“Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’ So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions” Esther 4:15-17 (NIV).
Dear Sisters (brothers I hope you will read this too),
Does it feel odd to have a week set aside to celebrate your presence in the church?
Frankly, it feels strange to me — I wonder sometimes if it even matters that I speak. And so I’m hesitant, hesitant that I’ll sound like I’m complaining or forcing something; I’m shy to write what I believe so firmly, and so somehow I know that I must write it.
The Bible, mercifully, is very pro-women. When I read the Bible, I see heroines like Deborah, I see Jesus speaking to Mary Magdelene and the Samaritan woman, I see Paul acknowledging women as equal partners in the work of the Gospel. I see Eve, created not as a weak, second-class servant for men (as some interpretations of Genesis imply), but as an Ezer Kenegdo, a warrior helper, a co-ruler of creation (see references for more info). Recall that scene in Gen 2 where woman is created as Adam’s “helper.” If you’re a woman, you’ve probably rolled your eyes at this condescending word. But take heart! As author Rachel Held Evans points out, the word for “helper” is Ezer Kenegdo, a word used in other Biblical contexts to describe how the Lord helps Israel in war. The imagery and meaning of this word are far from bland or condescending, but richly imply the warrior identity of women as equal image-bearers of God, bringing help to those in need (Evans, Bessey).
I see all these amazing women of faith, and I also see Esther. In my experience, she wasn’t talked about very much, save for illustrated books and felt-board stories. Her significance was, at best, ambivalent and, at worst, neglected. This bothers me in the Christian world, as the Jews remember her every year when they celebrate Purim. Where have we gone wrong in forgetting Esther?
I propose that we should seriously consider Esther this week, as one of only two women who have biblical books named after them and the only woman who instituted a Jewish holiday. I believe modern Christian woman can glean from the ways Esther:
- Straightforwardly operates under God’s authority within a system that would intentionally and unintentionally marginalize her
- Ultimately exemplifies the bold leadership God intended for women as co-rulers and “Ezer Kenegdo’s” created to bear God’s image
When Esther straightforwardly operates under God’s authority within a system that would intentionally and unintentionally marginalize her, she is an example to any Christian woman that has ever felt this way in any context. Probably most of us have, although I pray none in a way as extreme as her. Let me set up the scene for you: the Jews are a minority people, exiled from their homeland, living under the rule of a foreign king. When she is chosen as one of the beautiful group of virgins from whom the king will pick a wife, she has to conceal her identity as a Jew in order to be safe (Esther 2:8-10). Esther is an orphan, separated from her family and her father in a time where the family is everything (2:7). These are aspects of her marginalization that are byproducts of injustice imbedded in her culture. What’s more explicit is the example set by Vashti. Beautiful Vashti refuses to come out before a drunken crowd to be drooled over and treated like an object (1:1-22). In defying the king’s laws, she outrages the king’s chauvinistic advisers. Concerned that Vashti’s rebellion will entitle women throughout the realm to speak up to their husbands, the advisers urge the king to divorce her, which he does without hesitation (1:19-22). To replace Vashti, the king recruits, pampers, and then “samples” hundreds of virgins for one night each – determining from their bodies only who should be his queen (2:12-14).
This is Esther’s world – she is a woman on the margins in most ways; minority, orphan, denied equality with men and her husband, physically objectified. Esther becomes a queen with a title but little power. After all, her husband could divorce her in a second.
So when a plot to annihilate the Jews is uncovered, and Mordecai tells Esther that she is the only one with a voice to speak up, do you think she believes him? I would probably laugh in his face and ask if he was delusional. Indeed, Esther goes this direction first, explaining to Mordecai that anyone who approaches the king without summons “will be put to death” (4:9-11). Furthermore, the king hasn’t slept with her for an entire month, indicating his lack of interest or dissatisfaction with her (4:11). She’s facing a threat worse than Vashti.
Given that threat, what she says and does next is crazy and exemplifies the bold leadership God intended for women as co-rulers and Ezer Kenegdo’s created to bear God’s image. In response to Mordecai, Esther agrees to go before the king – after 3 days of prayer and fasting – and she responds startlingly: “if I perish, I perish” (4:16). And Mordecai – the man – followed her orders to gather the Jews. In this moment she came into her own as a daughter of God. She recognized her identity and call related solely to being under God’s authority (note the emphasis on prayer and fasting surrounding her decision) and not to her gender or status. Importantly, she wasn’t acting out of her own strength. In Genesis 2, both men and women are created to be co-rulers of earth, both made in God’s image. Symbolically and literally, Esther, in this moment and in the ensuing scenes of persuading the King and Haman, displays what it means to be a co-ruler acting for the blessing of the people of God.
When she goes before the king, against all expectations, he doesn’t kill her, but instead lavishes favor upon her (5:1-3). She nervously asks him for a meeting, and then another one, in order to present her request for protection of the Jews (5:8, 7:1-2). Her boldness made a difference: the King agrees to her request and she saves her people! To this day the Jews celebrate their freedom with Purim (8:8-13, 9:29-32). That is Esther: a woman who finally recognizes who she is (her image-bearing nature) in spite of marginalization, and risks everything in order to follow God and act as a valiant helper on behalf of her people. Let’s celebrate and learn from her this week!
Molly Richmond ’18 lives in Stoughton Hall and is hoping to concentrate in History and Literature. She loves bubble tea and highly competitive games of foosball.
Evans, Rachel Held. 2012. “Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?” http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-adam-eve.
Bessey, Sarah. 2013. Jesus Feminist. New York: Howard Books. Pgs. 77-79.