Queen Esther the Coward: NOT the Sunday School Story

The story of Queen Esther has always been one of my favorite Bible stories, but not for the reasons you may think.  The truth is, I believe Christians have put Queen Esther on a pedestal and see her as a courageous heroine, when she really wasn’t. She was a coward!

For an assignment in Bible school, I had to write a paper on anything I chose. I chose Esther. I thought you might be interested to read my perspective, so I decided to share it with you today!

THE COWARD QUEEN ESTHER

The Sunday School story is told like this: once upon a time there was a King who needed a wife, so he threw a beauty pageant.  There was a beautiful young girl named Esther who was chosen amongst all the other girls in the kingdom to become the King’s wife.  She concealed her identity as a Jew, because she wanted to listen to the wise counsel of her guardian, Mordecai.  There was an evil man, an important official named Haman, who hated Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down to him.  So Haman hatched a plot to pass a law that would kill not only Mordecai, but all of the Jews.  When Esther heard about this conspiracy, she courageously went to the King and asked him to spare her and her people.  Even though it was very dangerous for her to approach the King, she was able to save all of the Jewish people.

A deeper excavation of the story of Esther reveals details that paint Esther in a different light, not as a courageous heroine, but a coward.  The text does not say why Mordecai compels Esther to keep her Jewish identity hidden.  Perhaps there was rampant anti-Semitic feelings in those days, but scripture is silent on this.[1]

The implications of Esther hiding her Jewish identity are important.  The Jews had many laws that caused them to stand out among the nations around them.  There were various sacrifices that they needed to give, special festival days to observe, ceremonial practices and cleansing laws to keep, and dietary restrictions to follow.  By hiding her identity, Esther would not have been keeping the Sabbath.  She would be eating whatever Syrian food was put in front of her, even if it was unclean.  And she slept with a pagan King who was not her husband.  In modern terms, she was a Christian living like an Atheist.

King Xerxes’ beauty pageant was an extravagant show of his wealth and power.  He gathered beautiful women from all over the land and had them undergo beauty treatments for twelve months.  At the end of the twelve months, each woman would have a night with the King.  Bryan R.  Gregory calls this “bedroom auditions”[2].

According to Charles R.  Swindoll,

“Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us there were as many as 400 women involved in this rather remarkable competition.  They would have a year in which to polish every seductive art, to enhance their beauty by pampering their bodies and applying the art of costume and cosmetic.  Ultimately, it was intended that elegance, charm, physical beauty, and erotic seduction would carry the day.”[3]

In Esther 2:17 it says that Esther pleased the King more than any other woman, and as a result of her performance the King made her Queen.

What were Esther’s thoughts during all of this?  Because the text does not say, we can not be certain.  Being the Queen of Persia would certainly have been a step up from whatever position she had before.  Bryan R. Gregory points out that by becoming Queen, Esther would have been instantly living a life of luxury, something that would have been desirable.[4]

An interesting detail to the story is found in Esther 2:6. It states that Esther and Mordecai’s distant relative had been among those who had been carried into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Karen H.  Jobes explains that years later, a new King fulfilled a prophetic word and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland.  The story of Esther occurs 50 years after this, which means both Mordecai and Esther’s families had the opportunity to return home to Jerusalem, but willfully chose not to.[5]

If we look at Esther in comparison with other people in the Bible, we see her moral resolve sorely lacking.  For example, in Daniel 6, King Darius decreed that no one was to worship or pray to anyone but himself.  Daniel was not intimidated by this, but continued to get down on his knees and pray to God three times a day, even though it almost cost him his life.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three men who were extremely courageous under pressure.  In Daniel 3, we find out that they were given the choice to either bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar or be thrown into a furnace.  They boldly stood their ground – they did not hide their identity. This is not what we see in Esther.  She is passive and compliant.  She does not stand up for what she knows is right.

THE COURAGEOUS QUEEN ESTHER

Some would argue that Esther was simply a victim, a good girl who made something good out of a bad situation.  King Xerxes was an extremely powerful man.  It is fair to say that even if Esther would have tried to resist being taken or sleeping with him, she would not have been successful.

In Esther 2:8 it says that “many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa… Esther also was taken” (emphasis added).  Some have suggested that this implies Esther was taken against her own will.[7]  This is merely speculation, for the author does not go out of his way to tell us this.

In the Septuagint, a Greek version of Esther, we find a prayer that Esther allegedly prayed: “You know that I hate the splendor of the wicked and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and of any alien.  You know my necessity – that I abhor the sign of my proud position… And your servant has not eaten at Haman’s table, and I have not honored the king’s feast or drunk the wine of libations.” [8]

This suggests that she did not sin by eating the King’s food or drinking the wine offered to the pagan gods.  There are other additions in the Septuagint, which include additional prayers and a much more dramatic version of Esther’s meeting with the King.

If this were true, it would show Esther to have high moral standards – however, it is widely believed by Biblical scholars that the Septuagint was written after the Hebrew version of Esther in order to answer some of these questions of morality.  As a result, it is not considered to be authentic, but merely a dramatic retelling of the story.[9]

Another proposal is that because Esther’s immoral actions resulted in the salvation of the Jewish people, her guilt is absolved.  Charles R.  Swindoll thinks that, “Esther went in to the king without fear because she had no driving ambition to be queen… She was there for one reason: because she knew that the hand of God was on her life, and through circumstances and Mordecai’s wisdom, she had been brought to this place for a reason.”[10]

Karen H.  Jobes poses some questions to those who see Esther in this light.

 “What role model messages would you tell to teenage girls from this book?  ‘Make yourself as attractive as possible to powerful men?  Use your body to advance God’s kingdom?  The end justifies the means?’” [11]

THE GRACE OF GOD FOR ESTHER

Though Esther may not be an example of right living, her story is still full of hope.  Tim Keller emphasizes that, “The message of the Bible is not that God blesses and saves those who live moral exemplary lives. The message is that God persistently and continuously gives His grace to those who don’t ask for it, deserve it, or fully appreciate it after they get it.”[12]  Bryan R.  Gregory affirms that the story of Esther is not to give us a Heroine of the faith, but to show God’s redemptive power in spite of her failures.[13]

Esther is a girl with a Hebrew and Persian name.  It seems to illustrate her struggle to find her identity.  Even though Esther did not live according to God’s laws and married a Pagan King, God still redeemed her situation to save His people.  When faced with the annihilation of her people, she finally finds her resolve.  This cowardly Queen becomes courageous enough to stand up for what is right.

CONCLUSION

God’s name is never mentioned in the book of Esther.  But His sovereign hand of grace is so apparent in the lives of the disobedient Jews living in Babylon.  Though undeserving, He still rescues and protects His people.  The story of Esther is one of my favorite illustrations of the grace and courage that God gives to cowards!

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Berlin, Adele.  “Greek Versions of Esther.”  Myjewishlearning.com http://www.myjewishlearning.  com/article/greek-versions-of-esther/ (accessed on October 11, 2016)
  • Bible Gateway. “Greek Esther 5.” No date. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Greek%20Esther+5&version=NRSV (accessed October 11, 2016)
  • Driscoll, Mark.  “Jesus is a Better Savior.” Sermon notes.  September 23, 2012. 
  • Fox, Michael V.  Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther.  Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.
  • Gregory, Bryan R.  Inconspicuous Providence.  Phillipsburg, New Jersey.  P&R Publishing Company, 2014.
  • Jobes, Karen H.  The NIV Application Commentary: Esther.  Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishing Hose, 1999.
  • Keller, Tim. “The Silent Sovereignty of God.” Sermon notes. Spring 2007.
  • Stedman, Ray C.  The Queen and I.  Waco, Texas.  Word Books, 1978.
  • Swindoll, Charles R.  Esther: A Woman of Strength & Dignity.  Nashville, Tennessee.  Word Publishing, Inc., 1997.

 

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