Hadassah, an orphan, loves her cousin Mordecai, who has raised her. He has never steered her wrong, so when Cousin Mordecai tells Hadassah to present herself as a candidate for the next queen to King Xerxes, Hadassah goes along with it. She even goes along with it when Cousin Mordecai tells her not to let anyone know she is a Jew.
So, as Esther, Hadassah presents herself at the palace, knowing that at worst she will spend the rest of her life as a slave in the king’s harem and at best, she will be named queen.
She may not relish being named the queen. The woman she will be replacing was put aside when she refused to present herself before the king and his nobles and military officials, even though they had all been partying for seven days, drinking freely because the king had put no limit to the amount of liquor he was offering to those attending.
One can only imagine that queen’s position. Vashti has been hosting 180-days’ worth of pomp and circumstance. In the last seven days, while the king is eating and drinking to excess, she has been hosting her own banquet for the women.
King Xerxes expects Vashti to come when he snaps and to look as beautiful as possible when she shows up. Vashti is one of the original trophy wives. So, when she doesn’t jump at the chance to parade in front of a very large banquet full of very, very drunk men, King Xerxes summons a band of “wise men” to determine the action he should take.
In order to ensure that no other women get any ideas of independence from Vashti’s actions, the men decide that the queen should be banished. Xerxes takes this action with a rapidity that is matched only by the leisure he takes in deciding he misses having a beautiful woman around. That’s when the advisors determine to find the king a new queen.
Esther enters the palace for twelve months’ worth of beauty treatments in preparation of her presentation to the king. It sounds like pampering, but the pressure is on. She has to be pleasing to the eunuchs in charge of her, to the slaves attending her, all in practice for being brought before the king. If she is not chosen, Esther will still spend the rest of her life in the palace, but as a mere slave. Either way, the one place Esther will never live again is among her own people.
Perhaps, she was surprised to be the woman King Xerxes chose. Imagine her awe as a royal crown was placed upon her head, a banquet thrown in her honor. And still she stayed silent about her heritage because Cousin Mordecai told her to. When Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill Xerxes, Queen Esther is able to save the king, proudly giving her cousin the credit.
So, when Mordecai urges Esther to go before the king to plead the Jewish cause, perhaps Esther wonders if he has lost his marbles. After all, she hasn’t told Xerxes she’s a Jew. The king hasn’t even felt the need to see her for a month. Maybe his desire for her has waned. He has a full harem of women, after all. And, if she walks in uninvited without the king acknowledging her, she can be hung!
Cousin Mordecai’s response to Esther’s hesitance is a classic source of comfort for all who face tough decisions. “What if you were made queen,” Mordecai asks, “for such a time as this?”
Esther is no dummy. She knows the risk she is about to take, and she knows the honor God commands. She asks Mordecai and all her people to fast and pray for her for three days before she undertakes this dangerous mission. She and her servants do the same.
Esther enters the king’s presence, and he is pleased by her. She knows how much the king enjoys a good feast and throws a banquet for the king and her cousin’s greatest enemy, Haman. When the king is indeed pleased and asks what Esther would like in return, she doesn’t press her luck, but merely asks for the king to come again the next day for another banquet. Only if she pleases the king, she assures him, will she even make a request.
Who can resist a beautiful woman who is also humble? Not King Xerxes, who hurries to fulfill Esther’s request the next day to save her people, allowing them to take vengeance on their enemies. She underscores the humility of her request by assuring Xerxes that she would not even bother him with the fate of the Jews if they had been destined to become slaves. That fate would not have been important enough for King Xerxes’ consideration, Esther reasons.
In the end, it seems Esther was indeed made queen for such a time as this. Thinking about Esther’s fate somehow makes facing our own challenges just a little bit easier. Perhaps rough times now are giving us the skills we need for even more difficult times in the future. Maybe a challenging life change at this moment will turn out to be a tenfold blessing further along in our lives. Maybe we are persecuted for what we believe in in order to inspire others to faith.
Besides teaching us to look for God’s lessons in the events of our lives, Esther teaches us the importance of humility in our relationship with God. If we approach each day knowing the gratitude we should feel for not getting what we deserve (which is death), but instead getting the free gift of grace, imagine how powerful God will make our days.
With God, no one who enters into His throne room need fear rejection. He extends His golden scepter to all comers.
And that is the greatest lesson of all.