If you ever went to Sunday school as a child you have likely heard her story. If not, you may be wondering, “who is Esther in the Bible and why does her story matter?” I will give an overview, and some points, on why her story is important. But I highly recommend that you read the book of Esther for yourself.
What is the story of Esther in the Bible
Esther was a Jew. Her people had been taken captive by a Babylonian king and their homeland destroyed. Both of Esther’s parents died and she was raised by her cousin, Mordecai.
The current king in rule became angry with his wife and, at the suggestion of some of his leaders, decided to hold a contest to find a new wife.
A royal beauty pageant
Young women came from all over to compete to become queen. According to the second chapter, Esther herself was taken to the palace; she didn’t go willingly.
You may wonder why she wouldn’t have chosen to try to become queen. Each of the young women were to spend one night with the king, and he would then decide which one he wanted to “keep”.
While the young woman who won the pageant would become queen, the others would become concubines. A Concubine was someone who lived in the palace, was available to the king at his will, and would never be free to live outside of that situation.
The beauty pageant was actually quite ugly.
Where was Esther from in the Bible?
While Esther was from Jerusalem, at the recommendation of Mordecai, she changed her name from Hadassah to Esther to conceal her true heritage.
She grew up in Susa with her uncle, who raised her as his own.
How did Esther become queen?
A man named Hegai was put in charge of the young women in the competition at the palace. The women were to receive a year long regimen of beauty treatments in preparation for spending one night with the king. Hegai was there to ensure they were learning how to be a queen, in case they would be chosen.
The Bible says that Hegai favored Esther, and as a result he accelerated her beauty treatments and special diet, and also assigned her more serants than the others.
Each young woman was allowed to take from the harem to the palace whatever she wanted for her one night with the king.
Esther only took what Hegai directed her to take, and she won great favor with everyone. She learned to take instruction from those in charge, as she did with Mordecai and Hegai. Her humility obviously benefited her.
When Esther went to the king she won more favor and approval than all the other women, and he made her queen.
Why was Esther chosen?
The short answer is “because she was beautiful”, but the story of Esther goes beyond her being chosen as queen.
Mordecai would hang around outside the king’s gates to keep an eye on what was happening with Esther. As a result, he happened to be in the right place at the right time and uncovered a plot to kill the king. He revealed the plot to the new queen, and saved the king’s life. The event was recorded in the king’s record books.
Soon following a man named Haman was promoted above all of the other kings officials. The king required that all of his men bow down to Haman. Mordecai, although he was at the king’s gate, refused to bow to Haman.
Haman’s plot to kills the Jews
Haman hated Mordecai and decided to have him and all of his people killed. At this point, Esther still had not revealed to anyone that she was Jewish.
The king trusted Haman, and Haman used that trust to convince him to decree that all of the Jews in his land be killed.
When Mordecai found out about this order, he went to Esther to ask for help.
Esther was a reluctant hero
Esther knew that no one could approach the king without being invited. Anyone who tried would be killed. So she informed Mordecai that she could not help him or their people.
Mordecai’s response to Esther is quite famous, he said:
Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.Esther 4:13-14
Esther then asked Mordecai, along with all of her servants, to fast and pray as she prepared to approach the king. Her next words were:
If I die, I die.
Not exactly the words of a reluctant hero. She obviously found the courage she needed to step up.
Esther’s patience paid off
Esther then planned a series of banquets in which she would gain the king’s trust. All the while Haman was planning Mordecai’s demise. He built gallows in his front yard where he planned to hang Mordecai.
One night, the king couldn’t sleep and requested the record books be read to him. He then discovered that nothing had been done to thank Mordecai for saving his life from the plot against him.
The king asked Haman how he should reward someone deserving of highest honor, and Haman thought the king was referring to him. Naturally, his idea was to make this man a public display and shower him with gifts.
The king then ordered Haman to do exactly that for Mordecai. As the king was celebrating Mordecai, and was thrilled at the banquets his wife was throwing. He had no idea of what Haman had been plotting.
What happened to the Jews?
By the end of the final banquet, the king made a promise to Esther to give her anything she desired. Esther’s identity was then revealed, along with Haman’s plan. The king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.
He then revoked the order to have the Jews killed, and placed Mordecai in Haman’s former position of honor.
What can we learn from Esther in the Bible?
- God uses ordinary, sometimes broken people to do extraordinary things.
- We can trust God to position us.
Esther was not someone we would have assumed would grow up to be queen. In fact, we may have voted her least likely to succeed. She was a poor orphan, with nothing going for her but her looks.
But Esther was teachable. She was humble. She didn’t allow what was done to her to define her.
When her opportunity came she was courageous enough to risk her life for the lives of countless others.
Her story has been told for generations. She is likely the most famous queen of all time.
An ordinary, seemingly broken girl, saved an entire nation of people.
For more stories of women in the Bible check out
Five, the women in the genealogy of Jesus