The story of Esther demonstrates how authentic leadership is forged in intimacy with God and manifest in attention to the defenseless. Completing what Vashti began, Esther risks all for good, breaking the silence to expose her husband’s abusive regime moving toward a genocide. As the story unfolds, so do the contrasts between good and evil, between righteous and corrupt leadership. With their thirst for control and exploitation, Haman and Xerxes provide a stark contrast to the bold and holy leadership of Queen Esther.
A lust for power—rooted in narcissism—swallows Haman whole. Yet equally depraved is King Xerxes! He promotes Haman to chief of staff despite his lack of accomplishments or his interest in the affairs of Susa or its people. Some commentators also believe that Haman may have been part of a plot to assassinate the King, averted only through the loyalty of Esther and Mordecai. Even so, Xerxes honors Haman, decreeing that all must kneel in homage. Mordecai refuses—a move that ignites Haman’s vindictiveness. So, Haman plots to kill Mordecai and massacre the Jews. Appealing to Xerxes’ greed, Haman asks to slaughter the Jews. Without a second thought, Xerxes agrees, and both head off to get drunk.
Abdicating his responsibilities to corrupt officials, Xerxes is inaccessible and derelict as a leader. More interested in pleasure than serving the needs of his people, his indecisiveness and self-indulgence create a leadership vacuum, filled initially by Haman but ultimately by Esther—a genuine leader, a woman, and a Jew.
Unlike the inaccessible Xerxes, Queen Esther is always on hand, attentive to the vulnerable, and ready to act. She is available intellectually and maneuvers within an honor/shame culture to secure safety for the Jews. Esther is especially attentive spiritually. While Xerxes wallows in wine and women, Esther fasts and prays.
Esther embodies what her husband cannot—leadership that defends the vulnerable. Her husband signs away their lives, but Esther becomes their deliverer. She gives her people a voice, breaking the silence on Haman’s plot and delivering the Jews from slaughter. Unlike Haman, who is bent on destroying life, Esther is ready to give her life to save others. While Haman believes he controls his destiny and that of his enemies, Esther is humble and contrite. For her, the future is unclear, but she is ready to die if necessary.
Esther’s availability, self-sacrifice, humility, and holy wisdom make her one of the great leaders in Scripture. What we see in Esther is found supremely in our savior Christ—who delivered us from our worst enemies–sin and death. Because of Christ we enter a complete rest, just as the Jews entered peace and rest from their enemies because of Esther. In this way, Esther foreshadows our complete deliverance in Christ.
A woman leader, representing a hated minority, Esther responded to God’s call, risking her life to break the silence and stand against evil and abusive power. In a patriarchal culture like Susa, God chose a woman as a deliverer. Scripture honors Esther (9:29) as a woman in full authority. Let’s honor Esther by imitating her leadership—characterized by prayer, courage, and self-sacrifice on behalf of despised outsiders oppressed by the powerful. The name “Esther” means “star.” May we—like Esther—shine God’s light on injustice, expose oppression, and break the silence on abuse wherever we find it.
To learn more, see: “More Than a Pretty Face,” by Emmaline Kempf.
Part 2, “More Than a Beautiful Body: Star Wars, Beauty Standards, and the Imago Dei,” by Emmaline Kempf.
“Power Brokers: Vashti, Mordecai, and Esther,” by Young Lee Hertig.
Listen to Young Lee Hertig’s workshop on her chapter in Mirrored Reflections: Reframing Biblical Characters regarding Power Brokers: Vashti, Mordecai and Esther, titled “Women Leaders Navigate the Patriarchal Systems of Family and Church: Young Lee Hertig.”
“Esther: When God Calls for Disobedience,” by Allison Quient.
“Character Counts,” by Mimi Haddad.
“Calling all Deborah’s, Esther’s and Junias” by Grace Medina.