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Esther and the Jews

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A few days after October 7, 2023, it became evident that the war in the Middle East was more than just another skirmish. The words “never again” ran through my head. I grew up reading stories about the Holocaust. Instead of having nightmares of a boogeyman, I dreamed of running from enemy soldiers or hiding people in my closet. I wondered how a Christian pacifist like me would react in a similar scenario. What if other people wanted to annihilate them and their people?

These thoughts led me to the story of a woman long ago who found herself in just such a situation.

Esther the orphan

We first find Esther, an orphan, in the home of her cousin Mordecai. As I reread her story, I noticed Kish was in her genealogy. I remembered he was Saul’s dad.

Esther was from the tribe of Benjamin and was called a Jew, referring to the kingdom of Judah. Here we find people who, a few generations ago, were at odds with each other (Saul, a Benjamite, and David of Judah), now identifying themselves as one people. Esther lived in the Persian Empire. It seems Mordecai felt vulnerable because when Esther was chosen to try out for queen, he counseled her to not reveal she was a Jew.

Sadly, some Jews are again feeling the need to conceal their Jewishness. My heart cries out: Never again! We say it, but history is proof that it is again. And again. There are times, then and now, when hiding one’s identity is necessary for survival.

Esther the queen

The charming queen was careful to take advice and not make waves. The Persian King Ahasuerus loved her and threw a lavish party in her honor. But after that, he seemed to forget she existed. Esther was well cared for, with a whole staff to entertain her and perhaps a bit oblivious to the happenings outside the palace — or even within it.

When a man named Haman began to rise in authority, Esther was blissfully unaware. While Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, Esther was bathing in perfume. Mordecai sat at the king’s gate waiting for word on the girl he had tried to protect all her life. In time, he would need her to save him and their whole nation.

Esther the peacekeeper

When Esther’s maids reported that Mordecai was wearing sackcloth, Esther sent him some clean clothes. He returned them. So she sent her eunuch, Hathach, to find out what was wrong (4:5). He returned with a shocking story, yet there was the proof right in front of her. Mordecai had sent a copy of the new law (v. 8). It was written in several languages to make sure everyone understood: The Jews must be killed!

Mordecai had a request:
Esther, the queen, should talk to the king and beg for the life of her people.

But Esther was hiding her identity, being careful not to make waves. Besides, there was another law Mordecai should know about: No one was allowed to go before the king uninvited. That could mean death!

Mordecai replied with a reminder for her: The people of God will be delivered one way or another, but bad things happen to people who ignore the sufferings of others (v. 14).

Still today, some want the Jews destroyed. I don’t want to believe it. I cry out: “No, never again!” But it seems every generation has a Haman, or a Hamas.

Esther the intercessor

Esther decided to try, knowing the risk. She first asked people to fast and pray. Then she went before the king — uninvited. Good news! He was happy to see her and told her whatever she wanted was hers. She invited the king and Haman to two banquets and, at the second one, begged for the lives of her people.

Esther went before King Ahasuerus a second time (8:3). Though Haman was dead by then, the law was still in effect. She pleaded with Ahasuerus to reverse the law, but that was impossible in Persia. Mordecai and Esther were given authority to do what they could to help their people.

When I heard about terrorists horrifically attacking unarmed people last October, the law Mordecai wrote finally made sense: Defend yourselves and your families (v. 11). Sadly, on October 7, 2023, many Jews, and other vulnerable people, did not have the means to defend themselves.

The Jews of Esther’s time rejoiced because their children, pregnant women, and elderly people were not tortured and killed that day, or the next. Esther started a holiday called Purim, so that the people of God would remember the day they could have died — but lived! (Purim is Sunday, March 24, this year.)

Today some people think that the Jews shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves. I don’t want war, but should they sit silently and watch the annihilation of their loved ones? I understand the impulse to fight back. “Never again!” I repeat the words as I remember that time before I was born. And yet here we are again. Is there hope?

Esther and the Prince of Peace

I used to believe that everyone, deep down, wanted peace. If we could just invite both sides to dinner, they would come to a rational understanding and realize war doesn’t accomplish anything. I wonder if that’s what Esther was hoping when she prepared a banquet for the king and Haman. Sometimes our own efforts aren’t enough. We need a miracle — divine intervention — to bring the peace we long for.

Jesus is the solution! He is the only one who can bring real peace. Jesus says in John 14:27, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” Not only does Jesus give us peace in our lives today, someday He will bring peace to the whole world.

One day there will be no more war: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Finally, the words “Never again” will be realized. War will cease. We will live in a beautiful, peace-filled world. In the meantime, perhaps the most powerful weapon we have as Christians is the one Esther used: prayer.

Sarah (Lemley) Whitney
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Sarah (Lemley) Whitney writes from Kalama, WA, where she lives with her husband, Luke, and their three children: Rebecca (18), Zipporah (16), and Joseph (8). They attend God's Little Wilderness church most Sabbaths. They also frequent Portland, OR Church of God (Seventh Day).