My name is Esther. This has always been a special part of who I am. My mom told me, years ago, that when she first got pregnant with me she knew I was a girl and my name was going to be Esther. I was named after the Esther in the Bible. She has her very own book which tells the story of the beautiful Jewish girl who is compelled to join the Mighty King’s harem when the king puts out a search for beautiful virgins. He is looking for a new Queen and Esther ends up being the chosen one. Later, she uses her influence as Queen to save her people, the Jews, from a genocide.
I can’t tell you how many times I have read the book of Esther. Innumerable. When I was a kid my Dad set up a rule, for a time, that we had to read one chapter of the Bible before bed every night. I would often go searching for the shortest Psalm that I could find or I would head back to the book of Esther and read it again. Esther was my hero. I was her namesake. I felt a deep connection. She was beautiful and brave, a Queen, everything a little girl could hope for in a hero.
As I grew older I found some biblical historical fiction about Esther, where authors had written the story of Esther, filling in all the unknown details, and adding their own twist to the story. I loved reading these. It awakened an understanding that these people in the Bible were real people. With real emotions. Real problems. They weren’t just a flat image on a page.
Of course, as an adult, understanding Esther to be a real person has lead me to have a much darker view of the whole story. I have a good imagination. I try to imagine what it was like to live in a harem. To not have the kind of marriage that I think is normal, but instead just be one of many. What was it like to interact with an older man when she was most likely a young teenager? To interact with the most powerful man on earth when she was just a young girl from a family with no power or prestige? How did she navigate all the palace politics? What was her day-to-day living like? Did she have children? Was Vashti (the previous Queen who was dethroned) still in the harem to cause problems? After the “Happily Ever After” ending of the book of Esther, what happened then? Did she remain on good terms with the King or did he replace her with a long series of new favorites from the harem? Did she find a way to bring meaning to her life?
I have a lot of questions. Sometimes I feel myself getting a little panicky. Like the answers to these questions are tied up in my own destiny. If Esther actually lived an unhappy, unfulfilled life in the harem, what does that mean for me? What does it mean, if you are named for a hero, to find out that your hero was actually a pretty unhappy person?
In the last couple years, I have found myself getting very emotionally caught up with the stories of the women in the Bible. I find myself angry. Why did God let that woman suffer like that? Why did God allow polygamy, despite all the stories of women being hurt by it? Hagar and Sarah. Leah and Rachel. Hannah and Peninnah. Why did God allow the practice of concubines? Why were they worth so little to the men in their life? Thinking about the story of the concubine in Judges who is murdered. Why? Yes. My brain knows that when sin came in the world, all these bad things were part of that Sin. Yes. My brain knows that God has a long term plan to deal with Sin in the world that centers around his Son Jesus. Yes. I know we have free will which means that bad things are going to happen because of the consequences of our sin. I know these things, but my heart still hurts when I read about the suffering of these women. I need to know that God cared about them. That he loved them just as much as the more prominent men who carry the lead role in the story. I need to know this.
I think I need to know this because I am Esther. I am connected to these characters hidden in the pages, surfacing in between lines. I am simply a continuation of their story. I am a woman. And I need to know if I am just as important to God as the men. Am I just as significant? Am I loved? Am I important?
Today I started reading the book of Esther again. I came up with a whole new list of questions and I started googling my questions, wondering if other people had thought about these things too. I happened upon a blog written by Rachel Held Evans. I really liked what she had to say and as I read through some of her blog posts I realized that she was an author and had several interesting books. One of them really stood out to me so I got it on my Kindle and started reading it. The name of the book is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering her Head, and Calling her Husband “Master”. You have to admit, it’s an intriguing title. I’m several chapters in. I feel like I’ve met my new best friend and she just doesn’t know it yet. This is not to say that I agree with everything that she says or thinks, but what I love about her is that she questions things. I resonate with her questions. I resonate with her curiosity, her desire to dig deeper.
I just want to tell you one little bit in the book. The author and a friend get together and have a little ceremony where they Remember some of the women in the bible who suffered. They remember Japheth’s daughter who was sacrificed. They remember the concubine who was murdered. They remember Hagar. They light a candle for each woman, and they manage to bring it all back to the Cross. This made me sob. These women that have somehow managed to creep off the pages of the Bible and work their way into my heart and my mind…These women are important to me. And it was like someone telling me that there was going to be a funeral and I could come and mourn, and give honor to those who had died. Have some closure. While reading her book, I felt like I was there, joining in the ceremony. Mourning alongside them.
This is a journey that I am on. What does it mean to be Esther? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a Christian Woman? These questions. This is why I keep reading the book of Esther, and Genesis, Samuel. The book of Acts. Because their stories are my stories. Perhaps by understanding the past better, I’ll have more understanding to face the future.