For Such a Time As This

Published by DonDavidson on

The story of Esther starts with a proud queen and an intoxicated king.

Ahasuerus was the king of Persia during a time when Persia ruled the Middle East. Persia is modern-day Iran. Scholars believe Ahasuerus is another name for Xerxes, who ruled the Persian Empire from 485 B.C. to 464 B.C.

The book of Esther opens with Ahasuerus throwing a big party. If the scholars are right, then this was a feast to celebrate Xerxes’ approaching invasion and anticipated conquest of Greece in 480 B.C. That invasion ended in defeat, by the way, but that’s another story.

When Ahasuerus had had too much to drink, he summoned his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear before the assembled crowd, “in order to display her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful.” (Esther 1:11)

She refused.

We are not told why Queen Vashti defied the king’s command. One possible explanation comes from Esther 1:9, which tells us that Vashti was holding her own banquet for the women. So perhaps she was reluctant to leave her guests. But it’s also possible that she simply didn’t want to be put on display before a drunken crowd. Whatever the reason, Vashti’s refusal angered the king, who ordered that she never again be allowed to appear in his presence.

When the king sobered up, he realized that he now had a problem. His decree banishing Vashti from his presence could not be undone—for the order of a Persian king could not be revoked, even by the king himself. The only solution was to get a new queen.

The king decided to hold the ancient Persian version of “The Bachelor.” He ordered that the most beautiful young virgins in the kingdom be brought to Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, so that the king might select a new queen from among them. Esther—whose Jewish name was Hadassah—was selected as one of those young women.

Esther had been raised by her first cousin, Mordecai, after she had been orphaned as a child. Mordecai warned her not to reveal that she was a Jew.

These young women spent a year in preparation, learning beauty techniques and court customs, before being presented to the king. That year was probably while Xerxes was away invading Greece.

The plan was for each girl to spend one night with the king. If she were not chosen to be the new queen, she went into the king’s harem as one of his concubines. When Esther’s time came, she pleased the king and became his new queen.

Meanwhile, Mordecai, Esther’s guardian, had managed to anger Ahasuerus’ right-hand man, Haman. Ahasuerus thought so highly of Haman that he ordered all of his subjects to bow down to him as they would to the king himself. But Mordecai refused to do so.

Why did Mordecai refuse? According to Esther 3:4, Mordecai said his reason for refusing was that he was a Jew. The importance of that becomes clear when we read what the Greek historian Herodotus tells us. When the Persians invaded Greece, the Spartans refused to bow down to Xerxes in this manner because they would be giving him the homage due a god. So Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman was undoubtedly based on a belief that such homage would be idolatrous.

Haman was so upset with Mordecai that he decided to destroy the Jews. Using the king’s authority, Haman issued an order that the Jews were to be killed and their property confiscated, beginning eleven months from the date of the order.

Mordecai learned of Haman’s order and urged Esther to intervene on behalf of her people. But there was a problem—under Persian law, Esther could not simply appear before the king without being summoned. To do so could cost Esther her life. She had not been summoned by the king during the previous thirty days. For all she knew, the king might be angry with her.

Mordecai was able to persuade her by telling her, “who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Like Esther, God has placed each of us where he wants us. And our time to stand up for God might be when a family member needs reassurance that God is real. Or when a friend needs a helping hand. Or when a charity needs money to help the poor. Or when our friends on social media need to hear a voice of calm and reason. Or when we hear someone asserting that God doesn’t exist, or that he is indifferent to our concerns.

When I was a baby Christian, I was often reluctant to say anything when I heard people criticizing, questioning, or denying God. I felt like I had nothing to offer because I knew so little about the faith. How could I answer their questions or respond to their criticism? But I knew deep down that that was wrong. If nothing else, I could say that I believe in Jesus, and tell people what God has done for me. I knew I needed to stand up for my faith and for God.

Jesus said: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

I never wanted Jesus to be ashamed of me.

This doesn’t mean you have to go preach the Gospel on a street corner—although if you feel led to do so, go for it.

But a time will come, just as it did for Esther, when God wants you to stand up for him and for the Gospel—to make clear that you are a believer, because God has done great things for you. I hope you’ll be ready when that time comes.

I discuss the book of Esther in chapters 181-184 of my book, The Old Testament Made Simple (Part 2). Go here to view a list of chapters and read a few sample chapters. The book is available on Amazon, as is Part 1.


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