Book of Esther
There are many popular Old Testament Bible stories that almost every adult who ever attended a church knows about - particularly if they ever attended Sunday School classes as a child. Who can forget the presentations about David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion's Den, the Three Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace, Moses in the Bulrushes and Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors? Then again, who can remember Esther, Mordecai and Haman? I don't know about your experience, but these folks were not on my list of famous Bible characters.
You would think that such ignorance about Queen Esther and other faithful Biblical women would be solved for adults since they study a wide scope of Biblical topics. Over the years I have listened to thousands of messages - be they Bible studies or sermons, be they live or heard on tape or CD. Yet, I can't remember even one book of Esther Bible study - let alone a message given about the characters and events in the book named after her. Given the relatively few female role models in the Bible (compared to the men), the absence of some book of Esther studies or messages should be somewhat surprising. Why don't ministers take advantage of the story of this book to INSPIRE women, young and old, with messages that would emphasize the importance of the role of a GODLY woman in the unfolding plan of God?
BIASED examples of women in the Bible
Unfortunately, I have heard many messages and studies which mention women, like Esther, only in a negative light. Sometimes the biases against women manifest themselves by selectively over-emphasizing their negative (or perceived negative) examples and influence. Women are even blamed for "causing" the negative behavior others clearly chose to do! Below are some of the one-sided negative examples I've come across, with the "rest of the story" truth that is usually not offered.
Perceived negative examples of Women
(with a full explanation!)
|Woman|| ||Negative Bible Example Taught|| ||The Rest of the Bible Story |
Eve is the "cause" of all the sin of the world because she seduced Adam into eating the forbidden fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6). I've heard this line of reasoning especially in messages emphasizing how a man is the TRUE head of the household.
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Although Eve offered the forbidden fruit to Adam, he still CHOOSE to eat it! Note also that God confronted Adam FIRST about the fruit. Did God accept Adam's excuse that Eve was the CAUSE of his disobedience (Genesis 3:12)? NO! Adam was punished as well as Eve (Genesis 3:16-19).
Sarah called Abraham, her husband, "Lord." This example has been heard in messages about husband and wife relationships.
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Sarah used the term "Lord" out of respective, not worship, of her husband. The apostle Peter called Sarah a "holy woman" for respecting Abraham in such a way (1Peter 3:6)!
Miriam, as it was taught, was struck with leprosy for questioning Moses' authority. This reasoning was heard in sermons justifying church and ministerial authority.
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Aaron also spoke against Moses (Numbers 12). Miriam initially did not speak against Moses' authority per se (as Korah did) but questioned his marriage to an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12:1). At the very least, Miriam's behavior is misapplied if used to justify a ministerial hierarchy.
Bathsheba was blamed for David's sin of adultery because she was taking a bath when he saw her (2Samuel 11:2). Heard in messages about modesty.
Bathsheba was bathing AT NIGHT. King David saw her from a vantage point few if any others had. Additionally, the Bible does NOT say she was bathing on HER roof or out in the open. David may have saw her IN her own home through an open window!
And what about the MEN?
What about the MEN? What kinds of examples of their behavior were often used? Men were regaled in sermons and Bible Studies with positive role models galore - the bravery and faith of little David against Goliath; the steadfastness of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in face of the fiery furnace; the triumph over adversity of Joseph; the fiery zeal of John the Baptist; and many, many more.
My daughter Ramona asked me about this disparity and why messages about Esther or her book are not given in church. In fact, it wasn't just in church that ignored the Queen. Hollywood movies, where many a Bible theme has been brought to life, has ignored her story too. This particularly puzzled Ramona, as she noted what a exciting plot the book of Esther had.
Only in Jewish communities is the book and the characters of Esther remembered much. The Jewish festival of Purim is celebrated in late winter each year in memory of the events delineated in her book, which tell of the great delivery of the Jewish people during the reign of King Xerxes of Persia in the fifth century B.C. But back in the Christian Churches, Esther continues to be a forgotten woman. This is a shame, for there is so much to learn from her story.
POSITIVE Examples of
Women in the Bible
Women as Poets: Miriam (Exodus 15:21), Deborah (Judges 5), Hannah (1Samuel 2:1-10), Elizabeth (Luke 1:42-45), Mary (Luke 1:46-55)
Women as Prophets: Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 4:4-5), Huldah (2Kings 22:14-20), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36-38), Philip's four unmarried daughters (Acts 21:9)
Women as Rulers: Deborah (Judges 4:4), Queen of Sheba (1Kings 10:1-13), Queen Candace (Acts 8:27)
Other Good women: Mother of Samson (Judges 13:23), Naomi (Ruth 1), Ruth (Ruth 1:4), Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1Samuel 1:9-18, 24-28), Widow of Zarephath, who fed Elijah during the famine (1Kings 17:8-24), The Shunammite woman, who gave hospitality to Elisha (2Kings 4:8-38), Esther (book of Esther), Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38), Elizabeth (Luke 1:6 ,41-45), The widow who put her two mites (small coins) into the temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44), Mary and Martha (Mark 14:3-9; Luke 10:42), Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:1; Luke 8:2; etc.), Dorcas (Tabitha) (Acts 9:36), Lydia (Acts 16:14), Priscilla (Acts 18:26), Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), Julia (Romans 16:1), Eunice and Lois, mother and grandmother of Timothy, (2Timothy 1:5)
One final note: Who was the FIRST human Jesus choose to appear to after his resurrection from the dead? Peter? John? The other disciples? NO . . . it was Mary Magdalene! (Matthew 28:8-10)
Source: Nave's Topical Bible, subject Women
What is the EXCITING story of the book of Esther?
At the beginning of Esther she is introduced to us as a young virgin. In those days, this quite likely meant not much more than 14 years old! This sheltered young woman, barely out of girlhood, was thrust into a setting where she ultimately had influence with one of the most powerful men in the world, King Xerxes of Persia. All of this was at an age when most modern young women like Esther would be concerned with such things as school proms and studying for geometry exams. What incredible qualities God must have seen in such a young woman to entrust the rescue of His People to her courage, wisdom, resourcefulness, self-control and faith. If you have not read this exciting story recently, let's recap just the highlights of the plot.
Punishment of Haman
Fresco by Michelangelo (1511 A.D.)
Sistine Chapel, VaticanFAR LEFT: Esther reveals Haman's plot to Ahasueras; MIDDLE: Punishment of Haman
FAR RIGHT: The king sends Haman to provide royal apparel for Mordecai, who is sitting at the king's door
The Jews had been in exile for many years in the land of Babylon. When power changed to the hands of the Persians, they were still there. At the beginning of the story the King of Persia is displeased with his queen, and removes her from her royal position. Advisors suggest that all the fairest young maidens in the land be brought to the King over a period of time that he might choose a new queen from among them. The young Jewess Hadassah, whose Persian name is Esther, is among the young maidens brought to the palace. At the insistence of her guardian, Uncle Mordecai, she conceals her national identity. After winning the favor of the King, she becomes Queen Esther.
Meanwhile, Uncle Mordecai runs afoul of the evil courtier Haman, who decides in revenge to trick the King into declaring a sentence of death on all Jews in the kingdom, to be carried out at a future date to be decided by lot. (The word PURIM in Hebrew means "lots.")
Mordecai learns of the plot, and alerts Esther. She, at great personal risk, decides to accept the role of confronting the King about the plot and begging for mercy for her people. She is successful in this matter. Through a series of fortuitous events (no doubt orchestrated by God) and her wise handling of the circumstances, Haman is shown before the King to be the villain that he really is. In the end, Haman is hung on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. And the Jews of the kingdom are saved from extinction.
What are the LESSONS from Esther?
There are many ways to focus on the contents of the Book of Esther. The purpose of this article is to encourage readers to go back and read through her book with a new perspective. Below are five specific general principles and lessons which I have gleaned from the book. It is left to the reader to contemplate how these principles might apply to Christians!
God has sometimes used armies and sometimes flashy miracles in order to rescue His People. But He is not limited to those strategies. He can just as easily use one obscure person - male, such as Joseph, or female, such as Esther - and manipulate the circumstances around them to allow them to be the agent of His salvation.
Most western nations appreciate living in basically democratic societies. And rightly so. Christians can thereby be unusually free to worship according to their consciences, and free to obey God without much fear that such obedience will run afoul of the government in most circumstances. But God never in the Bible destroys kingdoms specifically because the form of government is a dictatorship so his servants could have the kind of freedoms we enjoy. Instead, He enables His people to function right within whatever system they find themselves in. Even the apostle Paul notes this:
"Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. " (1Corinthians 7:20-21, NKJV).
Paul is not thereby telling us to give up the freedom we have. He is indicating that God can use us, just as He used Esther, wherever we find ourselves, no matter the nature of the government.
Serving God and fulfilling the role He called you to is possible even in an environment where almost everyone around you is a heathen. And it can be done without attempting to change everyone around you. Joseph, Esther and Daniel all served totally pagan kings and won favor with them by their exemplary conduct and example. And they were thereby able to accomplish great deeds.
God can use young women, like Esther, just as easily as young warriors, like David, to accomplish His plans for His people.
It is comforting to know that God can redeem people with unpleasant pasts and use them to advance His plans for His people - witness Rahab the harlot and Paul, the persecutor of Christians. But in some cases His plans particularly call for those who have kept themselves undefiled physically and / or spiritually. Certainly in the case of Esther, it would have been impossible for her to fulfill God's plan if she had not been a chaste young woman. This brings to mind another chaste young woman, Mary, the mother of Jesus. What incredible qualities Mary must have exhibited to be considered mature enough for the responsibility of raising the Messiah!
Written by: Pam Dewey
edited and expanded by BibleStudy.org