I grew up in a church and attended a Sunday school that rarely placed emphasis on the Old Testament and the lessons therein. We may have sung some songs about Joshua or Moses at VBS or made a craft of Jonah inside of a whale but we never really learned from these Old Testament heroes. Many years ago, I immersed myself in a number of Beth Moore Bible studies and began to dive into the Old Testament. Beth Moore was able to bring to life the seemingly out of touch stories and characters and most importantly connect them to the coming of Jesus Christ who would fulfill all that was promised by God. One of my most favorite studies and the most timely and relevant for today's headlines was the study of Esther. The repeated theme throughout the study was, "It's tough being a woman."
Recent headlines and the political climate have had me grasping for hope and truth from God's word. I have wondered where has God given us a framework to follow and what lessons could we glean from those who've gone before us. As I prayed and asked God for wisdom, he reminded me of my Esther study. So much of Esther's story is relevant today. There really is nothing new under the sun.
Esther was an orphaned Jewish girl who fell into the care of an older male cousin named, Mordecai. At that time, King Ahasuerus (what a mouthful) of Persia held a party in which he demanded his wife, Queen Vashti, be paraded naked before his buddies. She refused and was exiled (good for her). The king's buddies then rounded up a bunch of virgin women and subjected them to a year's worth of beauty treatments and fattening up so that the king could choose a new wife. Esther was included in this group of prospects and ends up becoming queen because she was deemed the most beautiful. Meanwhile, her cousin, Mordecai, ticked off the king's right-hand man, Haman, by not bowing down to him and Haman decided to exterminate the entire Jewish race. Mordecai pleaded with Esther to win over the king so that the Jewish race can be saved. At the end of the story the king discovered Haman's wicked plot because Esther was brave enough to take a stand, Haman is hanged, and the Jewish people are saved.
What's all this got to do with today? A whole lot. It's amazing how similar a story from 400 B.C. is to today. Here are a few takeaways:
The objectification of women is nothing new and continues to be tolerated.
We all know this but somehow the recent recordings of what some are calling "locker room banter" have shocked some. Considering the source, I'm not shocked and I also believe the words spoken are simply the rotten fruit of a society that has been ok with women being paraded about like livestock. Notice the interviewer, camera men, producers did nothing to call out the bad behavior 11 years ago? We can gasp and cry out against Mr. Trump but I have had to shield my kids' eyes from magazine covers in the supermarket checkout stand as long as I can remember. I've had to turn off the the TV or change channels when commercials like that of Carl's Jr. feature women gyrating nearly naked atop cars eating a cheeseburger come on because I don't want my daughters believing this is how they should behave. We can detest the Donald but the truth is, our society is no better than him or King "What's His Name". We tolerate it, we fund it, or worse, we stay silent.
Orphans are powerful.
Esther's parents were both dead and being a girl in a time when women had little to no value meant she likely felt powerless. It's difficult not having someone like a parent to look to for guidance, safety, and care. I think the frustration and fear that many in our country feel is similar. There is no one to look to in authority; there is no one trustworthy to lead. Esther thankfully had the care of Mordecai but in the end, she relied on God and her faith to carry her through years of struggle. Esther was removed from what family she had left, was paraded in front of an opportunistic king and then saddled with saving an entire race of people. I dare say the survivor spirit that carried her through her early years and her faith in God made her resilient, confident and powerful - powerful enough to resist and end the life the of a man who embodied pure evil. Even though our nation is feeling orphaned, we are all powerful and resilient and no administration (or lack thereof) can take that from us.
Even when God is not mentioned He is present.
One of the most amazing facts of the Book of Esther is that no where is God mentioned by name. Not one chapter refers to Him by name, yet His power and Spirit are found throughout. We live in a time when those of faith feel their freedom is threatened and that God has been removed from the pages of our history. Esther showed us that no matter the circumstance, our hearts are a sanctuary for the Lord and when we are faithful to our God, no one can violate that sanctuary. Instead of living in utter despair, Esther looked at her situation and said, "If I perish, I perish". That is a statement of great faith and courage but also peace. Instead of running around hopeless and frantic, those who trust in the Lord know that if we perish we live with Him.
Esther was originally called Haddasah. Haddasah means "compassion" in Hebrew. She is later called "Esther" which means "star" in Persian. Amazing that her original name is compassion. Isn't that what we really need right now? Compassion for those who fought for our country and feel like the country they once knew is crumbling. Compassion for those who feel objectified and abused because of their gender. Compassion for those who experience hatred toward their race, religion or way of life. Compassion for those who are consumed by fear and anxiety of the future. Esther's new name helps us to remember that when we begin with compassion we become a beacon of light for those around us.