Women of the Bible: Esther

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting significant named and unnamed women of the Bible. The CEB Women’s Bible provides helpful indexes of all these named and unnamed women as well as over 140 insightful profiles. Written by female pastors, scholars, and faith leaders, these profiles encourage us to witness the stories and valuable contributions of biblical women. Below is the profile of Esther (from Esther 1-10) written by Marti Steussy.

Esther had many of the qualities of a character in a fairy tale: she was an orphan, beautiful, loved by those who met her, and she won a king’s favor. But her rise to favor was the beginning rather than the end of her story. Her husband was not Prince Charming but a heavy drinker who used wealth and power unwisely. He leaned heavily on companions’ advice and sometimes wrote their bad ideas “into the laws of Persia and Media” –laws “no one can ever change,” even if the king later regretted them (1:19; see 8:8; the storyteller seems to be making fun of pompous Persian proclamations). It was not a marriage of true love that resulted in “happily ever after.” Instead the king quit summoning Esther, and she could be put to death for approaching him unasked (4:11). Yet she risked her life to expose Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews, saving her people.

Fairy-tale heroines are usually willing to work hard and listen to advice. In the book’s early chapters, Esther listened obediently to both her cousin Mordecai (2:20) and the eunuch Hegai (2:15). In a way, Esther was obeying Mordecai even when she decided to confront the king. In chapter 4, however, we also see her starting to issue her own orders (4:5, 10, 15-17). When she approached the king uninvited, she was certainly not following the court’s customs.

It’s not completely clear why Esther staged two banquets rather than just answering the king’s question in 5:3 about what she wanted, but banquets are a theme of this book (royal banquets at the beginning and Purim feasting at the end), and clearly the storyteller meant us to understand that Esther was a crafty planner, even if today we don’t quite follow her logic. Esther also showed cleverness in counteracting Haman’s unchangeable proclamations allowing persecution of her people, and she is thus remembered as a savior figure.

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