Reflections on Esther 1-10
Sometimes when we pray for justice for our vulnerable neighbors, God answers our prayers by calling us into action on their behalf. In the story of Esther, we read of an unlikely advocate: a Jewish orphan given a position of privilege who risked everything by speaking up to a powerful king.
The book of Esther begins by describing Persian King Xerxes’ overwhelming might and wealth. He reigned over a vast empire composed of people from nations he had conquered. The writer even seems to compare Xerxes to God and his palace to a temple. This was no ordinary man; an over-sized portion of power and wealth were concentrated under his control.
After banishing his wife for refusing to comply with one of his commands, Xerxes gathered up beautiful young women from across his empire and pitted them against each other in a competition to win his approval and become the next queen. One of the women caught up in this sweep was Esther, the orphaned niece of a Jewish captive named Mordecai. We’re not told a lot about Esther. We know she was beautiful and compliant, that she kept her Jewish identity secret for fear of discrimination, and that she “found favor” with everyone who saw her, including Xerxes–- who made her the new queen.
A few years later, one of Xerxes’ trusted advisors bribed him to approve a plan to execute all the Jews living in the Persian empire. They sent out an edict announcing their plan to the entire kingdom and then sat down to drink together while their subjects were cast into chaos and panic. Set against the heartless cruelty of the king and his advisor is Mordecai, who publicly lamented and privately called on Esther to take action. She refused at first, knowing raising her voice could prove costly. Mordecai challenged her to speak up with the famous words, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther did speak up, strategically revealing the true implications of the plan to King Xerxes. The advisor was immediately punished and the Jews were given permission to defend themselves against the destruction that had been planned against them. The people Esther represented were saved and the king delegated some of his power to Mordecai, who was honored because he “worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.”
Esther had a position of privilege. She could have used that position to shield herself, allowing it to separate her from her Jewish community and hoping it kept her safe. Instead, urged by Mordecai and supported by the community in prayer, she chose to wield her privilege on behalf of the vulnerable. While we may not be queens of empires, we are all given positions and relationships where we have influence. Using our voices for justice in these places of influence is the work of advocacy.
Written by Laura Hornby, We Welcome Community Liaison for South Carolina. This post accompanies our advocacy guide, The Everyday Guide to Change the World: Engage Democracy Like a Pro. You can preorder a copy of the FREE guide here.