31 Days of Women from Scripture
Lessons from Esther
Today’s woman can be found in the book of Esther. This lesson picks up where yesterday’s lesson on Vashti left off.
The nation of Judah has been taken into captivity, first by Babylon (Esther 2:6; 2 Chron. 36:9-10) who was then taken over by the Medo-Persians (Jer. 25:12; 2 Chron. 36;20-21; Dan. 6:25-28, 31).
The story takes place in Susa, a citadel of Persia (Esther 1:2, 5). In the third year of King Ahasuerus’ reign. he gave a lavish showing of the glory and majesty of his kingdom (Esther 1:4). The 180 day event ended with Queen Vashti being removed from favor and losing her place as Queen because she refused to come at the king’s bidding (Esther 1:10-20). About three years later, the king goes looking for a new Queen (Esther 2:1-4).
Mordecai was a Jew who had been gathered up in the captivity. He lived in Susa and was raising his cousin, Hadassah, who will come to be known by the Persian name, Esther. She was a young woman who was “beautiful of form and face” (Esther 2:7).
The king’s decree goes out and Esther is gathered up along with many young ladies and put into the custody of Hegai. Hegai showed favor to Esther and quickly began her preparations to go before the king. He gave her cosmetics, food, and seven maids from the king’s palace. He also transferred her to the best living quarters in the harem (Esther 2:9). During this time, Esther heeded the instructions of Mordecai and did not reveal she was a Jew.
After twelve months of extensive beauty treatments (Esther 2:12-14) and preparation, it was Esther’s turn to go before the king. Instead of choosing for herself, Esther requested only the things Hegai advised her to choose. The king was pleased with Esther. He “loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins” (Esther 2:17). So he made her Queen instead of Vashti. The king gave a grand banquet in her honor and made a holiday throughout the provinces to commemorate the event. In all this time, Esther “did what Mordecai told her” and did not reveal her kindred.
As time went on, King Ahasuerus promoted a man named Haman to authority over all the princes. All of the king’s servants would bow and pay homage to Haman, except Mordecai would not. The other servants tried to convince Mordecai to bow to Haman, but he continued to refuse, saying that it was because he was a Jew (Esther 3:1-4). Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him filled Haman with rage. Haman was not content with dealing only with Mordecai; he determined to destroy all of the Jews throughout the kingdom (Esther 3:5-6).
For a whole year, Haman plotted and planned how he would bring it about. Haman tells lies about the Jews and convinces the king that these people need to be destroyed. The king agrees, and gives Haman the freedom to do what needs to be done (Esther 3:8-11). Word was sent out and the “city of Susa was in confusion.”
Mordecai learned of all this and grieved over what was coming. Esther was told about his “great mourning”. Esther sent one of the king’s eunuchs to Mordecai to find out what was causing his grief. Mordecai provides all the details and asks that Esther go before the king to “plead with him for her people” (Esther 4:1-8). Esther expresses her concern, because her life is on the line if the king refuses to see her. Mordecai reminds her that she is not safe. God will bring deliverance from another place, but he and Esther will not be there to participate in it. “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther asks that Mordecai and the Jews fast along with her for three days and then she will go before the king, no matter the consequences (Esther 4:15-17).
Esther goes before the king, and when he receives her she invites him and Haman to a banquet that very day. The king quickly responds to do as she has asked (Esther 5:1-5). Esther senses that the time is not yet right to tell what she knows. She asks the king and Haman to come again to a banquet the next day.
Haman goes away gloating, but he has a very bad day the next day (Esther 5:9-6:14). He goes to the second dinner with the king and the queen. As they were drinking their wine, the king asks of Esther’s request from him. Esther proceeds to plead for her life and her people. She explains the plans and points out that Haman is the man (Esther 7:1-8).
Through the course of events, Haman is hanged on the gallows he had intended for Mordecai (Esther 7:9-10). Mordecai is elevated over all that had been subject to Haman.
Esther’s quest was not finished though, the people were still in danger because the decree still stood. The king cannot remove the decree as it is written, but he can declare another decree. This second decree gives the Jews the right to defend themselves and “to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them” (Esther 8:8-14). For one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Jews would be permitted to destroy as many of the king’s own army as they could! The fear of what the Jews would do on this day moved many people to convert and become Jews in order to protect themselves (Esther 8:17).
Esther had one more request. The day after the Jews defended themselves well, she asked that the king allow the Jews in Susa to destroy Haman’s ten sons. The king granted this justice (Esther 9:11-19). Esther and Mordecai then established the feast of Purim to remember for all time how Haman’s evil schemes were turned around (Esther 9:20-32).
What a fabulous story! I know I have said it before, but it bears repeating – the Bible is full of drama, action, and comedy! We should approach the Bible as an enjoyable story to read so that we teach our children that it is an enjoyable book to read.
So, what can we learn from Esther? The things that stand out to me are her obedience, her humility, and her wisdom in her marriage.
She shows us obedience in the way she deals with Mordecai, Hegai, and the king. Even though she is now a young woman in the palace of the king, she does not put off the teachings of Mordecai. She continues to obey him “as she had done when under his care” (Esther 2:20). Esther recognizes that Hegai will know better what she needs, so defers to his guidance in her preparation to see the king (Esther 2:15). She also shows that she respects the authority of the king by her hesitation to put herself forward – it is her place to wait for him to call her (Esther 4:11). We can imitate her by being obedient to the teachings of our parents (Prov. 4:20-23; Eph. 6:1-3), being obedient to those in authority over us (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-3; Eph. 5:22-24), and by being obedient to God (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn 1:3-6; Titus 2:11-15; Rom. 1:1-7; Rom. 16:25-27).
Esther shows her humility in her obedience, but she also shows it when she calls for others to fast with her. Fasting at this time was usually associated with prayer. Ezra 8:23 says, “So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.” David talks about fasting and praying through troubles from malicious witnesses in Psalm 35:11-14. When Daniel realized that the time was near as prophesied in Jeremiah for Judah to return home, he gave his “attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). It is reasonable that this is what Esther was asking of her people – that they fast and pray for her before she approached the king (Esther 4:15-17). Esther knew that her courage was not going to come from within, but rather from the help of the Lord (Deut. 31:6; Ps. 31:24; Phil. 1:14). We can learn to follow her in putting our trust in God, remembering that it is He who lifts us up and gives us wings (Is. 40:27-31; Ps. 29:11; 2 Cor. 12:8-10; Phil. 4:13) to do the work He has called us to do.
Esther also shows great wisdom in her marriage. When the king invites her to make her request, note how Esther handles herself (Esther 5:3). She does not throw herself down in tears making a scene. She does not throw blame at the king for putting her into a scary situation. She does not pout because he does not already know what is bothering her. She DOES bring her request calmly. She DOES wait for a more private moment to discuss it. She DOES offer to serve him before asking something for herself (Esther 5:4). Esther shows that she had a plan, she thought through what she would say, and she was certain of her own mind before she said it.
Then when she has the king and Haman at dinner, she doesn’t fly at Haman. She does not find servants to assassinate him and then explain to the king the reason why. She kept her cool. She waited until she knew the king was ready to hear her. In a situation like Esther’s, having the king to herself during a dinner would be very unusual. She was patient and made sure that she had the king’s attention by asking for him to come to dinner a second time. This surely had his interest.
Esther does make her request at the second dinner; but not as soon as the king walks in the door. She waits until they have had something to drink. He is relaxed and comfortable. She waits for him to invite her to make her request. When she does finally make her request, she is respectful, she is honest, and she states the problem clearly. She shows that she is aware of how things are done and that she is not asking for something that would be unreasonable to ask (Esther 7:3-4). She understood that a soft answer turns away wrath (Prov. 15:1). She shows the wisdom of Proverbs 25:21-22 by showing kindness to Haman, the man scheming to kill her. Esther was able to bring about the saving of her people because she approached her husband with self-control. We women today would do well to learn to follow Esther in this way!
Esther was loved and cared for greatly by the king. He shows her great favor several times. He wants to please her. She did not try to manipulate this. She recognized her place and his authority. She addressed him in this way and he responded immediately to defend her. This is how the marriage relationship should work (Eph. 5:22-33).
We CAN follow Esther’s example. 2 Peter 1:5-11 has the formula and Esther followed it! Recognize that God has given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” and so apply all diligence and add to your faith the moral excellence to do what is right when it is hard, add knowledge, show self-control, persevere, remain in godliness, show kindness to others, and above all be loving. Esther was fruitful because she did these things. So can each of us!