By Rev. Dr. Cynthia Kittredge
“Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have son your father, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me – that is my petition – and the lives of my people – that is my request.” Esther 7:3
As elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, a woman is at the center of this story of deliverance. Through courage and trickery Shiprah and Puah save the Hebrew babies from being destroyed at birth. Miriam saves Moses from death as a child and celebrates Israel’s salvation in the exodus. Rahab, the Canaanite heroine, saves the Jewish spies and comes to represent both works (James 2:25) and faith (Hebrews 11:31). Often women play the role of trickster figures who use cunning to prevail in the patriarchal society depicted in the biblical world.
Esther, a Jewish woman who advances in the court of a foreign king, serves as an example for Jews in the Persian diaspora, who had to maintain their identity and survive under domination foreign rulers. Just as a woman must resort to unorthodox strategies to thrive in a male-dominated society, so must Jews possess extraordinary skill and virtue to make it as minorities in a Gentile world.
Reflecting on the long history of the Jewish people under foreign rule is an inspiring and useful exercise for Christians who have for a long time enjoyed the status of a majority in Western society. When Christians can no longer take the dominant culture for granted, we may be asked to take risks and to work within hostile power structures as Esther did to save her people.
Do you identify with the female hero of this tale of faith and action? If so, how?
If you do not identify with Esther, what do you learn from her story?
Holy and Loving God, you have saved your people throughout history, and you continue to work for our healing and salvation. Look with your blessing and power upon all those who are oppressed. Help us to work with you for freedom. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Kittredge is professor of New Testament and Academic Dean at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.