Thursday, March 08, 2007

The story of Esther

Looking ahead at the liturgical calendar was pretty depressing, as far as finding a female saint is concerned! There are no feast days for women coming soon. Just for men.

The Bible has plenty of women to celebrate, however.

My Jewish friends recently celebrated Purim (March 3), described as the happiest of all celebrations. Purim remembers the rescue of the Jews from extermination at the hands of the chief minister to the king of Persia. Esther is the chief hero of Purim.

She was an orphan, living in exile in Babylon, which had been conquered by Persia. Esther was taken into the court of the king, as part of his harem. She feared the king, whom she didn't know. However, she overcame her fear of approaching him, which could have brought her death, by fasting and listening to the inspired words of her kinsman, Mordecai. She used wisdom and political skills a young girl could not have had without God's help, to persuade the king to spare her people. She also showed the king who his true enemies were.

So, here's the story of Esther, a gutsy gal, as lifted from the Web site Jewish Apple Seed

In a Jewish Bible, the book of Esther is found in the section called “The Writings,” between Ecclesiastes and Daniel. In a Christian Bible, Esther is contained in The Old Testament, between Nehemiah and Job. Unlike other books of the Bible, the name of God is never mentioned in Esther. It is believed, however, that the events in Esther were so carefully carried out, that only God could have masterminded them.

The story of Purim takes place in Shushan, capital of the Persian empire.

The main characters are:

King Ahasuerus [Xerxes]—reigning king of the empire
Vashti—first wife of King Ahasuerus
Mordecai—a Jewish citizen, Esther’s uncle
Esther—second wife of King Ahasuerus, a hidden Jew
Haman—senior minister to King Ahasuerus
Bigthan and Teresh—ministers to the king
Maidens—contestants in a beauty pageant
Jewish citizens, and Persian citizens

One fine day, King Ahasuerus held a huge banquet for everyone in his kingdom. When Ahasuerus was drunk, he ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear at the banquet wearing her beautiful crown. (Some commentators suggest that this meant that she should wear only her crown!) But Vashti refused. As punishment for Vashti’s disobedience, King Ahasuerus banished her from the palace. To choose a new queen, the king called for a beauty pageant and chose Esther. He married her. She kept her Jewish identity a secret on the advice of Mordecai, her uncle.

The king’s ministers, Bigthan and Teresh, plotted to kill the king. Mordecai learned of their plot, told Queen Esther, and Esther reported it to the king. The king ordered the two plotters to be hanged. King Ahasuerus then chose Haman as his senior minister. Haman demanded complete loyalty of everyone in the king’s service, and ordered all to bow down to him. But Mordecai refused, giving as an excuse that bowing down to another person was forbidden by his Jewish faith. This angered Haman, and he decreed the destruction not only of Mordecai, but of all the Jews of the kingdom.

To determine the day for carrying out the decree, Haman cast lots, or “purim.” The lot fell on the 13th of Adar. News of the decree spread throughout the kingdom, and the Jews were greatly distressed. Mordecai urged Esther to plead with the king to save the lives of her people. Queen Esther summoned all of her courage and went before the king. By using her feminine wiles, Esther persuaded the king to offer her the fulfillment of any wish. She told him about the plot against her people and asked that it be stopped. The king granted her wish and ordered Haman to be hanged. So, on the day intended for their destruction, the Jewish people were saved. To celebrate their survival, Mordecai declared the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be days of rejoicing, from that time forth and for all the generations to come.

Thank you, Lord for the gift of Esther, who bowed her will to yours, and took a path that led her to save your people. Thank you for instilling her with grace, strength and wit to carry out your purpose. Give your church these qualities to carry out your will, as well, always following the path you set for us.

Note: Anybody who has kids may know, VeggieTales did a good job telling Esther's story with humor gratis.


Hedwyg said...

Oooooh! I've always loved Esther! Thank you!

Saint Pat said...

Did you know Esther was a Persian name given to her? Her original, Jewish name was Hadassah.