The Woman Who Saved Her Nation From Genocide
Scripture Reference—The Book of Esther
Name Meaning—Esther was the Persian name of this descendant of Benjamin and is from “aster” meaning “a star” and implies, like Venus, that of “good fortune.” We refer to “the star of hope” &–;“the star of joy”—“the star of superiority,” and Esther was all these to her people for in “the splendid galaxy of Hebrew women of the olden time, no name stands more prominent or shines with a richer lustre.” Rabbi Jehudah affirms that Esther is “sether,” meaning “to hide,” because she was hidden in her guardian’s home and because her nationality was concealed (Esther 2:7). Mordecai had made the girl promise that she would not reveal her nationality to the king—which she did not until the opportune moment came. Hadassah, signifying “myrtle” was Esther’s original name. The change of name from Hadassah to Esther may indicate the style of beauty for which this once captive, now a Persian queen, was famous for. She is revealed as “a woman of clear judgment, of magnificent self-control and capable of the noblest self-sacrifice.” The lines of Byron can be fittingly applied to Esther—
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.
Family Connections—This last woman of the Old Testament of whom we intimately know nothing, was related to a family carried away captive with Jeremiah, about 600 b.c. and was born of this family preferring to remain in the land of captivity rather than return to Jerusalem. Esther was the daughter of Abihail who lived at Shushan, the Persian royal city. When her parents died she came under the guardian care of Mordecai, a palace official, to whom she was related by marriage. Mordecai had a deep affection for her and reared her as his own daughter. Esther was always obedient to her uncle and even when she became queen, sought his practical advice. She trusted this gentle Jew as her father. As Alexander Whyte expresses it, “Mordecai brought Esther up, and his one love in his whole life, after his love for Israel and for the God of Israel, was his love for his little adopted daughter…. He stood by and watched his sister’s child lifted up in a moment from her exile and poverty, and actually made the queen of the greatest empire then standing on the face of the earth.”
The story of Esther as we have it in the book bearing her name is a romance of captivity in Persia, for a king set at nought Persian law and prejudice to make her his queen. The marriage of Ahasuerus to Esther, a Jewess, was against Persian law which held that one of the royal line must marry a wife belonging to the seven great Persian families. What Esther did and how she did it is described in ten intensely vivid chapters, and her story is one of great dramatic power in which “incident after incident is related until the climax of difficulty is reached and the knot is so tied that it seems impossible to escape. Then it is untied with wonderful dexterity.”
A peculiar feature of the Book of Esther is that, with the Song of Solomon, it shares the distinction of not mentioning God or any divine name once throughout its pages. Yet the fast-moving action in this drama is eloquent with the overruling providence of God in bringing Esther to the throne for such a time. At times, God may appear as if He is hiding Himself, but seen or unseen He ever accomplishes that which is according to His will. Because of her beauty Esther became an inmate of the palace, and when courageous Queen Vashti was deposed, Esther was chosen to succeed her. The combined wisdom of Mordecai and Esther’s courage became the means of lightening the load of the Jews under Persian rule. With Mordecai, Esther shared faith in the high destiny of Israel as a nation.
Haman, the chief court favorite, was the Jews’ enemy &–;the Old Testament Adolph Hitler—and conceived a plan to massacre the Jews en bloc. Exhorted by Mordecai, Esther revealed her Jewish nationality to the king, and this courageous action brought about a complete reversal of the decree. Haman was executed, Mordecai was honored by the king, and Esther’s position as Queen was considerably strengthened. It is because she saved the Jews from destruction that the Book of Esther is read every year by Jews at the Feast of Purim, held on the 14th day of Adar. We cannot but agree with the summary of Esther, as one of the most attractive women in the Old Testament that—
As an historical character, Esther is the supreme heroine who delivers her nation from disaster: as a woman, she is that rare individual, a mixture of charm, strength and guile: a human being whose character is secure from the rot of wealth, prosperity and power.
That Esther had great personal beauty goes without saying. Her dark, exotic features marked her out, and she was thus chosen as a candidate for the king’s favor who, when he saw her for the first time must have been captivated by her physical charms. But through her beauty there shone a radiance of personality and character which enhanced her beauty and gave it distinction in the eyes of Ahasuerus who chose her as his queen. Kuyper, who does not have anything good to say about Esther’s character when he deals with her in his Women of the Old Testament, confesses that Ahasuerus reckoned her to be the most beautiful of the maidens presented to him when seeking a successor to Vashti. The one thing about Esther we cannot understand was the way she exhibited the vindictiveness of the age and the country in her request that Haman’s ten sons should be hanged, and a day set apart when the Jews could take vengeance on the enemies who had sought to kill them. She had not learned to love her enemies. She lived on the other side of the cross and therefore was ignorant of its cry for the forgiveness of enemies.
What are some of the lessons to be gleaned from the fascinating story of Esther? First of all, her record abides because she was one who kept her pledge. May such allegiance be ours! She dutifully obeyed her foster father. Having no natural father or mother to honor, she loved and was loyal to her guardian parent. How commendable it is when young people revere their parents and obey them in the Lord! Further, Esther loved and clung to (although she concealed) her despised but honorable descent. She was a true patriot and in the hour of crisis was not ashamed to own her race. The lesson to learn from the dramatic moment when she revealed her identity as a Jewess has been applied by H. V. Morton in this way—
When a person has gone up in the world and has achieved a position of power and eminence, it requires strength and beauty of character for that person still to love and remember the simple people from whom he, or she, sprang. Humble girls have often married rich men and have forgotten their origin. They have, in fact, been ashamed of anything that might remind them of it.
Witnessing to the rock from which she had been hewn, Esther dared to risk death for her people and so escaped dying with them. By her patriotism she won for her nation a great deliverance and God used her as an instrument of His providence for the working out of a glorious purpose. There had been preparations of humiliation and prayer and when the king held out his scepter and she approached to make her plea the cry was in her heart, “How can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” How national life sorely needs godly patriots after this order? You may be tempted to sigh and say, “If only I were like Esther with great opportunities what would I not do to glorify God.” Realize that all around you, no matter how mean your environment may be, there are magnificent and unparalleled opportunities of serving God and a needy world that angels envy. Serve the Master to the limit of your ability where in His Providence He has placed you, and thus prepare yourself for a larger circle of service if such be His will.
Leaders of women’s groups could elaborate on the following points while dealing with the story of Esther, the strong-minded woman of ancient history—
From her character we learn—
1. To seek divine guidance in times of difficulty (Esther 4:15-17).
2. To obtain a knowledge of human nature, so that we may know how to take advantage of any circumstances which may favor our cause if it be a proper one.
3. When there is a necessity, to be ready to renounce self and exert ourselves for the good of others.
4. To value and seek the cooperation of fellow-believers.
Dealing with the ultimate safety of the Jews which Esther secured, we learn—
1. To have unbounded confidence in God’s Providence &–;not to undervalue small things.
2. To acknowledge God as the Author of all mercies.
Thinking of the reversal of fortune of Haman, which Esther brought about, we further learn—
1. There is such a thing as righteous retribution. Haman himself received what he had proposed for others. He was paid back in his own coin.
2. The transitory nature of earthly grandeur and the end of all ill-gotten earthly power and possessions.