Responses to Esther (Part 2)

Here are two more reader responses to Esther.

From Bri Dupree – pastor/writer over at EchoesofGrey.org

I’m a Christian woman but not your typical Christian woman. What I mean by that is that I assume positions and roles that some Christians believe are exclusively for men, or on top of that, I am quite the feminist (despite how much I try not to be). I believe women can be CEOs, good bosses, and yes, even pastors while still holding to the traditional Christian understanding that my husband should be the head of my household (although we may differ on what that looks like). With that said, I’ve never really fit into the traditional Christian circle regarding Esther. I think Esther was bold and a cool chick but she’s not my role model. I love that she was loyal to God and His people, but other than that, I have never aspired to be Queen Esther. I believe her story serves a purpose in the work of the Bible but I’m not so sure she should be admired for her stance of women’s rights.


I hate to make this a competition, but one reader gave my favorite response. After reminding me that the Bible was written by men from a male perspective, she concluded the following:

So is Esther a role model or is she a stereotype? We don’t know what she was really like, so that is a hard question to answer.

Be still my heart, another person who does not know. I was beginning to think I was the only one.

 

Responses to Esther (Part 1)

Yesterday, I summarized the story of Esther and asked female readers if they identify the namesake as a positive female role model in our modern society. The responses were unsurprisingly diverse – both in content and style (one came with a picture!). I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you over the weekend. Yes, that means you will be getting a very rare Sunday entry this week. Hopefully God will forgive my Sabbath-breaking.


First Thought: Badass 

One reader thought that Esther certainly qualified as “badass” and provided a different way to view it. To start her argument, she quoted a commentary Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, in order to give context to Esther’s actions:

Now the king had made a law that when he sat upon his throne none of his own people should approach him unless they were called, and men with axes in their hands stood round his throne in order to punish any that approached to him without being called. However, the king sat with a golden scepter in his hand, and when he had a mind to save any one of those that approached to him without being called, he extended it, and the one that he touched became then free from danger. But of this matter we have now said enough.

So while Esther was utilized by Mordecai purely for her connection to King Xerxes, she did actually end up convincing him into saving the Jews. She put herself in great danger in order to accomplish this, which above all else, is certainly “badass.”


Second Thought: Right-On Woman

My friend Liane – who previously gave us her thoughts on the relationship between Jonathan and David – had the following to say:

I’ve always seen Esther as a right-on woman, handling her beauty with power. Like Wonder Woman riding a skateboard to upend her enemies. She’s not in immediate danger nor does she really have power. But which women in the Bible do? She’s magnificent. She’s in charge. And the story is not about the villains, but about how she will vanquish them. 

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The first time I felt grace, a supreme connection with a story outside my own, which mirrored, connected, made manifest, the story that I already knew, was with Esther’s story. She had a hot second to convince her tribe. The tribe where she was only considered beautiful. If we could look at the Bible as we look at a movie set, we would see the same trope—pretty girl. No power. How could she possibly make a difference? And Esther probably felt that, too.

The church where I grew up had many strong women and men, and men who were comfortable with strong women. Or at least that’s what I took from growing up there. It was the 70’s and women were shyly announcing their needs, were concerned about getting home, had no purpose beyond their kitchen. But they held the tenor and the scope of their families. And they were tired of always being compared to virgins.

Esther stopped her whole world. She was the one who also came before the king.

It’s pronounced: Ah – haz – you- where- us

Next time you get before the King.


So we have two women who hold Esther in high esteem. Tomorrow, we will hear from a few of the other voices that chimed in, with some dissenting viewpoints.

A Woman! (Part 2): Esther 1 – 10

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.