The Morality of Esther

This is a paper I wrote for my historical literature class… not my best work, but not terrible. The prompt was “Write a paper discussing the moral character of Esther.” Enjoy.

Introduction

The book of Esther, one of the two eponymously feminine books of the bible, details the story of a young woman who’s moral character is tested by being made queen and then forced to make a choice either personal harm for her own nations sake or personal safety at the cost of her nation. Her story will be summarized more fully later in this paper. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate her moral character in making this decision. The cultural, historical, and personal levels of her situation will be most principally evaluated in an attempt to determine Esther’s moral character. Of course, moral character is such a loose term that it will also be more accurately defined later in this paper. Overall, this paper will attempt to paint a picture of Esther in a culturally and historically accurate context and determine whether or not she displayed good biblical moral character or bad biblical moral character. It will then attempt to isolate which traits of Esther can and should be emulated and which traits should be disregarded.

Summary

The story of Esther takes place in the Persian Empire during the reign of the Persian king Xerxes, or Ahasuerus. This puts the events happening between 483 and 473 BC. As the story goes, Esther, also called Hedassah, a young Jew living in Persia is chosen as a queen to replace the Persian queen, Vashti after she had displeased the king. Meanwhile, a rivalry between one of the king’s officials, Haman, and Esther’s close relative, Mordecai, is brewing. In an attempt to get rid of Mordecai once and for all, Haman convinces king Xerxes to issue a decree telling people everywhere they were allowed to kill Jews on sight and take their possessions.

When Mordecai informs Queen Esther of this fact, she has to make the difficult decision to approach the king about the subject and convince him to spare her people. It is in this deliberation that she makes her well-known statement, “If I perish, I perish.” When she approaches the king about the subject, he extends grace to her, and she puts on two banquets for the king and Haman. During the second banquet, Esther reveals the sinister nature of Haman’s plot. The king has Haman hanged for his wicked scheming and sets to work with Mordecai to fix the problem and give Jews everywhere to defend themselves, and destroy their enemies.

This is the basic story, there are a few minor details left out, but are not necessary for determining Esther’s moral character.

Moral Character

Now we must discuss the meaning of moral character, or more specifically, biblical moral character. Biblical moral character can best be descried as a way of life that fulfills three key descriptions.

First, a man who displays biblical moral character lives his life boldly and decisively upholding the truths about good and evil, right and wrong, that are stated in the Bible.

Second, man with biblical moral character lives a life of devotion to God above any other thing. He must be on his knees at all times, if not physically, then attitudinally, submitting to the will of God in love.

Third, a man with biblical moral character lives a life of humility placing the good of others before himself. He loves his neighbor, and even his enemy more than he loves himself and would go to great lengths to see Godly good befall his enemy, even at his own cost.

These three factors are key to determining whether or not Queen Esther displayed good biblical moral character. If these three descriptions can be applied to her life, then it is safe to say that she did in fact display good moral character, and if not, then another answer must be supplied.

Esther’s Moral Character Address

There are a few key moments in, and facts about, the story of Esther that inform our decision about her moral character, as well as a few cultural facts that need to be addressed.

Firstly, a key factor that cannot be easily gleaned from reading just the text of Esther is that the Jews should not have been in Persia at this time. At this point in history, the temple had been rebuilt in Jerusalem and the Jewish people had been the responsibility to return to Palestine and become involved in temple worship.[1] Since it is thought that the Jews remaining in Persia were not supposed to be there, it can be inferred that Esther was not a member of the Jewish race who was diligently following God’s laws as her fellow Jews might have been.

Opening this door allows a spillway of information that suggests that Esther is not a good and moral example to follow. The idea that Esther was not diligently following God’s laws can be further substantiated by a variety of facts. These facts can be summarized thusly: (1)Esther never prays throughout the book, (2)the name of God is never mentioned in any form in the book of Esther, (3)Esther displays rampant sexual immorality, (4)Mordecai and Esther repeatedly use lies and deceit to control situations.

Prayer

Throughout the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, prayer is deliberate and useful. Ezra, Nehemiah, David, Joshua, Samuel, and many other main players consulted the will of God in almost every major decision presented them. Their prime worry in many situations was conforming to the perfect will of God. Esther displays at least a lack of knowledge about, if not a complete disregard for, the power of prayer.[2]

When making a huge decision, like putting your own life on the line for the sake of your people, a person with good biblical moral character would pray. They would pray for strength, knowledge, courage, peace, and for the will of God to be done. As Esther does none of this, one might draw the conclusion that she does not have the impeccable moral character we tend to ascribe to her.

The Name of God

Nowhere in the book of Esther is the name of God mentioned in any capacity. Adonai, Elohym, Yahweh, El Shaddai, none of them make an appearance anywhere in the text. One would think that when Mordecai talks to Esther to encourage her that God provide for his people, he would use the name of God. Instead he tells her that “deliverance will arise for the Jews” and that her “father’s house will perish.” He does not say that God will bring about the deliverance or that her “father’s house” is more specifically her heavenly Father’s house. This lack of usage of the name of God in any form is suspicious if not telling. It’s important to be addressed that this lack of God’s name might be attributed to the lack of an author provided for Esther. Since Esther is anonymous[3] if the author were a member of the Persian empire who did not know who the Jewish God was, it would make sense that he left God’s name out of the story, however, this is a very week argument considering the inside information the author obviously knew from recording the intimate conversations between Mordecai and Esther.

Sexual Immorality and Deceit

We often try to downplay the fact that Esther was part of the King’s harem, and performed the duties of a harem resident.[4] This means that undoubtedly, Esther had some sexual sin and was not following the laws of sexual morality outlined for the Jews. The marriage to the Persian king in and of itself was something forbidden in the law and Esther’s courage did not extend to resisting this particular sin.

Esther and Mordecai make a plan early on , not to tell the king that she is Jewish. This sin of omission is a sin, and one that they feel no remorse for. On the contrary, Esther claims that she was glad she had kept her heritage from the king and Haman. The fact that she took pride in a lie is a strong indication that she did not know or respect the law of her people, even though she was willing to die for her people.

This sin is remarkably close to the sin that Abraham and Sarah committed in saying that Sarah was not Abraham’s wife. It showed a deficit faith. Esther also displays this faith deficiency in going along with this lie, as well as going along with the marriage to begin with.

Esther’s Pro Column

Until this point, all of Esther’s negative qualities have been examined. However, Esther does display a key virtue that cannot be ignored. Esther is courageous. It is undeniable that Esther’s courage can and should be admired. In the face of almost certain death, Esther displays the second and equally important commandment of loving her neighbor as herself. Esther was willing to die for the chance to save her people, the Jews. Whether she consulted with God in this decision or not, the end result is that she did stand up for what was right to her own disadvantage.

This unfortunately is the only virtue I can find within the character of Esther. When considering her other actions, disobedience is followed by disobedience again and again. The argument can be made that this was all within the will of God. You could argue that God kept Esther in Persia so that she would be there to stop Haman from wiping out the Jews. This is a perfectly valid argument to make, but I think that it fits more neatly into the category that Joseph described when his brothers came to Egypt. He says, “what you intended for evil, God intended for good.” You could say that God orchestrated Esther’s disobedience to fulfill his own purpose, and since God is God, He’s allowed to do that. However, this does not excuse the disobedience. While God may use disobedience, he does not approve it. Esther’s faults cannot be explained away with this method of argumentation.

Conclusion

What then are we to say of Esther? Overall, I have to conclude that her personality as a whole should not be emulated. There are too many things in her negative column to hold her as a standard of impeccable excellence in the arena of moral character. Her faith, should it be emulated, was limited to the faith that the Jews would be preserved, but it was not specifically a faith that God himself would do the preserving. This is not to say that Esther did not have faith in God, but it wasn’t faith worthy of the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 for example. Her faith is much more easily questioned than that of Ruth who’s most famous statement was one of faith, not one of courage. Many comparisons can be made between Ruth and Esther, but Ruth definitely wins out on the question of stronger faith specifically in God.[5]

The one thing we definitely can admire and emulate of Esther is her courage. She displayed unparalleled courage and love for her neighbor in her willingness to approach the king. Courage is the key to Esther’s moral character, so we can safely say that there is something to admire about her, we just need to be careful of what that something is.

Bibliography

Bush, Frederic. Word Biblical Commentary: Ruth/Esther. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1996.

Day, Linda. Esther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Keck, Leander. ed. The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume II. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

Loken, Israel. The Old Testament Historical Books: An Introduction. USA: Xulon Press, 2008.

Walvoord, John, Roy Zuck. ed. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. United States: SP Publications, Inc, 1985.

[1] John Walvoord, Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament (United States: SP Publications, Inc, 1985), 699.

[2] Linda Day, Esther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 17.

[3] Israel Loken, The Old Testament Historical Books: An Introduction (USA: Xulon Press, 2008), 343.

[4] Leander Keck, ed., The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 890.

[5] Frederic Bush, Word Biblical Commentary: Ruth/Esther (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1996), 355.

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