Authentic :: Esther


When I was in middle school I had a crush on this boy and so a friend of mine decided she would play matchmaker and asked him what he thought of me. I was sitting within hearing distance, and I’ll never forget his response. If pretty were a scale, he said holding up his hands so that she could see the invented spectrum, then Ashley is right here. And he pointed to the far end of the scale, which if translated into numbers would have put me around a 2 or 3.


Photo by Maria Molinero on Unsplash

Ouch.

I remember feeling a little stunned because it was the first time I had ever been made to feel less than, unacceptable, or unworthy. Up to that point I had a lot of confidence for a middle school girl. I made good grades. I had good friends. I was nerdy, but still accepted by most of my peers because I was so nice. But that moment something shifted inside me and I began to see the world a lot differently. 

I don’t share that story often because, honestly, I feel a little embarrassed that I let a jerkface boy create so much of my identity for so long. But the fact is, this happens all. the. time.  

As a woman, I’ve been made very aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but the beholder is quite often influenced by the onslaught of cultural imaging and stereotyping. I think most women can agree that these expectations can be a little overwhelming at the best of times and absolutely crushing at the worst. Because, quite frankly, it’s tough being a woman. 

It’s Tough being a Woman

Let’s face it, being a woman is not easy and when you have the weight of the world, at least your world, on your shoulders, things get evenmore complicated even faster. That’s Esther. Tough stuff.

So Esther is an orphan. When she was quite young her parents died. We don’t know how they died, just that both her mother and her father died and she is raised by a cousin—Mordecai (Esther 2: 5-7). A male cousin, no less. If that wasn’t enough trauma for one little girl when she wasn’t much more than a teenager she was taken into the Citadel at Susa as a candidate for “future queen” (Esther 2: 8). 

Sounds great, right? Queen? What little girl doesn’t want that? It’s not quite that simple. Don’t you know what happened to the previous queen, Vashti? After a lot of feasting and wine the King, Xerxes, summoned her to his presence. He wanted to show her off—like a real trophy wife. She refused—maybe cause she didn’t want to be groped and fondled by a bunch of rich drunk guys. Or maybe because she was spoiled and drunk herself. Regardless, when she refused the king, she was banished and never heard of again. Killed? Who knows? Maybe (Esther 1:19-20).

Also, let’snot forget that word candidate. She’snot guaranteed the title of queen, but once she is in the harem…well, she’s not coming out again. And well, pleasing the King doesn’t just mean looking pretty. That’s only part of it. I think you can follow my drift. Once you’re in that Harem, you are the king’s—so there goes Esther’s dream of any kind of normalfamily life.

Beauty Treatments for the Beautiful

After being ripped from her adoptive father’s home, in Esther 2: 8-18, we see this young protagonist spend 12 months in beauty treatments. Well, that seems odd considering the palace officials only brought the most beautiful young, virginal women to the harem to be considered as candidates in the first place. But if our culture has taught us anything, even the most beautiful women are often made to feel as if they are not doing enough to be as beautiful as they could be. This is why beauty pageants, though not inherently wrong, do often create more insecurities in women than they do promote positive body image. I have no real feelings for or against pageants, but I do have a lot of feelings about the way a focus on beauty affects the way women interact with each other and view themselves. As a result, we see a lot of problems in a culture which validates women based on beauty, and Esther experienced these problems first hand. 


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

To make matters worse, this atmosphere bred competition, and a brutal one at that. Esther wasn’t just competing against the other women either. She also had to contend with Vashti’s memory and even the cultural expectations as she hid her linage for fear of persecution. So, I can’t’ even imagine how the atmosphere of the harem inflamed her insecurities before and after being chosen as queen. 

Competition Never Ends

Later in the narrative, we find Mordecai, Esther’s adoptive father, entering the narrative as a bigger player than a conduit for the new queen’s upbringing. In chapter 2, he had even saved the king’s life by discovering an assassination plot. Unfortunately, this camaraderie and favoritism with the king is short-lived as jealousy expands not only in the harem but throughout the king’s men as well. Because let’s face it, when you build your whole kingdom on competition for favor, you are just asking for conflict among your people. Haman, an official of the king’s, wants o be top dog and he sees Mordecai as a threat (and he doesn’t even know the half of it! Since Esther remained silent about her lineage, no one even knows she is related to the Mordecai). Then, in Esther 3 Haman’s jealousy is just too much and we see it spinning out of control.

Haman devises a plot, not only to rid the country of Mordecai but of all Jews. His genocidal plan is received with indifference by the king. Which begs the question of what is actually worse—theactive hatred of Haman, or the passive indifference and allowance of the king?

Either way, Mordecai sees the danger, but alos the home and he pleas with Esther to go to the King about the edict. After all, Esther has the King’s ear and may be the Jews only hope. However, as we read Esther 4: 4-14, her response is heartbreaking. In verse 11 she reveals that thirty days have passed since she has been called to the King’s side. Her time is gone. She no longer has the King’s interest. Her husband has grown tired and bored with her and though he saw her high on the scale before, she is now feeling like she’s fallen to that 2 or 3. And she allows this to control her self-esteem, thoughts, actions and reactions. She let a jerkface man validate her identity, like so many women before her and so many women after her will do. And it crushed her. 

But Mordecai doesn’t accept this.

He reminds her that the King, her husband, this jerkface man does NOT control or validate her identity. You are a Jew! He reminds her. You are one of God’s chosen people, and He chose you for this moment! 

Xerxes may have chosen Esther as his queen, but God chose her as his daughter. And that reminder is all she needs to find the courage to act, because after all–despite what our culture tells us–men and women do not control our identities. Only God can do that and when we rest firmly in the knowledge that he has chosen us for a purpose and for his glory, then the way others percieve us no longer matters. 

Siezing your God-given Destiny

Esther 5 is so interesting because we see Esther taking charge and seizing her destiny and then at the last moment she seems almost to chicken out, but I’m not sure she hesitates for fear. Maybe, but I think it was the Lord guiding her words and steps. She fasted for 3 days and she’s hungry, tired, and scared, but it is in those vulnerable moments that we hear God speak with the  most clairty, because we stop trying to control our own destiny and we step into what he has planned for us. 

So, in Esther 6 we feel the increase of tension in a seemingly insignificant as we are waiting for Esther to reveal the plot to Xerxes.  Without the pause, we would have missed the most vital part of the whole story! GOD causes XERXES to have a sleepless night revealing an important hero—Mordecai. This downplays Esther, Mordecai’s, and even Haman’s role in the story and brings the TRUE protagonist to the forefront—GOD. Even though His name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the text, evidence that HE is still in control simply leaps off the page!

It is in those vulnerable moments that we hear God speak with the most clairty,
 because we stop trying to control our own destiny and we step into what he has planned for us. 

Esther 7:1-10 Finally shows us justice for Haman’s plot. In the remaining chapters, vindication for all the Jews comes through another edict where the Jews are allowed to defend themselves, but here ends Esther’s involvement in the story. Her words are straight from the Lord and she uses every moment to her advantage, thinking before she acted, and waiting for the Lord to move. 


Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Waiting on the Lord is never easy, especially when justice and revenge are more appealing options, but the older I become the more I understand that our happiness doesn’t depend on other people, what they think or what they tell us, our happiness depends on stepping into who the Lord created us to be–not what some jerkface says we are. 

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