A Worthless Queen. The Search for Cinderella. Jews Threatened. Mordecai Remembers. 11 Impalements. Esther and Mordecai Elevated.
Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Esther 2:17 (NIV)
The story of Esther would make a fantastic musical (and a brief Wikipedia search revealed that it already is one). Seriously – an easy-to-follow moralistic story and an ensemble of characters – it would be perfect. The character descriptions would read as follows:
QUEEN ESTHER – our heroine, beautiful, charismatic, persuasive (GOOD JEW)
KING XERXES – married to Esther, loyal, easily persuaded (GOOD NON-JEW)
MORDECAI – Esther’s surrogate father, a leader of the Jews, persuasive (GOOD JEW)
HANAN – our villain, plots to kill all the Jews, persuasive (BAD NON-JEW)
The plot is simple. In the prologue, two men plot to kill KING XERXES, but his humble subject MORDECAI (a Jew) catches wind of it and reports it to his surrogate daughter and queen ESTHER. The plotters are captured and disposed of. Phew.
HANAN convinces KING XERXES to wipe out all of the Jewish exiles in his land after some manipulative propaganda. XERXES agrees to this, but unbeknownst to him, his lovely wife and queen ESTHER is of Jewish descent, as is MORDECAI, the man who saved him from assassination. But HANAN despises MORDECAI for his Jewish nature and begins to enact the judgment against them. MORDECAI convinces ESTHER to tell the king about her heritage and dissuade him from such violence. She does, and it works. XERXES angrily takes HANAN and impales him on a pole (ouch) as well as his ten sons (ouch, and arguably unnecessary). MORDECAI ends up moving on to great things, such as serving as XERXES’s right hand man. And we get a whole new holiday out of it, Purim, which as we all know is a widely celebrated occasion marked of on all of our calendars.
Lights down, applause, standing ovation.
We have a scant few female characters in the Bible thus far and only one other who received a place in the biblical Canon. Esther does not really compare easily to any of them. She is not as badass as the judge Deborah (and not as murderous as her friend Bael) and not as revolutionary as the interracially married Ruth. Instead, she is sort of a go between – a messenger. Not the strongest, not the most interesting – just a middlewoman who delivers messages and persuades the King with her beauty.
So, is she a strong female role model?
She’s certainly not a bad woman (look back at the character description – she’s a GOOD JEW), but I would not line up modern girls around the block to emulate her. Not for her actions – she fasts and respects God, for instance – but something about her appointment irked me. Let’s look at it piece-by-piece:
- She is described as beautiful and with a “lovely figure” (2:7)
- She is more stunning than all the other women (2:17)
- At Mordecai’s suggestion, she informs the king of the plot against him (2:22)
- She’s loyal to God and fasts to receive His favor and wisdom (4:17)
- After drinking wine with him, she persuades the king to kill Haman – and so destroy his plan to kill all the Jews (7:1)
This does not scream “strength” to me, as all of her goodness comes either from her beauty (and thus, Xerxes’ shallowness) and from the prodding of Mordecai. In fact, Mordecai receives almost as many mentions in the book as Esther does herself.
Any female readers are welcome to chime in here. Do you think Esther is someone worth admiring, or is she the last remaining thread of a stereotype that you would rather leave behind?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts (even you guys as well). E-mail me at GodDoesntChangeBlog@gmail.com or comment below.