THE STORY OF ESTHER
Learn how Queen Esther's sacrifice, courage & leadership helped her to make a difference in people's lives.
Queen Esther of Persia
Queen Esther’s story is about sacrifice, courage, and leadership in the face of adversity. It’s a story that has inspired countless men and women for over 2500 years.
The book of Esther is unique in the Bible. It takes place around 483 BC, during the Jewish exile, and is one of two books in the Bible that does not mention God. Yet, His hand was clearly at work in every facet of the events that would ultimately unfold.
The book of Esther begins with an introduction to King Ahasuerus, also known as King Xerxes of Persia. The King was hosting a banquet and, in a moment of drunken celebration, commanded his first wife, Queen Vashti, to present herself to his court. Many Biblical scholars believe he expected her to be paraded unclothed in front of himself and the other drunken men, which makes Queen Vashti’s response both understandable and shocking for the day – she refused to obey the King’s demand. Needless to say, King Xerxes was incensed at her refusal.
At the encouragement of the other men in the King’s court, who were afraid of what would happen if the women of the nation learned of Queen Vashti’s defiance toward her husband, King Xerxes decided to strip the queen of her title and give it to another. A nationwide search for the most beautiful virgins began.
At this point in the Book of Esther, we meet our heroine. A young, orphaned Jewish girl, Esther’s birth name was Hadassah. She lived with her cousin, Mordecai, who cared for her as one of his own children. He warned her to keep their Jewish heritage a secret as he recognized the potential dangers for her and their people. Esther was noted for her beauty, and in what we can now recognize as God’s hand – she was among those selected to be presented to King Xerxes.
For a year, Esther was prepared for her introduction to the King. She experienced the spa treatment above all spa treatments with a full 12 months of preparation. The eunuch who oversaw the preparation of the virgins took a special interest in Esther and gave her extra special treatments and beauty preparations.
During this time, Esther was sequestered with other women who were a part of a haram prepared for the King. Each woman was presented to the King in turn, and from this process, the King chose his next queen. When it was time for Esther to be presented before the King, she found favor in his eyes. The Bible says, “The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17 NKJV).
But this is no fairy tale, and it wasn’t “happily ever after.” This was real life. The Book of Esther is a real story about real people, and Esther’s destiny was yet to be seen.
Mordecai, Esther’s devoted cousin and father figure continued to monitor her throughout her year-long process of becoming the queen. It was his regular practice to sit near the King’s Gate in the city, and one day, he overheard a conversation between two guards who were making plans to assassinate King Xerxes. He shared this information with Esther, who took the news to the King, crediting Mordecai in the process. As a result, the two guards were executed, and Mordecai was thanked for his service to the King. Through all of this, Esther continued to keep her heritage a secret.
Shortly after, the King promoted one of his closest confidants, Haman. Haman was a power-hungry man who sought to use his proximity to the King to elevate himself even further. In fact, as part of his promotion, all the King’s servants and those near the King’s gate were to bow to Haman. As previously mentioned, Mordecai often spent time at the King’s gate, but when it came to bowing to Haman, he refused.
For a prideful man like Haman, this was seen as a bold act of defiance, and he was enraged by Mordecai’s lack of respect. Ultimately, Haman learned that Mordecai was a Jew, and in his anger, he sought to destroy Mordecai and the entire Jewish nation. In order to get the King on board with his plan, he said to Xerxes, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the King’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the King to let them remain. If it pleases the King, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the King’s treasuries” (Esther 3:8-9).
In his hatred, Haman was actually putting his own money on the line! Couriers sent the command throughout the kingdom with the date to execute the Jews. But just as before, when Mordecai learned of Haman’s plans – he went to Esther and asked her to intervene on behalf of her people.
The rest of the story demonstrates the truth of Scripture – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). While Esther’s lifetime was centuries before Christ, God had a divine plan and purpose for her life. He placed her in a key position to ensure the security of His chosen people.
Queen Esther had not seen the King in over 30 days. She was only allowed to go to him when he called for her, so she was in a difficult position. It was literally a matter of life or death to go before the King without permission. But as Mordecai would remind her in Esther 4:13, “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the King’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
“For such a time is this…” These are words that endure centuries later, and it’s from these words that Esther gained courage and demonstrated another important trait: She waited. She fasted for three days and asked Mordecai to do the same. Biblical fasting is done for various reasons, including a time of intense prayer. Fasting is a time of humbling one’s heart in search of God’s will. Again, while the Book of Esther does not specifically speak of God, as a Jewish woman, Esther would be well-acquainted with the purpose of fasting.
For three days and nights, Esther, Mordecai, the other Jews, and Esther’s own maids fasted. We don’t know the details of those days, but we know that Esther was prepared for the consequences of her planned visit to the King. In Esther 4:16, she said, “I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
After her fasting period was complete, Esther stepped forward in courage and faith. She entered the King’s court and told him she had a special request for him. The King was glad to see her and gave her permission to speak. But from a humble heart of wisdom, Esther didn’t immediately rush to her request. She had taken her time to approach him, and again, she took her time. She invited the King and Haman, the enemy of the Jews, to a banquet.
In fact, she planned two banquets for King Xerxes and Haman. Haman’s arrogance in being invited to the queen’s banquets caused him immeasurable pride. But his hatred for Mordecai still burned deep within him, and he still did not know the relationship between Mordecai and the very queen whose table at which he would sit. While Esther was working to usurp Haman’s plans in a typical woman’s way (by having a party), he was still pursuing his own murderous plans. In a fit of overkill, he ordered a 75’ gallows to be explicitly built for Mordecai.
The night before the second banquet, King Xerxes could not sleep, so he commanded one of his servants to read to him from the records that chronicled the kingdom’s history. In it, he was reminded of Mordecai’s loyalty and the thwarted assassination plot from earlier. The King was moved again by Mordecai’s intervention and wanted to reward him.
The following day, he spoke to Haman and asked him, “What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” (Esther 6:6). Haman’s arrogance has been well-noted, and as one could predict, he believed the King was seeking ideas to honor him. He advised the King that extravagant gifts, honors, and even a parade should be given in honor of the one to be recognized.
The King agreed, but much to Haman’s dismay, King Xerxes instructed him to do all of those suggestions for Mordecai. Haman probably choked on this unpleasant task, but as we will recall, he still had another banquet to attend.
Finally, at the second banquet, Esther revealed her request to King Xerxes. She revealed to the King that she was a Jew and her people had been slated for destruction by Haman. She begged the King to show mercy to the Jews. King Xerxes was furious at being manipulated by Haman and ordered him executed on the very gallows that Haman had intended for Mordecai. Indeed, Haman is the poster child for Proverbs 26:27, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
And he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him.”
The Book of Esther shows a series of events full of evil. We see a defiant queen stripped of her title after refusing to be used. We see a young girl taken from her family and forced into a marriage with the King. We see hatred. We see pride. We see arrogance and betrayal. But we also see the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” We see that God puts people in circumstances and places so His will can prevail. If Vashti had not defied the King, he would not have sought another wife. If Esther had not been chosen as queen, Mordecai would not have overheard the assassination plot…. If Mordecai had not been honored by the King, the King would not have known him or remembered him when Haman set out on his mission of murder. God is good all the time, and we learn from Esther’s act of courage important lessons for the hard seasons of our own lives – perhaps we too have been placed in our circumstances “for such a time as this.”
After Haman’s death, King Xerxes reversed the order that would have exterminated God’s chosen people. The Jews celebrated the King’s decree, and as a result, the annual feast of Purim continues to be recognized by the Jews.
Esther’s story continues to inspire, and through her legacy, we are reminded that it’s not about our outward beauty but our willingness to be selfless… To serve others, even at personal cost. To be courageous and trust in the Lord for all things.