Following on from Esther 1 on Tuesday, on Thursday Peter preached on Esther 2. It’s the chapter with the beauty pageant to find Xerxes a wife, where Esther’s chosen. In other words, it’s a story about sexual exploitation.
Just think about the raw facts of this story:
- the kingdom is searched for the best looking women who are taken to the palace, no mention of their willingness
- these women are given excessive beauty treatment to make them look better for the pleasure of the king
- they are then each given one night to please the king and can be accepted or rejected at that point. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.
There is no regard for the well-being or the dignity of these women as human beings – they are simply objects for the king’s pleasure, primped, prodded, used and discarded. Far from couching this story as some sort of romance, we ought to be horrified by it. Perhaps if we’re not it’s because we’re so used to the sexual exploitation of women in our own culture. This passage indicts our culture just as much as Xerxes.
One of the questions that’s often asked of women who experience sexual abuse is whether they could have resisted or sought a way out. Isn’t even death better than defilement? Yet here we see Esther accepting the attention she’s given, complicit in her affair with the king and keeping her religion a secret. It’s a far cry from someone like Daniel who in similar circumstances refuses the king’s rich food and still prays three times a day with his window open towards Jerusalem. What does that say about Esther?
Peter had two answers to this:
- Many people are compromised in our world because of a lack of power. This is exactly what sexual exploitation does: it robs the victim of power even over their own body and makes them believe they have no choice other than to submit. That’s why dignity is one of the most important messages to give to women! Such treatment of people is sub-human and to be condemned.
- God uses compromised people. We’re not told in this story that Esther is particularly virtuous and on top of her other compromises listed above, she ends up married to an idolater! Yet, she becomes the instrument of God’s salvation for his people in Esther. I find this a great comfort in thinking about how to navigate the world as a woman. There are so many complexities to it. Sometimes I’m a victim, yet I’m also part of the problem. That doesn’t stop God using me.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.