself, have not been summoned to enter the king’s presence for 30 days now” (Esther 4:11).
Esther was quite concerned for the fate of her people; however, she was also aware of what would happen to her if she came before the king without being summoned. Mordecai told Esther, “Do not imagine that just because you are in the king’s palace you will be any safer than all the rest of the Jews. The fact is, even if you remain silent now, someone else will help and rescue the Jews, but you and your relatives will die. And who knows, you may have gained your royal position for a time like this” (Esther 4:13-14).
Esther: For Such a Time as This
Today I begin a series of posts on Esther. This series of studies on “Esther: For Such a Time as This,” will be done in partnership with my pastor, Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois. The present post is an introduction to Jeff’s sermons.
In the coming weeks I will write five studies on Esther based on five sermons Jeff will preach on Esther. Each post on this series of studies will be based on the sermons Jeff will preach. Each post will include a video of the sermon Jeff preached in church. In a sense, the posts will serve as a historical background to the sermons Jeff will preach and his sermons will serve as an application of the posts to contemporary Christian life.
Jeff and I hope that the videos and the posts will help you gain a better perspective of Esther’s life. In addition, we hope that, when you are confronted with challenges in your life, you will learn from Esther, a woman who lived in an oppressive situation, a woman who risked her own life to save her people. Esther was assigned an impossible task, and yet, because of her faith in God and her decision to be courageous in the face of death, she succeeded even when all odds were against her.
Next: “For Such a Time as This — “God’s Grace”
An Introduction to the sermons on Esther by Jeff Griffin
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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