Esther: A Shrewd Courageous Queen
Here comes success! A series of biblical paradigms for rethinking success.
Part 4. Esther: courage and shrewdness.
In earlier Workwise articles, we saw that faithfulness to God is a characteristic trait of how the Bible defines success. This faithfulness requires that if we are told by God to do or not do something, we must follow through with obedience. Jeremiah delivered God’s messages to the people even though it harmed him. Daniel abstained from eating unclean food despite the incredible pressure to conform.
Yet obeying God is not always so cut and dry. We often know what result God wants but how to get it is left up to us. Esther is a great example of this. She was told she must save her people, but it was up to her to figure out how.
King Xerxes had agreed to Haman’s suggested edict “to destroy, kill, and annihilate all Jews” (3:13), not knowing his new queen was Jewish. In response, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, instructed her “to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people” (4:8).
Esther accepted the job, but she knew Mordecai’s plan wouldn’t work. There was no guarantee that he would be sympathetic to her plight, much less her presence, and it was against the law to approach the king without being summoned!
Using the tools and resources God had given her, Esther opted for a more patient path. She asked her fellow Jews to fast for three days. She “put on her royal robes” (5:1) and used her beauty to please him. When he welcomed her request, Esther delayed in order to pique his interest and reestablish their relationship. (It is incredible to note that it was not until King Xerxes’ third offer of granting her request, his third time of saying he would give her up to half the kingdom, that she presented her petition. She knew she had to work her way into the king’s heart before she asked him to spare her and her people.)
Her interactions with Xerxes remind me of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples as he sent them out in Matthew 10:16: “Be shrewd like serpents and as innocent as doves.” She knew the system and used it to her advantage.
When she finally did plea for her people, Xerxes had Haman killed, gave Esther Haman’s estate, and presented the king’s signet ring to Mordecai. Yet Esther knew there was more that God wanted her to do. She went back to Xerxes and with polite, flattering language said, “If it pleases the king, and if he regards me with favour and thinks it is the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me…” (8:5). Four times she diplomatically implored him and convinced him to issue a counter-edict. This allowed the Jews to defend themselves against the attack that was still to come.
It is interesting to note that this is not the end of the book. Esther had accomplished her goal. She had been successful in approaching Xerxes and changing the law, but the story’s culmination—the ultimate result God wanted—is the Jews’ survival of that horrible day. The king allowed the Jews to defend themselves when others obeyed the first edict (to kill all the Jews). When the appointed time came and wicked people attacked them, God’s people thoroughly defeated them. The salvation of the Jews did not occur with God intervening miraculously. Instead, people—especially Esther—had to participate in God’s plan to bring it about.
Sometimes the outcome of following God is risky. For Esther, it was likely she would die before even saying anything. Yet, God had given her the tools—her wits, her beauty and attractive personality, her position—to successfully play her role in changing the edict and saving her people. The Jews went from future annihilation to having one of their own determine the king’s official orders regarding the Jews!
Following God in our workplaces rarely holds the possible consequence of death, but it can lead to negative outcomes, including disrespect, social alienation, even dismissal. Yet God calls us to follow him in those professional environments and to be shrewd in how we do it. The wonderful news is he has also given each one of us the tools to be successful when doing so.
What might this look like for you?
Written by Charlotte Screnock, September 2021
All photos of Broca’s art by Ted Clarke, Image This Photographics