Esther: The Risk Taker

History provides a vast array of women mentors.  One of my favorite is Esther of the Bible who, from a minority status uses wisdom and faith to save herself and her people.

Societies extol living and playing safely.  Responsible citizens obey the rules of society and live within their means.  Taking risks elicit wary raised eye brows, and we frown upon deviants and rebels stepping out of the norm.

 To develop her uniqueness however, a woman must step out of the mainstream and respond to her life’s call and purpose.  Historically, God has called ordinary people out of life’s comfort zone and provided significant opportunities for spiritual growth and personal achievement.  This is risky for the chosen because when a person steps out of sync with societal norms the consequences are often damaging.  The risk is even greater if the person’s race, occupation or gender already represents a low status in society.

 Interestingly, sociologists describe a minority woman’s position as “double jeopardy” because there are two strikes against her; she is a woman and a minority.  Some women are in “triple jeopardy,” being a woman, minority, and old.  Although these negative challenges minorities face, particularly women, are real, it doesn’t mean that living a purposeful life is unattainable.  (That these social statuses exist is for another blog!)  Esther of the Bible is our mentor in such a situation.

 Initially her older cousin, Mordecai, used Esther as a pawn.   When Persian King Xerxes sought a queen beautiful Persian maidens posed before him.  Mordecai arranged for Esther, his young Jewish cousin, to join them, concealing her Jewish identity.  The king chose Esther because of her exquisite beauty.

 The Bible says that King Xerxes loved Esther.  Her submissiveness and obedience found much favor with him.  His previous queen, Vashti, publicly disobeyed him when he wanted to show off her beauty to all the princes but she refused to comply with his wishes and failed to appear.  The wise men advised the king to dispose of Vashti at once because her outright disobedience would influence the rest of the women in the kingdom and they, too, would disobey their husbands, and the king complied. 

 Women’s role during Esther’s time was to please and entertain men, and to carry out the household chores.  Esther, as a Jewish woman, would have had lesser acknowledgement and status in this Persian society.  But her true identity was kept a secret.

 Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, had once saved the king’s life, and in gratitude the king appointed him an advisor in his court.  His appointment angered the king’s general, Haman, who sought ways to get rid of Mordecai and the rest of the Jews.  This is the cast of men Esther faced in her challenge to save herself and her people.  These were men seeking status, power and wealth.

 Esther finds herself in the crossfire between Haman and Mordecai.  The general, wishing to destroy all the Jews,  convinced the king to pass a law forcing the Jews to kneel down and worship the king or be killed.  Knowing the Jews would never comply, it would give Haman the excuse he needed to destroy the Jews in the Persian kingdom.

 Mordecai, however, played his pawn turned queen, Esther, to retaliate in the feud asking her to tell her husband, the king, of Haman’s wicked plot.  Mordecai prophesied to Esther, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14-14, NIV) 

Esther, hedged between two threatening choices, seriously considers the challenges of one, presenting herself to the king which the law prohibited without him first requesting her presence; and two, risking revealing her Jewish identity which would surely mark her betrayal and put her life and her people’s lives in danger.  Or, she could do nothing and remain queen.

 But Esther, raised by Mordecai when she lost her parents and had a solid understanding of her heritage, became a risk taker by faith.  Fully aware of the devastating consequences that awaited her if she confronted the king unrequested to make a plea for herself and her people, she carefully weighed and analyzed the costs and benefits of the risks she was about to undertake.

Calculating her every move, Esther did not storm into the king’s throne room, announce her heritage and demand freedom for her people.  That would have been suicidal.  She did not outright disobey the king as her predecessor, Vashti had done.  She took the time to carefully conceive a plan, developed it step-by-step, and patiently worked it.

 Esther planned not one or two, but three special feasts to honor the king, and requested General Haman’s presence at each feast.  She further honored her king by being submissive and obedient, using these qualities as her offensive moves to gain the king’s favor.  Her submissiveness and kind gestures were her strongest resources for a successful strategy. 

 The king found favor with his queen and on a sleepless night as he read through chronicles of his reign she reminded him of Mordecai’s good deed in saving his life.  It was the timely intimate moment Esther had prayed for and she carefully informed the king that her life and the lives of her people were in jeopardy.  The king asked, “Who wants to destroy your people?”  She replied, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman.”

 Haman was eventually hung on the gallows built for Mordecai’s execution.   Esther humbly revealed her heritage and still remained in the king’s favor.  She eliminated her adversary and saved the Jewish nation.

 Esther’s success resulted because she firmly maintained her values and was well acquainted with her God and her Jewish heritage.  She demonstrated that a disciplined person committed to her values could afford to take risks.   She remained subservient to her king and husband and wisely used the limited tools within her possession.  It required wisdom, patience, and tenacity to carefully consider the risks, develop the plan and carry out the strategy.

 Esther is a heroic mentor for today’s women  risk takers.  She crossed cultural boundaries, lived definitely outside of mainstream, and remained true to her faith and values.  She knew her risks, the consequences, the timeframe necessary for a successful venture, and by faith she believed that her decision was right for herself, her people, and her king, and she was in tune with her role at a critical, historical moment aligned with the stars and God’s plan.

 The Lesson – A risk taker does not mean living a carefree and reckless life.  Rather it means being willing to step out of the ordinary to grow and discover the unique woman you already are, combining the characteristics of humility, self-sacrifice, servitude, and obedience with strength, courage, initiative and decisiveness.  These are attributes of strong, risk taking women and men who are unafraid to face the daily challenges, big and small, and by faith live their purposeful lives.

  Risk it wisely!

 © Jennifer Lee and, October 2009.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Jennifer Lee and is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennifer Lee and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.