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Who is that woman?

September 13, 2012

I’ve been following an internet discussion on Esther, the Biblical woman who saved her people from extinction.  The debate, which has gone on for months, centers on the question what was Esther really like.  It takes place among sincere Christians and is full of snide remarks and outright insults between the parties.  As near as I can tell, there are four competing viewpoints on this woman.

  1. The Proverbs 31 Esther.  This Esther is a godly woman who uses her purity, goodness and godly submission, even to a pagan husband, to be an instrument of God, proving that godly submission in marriage is God’s plan for all women. 
  2. The proto-feminist Esther.  This Esther was dragooned into appalling sex slavery at the hands of a tyrannical male ruler but, nonetheless, through courage and resourcefulness, is able to lead even her brute of a husband into doing God’s will and, along the way, ridding herself and her family of a sworn enemy.
  3. The Sunday School Esther.  This is the sweet and pretty young women who wins a beauty contest akin to a Miss America pageant and captures the heart of the King, putting her into position to be used by God.  If you grew up in an evangelical church you have known this Esther since childhood.
  4. 4.      The cynical and self-centered Esther.   I could not describe this woman any better than this direct quote:    “[Esther] grows up in a very lukewarm religious home as an orphan raised by her uncle. Beautiful, she allows men to tend to her needs and make her decisions. Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king like hundreds of other women. She performs so well that he chooses her as his favorite. Today, her story would be, a beautiful young woman living in a major city allows men to cater to her needs, undergoes lots of beauty treatment to look her best, and lands a really rich guy whom she meets on The Bachelor and wows with an amazing night in bed. She’s simply a person without any character until her own neck is on the line, and then we see her rise up to save the life of her people when she is converted to a real faith in God.”  Mark Driscoll.

So who is right?  Will the real Esther please stand up?  Those of you who know me are probably sure I am getting ready to say “I don’t know.”  Well, you are almost right.  I suspect that if you look at these views as a four-cornered grid you would find the real Esther not exactly on any of them and drifting somewhere in between.  The above views probably say more about those who hold them than they do about Esther.

But actually I want to give a different answer – it doesn’t matter.  I am quite sure that if God was intent on solving this debate, or for that matter even had the slightest interest in it, He would have left enough clues to resolve it.  Rather it seems to me that we are given tantalizing glimpses into a young woman that are barely enough to form any coherent understanding of who she was. 

I suspect that we were really meant to understand only one thing about this mysterious woman; that when the chips were down she stood for God.  This encourages me as it tells me that, whatever my past, what matters to God is what I do in the next moment.  The image that others have of me, be it favorable or not, and the image I have of myself, does not need to define or dictate my next decision.  The grace of God so completely covers my past that my choice to obey God or not in the next instant has no strings or weights dragging it down.  When Joshua told the Israelites to choose “this day” who they will serve he was expressing the choice that we all have every day; and that we will get to make again tomorrow. 

However she got there, whatever led her to the point of making that choice, Esther had that opportunity in a big way and chose to do what was right.  I admire Esther.  My admiration is not rooted in any of the above models, it is rooted in the picture she gives to me that courage and faithfulness in this day is what matters.

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