As I prepare a sermon on Esther, I am reminded of the Persian Empire’s ill-treatment of women and Jews. Queen Vashti is deposed because she refuses to be king Xerxes’ entertainment. Esther, a Jewish woman, is forced to become a member of the king’s harem. The Jews, already marginalized due to their status as exiles, face annihilation due to a policy written by a hate-filled member of the nobility.
Esther is written in a context of nationwide suffering, and yet the author still adds humor and suspense to the story, and provides the reader with a hopeful ending: Esther becomes queen, God’s people are rescued and their persecutor is exposed and executed.
But there is one detail that caught my attention for the first time: where does Xerxes get his new queen? His advisors have an idea:
“Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women (many translations render the word ‘virgins’) into the harem at the citadel of Susa…Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” (Esther 2:3-4)
Xerxes ruled 127 provinces, from India to the Nile region (Esther 1:1). By any society’s standard, this is an insane abuse of authority. It’s a waste of resources in an overextended empire. It’s a terrible policy with painful consequences for thousands of families.
And yet God used this horrible situation created by foolish leaders to save His people.
Herein lies an easily overlooked lesson in the story of Esther: God can make excessive government intervention – both domestic and foreign – serve the purposes of His kingdom.