The story of Esther takes us on the journey of an orphan Jewish girl who becomes the queen of a mighty kingdom. God calls her to save his people, so she risks everything, including her life, to be of service to her God. This beautiful story teaches us that God can use anyone for his purpose, and when he does call us, he will give us everything we need to succeed.
The Story of Esther
The Story of Esther (Esther 1-10) is set during 470 B.C. in Susa, one of the capitals of Persia. This region is under the reign of King Xerxes, also known by the name Ahasuerus. The story begins during a feast at the palace of the king. He is hosting a banquet at the conclusion of a six-month-long festival during which the king showed off all his riches and glory to the officials of the 127 provinces that he ruled. During the banquet, King Xerxes orders his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear before the officials so he can show her off. She refuses and consequently is cast out of the palace and is not to appear in the king’s presence ever again.
After a couple of years, the king becomes lonely and his advisors convince him to gather all the beautiful virgins in the land so they can compete for his affection as his new wife. Among these virgins, we meet Esther. She is a beautiful orphan Jewish girl who was raised by her cousin, Mordecai. Mordecai advises Esther to keep her heritage a secret as she enters the pageant to win the king’s affections. With her character, she impresses Hegai – the king’s eunuch who is the watchman over the king’s harem. Hegai takes a special interest in Esther during the twelve-month long pageant and coaches her before her “audition” evening with the king. King Xerxes is very impressed with Esther and she eventually becomes his queen.
A few years later, Mordecai (Esther’s adoptive guardian) finds himself within earshot of enemies of the king discussing their plans to assassinate the king. Mordecai informs Esther and she, in turn, warns the king. The men are persecuted for their heresy, but Mordecai is not immediately rewarded for his loyalty.
In chapter three of the book of Esther, we are introduced to Haman, who brutally fought his way to the position of second in charge in the kingdom. Haman is a descendent of the Amalekites who were historically brutal enemies of the Israelites. Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman and this enrages Haman, so much so that he convinces King Xerxes that all Jews are disobedient to the laws of the country because they have their own customs and consequently the whole nation needs to be killed. The king agrees and Haman casts lots to decide on a day when the Jews would be killed. This is the reason that Jews still celebrate the festival of Purim, meaning “lots.”
Mordecai hears about Haman’s schemes and goes out of the city to mourn in public. One of Esther’s handmaidens informs her of Mordecai’s mourning and Esther becomes concerned. Mordecai sends Esther a message that she must plead with king Xerxes for the lives of the Jews. Esther is very frightened and makes excuses that she, as a woman, cannot approach the king without being summoned and that she hasn’t seen the king in thirty days. Mordecai explains to Esther that the Israelites will be delivered, whether she helps them or not but famously advises her “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
Esther asks Mordecai and all the Jews to pray and fast with her for three days before she goes to the king. Eventually, Esther gathers the courage, makes herself beautiful and approaches the king. To her relief, he grants her an audience and asks her what she wants. He even offers her anything up to half the kingdom. Instead of pleading to the king in public, she invites King Xerxes and Haman to a banquet. When they agree and attend the banquet, Esther does not immediately make her plea but invites both men to another banquet the next day. On his way home Haman passes Mordecai who again refuses to bow to Haman, which disgusts him. At home, Haman relays the events with his wife who advises him to execute Mordecai.
That evening King Xerxes has trouble sleeping and starts reading the chronicles of his reign. He reads how Mordecai prevented his assassination and realizes that Mordecai was never honoured for his duty to the throne.
The next morning as Haman arrives at the palace, king Xerxes asks him hypothetically how Haman thinks a hero should be honoured. Thinking that the king is referring to Haman himself, he suggested that this man should be clothed in one of the king’s robes, placed on one of the king’s horses with a crown on his head. Then one of the top officials in the court should take the hero through the streets while shouting “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honour.” (Esther 6:11) King Xerxes likes this idea and commands Haman himself to do as he suggested with Mordecai. Haman is disgusted at the turn of events.
At the second banquet queen, Esther finally pleads with king Xerxes for her life, and that of her people. This is the first time the king and Haman find out that Esther is actually Jewish. The king demands to know who wants to kill her people, and she identifies Haman as the mastermind. The king leaves the room to take a walk, but Haman stays behind and falls before Esther to plead for mercy. As the king re-enters the room it appears to him as if Haman is assaulting Esther. The king is furious and told of the plan Haman had made to hang Mordecai. King Xerxes orders Haman to be hung instead and appoints Mordecai as the second in command of the kingdom.
Lessons from Esther
God is in all the details
God is not mentioned once in the book of Esther, but his influence is seen throughout the book. The Lord removed Queen Vashti to make space for Esther. The king’s vanity ensured the gathering of the beautiful virgins. God made Esther beautiful and of noble character to win Hegai, and later, the king’s favour. Mordecai was in the right place to hear about the possible assassination attempt so he could warn the king, and later be honoured for his loyalty. The fact that the king had trouble sleeping after the banquet was also used to remind him of Mordecai’s loyalty and that he had not been honoured.
As we go through our day to day lives, things sometimes feel random and coincidental. I firmly believe there is no such thing as coincidences, but rather God-incidences. I have many examples in my life, but one of the most significant is probably the first time I saw my husband Carl. We were in a massive arena that can seat about 6000 people, preparing for a mass choir and orchestra concert. Carl was in the choir amidst a sea of tenors and I was playing cello in the orchestra. One of the conductors called Carl’s name over the microphone to come down to the floor of the arena and accompany one of the hymns on the organ. Carl had no prior warning of this but was obedient as soon as he figured out, they were actually calling him. When I saw him humbly, almost shyly, take his place in front of the organ and heard his beautiful playing, I prayed to the Lord that he would send me a husband like that. I was convinced Carl was spoken for, so I just wanted someone like him. Since Carl was already down by the orchestra, he was quickly recruited to form part of the percussion team which ensured that he had to attend the orchestra practices going forward. The percussion and cellos were usually placed close to each other during rehearsals since we need the most space in the orchestra, and that is how he really saw me for the first time. He also thought I was taken but sent his prayers up just in case. Twelve years later, we can only marvel at all the God-incidences that got us here.
Can you think of some instances where things at first seemed random but later you could recognize the hand of God?
The Lord has a plan and he will bring it to pass no matter what.
The Israelites were the descendants of Abraham, who would be blessed by being the lineage of Jesus. If Haman exterminated the Jews, Jesus could not have come from this line. But God placed Esther in the palace for “such a time as this”. (Esther 4:14)
God’s will is that all mankind be saved. That is the most important thing for him. The things that we place so much emphasis on here on earth, are not of great value to him with his eternal view of life. For that reason, he might not grant us our hearts desires if they could interfere in his salvation plan. For instance, I was not accepted to medical school after several applications because perhaps the Lord knew it would draw me away from him. Sometimes you won’t get the job you want because it would interfere with the growth of your soul. Maybe that guy did not ask you to marry him because he would keep you from pursuing God’s purpose for your life. So we can carry on and speculate, but we will only really see the purpose behind God’s interference in these instances when we are with him one day in heaven.
We must answer God’s call
Esther had no power as an orphan and a woman. She was the king’s plaything, but the Lord used her to save his people. Mordecai explained to Esther that if she refused to play her part, her people would still be freed somehow, but she would not have been the blessing she had the opportunity to be. Nothing could stop God’s plan. God could use even these bad circumstances for good.
It is not always easy to answer God’s call for your life. In fact, I would argue that the callings that matter the most are the hardest to obey. Carl and I were called to move to a congregation that was struggling with the music while we were still only engaged. The congregation we were attending at the time had magnificent music, with too many conductors and organists and a spectacular choir. Moving to a struggling congregation was tough, especially since I felt like I did not have the skills or experience to make any difference. All I knew was that I wanted to help the struggling musicians feel the joy of music in their congregation, so I agreed to go for one year. Seven years later, we moved back to our first congregation, when they needed us again.
What is God calling you to do that is hard for you?
God gives the strength to answer his call
Esther made the necessary inner preparations and pleaded for intercessory prayer from the other Jews before going to the king. Therefore, God gave Esther the strength and wisdom to do what was asked of her.
There were many struggles to overcome within me and externally to make an impact in our new congregation, but somehow the Lord was with me every step of the way and he blessed us in our task and in the music more than we could have imagined.
Do you recognize times in your journey where God gave you the strength to achieve far more than you thought you were able to?
God can turn any tragedy into a victory
In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar demanded God’s people to worship the idol, but God protected Daniel and his friends. Balak schemed against God’s people but became a blessing (Numbers 22-24). Herod persecuted the Apostles, but the gospel was still spread across the world (Acts 12). Jesus was crucified at Calvary but overcame death and sin. Haman was persecuted on the pole instead of Mordecai, just as Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection destroyed the impact of sin on mankind. These are examples of how God can use any suffering a grand triumph.
As long as I can remember I was convinced that I would be a medical doctor. That is all I worked for and the only degree I applied for in my final year of high school. I was not accepted at any of these institutions, but I did get a “kind of” acceptance letter from the University of the Free State. Excitedly, and nervously, my parents helped me pack up and prepare for a move to Bloemfontein. On the day of registration, I was informed that it had all been a mistake, and several students got the letter in error. I was devastated and tried to fight the system but was never allowed to pursue my goal. I stayed on in Bloemfontein for a year and met some of the most special soul-friends I have ever had, some of whom still today carry me through my darkest days and celebrate life’s blessings with me every step of the way.
Can you see how the Lord has used your tragedies for triumph?
Please share in the comments on how the story of Esther speaks to your life.
This post was part of a Bible Study series that I wrote to connect with my friends during the COVID-19 lockdown.
I am not a pastor, nor do I have theological training. I am a follower of Jesus and the daughter of my Heavenly Father that enjoys studying and discussing Scripture with others.
The resources I used for this study are listed below.
All colour illustrations are from www.jw.org