I once asked the inmates in our prison ministry service, “What does an ordinary woman do when placed in a position of leaving her security behind when called by God to change the world?” As always, the discussion that followed humbled me and opened my eyes as the inmates shared their stories.
The heroine of our Bible story was Esther. She was an ordinary woman who God called out of her ordinariness to stand against demonic powers seeking to destroy the Jews. The name of God is never mentioned in the book bearing her name, but His working behind the scenes and in His people is obvious throughout.
Hadassah (Esther’s Hebrew name) was a Jewish orphan being raised by her cousin Mordecai in captivity in Persia. The King decided to give a 180 day banquet. On the 7th day when everyone was drunk, he called for Queen Vashti to present herself for the guests to ogle her beauty. She refused. The King’s advisors told him this was a serious problem and he needed to get rid of queen. They feared all the wives in the country would start to think they could disobey their husbands if Vashti’s actions weren’t dealt with. So the king deposed her.
King Xerxes became lonely without a queen. A search was made of beautiful virgins to become the new queen. Mordecai submitted his cousin and gave her the Persian name Esther (star), so no one would know she was a Jew. After a year-long preparation, Esther was chosen as the new queen. The Bible says Xerxes was attracted to her above all the rest of the candidates. I wonder if he saw the results of a worshiper of the true and living God in her appearance. All the other candidates must have been pagan worshipers. For whatever the King’s reasons, God was working to place Esther on the throne at a time when she would be called upon to make a difference in history.
The king’s high official, Haman, hated the Jews. The king had ordered everyone to bow down to Haman, but Mordecai refused. Haman planned to execute Mordecai and got the king to sign an irreversible decree to execute all the Jews living in the land. Mordecai convinced Esther she needed to approach the king on behalf of her people, even though she risked death to do so. She hadn’t been summoned by the king for 30 days, and anyone approaching the king without being summoned would be put to death if he didn’t extend his scepter to her. Esther had faith to believe that God had a perfect plan for His people and she wanted to be faithful to it.
Esther entered a time of prayer and fasting to seek God’s will and wisdom. Esther 4:13-16 says, “Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: ‘Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?’ Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.’”
Esther’s security came only in seeking the Lord to find what her next steps should be. God revealed a bold and unusual plan for her. She was courageous and obeyed God’s plan. Esther approached the king and he did extend his scepter to her. Instead of just blurting out what she wanted, she invited the King and Haman to a banquet. At the banquet, she invited them back to another banquet the next night. God’s plan needed some time to be played out. It was at the second banquet Esther made her request to the king to spare her people. Haman was defeated and the Jews survived.
At this point in the story, I paused and asked the inmates: Has God ever shown you an unusual plan that you didn’t understand at first? I was surprised at the answer I got. One gal shared, and they all agreed, that they thought coming to prison would tear away everything they had previously counted on as security to them. They were upset to be convicted and sentenced and didn’t understand God’s plan for them. As it has turned out for everyone there that night, God has used their time of incarceration to set them free from what used to be security and led them to a relationship with Him they never would have had on the outside. They made bad choices against God’s will (we call it sinning), but it was part of His will for them to be incarcerated to be liberated.
In Esther’s story, as in each of ours, God was working behind the scenes to get the circumstances and people ready for His plan in His time. Esther cooperated to take her place in history. Just as the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:20-22, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
Because of Esther’s courage and obedience to live and stand up for God, the Jews were saved. Her security came from doing God’s will, in His time, in her generation. Her name means “star” and she was a shining star! “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16) How easy it would have been for Esther to argue at any place in the story: Get rid of my Jewish identity? Marry a pagan king? What’s the purpose of being queen of this foreign land? Approach the king without being summoned? I don’t understand. I can’t control it. I don’t want to!
Just like for Esther, God has placed each of us where we are in history for such a time as this. We may not understand, be able to control our circumstances or want to cooperate with our call to obey and serve Him where He’s placed us. It gets back to the original question I asked in prison that night: What does an ordinary woman do when placed in a position of leaving her security behind when called by God to change the world? I want to be an Esther. I want to be a shining star in my generation for my place in history. God help me.
Jenny knows about God's timing at http://thefivestages.wordpress.com