In my reading this week I began to recall sermons I have heard on this exemplary woman of God as well as the Veggie Tales story of Esther that I have seen and find myself quite saddened that both seem to give us such poor examples of the story of Esther.
I am even more saddened that this is what our Christian families are teaching to our children. They paint the picture of a weak and fearful young woman and a bumbling dolt of a king. This is what our children will think of Esther and Xerxes.
Larson and Dahlen in their commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther point out how important it is for people who want to make an impact to understand cultural differences especially when dealing with governments.
Esther studied and understood Xerxe’s governmental protocols and used them to her advantage; proving her to be a very savvy, intelligent young woman. Sure, she was probably anxious as the Veggie Tales episode tends to emphasize because she was in a position that could go terribly wrong in an instant but she kept moving forward wise step after wise step. This is how a real heroin operates.
I have always heard the story presented as Esther being the heroin because she accepted the fact that she was beautiful by God’s design so that the king would hear her. I believe she was a heroine and chosen by God for so much more than mere outward beauty. Sure she was a looker but she was also wise, intelligent, strong-willed yet subtle, resourceful and determined to play the game better than the enemy.
But first, here’s the part of the story we don’t tell.
Notice if you will in the second chapter of Esther verse 14 that she is taken from the harem under the charge of Hegai in the evening and returned in the morning but not to the harem. Instead she was put in the custody of Shaashgaz who was in charge of the concubines. She left a girl and returned a concubine; a fact that saddens me down to my core when I acknowledge all that this means for her. Her best hope now was to be chosen as queen or live her life among the King’s concubines. A girl who just a year earlier had the concerns of a girl now finds herself fighting to be the best concubine in hopes of gaining respect again through a position as the queen of a King not of her people. Her choices were shame or shame with the opportunity for influence and power through intelligence and networking.
A quick side note about concubines. A concubine was a female who was conjugally united to a man, but in relation inferior to that of a wife. She had no authority in the family. She could not share in the household government. (Sound familiar SBC ladies? Hang on for a future post "Concubines in the House of God!)
And if another man were to take a king’s concubine (or wife for that matter) sexually this would equate to staking a claim to his kingdom. This meant that a concubine’s days were to be lived out in seclusion albeit seclusion with benefits but seclusion none the less. Her hopes of love, family, children and cultural respect were all gone. She would live out her days as property of the king for one main purpose. She would be at the mercy of the queen and even her children would be second class citizens as they wouldn’t even be recognized as rightful heirs. This was now Esther’s plight after her one night with the King.
If your heart isn’t broken for this young woman of God I dare say there may be something wrong with that heart.
Yes, her beauty was a part of the plan but Esther did not ride on her looks alone. She knew her fate if she did not play the game better than the rest. Now, we can see from her actions that she studied the rules and regulations of Xerxe’s government. She studied Xerxes. She trusted the advice of those who knew Xerxes best. She made her own alliances and she chose her alliances well. She knew what she was doing. She understood not only proper protocol but she also understood the personality and behavior of Xerxes and in the future those of Haman as well.
Oh, what a wise and strategic woman this Esther, my hero. She used her knowledge and understanding of both of these things to make a plan to first gain an advantageous position for herself within the good ol' boys club of her day but she also made a plan further into the story to use her wisdom, and insight to take down the good ol’ boys club from her secured position as queen. She then followed that plan to victory. And the crowd goes wild!
Esther knew the cost. She had been thrust into this game with no ability to opt out. She had two choices: Queen or Concubine. It was game that she was being forced to play but she played wisely so as to obtain the trophy because she understood the alternative was worse.
We deal with this same good ol’ boys club even today. They will always be around as long as men seek power and influence in place of a relationship with their Creator. The good ol’ boy’s clubs of today operate in the same way they did in Esther’s time. They form inner circles or clubs in order to secure loyalties, positions and power through alliances.
We have seen this in the recent events surrounding Paige Patterson, Andy Savage, Bill Hybels and more. I am afraid we may even see this in the actions and alliances of the likes of Al Mohler. Who admits having been a part of one such inner circle or club known as Dodeka, a private club of 12 members by invitation only. While this club at least it’s presence on the campus of Southern Seminary disbanded in the 1990’s we cannot assume that the loyalties and alliances built are not still active and in place. There is much concern that this club existed to hand pick a chosen few and place them on the fast track toward positions of power, prominence and influence within the Southern Baptist Convention. There is also much concern that this was an intentionally racially biased group but evidence to substantiate this claim has yet to surface. It also remains to be seen if Al Mohler seeks to protect the boys club and its mantras for the sake of alliances and power or if he will instead seek to honor God alone.
Let us not make the assumption that the structures themselves have toppled. It is my belief that they are still in place and active, and will continue to be until we get serious about removing the root of the weed instead of merely cutting off the head of the flower. Another will rise up in its place, bloom and spread its seed to promote its toxic influence if we are not serious today about weed eradication.
Hope still remains though that the work which has been done to kill the weed will continue to be done until it has no more ground to strengthen its roots and come back stronger than before. We need to force our Haman’s out into the light so that their evil motives against the King can be exposed and His punishment be swift.
I believe we can gain quite a bit of insight into how we can best handle these clubs of privilege and topple their power structures through learning from our sister, Esther.
Esther was serious. Why? Because she loved her people. She desired the health and safety of her culture. She longed for the day when her people would flourish in safety. This is a day we in Christianity should long for as well. But we must do more than long for such a day. We are called to take action; learn and be wise in how to best conduct ourselves for the greatest gain for freedom and flourishing for all.
Esther did more than dream. She took action. She did more than get all dolled up and approach a king with proper words and appearances.
Esther had a year to prepare. Sadly, we always focus on beautification rituals for Esther during that year but Esther made good use of her time in the palace. Beautification was a part of her 12 month regimen but she used her place in the palace to her advantage. She took initiative in learning and understanding proper protocols and how to best influence a man such as Xerxes.
While this would be perfectly complete in the eyes of the world Esther was wiser still. She did her part in using her intellect, time and resources to make sure she was well equipped for the task God had set before her. Then she went beyond human wisdom and she implored God for His help.
She didn’t ask God to deliver her.
She asked God to remove those who would hinder her and His divine plan of redemption.
She asked according to His will and He answered.
We must not be afraid to ask this same thing of God. If we are not already, we must be asking for God to remove those who would hinder His divine plans. When we ask this God will move. It is God’s will that His plans be accomplished unhindered just as they are in Heaven. It is God’s will that His name is the only name honored and that the whole body of His Son flourishes.
This woman we know as Esther, in my opinion, was just as great a conqueror as Alexander the Great and was used just as greatly by God to accomplish His purposes. She is a woman we should take a lesson from concerning true godly submission for Christian women today. It isn’t about acquiescing and disappearing in false submission. It is working with the tools God gave us for the purpose of protecting His people and honoring His name.
What are your strengths and abilities? Hone them. Use them. Build alliances strategically. Learn what you can of how opposing power structures work. Use their works and rules for your advantage.
Realize it will cost you just as it cost Esther but also realize that you were not given a choice. You were taken for the pleasure of men and made a spiritual concubine but that doesn’t mean you have to give in to your fate. God says you are His bride. He is the only true King and all others make a play for His kingdom by attempting to turn you into their concubines.
You have authority in the house of God as a part of the bride. Know the protocols of the kingdom. Study those who seek to dishonor the King. Know the King and what pleases him. Then expose them for all to see!
Model your life after Esther and use everything God has given you for your advantage in your mission to fight for your people, the people of God.
You have been called for such a time as this.
Easton, M. G. Easton's Bible Dictionary. New York, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893.
Larson, Knute, and Kathy Dahlen. Holman Old Testament Commentary: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference Publishers, 2005.
New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation., 1995: Update.