“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
In the years that followed Israel’s Babylonian exile, Cyrus the Great had become the leader of the Persian Empire. His first order of business was to gather all of the semi-nomadic tribes of Persia together as one people under one leader. From this group, he would build an undefeatable army to advance the empire one conquest at a time. His army was well-trained, skilled in the art of battle, and committed to their leader. Because of this, within fifteen years, Persia had taken down great cities like Babylon and become the ruling power of the ancient world.
At the time of Babylon’s fall, the city was full of not only Babylonians but also Israelite exiles. Some scholars believe it had been about seventy years since the armies of Babylon had forced the people of Israel into captivity and out of their homeland. Cyrus decided to change this by setting the Israelite people free. Releasing them from their Babylonian exile, Cyrus made it possible for them to return to their home in Israel and begin the process of rebuilding. Many went rejoicing. Rebuilding their cities would be no easy task and yet, it would be worth it to see their land restored!
It had been a very long time since the people of Israel had left their homeland. Lives had been established in Babylon. Homes had been built. Businesses had begun. Babies had been born. Marriages had taken place. Not only that, the Babylonian king that had forced them into captivity no longer reigned. He had been dethroned by a man who had quickly given back to them their freedom. Why wouldn’t they want to be led by such a man? Persia didn’t seem so bad.
Skip ahead in the story, let the years pass by, journey through the end of the reign of King Cyrus, beyond the reign of King Darius, and into the reign of King Ahasuerus. There you will find the birthplace of Esther’s story. At this point in history, the Israelite exiles are no longer seen as “exiles.” They are jews who call the land of Persia home.
Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days.
“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.”
Knowing the pride of Ahasuerus, it is no surprise that Vashti’s refusal threw him into a fit of rage. He was not a man to be trifled with. No woman would dishonor him by questioning his authority and denying his request. There would have to be a punishment. Vashti would have to pay the cost for her choices.
“After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king's young men who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel, under custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did so.”
When the word went forth and the virgins were gathered, Esther, also known as Hadassah, was among them. Her cousin, Mordecai, had taken her in after her family had died. He had been taken captive with the rest of Israel by King Nebuchadnezzar during the reign of Babylon. When given the option to return to his homeland by Cyrus, Mordecai had chosen to stay. He now worked in the citadel of Susa and was well-known and well-loved by many.
Verse 7 tells us that Esther was “lovely to look at.” As she stood before the king, his eyes were drawn to her and he found himself captured by her beauty. Of all the women brought before him, it was Esther who won his favor and received his approval. It could be easy to skip past this and miss the significance of this moment within Esther’s story.
King Ahasuerus ruled over 127 provinces. Women had been gathered from every single corner of his kingdom. This was no shopping mall fashion show. This was the Miss Universe Pageant. And Esther won.
Esther 2: 15-17
“When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king's eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.”
In some Biblical translations, the word “grace” is used instead of favor to describe what Esther had with others. This grace upon her life helped her to win the approval of the king and become a favorite with the staff of the palace. Can you think of anyone else within scripture who walked in this kind of grace?
In Genesis, the Bible tells the story of Jacob, also called Israel, and his twelve sons. One son, Joseph, won the favor of his father and received the largest portions of his love and affection. This enraged his brothers. After stripping him of a colorful coat gifted to him by their father, beating him, and throwing him into a pit – they ultimately decide to sell him to a caravan headed toward Egypt and tell their father that he had tragically died.
When Joseph reached Egypt, he was sold into slavery. It could be easy to assume that at this point in his story, the favor Joseph once had walked in was gone. However, everywhere that Joseph went, the Bible tells us that favor followed. From the house he served into the prison he spent time into the palace he ruled in – the evidence of God’s grace upon Joseph’s life is evident from start to finish.
“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.”
Through a series of miraculous events, Genesis ends with Joseph no longer serving in the home of an official, but ruling as second in command over all of Egypt. It is a time of great famine. The whole world is hungry and, because of the wisdom bestowed upon Joseph by the Lord, Egypt is the only country prepared and able to survive it. When Joseph’s brothers come to ask for food from the Pharoah, they speak to their brother unknowingly. He has changed much in the years they have been apart. He wonders if they have, too.
After testing their hearts to see if they had grown in kindness during their years apart, Joseph reveals himself to them and asks them to bring the entire family to Egypt so that he might care for them during the years of famine that would follow. In Genesis 50, after the death of their father, Joseph reassures his brothers of his commitment to care for them and their families. In verse 20 he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” These words have always captured my attention.
Joseph understood that the favor that was upon his life was from God. He had not been brought to Egypt by accident. He had not found his way to the palace simply by chance. God had been writing a story and orchestrating a plan all along. This was bigger than him. His position in the palace would ultimately save the people of Israel during a time of great famine – the people God had chosen to bring His son, the Savior of the world, through. Without him, there would be no them. Esther’s story is no different.
She wasn’t just lucky to be chosen. She was favored. God had chosen her for the palace. He had positioned her for this time in history. And in this, there is an important lesson for us. James 4:10 tells us, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will exalt you.”
He will exalt.
I don’t have to strive for position. I don’t have to fight to be seen. I don’t have to shout to be heard. I can trust that if God has called me to it, He will do it. He will give me favor with those I need to have favor with. He will give me a grace to walk in the places I have been called to walk in. I won’t ever have to “make it happen” on my own. As I humble myself in His sight, walking in simple obedience to Him and surrendering the pen and the paper to His capable hand - He will write a story with my life that I could never write on my own.
Do you struggle to trust God with your future?
Do you struggle to let go control and rest in His faithfulness to exalt you?
Is it hard for you to surrender the pen and paper to His hand and let Him write your story? If so, why do you think that is?
Why do you think we as humans so often strive to make things happen on our own?
Why do you think trusting God with our story can be so difficult for us?
Pause and ask God to help you rest in His favor and goodness. Surrender your future and the dreams and desires of your heart into His hands. He is and will always be faithful!
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