This post addresses the issue of sexual assault and/or violence, which some survivors may find disturbing. Please do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
On Monday, I wrote a long post asking whether we live in a rape culture. Before you react to that query—with all the preconceived notions you may or may not have about that term—go read the post. But as I explained there, that topic didn’t come out of current events as much as from my recent study of the Book of Esther.
Today, I want to talk about Esther’s story. Why? Because we learn from stories in the Bible about who God is, how He intervened and didn’t, what good and bad choices His people made, and how their ongoing failures demonstrate our desperate need of a savior.
Plus, these biographies help us launch conversations about how sex should be treated in our culture today.
The Typical Tale of Esther
Esther was a young Jewish woman living in Persia during the time of exile. Her parents died, and she was taken in by a cousin, Mordecai. When the king was looking for a new queen, pretty women were taken from their homes to the palace and tried out for the role of queen by spending a night with him.
Esther was among those auditioning, and she impressed everyone in her presence, including the king who chose her as his next queen.
Later, when the Jews were at risk of being destroyed, Esther risked her own life and convinced the king to backtrack on his decree, thus saving her people.
That’s how the tale was told to me and many others for most of our lives.
An Intro to the Real Story
Before we begin, I want to point out that Esther isn’t even her name. It’s Hadassah.
Her name was changed from a Jewish to a Persian name, perhaps to keep her safe. Now, this isn’t sexist, because it happened to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, whom you probably know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But I prefer to tell their tales with their real names. So from here on out, I’ll be talking about Hadassah (aka Esther).
Now maybe it was all those current events, or the stories I’ve heard from wives who write me about their trauma, or certain aspects of my background that I’ve been revisiting lately with fresh eyes, but when I read the Book of Esther this time, I was struck, hard, by the horrors of this one woman’s life and what it meant for all the other women living at that time.
If you want to know what a rape culture is—that is, a culture that normalizes or downplays nonconsensual sex—Hadassah lived in it.
A Foolish, Drunken King
I’ve watched enough Disney princess movies to know that hardship often comes before the realization that one is destined to become queen! Okay, fine, those are fairy tales. But still, I don’t imagine a commoner-to-queen story will come without some struggle. But Hadassah’s story isn’t struggle so much as gambling with your life.
King Xerxes was hardly Prince Charming. Rather, he was a drunk who allowed himself to be persuaded this way and that by his advisors. And he had the power to destroy, through exile and murder.
Indeed, the king exiled his first wife for her unwillingness to be paraded around in front of a bunch of his drunk friends. Warned by advisors that letting the queen get away with such behavior (you know, setting a reasonable boundary) might encourage other wives to disobey their husbands, the king then declared that “every man be master in his own household.”
By master, no one here means leader. I almost imagine this scene as a bunch of cads in a pub ranting about disobedient women needing to be put in their “proper place,” and the culmination of that conversation being a royal decree that came with serious consequences if one disobeyed.
So when Hadassah is taken to the king, what did she think of him? Might she have been enamored of him and/or his position? Could she have been a willing participant in what happened to her? Was she happy to be chosen and made queen?
Like the story of Bathsheba, we’re not told. But at least King David had been and would be again a man of God, while King Xerxes was a foreign, pagan, alcoholic king who had seen fit to force women into subjugation by their husbands. I have a hard time believing Hadassah fell in love with that.
Rather, she was taken into the palace because she had no choice but to “try out” for the role of queen; that is, the king’s trophy wife.
A Woman Taken by the King
In two separate verses (2:10,20), both before and after she becomes queen, it says that Hadassah concealed her identity because Mordecai advised to keep it hidden.
Now, Bible authors often use specific words or phrases to subtly reference other passages in the Bible. Those deeply familiar with the Torah would recognize similarities and note parallels between stories or commands.
Are there any stories or passages with similarities to the story of Hadassah? Well, here’s another beautiful Hebrew woman instructed to conceal her identity and taken by the king ruler into his house. Note the similar wording between this passage and the next one from Esther.
When [Abram] was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.Genesis 12:11-16
And now from Esther:
The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in Susa the citadel in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. And the young woman pleased him and won his favor. And he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and her portion of food, and with seven chosen young women from the king’s palace, and advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem. Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known.Esther 2:7b-8
But wait, Mordecai took Hadassah in as his daughter, while Sarai was Abram’s wife. Except…
While studying the Book of Esther, I came upon an interesting angle. Specifically, it’s possible Hadassah was not like a daughter to Mordecai, but rather his wife. I stress possible because, with the information we have, we cannot know for sure, and it’s not how biblical scholars have typically interpreted the passage.
However, the Babylonian Talmud (one of the two major Talmudic texts) translates that passage as Hadassah being taken as Mordecai’s wife.
And consider Esther 2:7: “He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.” Why bring up her beauty if Mordecai only took her as a daughter? But if she was his wife, that makes a lot more sense.
And that would make Hadassah’s story even more analogous to Abram and Sarai. In which case, Mordecai’s motivation to conceal Hadassah’s identity may have been the same as Abram’s.
The Identity of Hadassah
Now some say that, whether Hadassah was Mordecai’s wife or daughter, he loved her and perhaps wanted her to conceal her identity to remain safe in the palace. After all, “Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her” (2:11). But an alternative or supplemental option is that Mordecai might have appreciated an “inside man” in the palace in case things went poorly for him because of his known identity as a Jew.
Perhaps, like Abram, Mordecai was at least willing to use Hadassah to save his and/or his nation’s hide by gaining the king’s favor.
That view would also work with the text, as Hadassah—rich as she becomes—remains at the beck and call of a drunken, angry king, while she “set Mordecai over the house of Haman.” Just like Abram:
And for [Sarai’s] sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels, and Abram kept all of that when he left Egypt.Genesis 12:16
Both Hadassah and Sarai were taken into a ruler’s house, were sexually used by men to save others, and the men who had cared for them before profited in the end.
A Lack of Sexual Consent
Yet, it seemed that Hadassah went along with all this—at least nothing in the text says she spoke up against it. So might Hadassah have consented to sex with the king?
Even if she technically did, she didn’t have a choice. She was expected to sleep with the king according to his timing, desires, and ways, without regard to any rights she might or should have had.
And since being taken into a harem would be ruinous for a Jewish virgin and adultery for a Jewish wife, it’s far more likely that she shut up and put up only because she didn’t want to be cut up.
Again, we expect that from the king. But perhaps Mordecai would show more compassion for her situation? Perhaps?
But once the king issues a decree to kill the Jewish people, Mordecai pleads with Hadassah to intervene. When Hadassah explains that she could be killed for approaching the king without permission, his response isn’t, “My dear daughter [wife], if only there was another way.” Nope, he says:
…“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”Esther 4:13-14
And this time, that plea didn’t sound quite as heroic to me. It’s certainly not sympathetic. This time, I found myself wondering whether Mordecai was cashing in on having that inside man and guilting her into putting her life on the line?
Now I know this is a harsh reading of the text, probably unlike what you’ve heard before. But it isn’t an unreasonable interpretation. It is a possibility. It is something to consider the next time you read through the Book of Esther. And none of it dismisses the courage Hadassah showed and what God accomplished in saving His people through one young Jewish woman in a Persian palace.
Sexual Assault Then and Now
Did every man in Bible times treat women so poorly? Absolutely not. Good men have existed in every era!
But Hadassah’s culture permitted sexual misuse, abuse, and even rape—because women were to obey their husbands or risk life and limb. Those who wanted to force sex upon women could do so without great fear of retribution.
And here’s the thing about sexual assault (and harassment, for that matter). It often happens a lot like it unfolds in the Book of Esther:
- Men and/or women view the genders as Us/Them
- Others’ value is based on what they can do for someone
- People misuse their power to gain advantage over others
- Another’s career, family, or survival is held hostage by the perpetrator
- People who know or should know don’t come to the rescue and/or demand justice
What irks me and aches me is how little Hadassah felt that she had a choice—and how often that same feeling has been shared by women throughout history. Including in our day.
After typing that last bullet point above—”People who know or should know don’t come to the rescue and/or demand justice“—I had to stop and cry. Yes, cry. Because when I was much younger, I personally knew about two women sexually mistreated and had no idea what to do about it. If I could go back and do something, anything, to come to the rescue and/or demand justice for these women, I would.
Back then, and given their stories, it would have been hard to report and prove what had happened. Still, I know what happened, and I live with not having done enough.
An Ally for Hadassah
The point of the Book of Esther is not that the Jews showed heroism, through Mordecai and Hadassah, while in Babylonian Exile. The point is that God used even the worst of circumstances to bring about His sovereign plan, and even when it felt that God might be absent, He was there. What happened to Hadassah was not okay—not by a long shot—but God knew her pain, stayed beside her, worked through her, and welcomed her home when her time here was done.
We cannot be an ally for Hadassah, but we can be an ally for others like her. Whether women or men, sexual assault has impacted far too many people.
I don’t know what that looks like for each person. But I think it begins with recognizing where our own culture has fallen short, especially our church culture. Would someone feel they could reveal that they were a victim-survivor of rape? That they had endured sexual assault or harassment at the hands of a fellow Christian or family member? Would they feel that they had a choice—that their consent mattered?
Someday, maybe we’ll sit with Hadassah and she can tell us the full story in her own words. I’ll surely have to backtrack on something I said here, but I suspect the main idea remains: Because you matter, your sexuality matters. Your consent matters. And that should never be taken from you.
17 thoughts on “What Esther’s Story Teaches Us About Sexual Consent”
Ester’s story is not about consent. Yes, women were not given the honor they deserved in that day. The fact that Ester has so much influence over the decisions of a king in a culture that was actively abusive to women is what strikes me as amazing. It is not perfect, but God used Ester for His purposes, despite the lousy culture she grew up in. Rather than looking back and becoming angry, I think we should look forward and ask ourselves what else can be done to show each other honor, as commanded in scripture. Jesus certainly showed Mary, Martha, the lady at the well, and others, honor when interacting with them. The question I have to ask myself is how else can I show honor and respect for others today.
“But I think it begins with recognizing where our own culture has fallen short, especially our church culture. Would someone feel comfortable confessing that they were a victim-survivor of rape? That they had endured sexual assault or harassment at the hands of a fellow Christian or family member?”
First, I have a problem with the idea of “confessing that they were a victim-survivor of rape”. Confessing is admitting guilt or fault for wrong. I don’t think that is the scenario you are describing.
I doubt many would be “comfortable” admitting it had happened to them, even with an individual they trusted. My personal experience is that I was married for ten years before my now ex-wife told me she had been raped on two very separate occasions years prior to us meeting.
However, I have also heard a woman tell the entire church assembly of her repeated sexual assault by a family member during her youth. Compared to my ex-wife, she was an open book.
For both of these women, the sexual assault was well in the past. But how many women (or men, it happens to them more often than most realize) would be willing to tell anyone when it is currently happening to them? I daresay very few.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that, contrary to what many claim, and what I think this article implies, is that the number of good men greatly exceeds the number of men who force non-consensual sex.
You called me out on the word “confess,” and even though I definitely didn’t mean it that way, I see that’s a primary connotation so I believe you’re right. I will be changing that word in the article ASAP. Also, “comfortable” wasn’t the right word either. All I can say is that I wrote and rewrote this article several times and simply didn’t catch those two problematic word choices.
And yes, I think what happens is that you have a few perpetrators who assault or harass anywhere from a few to many victims. That’s how you can get the situation of some men believing that harassment doesn’t happen often—that was a response to some of my #MeToo posts—while many women feel they experience it a lot. It’s simply because a few can impact many through their bad behavior, so how you see the problem depends on what side of that equation you’re on.
And I agree: “the number of good men greatly exceeds the number of men who force non-consensual sex.” For most men, consent alone isn’t even what they want; rather, they long to be desired as they desire.
Rape culture (no matter one’s stance on that term) is a sure sign of ung-dly culture/living. On that we can all agree!
My issue is with the way Hadassah’s story is being taken out of context, twisted & added to, in order to make a modern day point.
Every scholar & rabbi I’ve heard, in my 34+ years in the church & synagogue, comes to the same conclusion – the ‘so all women will honor their husbands’ & ‘every man be master in his own household.’ decree came about because Vashti refused to be humiliated, due to Xerxes’ summoning her to appear with only the crown on her head – yup buck naked. So the advisors’ position was based in the pagan application of ‘the man is the head of the house’ concept & came about to normalize being an ung-dly, tyrannical husband in general (not specifically sexually.) Although Vashti’s story in chapter 1 doesn’t have anything to do specifically with rape, if anything in the book of Esther screams ‘rape culture’ & standing against it, it’s Vashti’s story, not Hadassah’s.
Scripture is clear on the details we need to know – if it says Mordechai was her cousin… then he was her cousin. Any speculation otherwise is false teaching. Talmud’s referencing Mordechai as Hadassah’s ‘husband’ is crap. The main problem with Talmud (be it Babylonian Talmud or Jerusalem Talmud) is that Talmud is nothing more than commentary by unsaved people, who quite clearly have their own agenda, that’s touted as higher authority than Scripture (the agenda being validating their sinful hearts/lusts/desires, rather than giving G-dly insight into Biblical topics/culture/practices.) Plus, Esther tells us a couple of times that Mordechai was Hadassah’s cousin – no possible room for relational speculation. The reference to Hadassah’s beauty is for the reader’s sake – setting the mental stage, as it were, for the story to unfold (as any modern story/movie does), showing that she was a virgin/unmarried (as only virgins were rounded up, Esther 2:2) AND as a not-so-subtle message that bad things happen to what society calls ‘beautiful people’. Pondering ‘alternate motives’ that Scripture DOESN’T support, leads to false teaching of all Scripture.
Mordechai’s compassion for Hadassah is shown in his council to her. It’s difficult to accept that Biblical women lived in times where women were property, were a means to financial gain. Judaism was the only culture that gave women rights as human beings. Unfortunately, Hadassah lived in an ung-dly government that superseded her religious/Jewish culture’s rights/way of living. That Xerxes way of life, as wrong & ung-dly as it is, is still all too present in nations around the world (a tough pill for all of us to swallow!) Life and death situations are never sympathetic. They’re supposed to make us uncomfortable. They’re always a ‘walk the path you’re on or get outta the way’ scenario. Even though there’s nothing pleasant about them, G-d uses them for His purpose. Mordechai was plain speaking (true to male behavior 😉 ). His words to Hadassah in Chapter 4 are clear cut & true – some people are hesitant to walk the hard path set before them & need a reality-check-kick-in-the-butt (truly, the beauty of accountability.) G-d puts us all in the world at His timing, to accomplish His goals – Biblically, when a person DOESN’T do the task He has for them…. things don’t go well (Adam & the Snake, Moses & the angel sent to kill him en route to Egypt, Aaron’s sons who offered ‘strange smoke’, etc.)
Mordechai WAS the inside man, due to his position as gatekeeper. Scripture is clear-cut in explaining people’s motives. Placing doubt in Mordechai’s character by espousing ulterior motives (which aren’t backed up by the rest of the book of Esther) is sacrilegious, blasphemous & heretical – it plants the seed of doubt in the validity of ALL Scripture.
Hadassah knew what her choices were – follow the king’s decrees & possibly survive, or defy them and die. That was her reality. She knew it. She knew what she had to do to both survive herself & help her people survive. She knew what tools/aids were at her disposal in the Persian & Mede culture.
Again, my issue is with the way Hadassah’s story is being twisted/added to – rewriting Scripture to validate our emotions and experiences is wrong; Scripture is applicable on its own – without being taken out of context. Vashti’s story is of rape culture, without a doubt. Hadassah’s story is of life/death triumph in an ung-dly culture (rape culture being just one small part of it.)
Your modern day points are spot on! I forget who said it, but it’s true nonetheless, All it takes for evil to succeed in the world is for good people to do nothing. We all need to do our part in fighting rape culture – blowing the whistle on it, voicing our own experiences, supporting the whistle blowers & seeking justice!
Thanks for your support of my main point. As to my post being in any way “sacrilegious, blasphemous & heretical,” I could buy that if I was mischaracterizing G-d Himself. But I’m looking at different ways of interpreting an ancient Hebrew word and whether it might be “daughter” or “wife.” That’s the part of the Talmud I was referencing: the verses from the Book of Esther. And I’m clear to say that it’s a possibility, but not a common interpretation. Even so, I’m disturbed at how Mordechai’s “plain speaking” with Hadassah. If I was in an abusive situation, I would not expect a family member to use that tone but rather a more sympathetic one. I do, however, admit that we likely don’t have all of the conversation recorded, so for all I know, he was more compassionate than the text conveys. I hope to learn the whole story one day in Heaven.
Thankfully, the Hebrew is quite clear – “ בַת/baht” means “daughter” & אִשָּׁה/ishah means “wife”. The 2 are neither similar in spelling, nor share the same Hebrew root. That being said…
The Talmud espouses לְבַת/l’baht (for a daughter) to be a contraction of לְבַיִת/l’bayt (for a house), stretching that concept to mean ‘wife’; regardless of the fact that, in Hebrew, ‘wife’ is literally אִשָּׁה/ishah & is congigated (according to its root) אֵשֶׁת/ayshet. Even Talmud’s comparison to 2 Samuel 2 (their whole basis for this ‘wife’ crap) is a fine example of taking Scripture out of context & twisting/adding to it to conform it to our own theories.
Entertaining alternate ‘possibilities’ that DO NOT line up with Scripture promotes falsehood and confusion & does nothing to promote/understand G-d’s truth (especially to the babies of our faith.) Understanding that this lie exists & why it exists* helps us to combat it & teach G-d’s truth – not promote mankind’s own prejudices & agendas.
*The Talmud is HIGHLY anti-woman. When Talmud speaks of women it’s highly antagonistic, degrading, if not vilifies them outright (pro-woman sections are few and far between.)
So I’m truly okay with having this conversation, and I appreciate the information and perspective you’re providing. But I feel like you’re not just sharing information or debating the issue; rather, you’re casting aspersions on my intent and/or personal faith. If you want to talk about it, fine. But can we engage about the passage without the character hits, please? Because I came at this from an honest perspective, did a fair amount of homework, and simply suggested a POSSIBLE interpretation that wasn’t even the main point of what I said.
And I don’t see how anything I said changes one’s viewpoint of God in this story, who still worked His plan in an imperfect situation and showed personal care for Hadassah and others.
It isn’t your faith and intentions I intended to call out – it’s the perspective/any application of it (and its footing in Talmud) I’m confronting. SO SO SO sorry for the confusion and accidental insult! My tendency is to plainly speak in broadspectrum terms – ‘our’ being mankind, not specifically any one person – and being definitively specific when getting personal by using ‘I’ & ‘you’ (‘getting personal’…. sounds harsher than I mean, just not sure how else to phrase it.) I also write for anyone else reading the comments who hasn’t yet done the research you & I have; I apologize if I come across as patronizing – no personal insult is ever intended! (If there’s something else, please let me know!)
(Let me try to clarify my umbrage with this perspective…)
1. Esther 2:7 shows the familial connection (cousins), thereby establishing their candidness with each other throughout the book as decent behavior and not cultural impropriety. When Mordechai & Hadassah’s relationship is reiterated in verse 15 (as we know, a common Biblical practice to solidify a point), Talmud’s silent on the ‘wife/daughter’ topic. Now considering how much cross referencing Talmud does with all of its passages (let alone within the same passage), perhaps they figure their v7 definition carries over(?) Nevertheless, we get to v 20, “…She obeyed Mordecai’s orders, as she always had while he raised her.” The Hebrew word used for ‘while he raised her’ is בְאׇמְנָה/b’am’nah; the definition of this word is, “bringing up, nourishment, rearing, training, providing for (as a parent)”. That last part jumps out at me – ‘as a parent’, not ‘as grooming for marriage’. So when we take the aforementioned virgin/unmarried indicators and the specificity of this word, ‘as a parent’, the Talmudic perspective on Mordechai taking Hadassah as a wife proves false based on the Hebrew alone.
2. The concept of Mordechai taking Hadassah as a wife does drastically change his motives throughout the book – the dynamic relational difference of wife-vs-daughter is too palpable to be missed. This is as problematic as changing Paul’s motives in his instruction of the Body of Messiah and Jew & Gentile relations and responsibilities therein (what it means to be a follower of Yeshua/Jesus, how to unite in 1 faith despite our different ethnic/cultural backgrounds, how to treat each other, how to treat pagans, etc.)
(To connect to your last statement, J) Would changing Paul’s character/motives change the message of what he did, how he did it & why he did it? Yes. Would changing Mordechai’s character/motives change the message of what he did, how he did it & why he did it? Yes. Does changing Mordechai & Paul’s characters/motives change what G-d did/has done? No.
I see how 1&2 are connected. I see how anyone (including myself) even voicing them as possibilities is problematic. Having a Biblical understanding & application of Scripture (meaning, one that’s not colored by the fluctuation of emotions and agendas [thinking specifically, as is the case with Talmud]) is rooted so deeply in me that I react strongly when topics like this arise. It’s my own Phinehas moment (Numbers 25:6-13).
I appreciate your conscientiousness in explaining all of this (your command of Hebrew is obviously better than mine, but I’m doing my best to learn!) and avoiding such words like “heresy” and “blasphemy” in reference to be bringing up this one interpretation of the passage. Again, I’m not saying I embrace it, but I certainly found it interesting and it made certain aspects of this story more understandable to me. But that interpretation makes other aspects more difficult. Anyway, I’ve been doing additional research on this topic, including reading scholarly articles and more, and I’ll respond better later. (I said I did a deep-dive study before. Now I’m spelunking into Scripture!)
You make some good points, and I admit that verse 20 was not addressed in the sources I had been looking at before about this interpretation. Some versions translate that phrase as “as when she was brought up with him” and others as “as she did when she was in his care.” However, the Hebrew used there—and I’ll use the transliteration of ‘omnahdoes have the connotation of parenthood; “bringing up, nourishment, rearing, training, providing for (as a parent)” (https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/omnah.html).
Honestly, at this point, I’m a little frustrated—mostly with myself—that this post stirred up such a debate about Mordecai’s relationship to Esther. Those were notes I wrote to myself in my personal study, and perhaps I shared my “what if?” thoughts too soon. When my major point is how this story is often told as a young girl winning a contest to be queen and then saving her people, when the reality is that Esther lived at a time where she had no right to say yes or no to a selfish, foolish king and was used by him (sexually and otherwise), and yet God saw her and worked through her to keep the remnant alive and His plan in place. If anything is my “agenda,” that is it.
Please know, I have the highest respect for J’s work and it’s very, very rare for me to disagree with her. I’ve shared her work with many family members and she’s been a huge blessing to my marriage. This is in no way meant to tear down or discourage.
So, thanks to this article, I was up quite late last night because I had to go re-read the book of Esther and multiple commentaries! I was logging in to make some of the same points as the commenter above. I simply do not think this is a wise interpretation of Esther. We cannot put things into the Bible that it simply does not say or reframe the story in order to make a modern-day point, albeit an important one! The whole point of Esther is not sexual consent, but rather, God’s hand of sovereignty in a corrupt culture and a less than perfect situation in order to work for the good of His people and His glory. If there’s a point to be made in light of our current culture (which has definitely lost its way in terms of sexuality) is that despite our circumstances, God is still working all things together for good and we can trust Him to do the same in our own lives, despite our circumstances. God doesn’t victimize Esther and paint her as oppressed by Mordechai or her situation. It simply states the facts as they were and shows her personal trust in the Lord during a difficult time and how God uses that in a great way. It’s a story of hope, redemption, and victory and can still bring encouragement to those who have been abused or are in a difficult situation.
Thanks for your work, J. This is all in love and concern and I hope you know I appreciate the topic of conversation despite my disagreements with the use of Esther and the biblical basis.
I don’t entirely agree with you, but I think we come out at the same place: “God’s hand of sovereignty in a corrupt culture and a less than perfect situation in order to work for the good of His people and His glory.” Well said.
But when a new angle for a text is suggested—as I did here—the good part is that it gets us all opening our Bibles (as you did!) to study the Word more. That’s at least a good thing.
And as I said, I’m not wedded to this interpretation by any means, though I definitely believe Esther’s dire circumstances are downplayed by attending to her heroics. That is, we often tell this story like the bad thing that could happen is getting killed for going in to see the king without his invitation, when she’s already dealing with a lot of bad stuff: having been taken from her home, made to “audition” for wife in a strange man’s bed, being married to king given to drink and whim, etc. I suppose I could say the same about Joseph, in that we tend to focus on how got out of Potiphar’s House and then jail, rather than focusing on the dire circumstances of being a slave and then a prisoner. It’s just that, doing what I do, I’m more struck by those stories that involve sexual mistreatment.
To me, when we spend more time thinking through the hardship people in the Bible endured, we become more aware of how God uses people in the most dire circumstances for great things that bring out His kingdom. (Although I also believe He would have preferred His children to defend the oppressed back then as well.)
As others have stated I fully agree with your “modern day points”. I have been appalled reading about the sexual abuses that have been swept under the rug in the church. We need to treat sexual assault seriously and be a society that protects the vulnerable and helps heal the victims.
I also agree that we in the church have a tendency to “sanitize” Scripture. Too often the story of Hadassah is treated like that of a Disney princess rather than the horror that it actually was (taken from family, forcibly married to Xerxes and forced to share his bed, not to mention this whole thing started because Xerxes wanted to use Vashti as an object of lust for him and his male guests, etc. etc.).
That said I think there are several areas where you are going far beyond what the text of Esther and other evidence supports. As others have pointed out the evidence that Esther was Mordecai’s wife rather than an adopted daughter is slim and there is plenty of opposing evidence. For example Xerxes “round-up” was for virgin young women, which Esther would not have qualified for if she was already married.
Mordecai was also already an “inside man”. So much so that he was able to expose a plot by fellow “insiders” to murder Xerxes.
I understand that it was this Scriptural passage that gave rise to this post but there are far better Scriptures that make the point of betrayal and poor treatment by a loved one or trusted person in the context of sexual assault.
1. Abraham claiming Sarah is his sister (twice!) and the king taking her by force to add her to his harem as you pointed out above.
2. The rape of Dinah. Not only do Jacob and his sons go along with making her marry her rapist, but two of her brothers decide to kill all the men of Shechem and loot the place. Imagine Dinah’s agony. Being raped, then forced to marry her rapist, then watching her brothers kill all the innocent men in Shechem in her name.
3. The story of Tamar and Onan. Her wicked husband is killed by God, then as was the custom at the time, her brother-in-law sleeps with her. Instead of providing her a child that could take of her in her old age and continue the family line he uses her for his own pleasure and then sadistically withdraws to prevent her from becoming pregnant. God kills him for doing this.
Often this story is seen as some sort of prohibition against birth control but in actuality what we see is that God literally killed a man for sexually mistreating a women. That’s the part of the story that we should be pointing out.
Hello all…I think most of my initial thoughts have been addressed here already (if not whipped like a dead horse), but I would like to throw in the point that Sarai was never raped, to my understanding. God protected her both times, by striking one king and all of his household with plagues for simply taking her into his house (Genesis 12:17) and by appearing directly to the other in a dream (Genesis 19:20:2-3). The first king (Pharoah) did not specifically state that he had not had sex with Sarai, but it stands to reason that if God protected her in the second incident He had already done so in the first. As for Vashti I’ve come across the idea only once that she was commanded to appear naked save for her crown; I believe the general interpretation is that she simply did not wish to be paraded about like livestock at the county fair.
The main point I would like to offer is the influence Esther may have had after her people are saved and this chapter of Jewish history ends, on Persian society and throne room etiquette in particular. The book of Nehemiah takes place a couple of kings later, and we find Nehemiah serving the king AND queen – sitting side by side – at the Persian court. Chapter 2 v.6 reads, “Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him…” We know Esther risked her life in even approaching the king uninvited, so presumably a woman – even the queen – taking ANY seat in the throne room, much less her own throne, would have been unheard of. (After all, the women of the kingdom might get notions and ideas if a woman sat beside the king as his peer!) Being “test driven” in her tryout as the next queen was not fair or right (much like the NT slavery Paul referenced), but Esther submitted to the fate God had placed before her; and in addition to saving her people she may well have influenced this drunken, hot-headed king (and any children they bore), softening his attitude toward women and the role of wives, and thus altered the status and treatment of Persian women.
I take your points, and you make some good ones. But the one place I really can’t go is: “Esther submitted to the fate God had placed before her.” God’s commands before this made it clear that the right path would be to protect women from this kind of “fate”; that is, nonconsensual sex. So I don’t believe GOD is the one who placed that before her. Rather, He used her no-win situation to help her and save her people. Esther submitted, but to God’s calling for her to do what she could where she was.
if that’s what you mean by “fate,” okay. But I want to make very clear for any woman in a situation of nonconsensual sex (whether married or not) or an abusive relationship, God is not calling you to stay there to influence a hotheaded husband. You have, and should have, a choice, and God is never on the side of oppression.
Yes…your comments are a better way of wording what I mean – i.e. that God did not “set up” Hadassdah to be be power-raped per se, any more than He set up Bathsheba. But He used Esther’s situation (and yes, her beauty) to effect His purpose in saving His people – and as I mentioned, not only this but to influence the king in ways that may have benefitted all Persians, not just the Jews.
Also I agree that wives are not called or expected to remain in abusive relationships when they have any option at all to leave it; but Hadassah would of course not have had a choice in her case.
And as the text does read that “the king loved Esther”, or at least more than the other, ahem, candidates, he may have found her to be an emotional refuge from the stresses of ruling an empire and treated her as such. My observation is that even the nastiest cholerics have a “sidekick” whom they keep glued to their hips as it were, to lean on and confide in even if they treat them a bit like property. Thus if Hadassah was the one person to whom the king felt he could show tenderness, her position may have been tolerable at least for a while.
SLS…This is an aside but in regard to your example of the rape of Dinah, my reading is that she was not forced to marry Shechem. Rather, her brothers pretended to go along with Shechem’s father’s proposal that the families unite, using this and the requisite circumcision as a ruse to take the opportunity to attack the city while the men were, well, not exactly at the top of their game. My question is not only why Jacob did not take action himself (violent or otherwise) as Dinah’s father but how he even knew she had been raped. If his sons “took Dinah” from Shechem’s house after murdering all the men, she had apparently not been allowed to leave and had been there the whole time; so she could not have told her father. But even before Shechem and his father approached him about marriage he knew, yet kept silent. Maybe because a night had passed and Dinah had not returned? In any case it seems that this story illustrates the importance of those with the authority to act to DO so, lest rasher heads fill the void with their own form of justice.