And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
-- Esther 4:14
Among our heroes of the faith in Holy Scripture, one of the most overlooked and misunderstood is a lovely lady by the name of Esther. She lived in the fifth century BC, when what is now modern Iran ruled the world.
Though Esther cannot be corroborated by historical sources outside of Scripture, just about all of the other major players in her story can. This includes the older cousin who raised her, Mordecai, their arch antisemitic enemy, Haman, and the renowned Persian king at the time, Ahasuerus (his Hebrew name), better known by his Persian name, Xerxes.
Esther's story is indeed a Gospel story. The Gospel always begins with God's grace. Grace is God's choice to make a person His own, and to assign to that person a special purpose in His kingdom. Grace is governed by providence, the power of God to put the right people in the right place at the right time.
But sometimes, God's grace and providence put us in a most uncomfortable place. This was certainly true about Esther. She lost her parents at a young age and had to be raised by an older cousin, Mordecai. She grew up among other Jews who had been deported to Persia and lived under their stern rule. She was forced to join the king's harem, at a time when a beauty contest among them would determine the next queen. Esther was the winner.
Esther the winner, if you can call a winner someone born into captivity, placed into sexual slavery, then forced to marry an old, ugly, power-mad king. Yet God's grace had placed her there, and God's providence put her in the palace, "for such a time as this."
"Such a time" was dire for the Israelites in Persia. A key cabinet member, Haman, was on the eve of accomplishing a plot that would literally annihilate the Jews living in and around Persia. Xerxes the King, no doubt a racist in his own right, had no idea he had married a Jew, as Esther like many Hebrews in the empire kept her race a secret.
Mordecai called on Esther to reveal herself to the king and try to stop the holocaust. This created two major problems for her. Revealing her Jewishness was one thing, but approaching the King without being summoned was one of those peculiar crimes in Persia that carried a death sentence. Walk in on the king, they wack off your head. What would Esther do?
Grace is God's choice for us. Faith is our choice for God, albeit one enabled by grace. Faith is a decision, always accompanied by action, born of a conviction to honor God and help others. Esther counted her faith in God more precious than the golden crowns of Persia. So, off Esther went to see the king, by grace, through faith, "for such a time as this."
Jesus would not be born for four centuries after Esther. So, Esther did not know the second person of the Holy Trinity, only the first by the power of the third. God had given Esther grace; she bravely proved it with faith, but did it have anything to do with Christ? Oh, yes.
Esther found grace when she approached King Xerxes. By faith, she told the truth and God turned the heart of the king toward her. Haman was hung on gallows meant for Mordecai, the planned Persian holocaust against the Jews was stopped, and the Jews survived, for another 500 years, and more.
What if Mary, when confronted with an uncomfortable grace, had no faith, and could not bear to be the virgin to give birth to the Son of God? What if Joseph, faced with an uncomfortable grace, had no faith, said no, I'm out of here, let Mary be stoned on the accusation of adultery. What if Esther, in her uncomfortable place of grace, had no faith, said no, I like being queen, I like the perks of the palace, all I have to do is keep quiet about my faith. What if she perished anyway, the holocaust was carried out and spread throughout the world, and the Jewish race had perished with her?
So, Esther is a Gospel story. It is a story about the grace of God. It is the story about courageous faith in God. And, it is a story of a people saved, the nation of Israel, who would give the world a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]