The biblical Book of Esther seems like a book of history. It tells of the near destruction of the Jews of Persia.
But at its core, the book is not only a history lesson. It reveals deep truths about God's plan and our responsibility.
The vehicle for that lesson is Queen Esther. She is one of the most remarkable figures of the Hebrew Bible because she defies so many expectations.
The first expectation is that she would be a quiet compliant queen. That seems to be the set up when King, Ahasuerus banishes his first queen Vashti because she would not instantly obey his orders.
When he chooses Esther to succeed her, we expect her to be quiet and obedient. She is a helpless orphan who has won the marital lottery.
But she defies our expectations. She listens. She observes. She looks out for her husband…and she acts. With help from her uncle, she protects him from an assassination attempt. He survives thanks to her savvy.
I've been thinking of Esther not only because Purim—the holiday celebrating her heroism—is coming up soon, but because I was reminded of her recently when I conducted the funeral of a 96 year old widow.
Her husband had been a very successful attorney. But at the memorial service, person after person remarked upon her ability to help him navigate the treacherous political waters of his law firm and civic life.
She was not so much “the power behind the throne,” as she was his complement and true partner in life. She was what the Bible calls an ezer k'negdo.
Esther was that for King Ahasuerus. But she was even more. She looked out not only for him. She cared for her entire people. And she used her position to serve God.
Her service culminated in a beautiful moment when she stepped out of her own time and place, and entered into the pages of history.
The Jews have been threatened with annihilation from the King's closest advisor, Haman. Esther's uncle Mordecai has discovered the plot.
The Bible records Mordecai saying to Esther, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
The future revolves around this moment, and she has a choice. She can stay quiet. She can continue to live as a contented queen. Or she can interfere with the king to stop him from carrying out his advisor Haman's plot.
The right answer seems clear in retrospect. But that intervention carried risk.
The king didn't know she was Jewish. Would he turn against her, as he did with Queen Vashti, and follow Haman's advice and murder her along with her people?
She decides to speak up. She risks her life to save her people. And the rest is history.
Esther's is a courageous faith. It did not bend to the culture. It transcended and reshaped it. It spoke for truth and human dignity.
Esther is not only a model. She is a bridge. For Christians and Jews who seek to live a life of faith in an increasingly secular world. For those of us seeking to speak up for what is right and true. For those of us struggling against the rise of antisemitism.
Esther lived in a moment like this. And she responded. Will we?
For more about Queen Esther and the values she lived, check out Shalom for the Heart: 50 Torah-Inspired Devotions for a Sacred Life.