Esther: the Bible’s Post-Feminist Icon

Who was Esther, and why is she so important? IS she important?

She was important in her time, but she is alspexels-photo-458766.jpego important to us today. That’s typical of Biblical characters. We learn about them and remember them for a reason. God wants us to know something from knowing Esther’s story. In the case of Esther, she has her own book in the Bible.

We know that she was a replacement queen, chosen for her beauty, by a king who was intolerant of anything less than a perfect example of respect and obedience to her husband. His previous wife had shamed him and, he feared, influenced the wives of the nobles to disrespect their husbands too.

Okay, let’s stop right here for a second.  Does this sound familiar to anyone? How often do we see men, after a certain age, lose interest in their wives and begin searching for  younger, prettier wives who don’t challenge them or argue or have strong opinions?

Or how often do we, as women, feel like we’re just possessions – old models and new models – to be traded up or down in value as our looks blossom or fade, with no regard to who we are or what we have to offer?

We don’t know why Queen Vashti refused her husband when he sent for her to be paraded in front of all his guests in her best clothes and jewelry. Was she obedient until then? Was she older and tired of being treated like a prized animal? Was she angry with her King? Was she being petty and obstinate? Or was she, perhaps, now older and wiser and more aware of her power as a woman and her mind as an individual?

We don’t know, but that was it for her. He shopped for a new model. He found a younger woman and divorced his wife. King Xerxes is just another in a long tradition of men who continue to value women as things, rather than people, even to this day.

Esther was an orphan who had been raised by a man called Mordecai. When the King’s men came looking for pretty, young virgins (the virgins thing is something we’ll discuss at length in a whole different post) for the king, Mordecai insisted Esther keep it secret that she was Jewish. King Xerxes was Persian.

Like Esther, women are still taught that our true selves are an obstacle to becoming a wife – FOOLING someone into marrying you by denying your true background, and this tradition of women teaching women to be fake pictures of perfection is exactly why our relationships and marriages continue to fail. We are responsible for this continuing hardship. We are the ones who must make it stop.

Now, in Esther’s case, there was more at stake than just finding a good fit for a husband. Had the king known she was Jewish, he would not have married her and her life might have been in danger, but we’re going to examine how she used her feminine strength to handle this.

Esther was not a simple beauty. In scripture, we see her shrewd talent for strategy combine with her charm and wit to create a fierce weapon against the enemy of her adoptive father and her people. She is never described as dishonest or wrathful. Instead, she is simply viewed as a beautiful woman who takes certain actions that result in justice at the hand of her king.

At the point that we see her talent for strategy, she has not been called to see the king for 30 days, but her adoptive father, Mordecai, had come to her in great despair over the plight of their people. The king’s grand vizier, Haman the Agagite, had become so enraged with Mordecai for refusing to bow to him that he had promised the king 10,000 silver talents (money) to order the extermination of the entire Jewish population within his empire.

Having been basically ignored by her husband for a month, Esther didn’t exactly have a guarantee that she could easily influence him. In fact, demanding an audience with the king without being called could get her put to death. She decided to dress up in her finest robes, and make herself as beautiful as she could and present herself to him anyway.

Esther’s bravery cannot be understated, here. Not only was she risking execution by even approaching the king, but she was a member of a race that he had ordered exterminated. The choice she made to risk her life showed her love for her people and her gratitude to the man who raised her as a daughter.

In my opinion, it also showed her confidence in her ability to influence others with her dignity, grace, and even her etiquette. Esther entered the court, and when the king was clearly pleased to see her, invited both the king and Haman to a banquet she had prepared for them. They both accepted, but for some reason, she did not petition the king or Haman to save her people or reveal herself as Jewish yet. Instead, she invited them to another banquet the following night.

That night, after the banquet, the king found out that Mordecai had foiled a plot to kill him. At the same time, Haman was having gallows built to execute Mordecai. I love how this bit of the Bible shows us the extremely different outcomes that could have befallen Mordecai at this time. We see that more than just human decisions and actions are involved in his fate (and this is one of many examples of how God seems to really enjoy irony). The following day, with Mordecai on his mind, the king asked Haman how he should reward someone that he wanted to honor. Of course, Haman assumed he meant him, so he suggested he use the royal apparel and insignia.

I believe that a good warrior uses both strategy and faith. If Esther was a warrior, she would have positioned her troops or planned her attack based on careful strategy and faith that God would be in her timing and her righteousness.

Esther used these same strengths as an influence on the king as her position as a trophy wife when, on the night of the second banquet, she revealed herself as a Jew and explained that it was her people that Haman wanted destroyed.  The king honored Mordecai with his apparel and insignia and ordered Haman executed on the very gallows he had constructed to kill Mordecai. Her best hand of cards displayed on the table, Esther won.

In so many modern stories, Esther would simply be a clever side character – a shrewd little manipulator used as a pawn in a story of the greater heroes, such as Mordecai and even King Xerxes. These powerful men effected life and death of people. Mordecai not only foiled the king’s execution, but he also stopped Haman from wiping out the Jewish people.

But this isn’t the Book of Mordecai. This is the Book of Esther. Esther is the hero of our story. Why is that? Is this a story about how a wife honored her husband? Is this a story of how a wife kept her head covered and did not tempt men? Is this a story of how a woman was obedient? How about her home? Is this a typical story of a woman keeping a Godly home? Where is the “Godly woman of the Bible” that we normally hear with such dull limitations and little creativity in Sunday school?

The story in the Book of Esther is a story about how God took a woman – underestimated because of her sex – and made her central to the salvation of her people. We know very little about the inner workings of Esther’s mind. She remains a mystery, even as she is presented as the main character of her story, and I think this is key to how women are so often misunderstood by Biblical theologians.

Can a simple rib be a secret weapon?

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Welcome

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Welcome to Esther’s Feminism, a blog about what it means to be a feminist as well as an obedient woman of God.  We’ll take some surprising turns here as we look a scripture from a predominantly female point of view. Throughout history, theologians have interpreted scripture from a decidedly male-friendly angle. It’s interesting to look at some things again, this time with a ‘what if’ about God’s true value of women.

Some things may offend you. Some things may inspire you. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we are open to all of your questions. This blog will be a journey on the way to discovering who we are as women of God.