Esther: A Harem Girl Grows Into a Powerful Queen (Esther 4)

Article / Produced by TOW Project
Esther portrait

Esther was a woman who thought she had no influence over her husband or over matters of importance. Yet a desperate situation forced her to into the spotlight, where she realized she had more power than she thought, indeed the power to change the political climate for all the Jews in Persia.

The conquest of Judah by the Babylonians was soon followed by conquest of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. The biblical book of Esther opens with Jews in the seventy-year exile under the rule of a capricious and despotic Persian king known to historians as Xerxes. The king's right-hand man was Haman, a man more evil even than the king. He hated the Jews and especially a particular Jew named Mordecai. Mordecai's business location was just outside the palace gates, and whenever Haman entered the palace, he had to pass a man who refused to bow to him. Anxious to get rid of this unruly Jew, he concocted plan to rid the kingdom of all Hebrews.

Meanwhile the king had another problem: his queen, Vashti, had refused his request to display her beauty before a raucous, drunken crowd of men feasting with the king. Such impertinence must be punished, and Vashti was deposed as queen. But who would succeed her? A beauty contest was held to locate the most beautiful virgins in all 127 provinces of Persia, and Mordecai's niece, Esther, was among those brought to the palace to undergo the year-long beauty treatment required before presentation to the king. At the end, Esther finished first in the pageant and was crowned queen of the realm. The one fact about her that remained hidden was that she was a Jew.

Meanwhile Haman succeeded in convincing Xerxes that every Jew in the Persian Empire should be killed. Due to the intractability of the Law of the Medes and Persians, once Xerxes signed that edict (not knowing that his queen was one of the hated Jews), nothing could overturn it.

When Esther heard about the decree, she sent word to Mordecai, who responded, " Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:13-14)

This frightened harem-girl-become-queen could not imagine that she could do anything about the decree, but she finally agreed to go to the king, asserting to Mordecai, "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). Esther had to make a choice. She could continue to conceal her Jewishness and spend the rest of her days as first lady of Xerxes' harem. Or she could take her life in her hands and do what she could to save her people. She came to understand that her high position was not just a privilege to be enjoyed, but a high responsibility to be used to save others. Her people were in peril, and their problem became her problem because she was in the best position to do something about it.

Even though she trained to be a submissive harem girl, Esther, the ezer woman, found inner strength to take a stand for the sake of others.

In the short book of Esther you can read the risky actions Esther took to persuade the king to issue a decree giving Jews the right to defend themselves. In the process, the harem queen became a powerful woman. From Chapter 4 through the end of the book, we see a strong ezer woman taking on a villain and dealing politically in ways unprecedented for women in that culture.

Sometimes as women we deplore the smallness of our challenges and the limits of our influence. We may feel we have limited usefulness to God. But we can remind ourselves that the sovereign God has his hand on our lives and knows what we are able to do. Whatever God is putting into your hands to do today, tomorrow, or next week is never without meaning, never without significance. God has brought you to your present position and place in life: " Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."