From the Archives: Lessons on Sex and Morality, from the Book of Esther

August 16, 2007 | 43 comments
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The Old Testament gives us all sorts of strange stories. One that I’ve been thinking about lately is the delightfully wacky book of Esther. In particular, I’ve been wondering about the lessons on sex and morality that we can learn from this book. And I find the answers a little surprising, to say the least. We’ll start with lesson one from Esther:

Use sex to get power.

Indeed, that’s a major message we can learn from this strange morality tale. Does the king notice his faithful servant for his good deeds? No. Is he willing to slaughter large numbers of his subjects for no apparent reason? Sure. And how is tragedy averted? Because a beautiful woman had access to the king’s ear — access that she bought by being willing to sleep with him. Use sex to get power, you never know when you’ll need it.

What a great lesson for today! But that’s just the beginning. Here are a few of the gems we can extract from this book:

Lessons for women

1. Make sure you’re hot. It’s all about the looks, baby.
2. Make yourself sexually available to powerful men. You never know when you’re going to need that political connection.
3. Keep yourself pure and chaste — so that powerful men will want to hop into the sack with you.
4. Save yourself for the right guy. And who is that? He needn’t be a good person, or a church member; it doesn’t really matter if he’s a mass murderer who has a thousand other women on the side and a real temper with women. What matters is that he’s powerful.
5. Overlook indiscretions like mistresses and occasional murderous rage, as long as the guy is powerful.
6. If a powerful man insists on taking you for a “test drive,” go for it! Be enthusiatic! He’s probably sleeping with a hundred other women; you need to do something to make yourself stand out. (Besides being a hottie, of course).
7. Whatever you do, don’t upset your powerful man. Cater to his every whim. No one wants to be a Vashti.
8. Above all, don’t forget to be a hottie. It all comes down to looks. And sexual availability, of course — for the right (powerful) guy.

Lessons for men

1. Find out who the cute girls are and get in their good graces. That way, you can hook them up with powerful men.
2. Remember that these men will give you power too, if you find cute enough women for them to have sex with.
3. Powerful men want to sleep with your relatives? They want to take them for a one-night test? Go for it! You might end up getting some power too. (And hey, then it will be you taking out the local cuties).

Are these “lessons” disturbing you yet? We haven’t even gotten to the best part, which is the overarching moral lesson of the entire book:

Embrace the morality of the world you’re put into. If it’s a screwed-up moral system where the king has a huge harem and you’re expected to participate, well then, try to become the sexpot of the harem. If you’re required to send off your daughters to the king, be enthusiatic! If it’s a tribal world where women are property, conform! And above all remember, it’s just fine to embrace wicked customs of morality and sex, as long as everyone else is doing it too.

I don’t particularly like these lessons. Many (most? all?) of them are contrary to church teachings. And I find it awfully hard to apply them today. The whole story seems despicable. I suspect that if President Bush suddenly declared martial law and demanded that the most beautiful Mormon women be sent to him for his sexual use, members and church leaders would rightly fight that immoral order. And yet, accession to such an order is just what Esther did, and she is celebrated for it; “jump at that opportunity,” the book of Esther tells us.

How do we reconcile the morality lessons of Esther with modern teachings, and how to we apply it (if at all) to the moral quadaries we face today? Is the book a hopeless relic of the past? Is it just another egregious illustration of the larger problem that the entire Old Testament should be consigned to the dust bin of history? Or is it salvageable?

I’m not sure it’s salvageable. I’m struggling to find anything honorable in Esther and Mordecai’s twisted assumptions (and actions) about sex and morality. Perhaps (and given my obtuseness, it’s likely) I’m missing something. Perhaps there’s a real gem or two in here. But for the moment, I’m not sure, and I find the lessons on sex and morality that I do see in the book of Esther to be quite disturbing.

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43 Responses to From the Archives: Lessons on Sex and Morality, from the Book of Esther

  1. Jacob on August 16, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    Maybe the points that you are making explain why God is never involved in the story!

  2. Kaimi Wenger on August 16, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    For prior comments on this from a few years ago, see http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=926

  3. SilverRain on August 16, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Perhaps part of the moral of that story is, much as Nephi’s killing of Laban, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his covenant son, the teaching of the gospel to the Gentiles in Paul’s day, Moses stealing the property (slaves and gold) of Egypt, or institution of polygamy against newly-translated scripture that God’s purposes are always more important than the law.

  4. Keri on August 16, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for this post. It articulates perfectly the concerns I have about the book of Esther as well. I’ve always admired Vashti for refusing to parade herself in front of the drunken men at the party.

  5. Ray on August 16, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    I have always viewed the Book of Esther as saying, “Do whatever it takes to save your community from extinction” – not as a morality tale, per se. I don’t like the story any more than you do, Kaimi, but I see it more as a war / conflict story than as a religious story. In this case, I choose not to liken the scriptures unto myself. That lessons the bad taste just enough to keep me from putting it with the Song of Solomon.

    FWIW, in a similar vein, we tend to take the story of Ruth and focus on the “your God will be my God” quote, when it seems to me like it was nothing more than a way to show the Messianic lineage – and perhaps illustrate, like with Jethro, that Jesus and His Priesthood have ties outside of just the Israelite lineage outlined in the OT. Another case, IMO, of too narrowly likening a particular scriptural story unto ourselves – as much as I agree wholeheartedly with the general principle.

  6. Seth R. on August 17, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Kaimi,

    Maybe the point is that no matter how far you’ve strayed from the fold, you’re “still an Israelite.” And there comes a time when you may need to “come through for your people.”

    I don’t really think the point of the story is: “sleep your way to power.” I don’t see much explicit approval from the scriptural account of any of that behavior.

    The point is that an Israelite woman happened to be well positioned. A time came when she could help her people out big-time. And she came through when the chips were down.

    And we haven’t really even touched whether Esther really had much choice in the matter of her husband. Somehow I doubt it.

  7. Clair on August 17, 2007 at 10:45 am

    “How do we reconcile the morality lessons of Esther with modern teachings, and how to we apply it (if at all) to the moral quadaries we face today?”

    Is Paris Hilton beyond redemption?

    Like Kaimi writes, there is nothing in the first part of the story that would show Mordecai and Esther as anything other than social climbers and sycophants. Even when Mordecai finally makes his stand in sackcloth, Esther sends him fine clothing, as if she is embarrassed for him, and perhaps for his Jewishness. Then something happens. She repents. She joins her people with fasting and prayer. At the risk of her life, she approaches the king uncalled and appeals on behalf of an innocent people. That, to me, is the morality lesson of the book.

    Had the king killed her on the spot, as he probably did others of whom we know nothing, her redemption would have been no less. As it happens, he accepted her plea and the people were saved. So they celebrate today. But that optional story ending is beside the point of Esther’s personal redemption.

    Likewise, in the modern tale, that student athlete who finally takes a stand against playing on Sunday, but then is cut from the team and goes on to become an accountant, is no less a story of redemption than if he had won the championship, as the tale is usually told.

  8. Clair on August 17, 2007 at 10:52 am

    “No one wants to be a Vashti.”

    No, many don’t. But we might recognize her as another heroine in this tale – like that ex-athlete accountant.

  9. Mike on August 17, 2007 at 11:29 am

    I taught a lesson on Esther in Gospel Doctrine about 5 years ago and I covered most of of these exact points. In preparation for the lesson, in addition to reading the correlated manual, I googled Esther and read 10 random articles. It blew me away, I couldn’t believe it. So I went straight to the scripture text and just honestly read what it said. The title I gave my lesson was “The Power of Sex.” The Temple President and several other experienced church leaders sat in the class with mouths wide open. I stuck pretty darn close to the Biblcal text and asked more questions than anything.

    One thing I read was that the nearly perfect symmetry of the structure of the book suggests it is fiction. If large chunks of the material in the Bible are both inspired and fiction, then it really opens it up to all kinds of interpretation and undercuts many fundamental literalistic views of religion. Esther really makes asses out of strict Biblical literalists.

    Esther is one of the women that our Young Women program selected as a representative of one of their values they are supposed to be cultivating. ‘The pamphlet my daughter has describing Esther hardly resembles the Bibical Esther at all and is a classic example of inspirational fiction. It is amazing how much an institution can twist information around to suit its needs. (Many other churches do this worst than we do). For youth this kind of distortion can raise doubt about everything else. My daughter being sort of a fireball really loves to makes sparks with some of her leaders when they get too tight. Perhaps this is another reason God allowed this story to be perpetuated in the scriptures; it has its practical uses in the right (wrong?) hands.

    One thing you missed, Kaimi is that they killed 75,000 people! What’s a little whoring, and political intrigue in comparison? Or at least that is what the Bible says the end result was. I think Persian history is silent on this massacre so it might be an exaggeration at best. You know a whole lot of people are getting their shorts tied into a wad about 120 deaths at Mountain Meadows and we only lost around 58,000 in Vietnam about 40 years ago, just for some perspective on the magnitude of that slaughter.

  10. Marjorie Conder on August 17, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Even though some consider me the local resisdent feminist, Esther is one of my least favorite scripture stories. I especially dislike the use we put it to. As has already been pointed out, if we actually pay attention to the text quite a different story emerges. I also understand it is the only OT book not quoted in the NT, so it apparently was not highly thought of by the early Christian writers.

    Count me in as one who sees Vashti as the real heroine of the book.

    Doesn’t anyone else notice that there wouldn’t be story if Mordecia hadn’t set it up. Mordecia’s reasons for not bowing to Haman seem moticated more personal spite and his connection to Esther, who is now in the king’s court, than Daniel’s refusing to bow before idols. There is nothing in the story to indicate that Mordecia is in any way faithful to Israel, only advancing himself and saving his own skin.

    This is not a story of redemption, but rather vengence as Mike points out.(Rah, rah for our team is the way the story gets told!)

    This story is way too problematic for Esther to be raised to an icon for LDS women of any age!

  11. Marjorie Conder on August 17, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    The word is motivated not moticated.

  12. Mike on August 17, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    I posted before reading # 7.

    I looked through the text again and the Bible text does not describe Esther repenting. In fact the second time she goes into the King she puts on the royal gown (probably immodest). She is still selling her good looks and the King sees her and finds favor in her. What does that statement “finds favor” mean? For all we know the King banged her again right there on the palace floor. If inspirational additions are allowed then why not more likely tawdry ones?

    Part of repentance is forgiving those who have wronged us. Did Esther forgive Haman? No, she made it look like Haman was sleeping with her when he was begging for his life. Or at least allowed him to get caught in a compromising position and lied with her silence. She knew Haman was not sexually assaulting her and she said nothing and he was executed. She essentially used her charms to have her enemy hanged and later she ordered his 10 sons hanged. (And you thought Hillary was a mean B^!$#.) Esther didn’t so much returned to her people as they came to her as a new powerful elite in the corrupt gentile Kingdom. One might argue that redemption was not one of the central themes of the Old Testament. And this point has already been mentioned (#1), but where is God in all of this? No mention of God is made in the entire book! Where is there redemption without God?

    Esther remains willing to prostitute herself, but for a higher price. She could not hide and pretend not to be Jewish in the end. So her courageous choice to go into the King the second time was a matter of how best to die; sooner in the palace as a victim of the King’s rage with some hope of success in saving her people, or later in the streets as a common slave when it was too late. The only remotely spiritual thing she did was to ask her people to fast for her success in saving them along with herself. Courageous but not much else.

    I honestly tried to read this story of Esther as a story of redemption. But it is far too much of a stretch for me. Perhaps Bro. Clair could indicate which specific verses cause him to feel Esther has repented? Where is the change from her wickedness to righteousness? This could be a case of me overlooking/ not comprehending material while reading or it may be a case of an honest disagreement of what the text indicates. I can live with either one.

    Paris Hilton is not beyond redemption. But for the story of her repentance to conclude with her leading her relatives in killing 75,000 liberal filmakers in Hollywood and celebrating the event for centuries to come would be morally troubling to say the least.

  13. Visorstuff on August 17, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Or is a point of the story to illustrate that even those with horrible sins can still be used to accomplish good. After all, many people were saved that otherwise may have been killed all because a girl who had visible faults used her position to do something good? Is this the redemption that #7 refers to?

    I know that in my own experience Church members who were “living with someone” or less active for one reason or another ended up making a big difference in the lives of those they came in contact with – and in not a few cases ended up in missionaries teaching/baptising their associates. Does it illustrate how God uses his chosen people regardless of their hypocritical and sinful actions (ie Samson, etc.). Is there hope for those of us who sin to help further God’s plan?

  14. Jacob on August 17, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    There is a quick blurb in there that Esther asked the people to fast for her success in preserving their lives. I guess that is one way of answering a prayer. (Maybe I should threaten many people with death and God will send me a beautiful women to stop me! I like that lesson, too!)

    Oh – and maybe there is a little of the “wicked are punished by the wicked” principle in there, too.

  15. Adam Greenwood on August 17, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    probably immodest

    Where are you getting this from? Anyway, he was her husband.

    For all we know the King banged her again right there on the palace floor.

    Uh . . . where is this coming from?

    If inspirational additions are allowed then why not more likely tawdry ones?

    Because its in the scriptures?

  16. Ray on August 17, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    I think we can create meaning if we try, as others have said, but I prefer not to do so. I am of the “even a manipulative whore can do good things” camp, but I’m not going to glorify the whore as a role model by overlooking her whoredom – or do the same with Mordecai’s pimping. I understand completely the effort to salvage a Biblical book, and I understand the historical homage to someone who helped save the people, but that’s as far as I would go in praising these two – recognition that they helped save the people because they feared death themselves.

    Again, if I read it as a conflict tale, then I can stomach it; I can’t read it as a morality tale.

  17. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 17, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Kaimi, you’ve got me thinking about the Lamanite daughters abducted by King Noah’s priests, then used as negotiation tools, pleading with their Lamanite brothers to spare their husbands’ lives. I’ve always wished they’d said hack ‘em up.

    As for Esther, I admire her willingness to die as a known Jew rather than keep up the masquerade.

  18. Nancy Bernard on August 17, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Um, I think that’s why Jesus gave us a New Testament to follow.

  19. Jacob on August 17, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Kathryn – right on! I was thinking that, too. Why the heck did they ask for their husbands’ lives to be spared?

    But leaving that threadjack aside, the only moral that I see is to stand up for your people, even if it puts you in immediate danger. And the whole Vashti incident lets you know that the king is not a man to mess around with, so by going in despite knowing what his wrath was like shows a great amount of courage. We can at least give her that, notwithstanding any other faults she might have had.

  20. Ben There on August 17, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    I tend to agree with Martin Luther who felt that the book of Esther was not inspired, but was more of a Jewish legend designed to bolster ethnic pride. Given the additions and deletions from the bible, and the state it eventually ended up in, I don’t see this explanation as far fetched. The book says nothing at all about God or righteous principles.

  21. Ben There on August 17, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Ray (16): I think that all that was intended in the Book of Esther was that it be a “conflict tale” as you put it nicely: just a legend (probably not rooted in fact at all), passed down through the Jews, to inspire ethnic solidarity. I see nothing in it geared toward morality, God, righteousness, religion. I see no reason why it ought to be in the Bible or be considered inspired Scripture. It is certainly not on par with the Gospels or with Old testament prophets, for example.

    Let’s just admit it is what it is. We Mormons can do this, because we don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy. Martin Luther said Esther contains “much heathen foolishness”, and we more than any other Christian church, ought to be able to admit this. There is no spirit of God present in the Book of Esther, I cannot believe it was given by inspiration.

  22. Ugly Mahana on August 17, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Ben, do you hold this out as your own opinion, or do you think it should be recognized as doctrine?

  23. Ray on August 17, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    At the very least, Martin Luther demonstrated that you can be Christian to the core and not accept inerrancy. Perhaps that’s a good reason to keep Esther in the Biblical canon – as an example of our “translated correctly” belief. :-)

  24. Citrus on August 17, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    I think it’s more than just a matter of it being errant vs inerrant, but also the fact that even today people want to view leaders and heroes (past and present) with at least a hint of infallibility. Thomas Jefferson had children with his slave, Ted Kennedy got away with causing the death of his secretary (as well as being generally annoying), and Esther was banging the king, and more ad infinitum. Jefferson still gave us enormous contributions to the fledgling nation, Esther saved her people from more death and suffering, and Ted… well I’m sure he’s done something…

  25. Ben There on August 17, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    Ugly Mahana:

    This is a good question. The Inspired Version of the Bible, which the RLDS folks use, and which we only integrate as footnotes into our KJV, does not include the Song of Solomon, which Joseph Smith believed to not be inspired. But the Official LDS Bible includes it, but with that footnote about its status.

    I do not know what if anything JS had to say about Esther. I think we all recognize that his Bible corrections were never completed, so who’s to say he would not have stricken Esther at some point, as he did SoS?

    It is my personal opinion that Esther is not inspired, but I would not suppose to suggest that it should be official doctrine, just as the church has decided to keep Song of Solomon in its official Bible, despite the pronouncement of JS that it was not inspired.

  26. Ben There on August 17, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    Ray (23): Good point! :)

  27. Ray on August 17, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    My son read my #16 and pointed out that I always tell him not to judge people in different times and cultures by our morality but rather by their own. In that light, I would like to point out that my description of Esther in that comment was according to our modern standards and might very well be an incorrect judgment of her and her actions in that place and time. Given the social structure of her time, she might have had little choice in the matter – at least until her plea before the king and perhaps even then.

    I have a much harder time with a disclaimer concerning Mordecai. I don’t believe we should “embrace the morality of the world we are put into” (as Kaimi phrased it), but I need to give Esther the benefit of the doubt and not condemn her for being a part of the immorality that surrounded her. Papa’s gotta brag, so: I appreciate a son who would see that and point it out to me.

  28. Ivan Wolfe on August 17, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    I’m glad I’m not in Mike’s Sunday School class. I don’t think I could take so much unsupported speculation. Commet #12 was just bizarre. As Kaimi pointed out, there’s already enough problems in the text – we don’t need to add to them.

    I prefer the Veggie Tales version anyway. Esther is a green onion forever and ever, amen. ;-)

  29. Adam Greenwood on August 17, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Perhaps that’s a good reason to keep Esther in the Biblical canon – as an example of our “translated correctly” belief

    I don’t think the objectionable parts are incorrect translations.

  30. Adam Greenwood on August 17, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    I don’t see why the fact that it tries to inspire ethnic solidarity makes it uninspired. Like Kathryn Soper, that’s what I love about the story. Esther kept her people at arms length to get ahead in the world but when the moment of decision came she threw in her lot with them at great personal risk. Arguably true religion is ethnic. God’s people is a people. It isn’t racist, since anyone can be adopted in, but it is a people.

  31. Adam Greenwood on August 17, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I always get distracted in the Veggie Tales version wondering how you would hang a Haman who has no neck.

  32. Ben There on August 17, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    I was always amazed how the Veggie Tales people could take this sordid tale and turn it into a cartoon that is funny and has a moral. For example, the King tosses out his unfavored queen, because she refuses to make him a sandwich in the middle of the night!

    Adam, if you will remember, Haman was not to be hanged: he was to be sent to the island of perpetual tickling. This is a punishment that could easily be carried out on a gourd such as Haman.

  33. Ray on August 17, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    #31 – I thought I was the only person who was twisted enough to have that thought.

    #29 – Agreed. Perhaps, compiled correctly would be better. :-) OTOH, perhaps SofS is enough to make that point – although I have read some creative explanations from people who were convinced that it came straight from God’s mouth to Solomon’s ears. Disturbing, but creative.

    #30 – “Esther kept her people at arms length to get ahead in the world but when the moment of decision came she threw in her lot with them at great personal risk.” I had not thought about it quite like that, and I could use that as a conclusion to any lesson I was asked to teach on the book. I still don’t see it as a “conversion” or an act of repentance, given what follows, but it is one thing I could “liken unto us” without feeling like Stretch Armstrong. Thanks, Adam.

  34. Clair on August 17, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    “Perhaps Bro. Clair could indicate which specific verses cause him to feel Esther has repented?”

    I don’t know if Esther even lived, let alone repented. It is a story, and Kaimi asked for a morality angle to it. I presented one that I would present to a church class if I were asked to teach about this book. All of the other tawdry stuff is in there, too, but in all these posts, I have seen nothing in that stuff worthwhile of class time, except perhaps to set up the significance of Esther’s change of heart. I feel as free to focus on that change as anyone else is free to speculate about the modesty of the queen’s gowns. That’s my Esther story and I’m sticking to it.

  35. ErinG on August 18, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Well, whether or not Esther really existed or whether or not it was truly inspired scripture, look how much we use this story in the Church today. Just like was cited in comment #9, the Young Women use the story of Esther frequently. I believe it was Pres. Faust who used this story for the basis of one of his talks in the General Young Women meeting a few years back. What would we do for women/young women without the famous line, \”thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this\”? I mean, wasn\’t that the THEME of BYU\’s Women\’s Conference this year?!?! I think you have all brought up some fascinating insight into this story and it\’s interesting to see how much we twist the actual events of this account to apply to whatever Church analogy/story/lesson/theme we need it to.

    This is a total threadjack, but does anyone know if there has been a discussion about the Abraham sacrificing his son account in the scriptures? For some reason, that story really bothers me.

  36. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 18, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Ben There et al., sing along with me:

    Puppies are cuddly
    Puppies are cute
    They’re never nasty or mean…

  37. Nitsav on August 18, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    “that’s a major message we can learn from this strange morality tale”

    Who says it’s a morality tale? I think we seriously misread the scriptures when we read them expecting it to be such.

    Speaking of Genesis, though he could easily have applied it to the whole of the OT, John J. Collins of Yale.

    “The stories of Genesis are often challenging and stimulating, but they seldom if ever propose simple models to be imitated.” Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 90.

  38. Rose Green on August 18, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Then again, it’s possible to read Esther as a person who was human, imperfect, but in the right time and the right place for God to use her for the benefit of many–as has happened with a few other politicians I can think of.

    (Speaking as someone who lives in a reunited nation, with relatives living behind the former Iron Curtain who now have the option to entertain missionaries if they so desire, thanks to a few non-LDS politicians.)

  39. Ben There on August 19, 2007 at 1:57 am

    KLS:

    “I love you lost puppies, love love!”

    “ARF!” :)

  40. Seth R. on August 19, 2007 at 8:40 am

    Keep in mind that the prime virtue for women in the Old Testament is LOYALTY.

    Women are not otherwise really considered to be moral creatures in the Old Testament. It’s just not something that it was really assumed that women would need to bother much about. As long as a Jewish girl could “stand by her man” the elders of Israel were down with that. And yeah, a girl back then would probably be expected to back her husband, even if he was a genocidal maniac.

  41. Seth R. on August 19, 2007 at 8:41 am

    And really, what ancient world king wasn’t a genocidal maniac?

    Back then, the only kings who weren’t genocidal were the ones who were too weak to defeat their enemies in battle.

  42. Julie M. Smith on August 19, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Re #31–

    LOL! (“How are we clapping?”)

    FYI: Esther is the only OT book not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (some sources also say Nehemiah wasn’t found, others don’t–I’m not sure), so there may be reason to question its canonical status.

    Re #37: Nitsav is right to wonder whether we should even be looking for a moral–many readers dismiss this story as nothing more than the origin of Purim.

    Seth R., not even close. The unfolding of the story in Genesis depends on choices the matriarchs make that often highlight their _disloyaly_ to their husbands but further the cause of the covenant (i.e., Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar, etc.) Other major female players in the OT (Deborah, Miriam, etc.) aren’t mentioned at all in the context of marital loyalty.

  43. :( I forgot the name I used here before...???? sorry on September 14, 2007 at 4:33 am

    Why does everyone assume Esther had a choice about becoming one of the wives? I have always thought she did not, as was the conclusion in many of the commentaries I\’ve studied.

    In the story, this rageful, temper-tantrum-throwing king gets mad at his wife, Vashti, after what was it… 4 weeks of straight partying or something for his visitors… they are in the final days of the celebration where he invites them all to show off all the new fabulous stuff he had built. (He was purportedly a phenomenally AWESOME erector of beautiful architecture and splendor in general.) And so now that they are all rip roaring drunk he wants her to parade in front of the men wearing her turban crown so he can show her off too. (\”Hey guys! You thought that was cool.. check this out!\”)

    Now, good ol\’ Vashti refuses to leave the women\’s celebration (i.e., convenient place women are segregated during celebrations to keep them out of the men\’s hair while the men do some serious drinking). Many commentators interpret the request as wearing ONLY the queenly turban and NO other clothes. Additionally, some suspect there may have been other danger for her. In any event it was obviously such a threatening request she refused EVEN THOUGH SHE WELL KNEW the crazy temper of this guy.

    Historians identify this man as the same king who, for example, sentenced the ocean to bondage and lashings because a big wave knocked over a new mega-fabulous-nifty-bridge he had just constructed. He ordered his soldiers to run out to the ocean and give it.. I forget how many… lashes. And then to chain up the sea so it had to behave appropriately in the future and couldn\’t produce any more large waves destroying his architecture. If you wondering how to chain up water, well, the king knew. After the lashings he had his soldiers cast chains with feathers into the water. The chief architect was merely put to death. This event isn\’t the only example of the king\’s temper.

    Definitely, in my eyes Vashti is a heroine for having bravery to refuse her husbands request.. the man was brutal and tempramental, and the society was one in which women HAD to OBEY the man at all times.

    Anyway, later, the king sobers up, misses his lovely Vashti, but can\’t go back on his decree. (He would look whooped in front of his pals.) Instead he sets out on the prince charming glass slipper search to find the new perfect woman. Only, from everything I understand the women DIDN\’T HAVE A CHOICE. You couldn\’t say, \”Um,.. no thanks King. You don\’t do it for me.\” How awkward is that even with a boss, let alone a brutal, murderous king who makes all the rules.

    Entrants had to be locked up in the prepatory harem school for girls where they got.. I forget specifics again but what was it.. about 2 years of grooming and protocol learning preparation. Then the big night came where there fate was decided.. whether or not they would please the king. Of course even if htey didn\’t please the king they could never have the option of a regular husband because hthat would be disrespectful to the king. The girls weren\’t free to leave even if they were rejected, and even if accepted they might never be called again. What kind of life is that? There were the few powerful woman who rose to the top of the harem,but at the same time how safe is that position? And how unpleasant to live in the incredibly competitive environment of those harems!!!! Who would purposely choose that?

    Anyway, I don\’t think Esther would have chosen to spend most of her time locked away from her family and friends. Regardless, we do know she was obeying the direction of her guardian, Mordecai, a man/person who got to decide what the woman MUST do. (I don;t think M was bad either, but that\’s another post. ;) )

    When Esther went in to the king without being asked it was an AUTOMATIC death sentence for her. At that point she hadn\’t been called in to the king for at least a month or a few months (I forget now..) so she had every indication he had a new favorite and would not happily receive her. Remember this guy dealt very harshly with women who disobeyed in any way.

    I don\’t see that Esther was necessarily so immoral, (supposed immodest garb and all) unless you consider hiding Jewishness a sin. Yet think of all the people who did that during Hitler\’s time. I don\’t think it\’s wrong to save your life by hiding your background unless God and the Holy Ghost tell you to do something differently in the specific situation.

    I think of Esther as someone who was able to make people like her, not necessarily just because of her looks, but maybe because of her niceness and obedience. She probably had a very rough life growing up an orphan. But she seems to have had much love and loyalty for her substitute parent Mordecai. She seems to have done the best she could under the circumstances. After all, it\’s as easy to make positive assumptions as negative ones. And sometimes good looks are also a curse. Lots of girls automatically won\’t like a woman who is beautiful.

    Anway sorry to blab on so long and disjointedly. It\’s late, but to wrap my long garble up:

    1. It doesn\’t bother me a bit if Esther or other role models/ leaders have faults. It DOES bother me when we have to pretend they don\’t and accept everything they say and do unquestioningly. We can focus on the good, but we shouldn\’t have to whitewash or accept as doctrine their foibles. Not that we need to overly focus on flaws either. Just admit they had them rather than deny!

    2. We know this is a story because it is in the literature section of the bible and it is written in one of the novel styles of the time. Yet we also have much historical evidence to indicate it is based on historical events and probably written by someone living in the palace at the time.

    3. And finally, I think this story is inspirational and does have an obvious moral. On the one hand this is the ONLY book in the bible that does not mention specifically God, but paradoxically, every event in the entire story shows how God had His hand in all the events each step of the way, and how He turned everything into something leading toward his purposes. No obstacle or foe can prevent Him from unfolding His plans and protecting His people. I think it\’s a beautiful message.

    So, sorry for the loquacious jabbering, but I love this Cinderella-y story (not that she lived happily in the end – it was probably a very unpleasant life for Esther and the other women) but darn it,.. I love Esther and I love the story. :D The paradoxic writing style (not mentioning God overtly) emphasizes the message even more beautifully. God is always BEHIND the scenes watching and turning everything, even Satan\’s workings, into something good.