It was kind of like a modern-day beauty pageant, minus the talent section. It required no essay entrance exam or interview portion. There were truly only two necessary attributes to be invited into King Xerxes harem—beauty and virginity. That was it. Young girls from every province of the kingdom were screened, gathered, and brought into the harem based solely on these two qualities.
She’s an unlikely hero of the bible, and I like that about her. I get her. Even though thousands of years separate us (and, you know, one of us was royalty and the other not), she and I are not very different. Her lessons are my lessons, our hearts connected. It would be easy to dismiss her story, to deem it irrelevant to our modern lives with its archaic themes of kingdoms and servitude. But, as you will come to find, there is much we can learn from this inspiring true story, and it is as relevant today as it was a thousands of years ago.
The only thing we know about Esther is that she is beautiful. An orphaned Jew, raised by her uncle Mordecai, she was brought into the harem because of her lovely figure and her beauty (Esther 2:7). In the harem it pays to be beautiful, and Esther was favored. She was given attendants to wait on her every need, completed 12 months (yes, twelve) of beauty treatments, and another 12 (again, twelve!) with myrrh, perfume, and cosmetics. In fact, her beauty was so pleasing to the king that he named her queen.
This is Esther.
A woman favored for her beauty, rewarded for her attractiveness, and groomed to be a queen because she was pretty. And if her story ended there, we wouldn’t think twice about it, right? Our world today is not that much different. Beauty matters. And it matters a lot. It did then, in ancient times when women lived with almost no rights and no opportunity and it does now, despite thousands of years of progress and revolution. My story, like Esther’s, starts with a girl who prizes beauty above all else.
What we learn through Esther’s life, her rise to become the Queen of Persia, and her iconic display of heroism, is that there is always more going on than what meets the eye. There is always a “but, God” both in our lives and Esther’s.
God was in the details of Esther’s story. While he’s never mentioned in the book, not once, we can still see how his divine authority, power, and purpose aligned to set the stage. Esther, a Jewish woman, was seated on the throne of the most powerful empire in the world at a time when the Jewish people, as a race, were under immense threat. This was no coincidence. It was not just being in the right place at the right time. This was God.
There is always a “but, God” both in our lives and Esther’s.
But God’s providence goes deeper than just dropping Esther in the right place at the right time. He sees everything through to completion (Philippians 1:6) and like we would expect from a good father here on earth, our heavenly Father is there right alongside us throughout the entire story.
When you examine Esther’s story you see this. You can see how his providence provided Esther with favor, both with the leader of her harem and also with the king himself. Were it not for God’s hand, the outcome of both her own life and the lives of countless others would be drastically different, as it was God bending the king’s ear to her (Proverbs 21:1) and it was God placing her in a position to petition him. We see God in her story just as we can see him in our own.
A Woman of God and a Choice to Act
Esther, though, was not a passive puppet in the story of her life. But rather we watch her transform, grow and come into her own as we read. We meet a girl who hides her heritage and accepts her fate as just a beautiful face and we witness her find her courage, hatch a plan, and outwit the “bad guy.” God placed her in the right position, but it was her choice to act. She knew the risks. She knew that approaching the king without a summons was punishable by death. She knew the previous queen, Vashti, was banished for her defiance. This was not an easy choice.
Yet she did not remain silent. She prayed. She fasted. She chose wisdom over haste and creatively gained favor and regard with the king by inviting him and Haman, the king’s highest nobleman, and also the man behind the edict to destroy the Jewish race, to a banquet. She fed them well, served them well, and invited them to another banquet the following night. By acting wisely and appealing to the king’s ego, she earned such high favor that he offered her anything she requested, up to half of his kingdom.
Esther was no fool.
Her choice to act, and act wisely, coupled with God’s favor and providence, placed the king directly in her palm and saved the entire Jewish race from destruction.
I relate to Esther. She is my kind of girl. Her story is my kind of story. Not because I’ve ever been married to royalty or saved an entire race of people. And I certainly wasn’t subject to years worth of beauty treatments (ain’t nobody got time for that). But like her, for most of my life, I defined myself by my outside—not my inside.
Like many young girls, I bought the lie that a woman’s most important asset is how she looks. The compliments I heard most, the attention I received, all centered around being “cute” or “pretty.” Not my intelligence, my bravery, or my strength, but my pretty face. People didn’t expect much of me; I was treated delicately, like the world might break me. I absorbed this, it seeped into my being, this idea that I was not strong, but pretty, and that was it.
It shaped every aspect of my life, from my education to my career choices. I worked just hard enough in school to skate by, but always had a boyfriend and always hung with the cool crowd. I didn’t cultivate great talents or become a great athlete or class leader. I was the pretty girl. And I was content with that because I believed it was what mattered most.
I landed great jobs in the fashion industry. I rose up the ranks as a recruiter (both roles that were covertly contingent on how I looked and the image I portrayed). I got married and was the perfect corporate arm-candy wife. I made a beautiful young mom.
Like many young girls, I bought the lie that a woman’s most important asset is how she looks. I absorbed this, it seeped into my being, this idea that I was not strong, but pretty, and that was it.
Like Esther, We Are Called to More
And while my story is not nearly as dramatic as Esther’s, eventually, I too was called to more. I had to find my voice and become more than a pretty face. God placed me in rough spots, where like Esther, I had to grow up, step up, and choose life or death. But God, being the good Dad that he is, didn’t just plop me into these rough spots without promising his help. He didn’t leave me in the mess alone; he was with me every step of the way. And so, in Esther’s case and in my own, I see this mysterious meshing of God’s divine providence and human responsibility.
He gave me a child with special needs who needed me to become his advocate, his strength, his caregiver. I had to fight harder than I’ve ever fought through insurance battles and doctors visit, weaving my way through our complicated medical system to get him the care he needed. God made me his mother and equipped me for the job, but it was my job to use my voice and stand up for my child. It was my choice to act.
And again, God gave me a daughter who needed to see her mother as a strong woman, one with substance and confidence. He gave this girl to me knowing that it would push me and stretch me, forcing me to use the gifts he’d given me wisely, so I could help her become a confident child in her own right, not just another pretty face.
And finally, God gave me a child with ADHD, a challenging child, one who struggles to settle down, sit still, and conform to the world. I didn’t ask for this challenge for my son. I didn’t want him to have to fight his way through anxiety and counseling and constant conflict. But God gave it to him, and He gave this boy to me. And I am right by my son’s side, fighting for him, working with him, loving on him (even when it’s hard), because he needs me. And I know how to do it because I’m also that child, and my Father does it for me.
He Equips Us to Live out Our Story
God is always in the details, even the ones that don’t seem pretty or nice or clean. He’s there, in the midst of our stories, and he’s making a way through the sea though sometimes with footprints unseen (Psalm 77:19). We see this in Esther. We see how he placed her right in the middle of literal life and death circumstances. We see how God used her story to prepare her “for such a time as this.”
And my dear, he’s placed you in the middle of your story for the same reason. I know how hard it is to see when the path is unclear and you’re facing difficult decisions that you never, in a million years, saw coming. It’s hard to see when you’re hurting or your child is struggling. You wonder where God is. You ask Him, “Why?”
We might never, on this side of heaven, know the reason we struggle. We might not understand why our path seems so rocky and the road rife with roadblocks and pitfalls. But we can know, even in the middle of our darkest pain, that God is there in the details and he wants to bear our burdens. He was for Esther, and he is for you.
And more than that, he’s given you every single thing you need to step up with courage. Whether you feel strong enough does not matter. Esther didn’t, she tried to bargain herself out of it; she knew the stakes were incredibly high. And she was scared.
There’s always a “but, God,” you know?
But God was with her. He was her strength. He gave her the voice she needed, right when she needed it. And he is with you, too. He gave you what you need. He’s with you every step of the way. Keep going. Find your voice. Find your grit and grace. You, my dear, were born for such a time as this.
We can know, even in the middle of our darkest pain, that God is there in the details and He wants to bear our burdens.
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