Searching Far and Wide for Virgins

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.


‘Esther’, by Sir John Everett Millais

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.

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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