Women of Hope: Esther

Almighty God, You have guided my steps for all my years, leading me into my cousin’s loving home after my parents’ death, placing me – an orphan exile –  in the palace as part of the king’s harem, and granting me favor with so many. So, I choose to trust You now, Father in Heaven, as the One whose hand will be on me as I step into this call on my life.

I believe You know my fear is great – that I face death if the king’s favor is not extended toward me. But, I remember that You are the God of all grace and loving-kindness, so I humbly offer myself as your vessel in this errand of standing in for your people. Still my heart, Lord Over All. Help me set my mind on You alone. 

I ask your divine favor to be on my husband – that he might welcome me into his presence and give ear to my invitation. My only desire is to carry out your will, so I pray that my voice may speak your words before the king. And that my people might be spared annihilation. 

I feel my people’s prayers surrounding me. My confidence grows because I know You, Holy One of Israel, go with me. May your plan prevail. May your name be praised. May all glory be yours. You have my allegiance, my heart, and my body. I go now to speak for your people – if I perish, I perish. Either way, I will have stood for You and with You. Amen. 

Esther. Orphan and Jewish exile. As a homeless young girl, Esther finds a place of belonging in her cousin Mordecai’s home at a time when the exiled Jews live as sojourners in Persia. 

Let’s pause to get our bearings. It’s easy for us to blur all these stories of “Women of Hope” together, as though they happen back-to-back-to-back in biblical history. And that is just not the case! 

About 1590 BC – Judah and Tamar’s twins are born
About 1400 BC – Jericho falls to Joshua and the Israelites with Rahab’s help
About 1280 BC – Boaz and Ruth marry and have their son, Obed
1040 BC – David’s birth
About 597 BC – the northern kingdom of Israel (aka: Judah) is exiled by Babylon
About 538 BC – Persian King Cyrus “ends” Israel’s exile, allowing them to go back to Jerusalem
About 426 BC – Queen Esther calls on all Jews in Persia to pray and fast

Dating events in ancient history is beyond difficult, but these general dates give us some context. Over 150 years between Tamar and Rahab. Maybe over a 100 years between Rahab and Ruth (I know…Boaz is Rahab’s son…people lived longer then. And Boaz is thought to have been about 80 when he met Ruth…).

But then about 850 years between Ruth and Esther – and a WHOLE LOT of Israelite history, including an entire era of Israelite kings. Then exile. Even the end of exile – yet thousands of Jews remain in Persia, their home for over 150 years.

Enter Esther. A woman of hope who endures a Persian king’s edict to become his concubine – then wife. And queen! Before we romanticize this parent-less, foreign woman’s rise to the highest seat in all the kingdom, let’s get some perspective. Esther’s entire life journey holds very little choice. Not only does she not choose to be an orphan, but she has no real choice to decline King Xerxes’ “invitation” to enter this ancient version of a beauty pageant on steroids. A mere pawn in the game, even as queen, Esther has no power, no influence over her husband-king’s responses or behaviors. 

Her only true choice – how to respond to each challenge.

When she’s called upon by her cousin to stand in the gap for their people when the awful Haman has ordered genocide for all Jews in Persia, Esther steps into her “such a time as this” role (4:14). She breaks all protocol and law by going before her husband unannounced to plead her people’s case (4:11). Knowing he could have her head for such an act, Esther chooses faith over fear. 

But, she enters the king’s court knowing she has the power of her people’s prayers behind her and God beside her. In other words, she chooses to move forward with hope.


Formulaic Structure

While God is never mentioned by name once in the entire book of Esther, His fingerprints are all it. Despite the fact that some theologians would label the Book of Esther as “secular” because God appears to be missing, others would hail Esther as a literary feat of epic proportions – written with a design that intentionally reveals God’s presence.2

The formulaic structure known as chiasm is what gives Esther a configuration of purpose and redemption. For every catastrophe, flaw, and frustration in the first five books of Esther, a reversal occurs in the second half of the book to bring about God’s redemptive plan.2 

Such intentionality demonstrates God’s hand working behind the scenes throughout the narrative of Esther – even when it is visibly unseen. Thus, the writer chooses not to mention God in order to push his readers to seek Him out in the lines of Esther’s story. In doing so, he invites his readers to develop a technique to always look for God at work in the pages of history.2 As we do so, we can “see how God can and does work in the real mess and moral ambiguity of human history to accomplish his divine purposes.”2

Take it a step further – Michael V. Fox, author of Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, points out that the writer of Esther desires that we would apply this same “theology of possibility” to our own lives.Wait. “Theology of possibility” – that sounds a lot like hope!

So, when we read Esther’s story where all the worst possible scenarios occur in her life and in the lives of the Jews, we can lean-in to see God’s hand redeem each and every one of them – all to His glory and for His purposes. And, when we do the same in our lives – digging into the darkness to find His presence, power, and purpose – we land on divine possibility. A.k.a.: hope.

Finding Favor

In addition, the author deliberately uses particular words to allude to God – words like grace, mercy, and favor. Eight times in ten chapters the word favor serves as both a window into Esther’s story and God’s heart.

Six of those eight ‘favors’ derive from the Hebrew word, chen, which not only means favor but mercy, affection, and beauty. Six times Esther finds favor and receives mercy from varying people in her life (2:15,17; 5:2,8; 7:3; 8:5), at one point winning “the favor of everyone who saw her” (2:15).

The other two ‘favors’ come from a word we might be more familiar with, hesed – most often referring to the loving kindness of God that is sourced by His covenantal love. But it can also mean finding favor with people, which is the case in Esther (2:9,17). Two men who had the most power to influence the track of her life in the palace, Hegai the eunuch and King Xerxes, honor Esther with great favor, ultimately elevating her to the role of queen.

All this ‘favor’ has something to do with Esther’s outward beauty, but it has even more to do with her inner spirit (2:15). And by the end of her story, it becomes clear why such favor has been given to her – because they pave the way for Esther’s “for such a time as this” moment (4:14), the ultimate purpose for her journey. This revelation casts light on God’s plans, which have been the underlying force all along.

Fasting and Prayer

I was made aware at a young age that God was “nowhere to be found” in Esther’s story, yet something in me knew He was there. It’s only as I’ve researched for this post that I’ve more fully explored how we can ‘see’ God in this bit of history. But, in earlier years when I scoured Esther’s chapters for hints of God (ha – doing exactly what the writer of Esther hoped I’d do), I kept landing on her call to her people to fast and pray.

Who do they pray to? Who do they fast for? God! 

Esther and her people are faithful to turn to Yahweh, beseeching His mercy and favor over Esther as she approaches the king on the Jews’ behalf (4:16). And He hears them, making a way for Esther to succeed and His people to survive (8:16-17; 9:20-22)!

The three days of fasting were a “rallying cry for salvation” to God in heaven that united all the Jews of Persia and brought them hope in the midst of despair.3 Jewish scholars would pose that it was this ‘togetherness’ of the people that helped them reclaim their identity as well as their redemption.3 To commemorate such victory, Mordecai and Queen Esther establish a new festival, Purim, so Jews everywhere can celebrate the way God delivered them from the hand of Haman every year (9:28).

One more layer of hope can be discovered through Esther’s call to pray and fast – the truth that “an individual can find redemption even in the face of terrible, threatening circumstances.”3 

Where can we find God in Esther’s story? In each of the prayers — theirs and ours — for deliverance. And in each of His responses. WHAT HOPE!

Esther overcomes much in her life, but she’s faithful to look for God’s hand in it all. As a result, her faith is woven deeply into the fabric of her identity and spirit – so much so that with each debilitating blow in her life and against her people, Esther continuously chooses faith and trust in the only One who can see her through. Esther teaches us what it looks like to truly put our hope in God.

Father God, You have guided our steps for all our years, leading us into a future full of goodness and hope. Because You have granted us favor with so many, we choose to trust You now as the One whose hand will be on us as we step into the call on our lives. We ask that You would meet us in our fear, helping us to remember that You are the God of all grace and loving-kindness. We humbly offer ourselves as your vessels in this world. Still our hearts, Lord Over All. Help us set our minds on You alone. Lord Jesus, we ask your divine favor to be on our families so that they will seek your presence and heed your invitation to be their Lord. Our will is to do your will, so lead us in the ways that we should speak and act on your behalf. We surrender our bodies to You as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to You. Holy Spirit, we feel your presence and sense the prayers of believers surrounding us. Our confidence grows because we know You – and we know that You always go with us. May God’s plans prevail no matter what the world says or does. May God’s name be praised in streets, from mountains, and across oceans. Because we have hope in Christ, we are very bold, proclaiming the praises and glory of the One True God in all we say and do. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by Psalm 37:23-24; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 90:17; Ecclesiastes 9:1; Psalm 103:11; Romans 12;1-2; John 3:16; Jeremiah 24:7; 1 Peter 4:11; Ephesians 6:18; John 16:13; Proverbs 19:21; 2 Corinthians 3:12)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

*Note that King ‘Xerxes’ is the Persian version of his name. The Hebrew name for the king Esther marries is ‘Ahasuerus.’

  • 1 – For dating the women in our series and some key points in Jewish history, I sought out multiple resources — most of which do not agree on dates. Lol. But, for the most part, I could get close enough for our purposes.
    • Judah’s birth, as well as his twin sons’ birth (to mother, Tamar).
    • Finding when Rahab lived is difficult, but when I searched for dates that Jericho fell to Joshua, all kinds of articles appeared, including this in-depth look at how archaeology aligns with the biblical narrative.
    • An incredibly detailed timeline from the time of Joshua’s death through Ruth’s life.
    • A much simpler timeline that includes Ruth and David.
    • After David, more historical data has been kept, so it’s easier to pinpoint things like when the Babylonian captivity occurred.
    • This particular article contains an incredible little timeline to help us see how the Persian era (Esther’s era) looked in history.
  • 2 – Bible Project blog on Esther’s structure and God’s non-presence. Here’s an outline they offer of the chiasmic structure of Esther:

    A The splendor of the Persian king + Two banquets [1:1-8] 
    B Esther becomes Queen + Mordecai saves the king [1:9-2:20 + 2:21-23] 
    C Haman elevated to power [3:1-6] 
    D Haman’s decree to destroy the Jewish people [3:7-15] 
    E Esther and Mordecai’s plan to reverse the decree [4:1-17] 
    F Esther’s 1st banquet + Haman plans Mordecai’s execution [5:1-8 + 5:9-14] 

    X – PIVOT: Haman humiliated & Mordecai exalted [6:1-14] 

    F’ Esther’s 2nd banquet + Haman executed instead of Mordecai [7:1-10] 
    E’ Esther and Mordecai plan to reverse the decree [8:1-8] 
    D’ Mordecai’s counter-decree to save the Jewish people [8:9-14] 
    C’ Mordecai elevated to power [8:15-17] 
    B’ Queen Esther and Mordecai save the Jewish people [9:1-19]
    A’ Two feasts + The splendor of Mordecai [9:20-32 + 10:1-3]
  • 3 – Quoted or referenced from an article about Esther’s fast and the festival of Purim.
  • The Faithful^ chapter about Esther is authored by Raechel Myers. Her way of pointing out all the ‘favor’ in Esther opened new doors of understanding for me!
  • There’s a song on our “Women of Hope” playlist that beautifully connects the story of Esther to Christ’s story. Also by the Faithful project, “Rise Up” is a song that starts off:

    Tell me the story of the girl without a mother
    Of the girl without a father who found favor with the King
    Tell me again about how He beheld her beauty
    About the way she stepped out bravely, all her life an offering
    She fell to her knees, while she begged Him “Please
    Spare my people, oh, set them free, oh King!”

    Then through sheer genius, the writers demonstrate the parallels in their stories:

    Tell me the story of the God-man come from glory
    While they said He had no beauty, He was the favor of the King
    Tell me again about the way He loved the lonely
    Healed the sick and fed the hungry, all His life an offering
    He hung on a tree, He cried “Oh, Father, please
    Spare Your people, oh, set them free!”

    Do you see the language of Esther woven throughout the lyrics? Do you see the way an orphaned, exiled Jewish woman can become a foreshadow of Christ? Just wow!

    The second song I attributed to Esther is “Belovedness” by Sarah Kroger — and it’s a lot less obvious why I would do so. I think it’s because I can imagine all the ways and times Esther must have been tempted to let her past pile on the shame — instead, she embodies the truths in the song. God sees her (and us!) as none of the yucky feelings we have or the ugly words that are spoken over us but as His beloved!!! Let it be so of us, Lord!
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • This summer we’re continuing the rhythm of meditation. We’re filling our minds with our anchoring passage, Hebrews 11:1. It’s my sincerest hope that the truths of this verse are weaving themselves into the fabric of our being (much like Esther!). To help us keep ruminating on this verse, let’s switch to the New Century Version translation this week (it’s incredibly fitting for our week on Esther):

      “Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it.”
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured photo: “Esther.” Attributed to Kate Gardiner Hastings (British, 1837-1925). Bits and Pieces photo by Photo by Zrng N Gharib on Unsplash.

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Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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