Lesson Twenty Three
AN ORPHAN BECOMES QUEEN
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We don’t tell all Bible stories to our younger children. We skip the part where Judah slept with his daughter-in-law or Jephthah sacrificed his daughter. We leap over the story of the Levite and his concubine cut into pieces and delivered to the tribes of Israel. We are selective in our telling of Joseph’s or David’s story leaving out the parts we don’t believe children will understand. We can all agree that parts of the Bible are more for adults.
We can all agree that parts of the Bible are more for adults.
The book of Esther, at least the first two chapters, poses another one of those dilemmas. We tell our children the story of the beautiful girl who the king loved more than any of the other girls. And while that’s true, it leaves out details that challenge not only us, but Jewish believers and scholars as well. Consider these points:
- Esther is taken against her will, although we never see any sign of a struggle. The beautiful Vashti protests against the king’s excesses, but Esther does not.
- A beautiful Jewish girl, Esther changed her name and was told to not reveal her faith. It’s pure speculation as to the full extent of this, but did it include her diet? What about the Sabbath? How much of her Judaism did she leave behind when she entered the palace? It was a period of five years before Haman enters the story, which is a long time to be a closet Jew.
- A Jewish virgin, she had sexual relations with a pagan Gentile king before marriage. It would appear she had no other choice, but interestingly she performed so well the king selected her as his queen.
The reason Esther is such a beloved story, especially for young girls, is because we know the rest of the story.
The reason Esther is such a beloved story, especially for young girls, is because we know the rest of the story. We know of the evil Haman. We know the courage of Mordecai. We see illustrations of Esther in queenly robes bravely facing the king unannounced. And we learn that Esther is not only beautiful, but intelligent as she helps to determine the resolution to her husband’s foolishness. It’s when we know the entire story we can look past its beginning.
It’s a reminder to us today that we cannot see someone’s entire story. I know I’m not the same person I was at 16, and to judge me by my behavior then would be unfair. Yet, I recognize we are often tempted to judge the young women in our congregations. They arrive with pierced ears or skirts too short. Their nail color competes with the makeup that paints their face. They’re too familiar with boys or unfortunately, in today’s society, with other girls. We secretly wonder about their parents and why they might allow their daughters to behave as they do.
We could do the same with Esther’s story. Why didn’t Mordecai pack Esther up and return to Jerusalem away from a pagan society? Why didn’t Esther stand up and protest like Daniel? Why not boldly stand for her faith like the three Hebrews facing the fiery furnace? But when we do this we miss what God wants us to remember.
God is not mentioned by name in Esther at all, but His presence is felt.
God is not mentioned by name in Esther at all, but His presence is felt. He guides Esther in her story, not only in the end, but also in the beginning that seems in direct opposition to what He desires for His daughters. And that’s where we ultimately must land, not only with the story of Esther, but also the story of our daughters—the ones struggling to find their identity knowing that God has yet to finish their story.
Remember, if we allow, God will write our story and theirs. He knows the end, even if the beginning isn’t quite what it should have been. In this, we are renewed.
Cyrus of Medo-Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC. Daniel died soon after, but before he did he shared the prophecies of Isaiah concerning Cyrus with the new ruler. Cyrus saw the prediction written 100 years earlier of exactly what he would do. This prompted him to issue a decree that all Jewish people could return to Jerusalem. Nearly 50,000 took advantage of the offer, but hundreds of thousands of Jews remained in Babylon.
About 20 years later another decree to return to Jerusalem was issued by Darius. At that time Zechariah pleaded with the people to return. “Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon” (Zech. 2:7). Some heeded but most did not.
Later, Artaxerxes I issued the third and final decree to rebuild Jerusalem.
We don’t know why Mordecai didn’t take Esther back to their homeland. Many did not go because of the hard journey as well as starting with nothing. Compared to life in Persia, Jerusalem was difficult. Yet staying had its consequences as the story of Esther reveals.
We are told “The decree that will finally go forth against the remnant people of God will be very similar to that issued by Ahasuerus [Xerxes] against the Jews” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 605). This was not a decree of freedom, but one of annihilation. May we ever be watchful and ready to go wherever God leads.
Making it Real
Young girls, whether teens, collegiates, or young adults often struggle with confidence. Affirmation that comes from someone they know in church can make young women walk a bit taller and feel more a part of their church family. Is there such a young woman in your church? Why not write a note of encouragement to her today?
Merle Poirier writes from Silver Spring, Maryland, where she works as the operation manager for Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines as well as the designer for KidsView, a magazine for 8-12-year-olds. She enjoys spending time with her family including being the grandmother of two active little boys, who greatly enjoy Starting With Jesus.