Women of Wisdom: If It Pleases the King

July 3, 2008 at 7:10 pm (W.O.W.) (, , , )

Adapted from the Book of Esther

Once upon a time, a beautiful little Jewish girl lived in a huge city in the middle of the Persian Empire. Her envisioned happily ever after must have included migrating back home to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city, marrying a wiry man with dark eyes and a curly beard who would come home smelling like fresh air and fields. He’d catch up his little children in his arms, smiling at her over their dark heads and say in Hebrew. “Hadassah, as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”

Then her parents died. Taken in by a kind relative, she still clung to her dreams for the future. Until the day she wound up in the palace as one of many candidates to become the new queen. Stripped of her heritage, her hopes, her identity, even her name, Esther faced a future no Jewish girl would desire.

This was no mere beauty pageant. It wasn’t a moment of fame, crowned Miss Babylon, given a scholarship and pointed toward success. Ahasuerus was known to be a wild man and a partier, prone to extremes. He’d banished his beautiful queen not long before for refusing to appear before his dinner guests. He’d just suffered defeat in a battle and come home to seek solace in his harem—a harem full of fresh faces. One would be his new queen, the others would retire after a single night to the house of concubines, likely to live out the rest of their days in pampering, laziness and obscurity. No husband. No children. No future. The one chosen as queen would be his royal consort—when he called for her. When he wasn’t too busy with matters of state. When he wasn’t too busy with concubines.

Why would Yahweh send a daughter of His into a Persian King’s boudoir?

He did.

Esther’s desire was to be a pleasing sacrifice. She sought to please her guardian, Mordecai, as he whispered counsel in her ear. “Don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish.” She sought to please Hegai, in whose custody she was placed, and gained his favor and guidance as she learned to please the king. Her desire to be pleasing crowned her queen, for Ahasuerus was more pleased with her than with any other woman.

And they lived happily ever after.

Until Haman the Agagite came to power, a hatred for God’s people smoldering in his breast. Matters of state become pressing on a King’s time and soon Haman saw more of the king than Esther did. With little difficulty, the Agagite obtained the King’s permission to command the destruction of every Jew in the capital city of Susa—including the Queen.

Esther writhed in agony when she heard the news. Where was the beauty in her gilded cage now? Her death certificate was written in the irreversible ink of the Medes and Persians and stamped with her husband’s seal. Then came Mordecai’s quiet urge: “Go to the King.”

Esther had expended her energy and emotion in learning to be pleasing. She’d studied the palace protocol, the King’s tempers, his wishes, his desires. Vashti had been banished for refusing to come when summoned. Coming without a summons could mean her death. “Very well,” the Queen said. “I’ll go. If I perish, I perish.”

But her desire was still to please the King. She could have come before him writhing in agony, tearing her hair, weeping and accusing him of her murder. “You don’t love me!” she could have shrieked. “You don’t care what happens to me!”

Instead she fasted and prayed. Then she sought to make herself pleasing to the king. He’d called for Vashti to appear in her royal crown. He’d ordered the queen candidates to be bathed and beautified for a year. He admired beauty. She dressed beautifully. Yet this breach of policy could appear as though she were mocking him—even as Vashti had done. She entered the royal hall, attired to delight him, yet with an air of pleading, hoping for his pleasure. And received it.

“What do you seek?” he demanded, extending the golden scepter of life.

To make her appeal in front of the whole court would have been to make a fool of the King. “What were you thinking? You signed my death warrant!” The crowds would buzz. “The King is rash and injust!” Instead, Esther had carefully planned her appeal. She remembered that the King loved banquets. “If it pleases the King,” she whispered. “Let the King and Haman come to a banquet—a private one.”

Later, alone with the King and her assassin, she finally answered his question. No accusation. No remonstrance. Simply, “I ask for my life and that of my people.” She hastened to add, “If it were anything short of our lives, I would not have troubled you.” Her thoughts were always to please him. To consider his preferences. To seek his grace.

Before Ahasuerus sat his queen and his counselor, in a silent struggle for his favor. No doubt Haman had served him well to be promoted to second in the kingdom, yet Esther received his approval. Esther found a champion. The King’s reaction to the accusation left no doubt in either mind who had pleased the King—who would live and who would die.

Did Esther get her happily ever after? Even though Haman was hanged and his position and possessions bestowed on her protector, Mordecai, Esther would never fulfill the dreams of a Jewish woman. She would never dedicate her firstborn in the temple of Yahweh, cover her eyes at his circumcision, knead unleavened bread for Passover or pour wine for her husband on the Sabbath. Her lineage would dissipate into the chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia, swallowed in the vast history of a pagan nation. But her willingness to be a pleasing sacrifice had far-reaching effects: not only did she save the Jewish people from annihilation, tradition tells us her son became the king who ordered the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Her desire to please the King, her man, made her pleasing in the sight of Yahweh.

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12 Comments

  1. Lauren said,

    Wow is right! Thanks so much for your insight into this wonderful Bible story, Abigail! So much to chew on–both challenging and inspiring!

  2. Carnadine said,

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for posting it!

  3. åslaug said,

    This was simply beautiful, Abigail!
    Even though I’ve found lots of inspiring, useful, God-honoring, uplifting, life-changing stuff in the articles on this blog, I love the WOW series the most. Especially this one.

    Thanks for giving us back the inspiration and examples of our Yahweh-serving foremothers =) Words can’t describe my thankfulness!

    Peace to you,
    åslaug

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