Esther: "If I perish, I perish"

Today I spent a bit of time reading and reflecting on the book of Esther. One wonders why it is a story not well known and often overlooked.

There are certain Lenten overtones, which I wanted to take a minute to reflect on as we approach the beginning of Lent.

There’s a great deal of beauty in this book. The book is full of chapters that are out of order. The first chapter is 11, part of which opens the book and part of which closes it.

Esther–the “tiny spring” turned river

Chapter 11, vs. 5-11 says this:

[6] And behold, two great dragons came forward, both ready to fight, and they roared terribly.
[7] And at their roaring every nation prepared for war, to fight against the nation of the righteous.
[8] And behold, a day of darkness and gloom, tribulation and distress, affliction and great tumult upon the earth!
[9] And the whole righteous nation was troubled; they feared the evils that threatened them, and were ready to perish.
[10] Then they cried to God; and from their cry, as though from a tiny spring, there came a great river, with abundant water;
[11] light came, and the sun rose, and the lowly were exalted and consumed those held in honor.

We later read in chapter 10, v. 6: “The tiny spring which became a river, and there was light and the sun and abundant water–the river is Esther, whom the king married and made queen.”

The simple prayers of Esther along with her heroic act. In the midst of all the words I made bold in the first passage up there–in the midst of war, darkness, gloom, distress, affliction, etc.–the tiny spring bubbles forth into a stream into a river.

Esther is that tiny spring turned river. She brings life to the Jews in a moment when they were about to die. She brings light where there was darkness. She brings abundance where there was lack. And God did it through her.

The story of Esther

What’s the story in a nutshell? King Ahasuerus of Persia, who still has power over the Jews, gets fed up with Queen Vashti because she “refused to come at the king’s command…” (1:12). His officers suggest the king gather a group of beautiful young virgins and pick a new queen from among them. A perfect idea, says the king.

Esther quickly wins his favor. Her uncle, Mordecai, gets into a conflict with Haman. Haman wants revenge and decides killing Mordecai wouldn’t be enough; he sets out to kill all Jews. He knows he can’t get this done himself, so he goes to the King and tricks him, telling him there is a group of people whose “laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws” (7:8). King Ahasuerus hears this and says: “Do with them as seems good to you” (7:11).

Mordecai learns of this plan and tells Esther, that he might “charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people” (4:8). See image at the top of this post, which depicts this very interaction.

Problem? “If any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law; all alike are to be put to death” (4:11). So it is that Esther fears going to entreat the king. It involves risk.

Yet she replies: “If I perish, I perish”(4:16). I love this line.

Mordecai offers a beautiful prayer, meanwhile. It’s found at 13:8-18.

We learn that Esther tells people before she leaves: “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days” (4:16).

Lenten overtones

Then Esther finally approaches the king, and “instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body” (14:2). The rest of chapter 14 is her beautiful prayer.

When she reaches the king, finally, God “changed the spirit of the king to gentleness.” He is concerned and offers her advice and consolation. The picture to your right shows this moment.

We see here that Esther is reminded of who she is and what she must do. She is dust and thus must humble herself to the king. The mindset here is one of subjection, one of humility, one of hope, one of prayer. Do we approach God this way? On Ash Wednesday, we had better.

We better recognize our littleness and with humility present ourselves to the Lord. We do so as his hopeful and prayerful subjects.

Haman is revealed in the end to be the crook we knew him to be. He had prepared gallows at his house he planned to use to murder Mordecai. The king commands his people to kill Haman on his own gallows. Haman is the example of someone who, unlike Esther, didn’t quite get the humility thing. He thought he was best, thought he was in control.

May we be able to say like Esther, “if I perish, I perish,” because we recognize that life here and now is a gift to be used for others. If I perish, then that’s fine, because my perishing might just be the cost associated with doing what I know is right.

We must be willing to forfeit our lives in any number of ways for that which is in fact more important than what I want, what costs least to me.

This isn’t all that different from the story of Jesus our Lord.

Esther: pray for us!