Why Queen Esther of the Bible Remains a Controversial Figure

Dec 24


Jo Ann LeQuang

Jo Ann LeQuang

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Esther is one of the most unusual books of the Bible, but it is not often studied. Esther reads more like a novel than a Bible story--with suspenseful twists and turns and reversals of fortune--that make traditional verse-by-verse study difficult. Esther is overlooked sometimes because it is not an overtly religious book at all--yet it is clearly one of the most important books of Scripture, in fact, one of the most important books ever written.


The book of Esther is a story in the Bible about a powerful woman who plays power politics in the court of King Xerxes,Why Queen Esther of the Bible Remains a Controversial Figure Articles one of the greatest and most ruthless historical figures of the ancient world. Esther risks her life in a game of high-stakes politics and manages to save the Jewish people. That alone would make the book of Esther one of the most unusual books in all of Scripture. But add one more thing to make it stand out. It's the only book in all of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) that does not mention God.

Not only is God not mentioned, neither is prayer.

There is much that sets the book of Esther apart from other Bible stories. For instance, at the outset of the book, the young Jewish heroine of the story is named Hadassah but she ditches her Jewish name in favor of the more popular Persian name of Esther (the book of Esther takes place in ancient Persia).

When the young Esther is made Queen of Persia through her marriage to King Xerxes, her cousin (who was also her guardian) warns her not to tell her husband or anyone else at court that she is Jewish. She keeps that promise as long as she can.

This does not exactly seem like a story about one of the great heroines of Scripture! Here is a person who camouflages her faith, does not mention God, does not ever mention that she has prayed ... but is nevertheless considered one of the great figures in the history of the Jewish and Christian faiths.

Most commentators agree that the absence of the word God is actually a literary device in the story that underscores one of the book's central messages. This message is the rather old-fashioned word of "providence." Providence means that God's divine will is fulfilled, even in people who are not believers in God (like Esther's husband, King Xerxes, who was a pagan), even in situations where God is not overtly acknowledged, and even at times when people do not necessarily act "religious."

This is not to say that the omission of God's name in the story of Esther means that Esther did not believe in Him. There is considerable evidence in the story that Esther--at least in the second half of the story--has strong faith. While prayer is not mentioned in the story, it is implied. Maybe it occurred, maybe it did not.

The providence factor holds that God is able to accomplish His plan even if every human player lets Him down.

The plan in Esther is a complicated one that rivals any Alfred Hitchcock suspense plot for twists and turns. King Xerxes, her husband, is tricked into signing a decree that would legalize the killing of all the Jews in Persia. This plan is the brainchild of the evil Haman, possibly the greatest arch-villain of all Scripture (besides Satan, of course). (Hitler is considered a kind of Haman figure.) King Xerxes agrees with Haman's plan and even signs it into law without realizing that his beloved wife Esther is Jewish and that he is, in effect, signing her death certificate.

At the same time, Esther and her cousin know that something must be done to undo the damage of this genocidal edict but there is a catch. According to the Bible, no law in ancient Persia could ever be repealed, not even by the king himself. The bold and extremely clever Esther manages to play power politics--sometimes from within the confines of the king's harem. Esther knows that even the slightest mistake could wind up costing her life.

Esther manages to not only expose Haman's plan but to figure out a way to save the Jewish nation.

All without mentioning God. Since the book is about Providence, commentators say that God had always planned to spare His chosen people, the Jews. There was no way that a plan like Haman's (or later, Hitler's) could succeed in destroying all Jews. God used whom and what He needed to help Esther "save" her people, although, in fact, it was God's providence that worked through her.

For commentators, Esther is the ultimate story about how coincidence is never really random and how God can work through the most seemingly impossible circumstances.

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