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Mordecai, Esther and Mutual Submission

Synopsis of the situation: Mordecai, a Jew, is an important man, known to the leadership of the Medes and Persians. His cousin, Esther, whom he raised, is now queen of the Medes and Persians. Haman is a very high official who hates Mordecai and has set up a law so that Mordecai and his entire community will be exterminated.

Whether by revelation or just giving him wisdom, God shows Mordecai that Esther must save her people. Mordecai tells Esther this. Esther knows she can be executed for approaching the king without an invitation, queen or not. She’s afraid, but she submits to Mordecai as being a messenger from God. So far, so hierarchical: God tells man, man tells woman, woman obeys.

But…
Whether by revelation or just giving her wisdom, God shows Esther what she and the Jewish people need to do. She tells Mordecai. Mordecai tells the Jewish people. All of them, Esther, Mordecai and the Jewish people, all obeyed. They obeyed the woman/queen as God’s messenger. And God worked it all out.

That’s how Christian leadership should work: God chooses to whom He wants to reveal a part of His plan. That person becomes the “leader,” the messenger of God. Who the leader is can change according to whom God gives His information. Each Christian’s job is to either lead or follow according to God’s decisions. Yes, it’s mutual submission, but ultimately all of the submission is to God, not to a human. It’s God who leads. Even Christian leaders are ultimately followers.

So, what does it matter if God chooses a woman or a man, a world leader or one of the rank-and-file? God shows this clearly in the Book of Esther.

19 Comments

  1. Comment #96505 posted July 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    outstanding post—-that is exactly how God operates—he chooses the vessel that best suits his purpose

  2. Comment #96506 posted July 22, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    This is a great observation Hubert and another one of those many instances in Scripture where God works according to his own plan and purpose and is obviously not bound by the gender limitations that we place on him. The fact that these instances occur throughout Scripture is for me one of the greatest proofs that God did not ever intend for there to be an exclusively male leadership. And, you are so right, ultimately it is God that we are following, through the direction of the vessel he has chosen to use.

  3. Comment #96507 posted July 23, 2012 at 9:31 am

    One of the overall themes of the book of Esther is the rise in authority of Esther as she is faithful. A reader is supposed to notice this, so thanks for bringing it to our attention. It other words, it is faithfulness that leads to God giving one more responsibility, not gender. Those who think that in Jesus it is based on economic standing or culture or gender are seriously misreading Scripture.

  4. Comment #96508 posted July 23, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks for the great comments and additions. While the book of Esther is about leadership and power from a human perspective, it adds in God’s perspective of the leader’s service and submission. It’s a great book!

  5. Red
    Comment #96511 posted July 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Yes to Don’s comment! By the end of the story, Esther’s faithfulness results in God installing her in a position of huge power. There is a running theme throughout the book that the king doesn’t ever make decisions; it’s always the people around him who “suggest” the laws that he ends up making. By the end of the story, Esther is the person in that position, and thus she is ruling by extension.

  6. Comment #96512 posted July 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Great post, Hubert. I just recently finished reading Caroyln Custis James’ book, HALF THE CHURCH: RECAPTURING GOD’S GLOBAL VISION FOR WOMEN, and in Chapter 7, she expounds on “The Blessed Alliance” that must exist between Christian men and women if God’s kingdom purposes are to advance today. She uses the story of Mordecai and Esther (along with that of Mary and Joseph) as an example. One thing, perhaps the most important thing, she points out from this story is how our working together to accomplish God’s kingdom purposes results in our mutual flourishing:

    “Perhaps the most surprising observation I’ve seen is that the Blessed Alliance results in mutual flourishing. This isn’t a win for the women and a loss for the men. Instead, by working together, all four of these biblical characters flourish to become their best selves. I can’t fully explain it. It’s just the way God works. Without question the women shine. Scholars marvel at how Esther evolves from a passive, compliant member of the king’s harem to a courageous political leader at the apex of world power. And of course, there’s worldwide admiration for Mary and her self-sacrificing choice. But the men are flourishing too.

    “Mordecai was an adept politician in his own right, but he rises to prominence because of Esther. The win for Joseph is more subtle. He’s one of the lost men of the Bible because his story gets eclipsed by Mary and Jesus. We’ve been walking past Joseph’s story for years. It should not go unnoticed, however, that the apostle Matthew gives Joseph the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He is the lead story in Matthew’s gospel for recovering the true definition of ‘righteousness.’ Joseph lives out Jesus’ gospel before Jesus is born.

    “For the men, there’s a tipping point where everything moves well beyond merely making a place for the women at the table; there is a sudden dawning on Mordecai and Joseph that they need the women to follow God’s calling on their lives. It will be disastrous if the women take a backseat and expect the men to take care of things for them…God’s tactics are counterintuitive to our male-centered world, but therein lies the surprise for the Enemy, for the world, and for us. For when men and women are allied together, richer discussions result in better decisions, the elimination of blind spots, and a greater kingdom force in the world” (“The Blessed Alliance,” HALF THE CHURCH, pp. 148-149)

    Though this quote is a bit long, I think it helps us understand that it was the “Blessed Alliance” between Mordecai and Esther that God used to bring about Israel’s deliverance, and that we desperately need to recover both the concept and practice of this “Blessed Alliance” if the Church is to accomplish God’s mission of redemption and reconciliation in the world. If the Church contiues to deny the necessity of this mutual alliance and continues to force women to stay in the backseat and leave all the work to be done by the men alone, then the forcefulness and effectiveness of God’s mission in the world will, to say the least, be greatly hampered.

    • Michelle
      Comment #96513 posted July 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      While I like the term “Blessed Alliance”, it’s a shame that we have to be so, so, so careful about the terms we use. The “Blessed Alliance” is simply the way God means for things to be. It’s a part of the Gospel: our cooperation to help bring about heaven on Earth.

      And we must use “biblical” rather than simply “Christian” to describe our understanding that God means for us all to work together, and did not institute a hierarchy of humans as part of his plan for us. Because somehow, “biblical” is a higher standard?

      Having said that, I’ve been able to finish only one “Christian” book in the past few years, but I do have “Half the Church”, and perhaps I will pick it up again, with the idea in mind of offering it to certain family members, if I can recommend it. Thank you for what you shared.

  7. Comment #96515 posted July 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Frank, that does sound like an interesting book. Michelle, I can so understand your feelings about Christian books.

    • Michelle
      Comment #96518 posted July 27, 2012 at 10:38 am

      :-) Thank you, Hubert. I appreciate that. You made me grin.

  8. Comment #96564 posted August 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Great Post. I am preaching on Esther in a few weeks and really struggling with how to challenge its misrepresentation. I am particularly nervous about referring to Esther’s faithfulness because I think it can be mis-heard. Too often I’ve heard the book turned into a comparison between the un-submissive Vashti and the good wife Esther. I’m really not sure that’s what its about. I don’t think there is anything in the text that should make us think that God in any way endorses institutionalised sexual violence. Its that same old mistake of assuming that because the bible documents something as happening it condones it.

    Also Mordecai was Esther’s cousin. I’ve been wondering recently about the origin of the common understanding that he was her uncle comes from and whether it is a symptom of people reading hierarchy into the text? (Obviously not the author of this post!)

    • Comment #96566 posted August 6, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Thanks for clearing up the fact that Esther was a cousin of Mordecai and not his niece. We will change it in the post. The account says that even though Esther was his cousin, he ‘brought her up’ as her parents had died so that’s probably how the misconception arises. Mordecai was obviously much older than Esther even though a cousin.

      Haven’t heard the comparison between Vashti and Esther as you recount it, but can understand how it could be used to say that God endorses men being the leaders in their households. Amazing that a heathen king’s pronouncement would be seen to be aligned with God’s plan.

    • Comment #96568 posted August 7, 2012 at 4:06 am

      Thanks for the kind words and the correction about family tie, Jennifer. I grew up on that erroneous good wife/bad wife error too.

    • Comment #96572 posted August 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      I also heard about the good wife/bad wife comparison from the book of Esther. But not only that. I’ve also heard that book used to teach women that they should spend much more time on their physical appearance than men. That that account was meant to teach us about men’s more “visual nature” and that it is a good thing for wives to spend lots of money on cosmetics and beauty treatments in order to look their best for their husbands… or for a single woman to attract a future husband.

      Those teachings encouraged a pre-occupation with lookism for women and shallowness in men. Sad.

      • Comment #96573 posted August 8, 2012 at 6:19 pm

        That sort of reasoning is one of the reasons why I have never enjoyed gatherings of women where they talk about ‘beauty’ and desirability as important. To excuse men on the basis that God made them more visual is deplorable.

  9. Comment #96567 posted August 6, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Trevor and Jennifer,

    My experience on the sermonic contrast between Queen Vashti and Queen Esther as wives of King Xerxes has been mixed. I have found that those preachers who have a superficial understanding of Medo-Persian history and culture tend to think that Vashti was wrong to deny her husband’s request. However, the key here is that Xerxes, in a drunken stupor, wanted Vashti to come and display her beauty for all his nobles and the other men “to gaze on” (Esther 1:11, NLT). He wasn’t asking her to come in and just say hello to the men but rather–I don’t know how else to express it–to openly parade her physical assets for their pleasure. Of course Vashti, who had more common sense, self-esteem and dignity than her drunken husband, refused to degrade herself by putting on such a show. And when this has been understood, I have heard preachers who have presented Vashti as woman of principle who was ill-treated. Have you experienced this difference in how preachers treat Vashti?

  10. Comment #96569 posted August 7, 2012 at 8:05 am

    What the Hebrew text uses are euphemisms, but what translators can do is euphemize them further, creating a double euphemism that makes it difficult for the reader to see what is being described. My take is there are parts of the Bible that are X-rated (adults are the intended readers/hearers) and so some parts are not suitable for non-adults. One aspect of the Vasti prologue in Esther is to set the stage to show that Esther has very little power and authority at the beginning of her story, but her faithfulness means her power and authority grows and grows along with her faithfulness.

    • Comment #96570 posted August 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      Excellent points. Personally, I’d love to read a de-euphemized translation sometime. To me, euphemizing non-euphemized text is editing God’s word.

  11. Comment #96571 posted August 8, 2012 at 6:55 am

    I see it as some translations aim to be able to be spoken from the pulpit to a general audience and some other translations aim to be used for study. Since the Bible contains some adult themes, it is very challenging to aim for both. Also, the Hebrew and Greek texts do use euphemisms, so the translators are not necessary being duplicious when they further euphemize something. I see it as just another thing to be aware of when reading the Bible in English.

    In any case, there are some verses that are seldom taught from the pulpit. We are to seek the WHOLE counsel of God.

  12. Joan Ochudi
    Comment #96756 posted September 25, 2012 at 7:23 am

    God can use somebody to uplift or rather to change the whole community, and the world at at large.Blessed Glory be to God

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