Reading Esther in the Age of Trump and Another Cycle Around the Sun

It has been roughly a month and a half since my birthday. I usually write a reflection a day or two, or a few weeks after my birth. This has been the longest time. But in a pandemic year where we’ve been asked to shelter in place, time has taken on new meaning. Mainly, that time moves so slowly now that every moment feels like any moment. So writing a few days after my birthday and writing now, felt one and the same.

I had declared 2020 a year of revelations for me. I had taken a pause from many of the things I had been doing, such as church leadership, and made space for God to reveal to me where my next road in life was supposed to be. I had set aside 2020 as a year that God would reveal these things to me, and instead I have found pain, loneliness, and hardship. What was I meant to hear from God in a year that shouted disruption from the rooftops? It was only in reflection that I realized that 2020 forcing me to stand still was the revelation God was giving me.

I am used to movement. I travel often for work and I love to get together with my friends. Movement and travel were cornerstones of who I was. They defined me. Before the shelter in place order came in California, I had already been on over 15 flights and been in 3 countries. And then it all came to a screeching halt. I knew that standing still was necessary to do my part in a pandemic, but its till felt completely opposite of what had traditionally served me. When I spoke to my therapist about it, he said that movement had also been a form of a crutch for me. That my constant travel allowed me to not deal with certain things because I could always push it aside for the sake of the next adventure or destination. But now? Now I had to sit in feelings; and they were often feelings that I had to admit and be okay with not knowing how to confront, because the pandemic had made it so not all things could be dealt with in this current reality. For someone who controlled their schedule, this was tremendously difficult to sit in. But a Bible study I began having with a good friend of mine gave me some new lens in which to embrace the changes of 2020.

Esther is one of two books in the biblical canon that does not mention the name of God in the original written text. Yet in all later translations of the text, the name of God is reinserted. But the absence of the naming of God was crucial to my understanding of what the text was saying to me when my friend and I read Esther for our weekly Bible study.

There’s often been a tension in reading Esther of those who glorify Esther and those who glorify the character of Vashti. Vashti is the queen at the start of the story who refuses to parade herself in front of the king and his friends and is banished from the sight of the king and stripped of her position. Vashti chooses her agency and her dignity over the whims of the king and is typically hailed as a feminist heroine of the story and placed as a foil to Esther since Esther is lifted up as queen because she lives out the virtues the king uplifts in a queen. But Esther also realizes that she needs to exert her agency to save herself and save her people later in the story and uses this favorable position to do so.

In Yoram Hazony’s God and Politics in Esther, he brings Esther into the historical context of its time. Esther takes place at a time when the prophets have not spoken for years and there have been no miracles throughout the kingdoms. The Jewish people have come to rely on the virtue and boldness of each other and not on commands from God to leaders of the people. When Esther is faced with the choice of what to do about King Xerxes decision to kill the people of Israel and worries that she will be killed as those before her who came into the king’s presence without permission, her cousin Mordecai tells her, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 13-14 NIV)

The last part of that verse is also commonly translated as, “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created,” and is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. Mordecai’s message to Esther is one that I often return to. His message is clear and deep and contains three main points: 1) Esther must not think that because she is queen that her Jewish background will not be found out and she dealt with the same as other Jews 2) Even if Esther does not use her position as queen to help her people, the Jews will be saved from destruction in some other form, through some other person, and 3) Her decision to use her position or not will determine her faith and whether she will save her own soul.

This is Esther’s crucible. We often are led to believe that the entirety of situations rely on us to do something, but we are one individual. So often the world goes on without us and we are but one of multiple who can act in most situations. But when provided the opportunity to act, the decision whether or not to act is a reflection on who we are; it it our moment to determine if we care about the fate of those around us or only about ourselves. When faced with this decision, Esther chose to be courageous and to act as one who has a position to do so. Esther is often seen as as a biblical character who exemplifies courage and integrity while trusting God to protect and provide for her, but this reading does not go far enough in rooting the events in the fact that Esther does not name God in the text. Esther exemplifies courage and integrity as one who lives out her calling in a moment. We don’t have to name God to know that His truths and His power course through our veins.

These are the truths I have come to settle in as I think about my 31st year of life and 2020, and what I thought revelation would look like and what it formed itself into. This is a year where it feels as though the prophets have been silent and miracles have ceased. we’ve been bombarded with the strains of the pandemic on all sides. My own year has been no different. But this is a year of an Esther crucible; one in which God asked me to show up for my neighbors and myself in ways that would protect us, all while whispering new truths to me in my stillness. What I do may not ultimately decide the fate of the pandemic, but it does determine who I decided to show up as when the world turned upside down.

I don’t have to name God to know Him. I don’t have to hear His name to see the work, because the work is me. As I make my way around the sun again, I’m doing so leaning into the truths that I was created for this moment. That this is the historical time I am meant for, and this is my calling. I had wanted 31 to be a year that I waited for God to send me new direction, but instead He asked me to forge new directions and start new beginnings. At 32 I am settling deep into the driver’s seat of my destiny.

I have found it’s better to dig my toes into red dirt
Of homelands near and far
And know that I am a daughter of the earth.
That in all things
I am birthing new beginnings.

Now, when I look out over the precipice 
I see a sea of beautiful, black faces
Past. 
Present.
Future.
Ancestors and descendants.
And I hear the voice of God whisper in my ear
The same message He sent for my sister Esther:

Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.

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