The Book of Queen Esther is the stuff of modern day novels. It contains elements of court intrigue, sex, romance, treachery, loyalty, manipulation, courage, and ultimate victory. Esther is the heroine of this story, and she is so central to the story, that her name is mentioned fifty-five times in ten chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Shortly after Esther is made queen, her uncle Mordecai discovers two of the king’s eunuchs plan to assassinate the King so he informs Esther, who in turn, warns the king. More intrigue occurs when the king promotes a man named Haman to a position of power which requires all who come before Haman to bow before him. Mordecai, a Jew, refuses to bow before him. This angers Haman so much that he plots to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Mordecai, learning of the plot, turns to Esther to intercede with the king. Mordecai places Esther in a precarious position when he asks her to go before the king. There’s a very strict protocol, for coming into the king’s presence, but Esther is not without courage so with the request from Mordecai to intervene, Esther takes on the responsibility of saving her people.
She knows if she goes to the king unsummoned she may face death. She tells Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa and hold a fast on my behalf and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”
When the king hears of her plight and that of her people he wants to know who’s to blame for it. Esther tells him that it is the wicked Haman. They hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Esther also convinces the king to revoke the order of Haman to kill all the Jews. He concurs and gives the order that the Jews not only are to survive, but that they have the right to defend themselves and annihilate anyone who attacks them. Esther’s victory is complete. Even today Esther remains a heroine of the Jewish people. To this day, the Roll of Esther is read in Jewish synagogues each year at the feast of Purim. Purim originated as a way of remembering the salvation of the Jews at the hands of Esther.
Before approaching the king Esther prayed and fasted. The traditional form of fasting is foregoing food and drink for a period of time. This has merit because it helps us to understand the hunger of the poor, to identify with those who are “empty” in some way, but there are many other ways to fast. Rather than fasting from food we may choose to fast from selfish attitudes, undue interests in the materialistic values of society, prejudices of every kind, racism, and anything else that fills our minds and hearts with blocks to our relationship with our God.
Esther’s second form of prayer is conversation with God. Esther pours out her heart in passionate words to her God. She speaks to God the way she would talk to her best friend. She acknowledges God’s place in her life and the fact that she’s powerless alone. She refers to the long history of her people and their covenant with God and admits that they’re not always faithful to the covenant. In spite of their unfaithfulness she asks God for help – for her people and for herself. This is important to note, because prayer is not intended to be selfish, but rather, is concerned with the needs of others and the world at large.
Vocal prayer practiced in the privacy of one’s room or as a community has power. It doesn’t change God, but it does change us because it challenges us to look within ourselves and look at our own weaknesses and admit to our needs. It helps us to focus on and pray for the needs of others instead of just for ourselves. It reminds us of our place in community and that none of us functions in a vacuum. It’s a very specific way of telling God our story and the story of the world around us.
How have you dealt with fear and anxiety in your life?
What are some prayer forms that you find helpful in deepening your spiritual life?
She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said: “O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, for my danger is in my hand… Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord…. O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing, and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear.” (Es14:1-19 or Addition C)