“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14b]
In chapter 3 of the Book of Esther, evil Haman puts in place a plot to kill all the Jews in Persia. Convincing the king to agree, he sends an edict (written command) out to all the 127 provinces of the empire, instructing that every Jewish man, woman and child be killed on a certain day. In chapter 4, we see the immediate effects of Haman’s actions. The Jews tore their clothes, poured ashes on their heads and fasted, crying out to God for deliverance from this terrible fate.
By this time, Queen Esther had been keeping her Jewish identity a secret for five years or more. It was her uncle Mordecai who instructed her to keep it secret. Now, Mordecai’s own Jewish identity had been exposed, and yet Esther was so isolated from her people she didn’t know what was happening. Hearing from her attendants that Mordecai was weeping through the streets of the city, dressed in sackcloth and ashes, Esther became curious about what was going on. Esther sent out proper clothes for Mordecai, but he refused, mourning the terrible tragedy that was ticking ever closer.
Finally, Esther sent out a Eunuch to find out from Mordecai what was going on. In his response, Mordecai, the one who told Esther to keep her Jewish identity secret, begins calling her identity back out into the light. He passed a copy of the edict to her, told her of the money Haman was willing to pay for the destruction of the Jews, and asked Esther to appeal to the king on behalf of her people.
But Esther had problems Mordecai knew nothing about. There is marital tension between the queen and her king; it had been a whole month since she’d last seen him. Whatever was going on between them, Esther clearly felt her presence wasn’t wanted. Moreover, it was illegal for anyone to approach the king without being called. The punishment was immediate execution. Esther might not even get the chance to speak a single word to the king! And so she replied to Mordecai, in effect, “sorry to hear about your troubles, but I’m the wrong person to help out.”
Mordecai, however, was not at liberty to take “no” for an answer. And so he sent a message back to the queen, pulling on every heartstring he possibly could. First he bluntly pointed out that her life too was in danger from this edict, whether she took any action to save others or not. Second, he confessed his faith in God, that God would somehow deliver the Jewish people - and he invited Esther to make a choice: to participate in what God would do, or stand aside and receive the consequences of her inaction. And third, he pointed out that her rise to power seemed almost miraculous, and called upon her to question whether it was just something nice for her to enjoy, or if in fact God had an important purpose for Esther as queen.
Mordecai’s comments affected Queen Esther very deeply. How could she not have felt afraid in this moment? Not only is there marital tension between her and her husband; not only is her beloved uncle - her adopted father - making stern demands on her; not only is he calling her to acknowledge her Jewish identity when she’s learned to keep it secret all these years; not only is he asking her to put her life at risk, but she was also beginning to realize that her life was deeply at risk anyway, whether she did anything or not.
Terrified though she was, something became remarkably clear: she had to act to save the Jewish people, even if it meant losing her own life. She instructed Mordecai to gather the Jews to fast and pray for her for three days. For those same three days she gathered all her attendants for fast and pray also; and at the end of the three days she would go to the king, and beg him for mercy for her people.
All of us face times in our lives when we are afraid of doing the right thing. Disney movies make it seem that doing the right thing is easy and good and we’re immediately rewarded for it. But in real life we know this isn’t the case. Esther has good reason to be afraid. By standing in solidarity with her Jewish people, she was also “outing” herself to Haman. Esther could have chosen to obey her fear, and stay silent, and keep herself safe as long as possible; but she chose to act despite her fear. She chose to do what was right, and to use her power to protect others. For the next several chapters of the Book of Esther, fear will be Esther’s constant companion, even while she continues, step by step to do what is right.
Each of us face challenging moments in our lives where, to quote Albus Dumbledore, we must chose between what is easy and what is right. But meanwhile, God is at work in our lives, growing up strengths and resilience within us so we are equipped for the moment when it comes. God works through our good times, and God works through our difficult and painful times, offering us opportunities always to grow a good, strong, godly character; to grow in courage; to grow in kindness; to grow in seeking the help of others; to grow in determination to do what is right; to deepen our moral compass. God calls us to notice these seeds he is growing in our lives, so that we are ready, when the time comes, to step up and do the right thing, even though we may be afraid.
Would that we all had the courage and character of Esther! But let’s notice God’s will working in our lives, and growing us a little more like her, step by step, every day of our lives. And let us say “yes!” and “amen!” to what God is doing within us.