Political Hero from the Bible: Esther

In this series we take a look at 'political heroes' from the Bible and see what lessons we can take from them in today's political arena. This latest article looks at Esther.

I can’t say I’ve watched many episodes of The Bachelor but I do confess to knowing the premise. Around a dozen women compete for the affections of one man – the bachelor – over a number of weeks that include gruelling tasks ranging from dance competitions to pig wrestling.

The bachelor whittles the group down just to one winner, who receives the promise of his undying love (or so we’re left believing).

Although perhaps more esteemed, the opening scenes of Esther share some parallels. King Xerxes, after getting rid of his queen for failing to display her beauty at a party, sends out an order for the most beautiful women of his empire to be brought before him so that he may choose the new queen.    

After the 500 BC equivalent of pig wrestling is over, the ancient bachelor chooses Esther as his new queen.  The woman he chose, however, is no cliché Miss World, but an astute, intelligent and brave figure who positions herself at the heart of government.  Here’s why:

Esther stood when it counted

Some of the most famous paintings of Esther depict her fainting at the feet of King Xerxes.  The scene specifically refers to the moment where Esther comes before the King uninvited (an action punishable by death unless the King chose to show mercy) to ask him to spare the lives of the Jews. Their wellbeing had come under threat from a high-ranking minister called Haman, who sought to carry out a genocide upon them.

Whether Esther does faint or not is open to interpretation, but metaphorically she certainly stands tall on behalf of the Jewish people who had come under threat. Risking her life, she comes before the King to make an appeal that could have cost her everything.

The most quoted verse in Esther comes just before this scene, when Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, says to her, “who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Christians all have influence, whether in their homes, their communities, or even as citizens in a nation. The challenge from Mordecai is how we will use that influence. Will we stand for the oppressed or leave it to someone else?   

Esther acted without divine direction

Various Biblical commentators have been quick to point out that the book of Esther is somewhat lacking in any mention of God. In comparison to Exodus, where the Jewish nation is similarly under threat, Esther contains no great invasion of the divine, no burning bush moment and no booming voice giving Esther audible instructions. The book instead outlines the ordinary world of everyday politics with Esther simply seeking to determine right from wrong.

This isn’t to say that Esther doesn’t see a role for God in her political calling. Before going before King Xerxes, she sets aside three days to fast and pray and asks others to do the same. And we do see God’s hand in subtle ways, such as the insomnia King Xerxes experiences which leads him to remember how Mordecai saved his life.

The story of Esther, however, gives great encouragement to the everyday work of doing politics. We don’t often receive a word of God to sanction our actions. We don’t hear an audible voice telling us who to vote for or which policies are most pious. We instead seek God in prayer and then humbly walk the path we perceive to be the most righteous.

Esther was strategic

For as much as we can learn from Esther’s strengths, we can learn equally as much from Haman’s weaknesses. Referred to as “the enemy of the Jews” (3v10; 8v1; 9v10) it may come as no surprise that parallels have been drawn between Haman and Adolf Hitler.

Perhaps where the similarities end is in the reasoning behind their desire for a Jewish genocide. It was not a warped political ideology that motivated Haman but a dent in his pride. When Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, he reacts by seeking the total annihilation of Mordecai’s people and commissions a giant sharpened pole upon which he planned for Mordecai to be impaled. 

Haman represents the ugly side of politics: an overeactive, power hungry individual jockeying for position and manipulating others in the process. Esther by complete contrast represents a patient figure who is strategic and measured. In revealing Haman as the perpetrator in the story, she is methodical, building the case against him gradually until the big exposure. And the final scenes of Esther where we see the Jews’ enemies defeated, is not an act of revenge but the strategic implementation of retributive justice which acknowledges the power structures in play and acts accordingly.  

In all, there is much to be taken from Esther, particularly in the everyday outworking of our lives that are not often peppered by divine intervention. Instead, Esther gives hope for us to engage with the tricky and sometimes messy world of politics, standing up for what we believe in while maintaining our distinct Christian character.

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