Esther: Courage in a Chaotic Culture
We live in a confused world. Thousands of babies are aborted in the United States every day. Homosexuality and transgenderism are glorified. Sunday is just another day, and the entertainment industry portrays violence and sexual sin as acceptable and amusing. So much has changed for the worse in the past decade alone. Christ clearly calls His people to be counter-cultural. But how? Should we pretend this only applies to “stronger” Christians? Should we hold angry signs on freeway overpasses? Or is there a better way? This conundrum makes it worth studying the life of an early counter-culturalist: Queen Esther.
Esther was not anybody special, per se. She was a young orphan being raised by her cousin, Mordecai (Esther 1:7). Like most of us, she might not have expected to do anything amazingly influential in her life. Nevertheless, God used her to save the lives of thousands of Jews. From this, we are reminded that God can use anybody. We might think we are too shy, too young, too old, too inexperienced, too busy, or too stressed. But this kind of thinking severely limits God’s power. Every biblical and historical character used to further God’s plan was fully equipped to be counter-cultural, and we are no exception. God does give His people tasks that they cannot handle. But, as with Esther, He also provides sufficient strength and boldness.
Yet courage in a godless society does not mean being brash or arrogant. We have perhaps heard of people who self-righteously flaunt their abstinence from inappropriate entertainment, use crude slurs for homosexuals, or shout at women entering abortion clinics. However, Esther did not exhibit rash or unkind attitudes or actions as she went about her mission to save her people. She was actually a likeable person, as seen in Esther 2:15. She was said to be extremely beautiful, but she likely had an attractive character as well, to be so universally admired. Being well liked is not a requirement for Christian life. But it is a dire mistake to think we must be unpleasant or unloving to make our point while we stand firm against the cultural tide.
Instead, Matthew 10:16 exhorts Christians to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” A good example of this is Esther’s judicious approach to her task. At first, per Mordecai’s request, she did not reveal her Jewish lineage to anyone, including Ahasuerus. When she felt the time was right, she requested a meeting with the king and Haman; yet she still did not reveal her appeal for her people. She waited until the next night to expose Haman’s plot. In the meantime, Mordecai had been honored for his prevention of Bigthan and Teresh’s insurrection, which helped Esther’s case. God allowed her timing to be such that her request was successful. Being a counter-cultural Christian is not incompatible with God’s gifts of intelligence and cleverness.
God also gave Esther a brave spirit of self-sacrifice. In Esther 4:11, Esther explains to Mordecai the risk she would face in going to speak with Ahasuerus unannounced. Vashti had been divorced for a simple refusal to appear before her husband’s friends; by royal decree, unless Esther was extended the scepter in the king’s court, she could be put to death. Esther was in real danger. But, in verse 15, she sent this response to Mordecai: “If I perish, I perish.” Her response is reminiscent of Jesus’ words: “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31). As of yet, Western Christians do not face death for being counter-cultural. We may have to experience ridicule, inconvenience, or self-denial, however. Esther’s bravery reminds us that these are small sacrifices to make for being used as a tool in God’s hand.
Esther and Mordecai did not know whether their plan would succeed. But, ultimately, they trusted God for what became miraculous results. Ahasuerus could not reverse the decree for extermination of the Jews but encouraged them to defend themselves against attackers. Esther 8:17 mentions that “the fear of the Jews fell upon (the land).” Chapters 9 and 10 go on to detail Mordecai’s promotion to a position of great influence, in which he was “next unto King Ahasuerus,” “accepted of the multitude of his brethren,” and “speaking peace to all his seed.” What started as an impossible situation for every Jew in Persia ended with God’s people having considerable impact on the entire nation. Can we trust our God to do great things in our own hostile and morally crumbling society?
Living in a world full of moral ills and tempting fantasies can leave us feeling understandably exhausted and frustrated. Our primary recourse is to pray for the courageous, kind, discerning, and sacrificial spirit that Esther was given. As she did, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed” (Ps. 37:3).