Esther was Trafficked!
Esther is remembered for standing up to a foreign king on behalf of her people. She is regarded as a hero and rightfully so, but most of the time that her story is told, we skip over the fact that she was trafficked. Think about it. Originally, Esther was a humble little girl who was mistreated and forcefully placed into an environment where she would be trafficked for the pleasure of a powerful man, the king.
Let’s go back and consider this part of her story a little more. It actually starts with a decision by Queen Vashti.
Esther Chapter 1 describes a 180 day feast hosted by King Xerxes for all his nobles, governors, officials, and servants to display his greatness.
Does it really take 6 months of partying to demonstrate your power or is this guy a little self-centered? Or maybe he’s using this feast to compensate for some sort of insecurity?
Anyway, a 6 month party is pretty extravagant. After this party, he throws another 7 day party for all the people in the city. It’s a high-brow affair with very over-the-top food, drink, décor, golden vessels, couches, marble, and all the finery. The wine was being distributed freely without any restrictions on anyone. It was an open bar for everyone.
It most likely devolved into a drunken brawl rather quickly – a week long tailgate.
Queen Vashti (Xerxes’ wife) had a smaller feast for the women in the palace during this time too, but she was interrupted on the 7th day by a request from her husband. He was “merry with wine” and wanted her to come to his “feast” wearing her crown so all his drunken “friends” could see her “beauty.”
This sounds like an insecure man to me again – drunk and insecure so he had to bring her in so others could gawk at her and be “impressed” that he had such an incredible woman.
There’s something else you miss here if you don’t study the culture. You see, the custom of the day invited wives to these banquets too, until the time when the men began to get drunk, and at that time the “dancers” would come in to “entertain” them. Wives typically left the banquet when the “dancers” arrived. When Xerxes asked her to come to the banquet, it seems obvious that she had already left the party. Most likely the men were already drunk and the “dancers” were busy “entertaining.” Also, when Xerxes asks her to come wearing her “royal crown,” most Biblical scholars understand this to mean that he was asking her to appear before them all wearing ONLY her crown. Xerxes was asking her to appear naked in front of a bunch of drunk men who were in a party environment where they were free to touch and play with all the other women “dancers.” She knew her husband. He was insecure and was just trying to show her off in front of these other men. She understood the danger that she would be putting herself in. He is equating her with the “dancers.” At this point, he is no longer treating her as his “wife.”
Queen Vashti refuses his invitation. I mean, it’s no wonder she refused. What self-respecting woman would have appeared? Right? When she refuses to join him, she is actually risking her life. King Xerxes, of course, is angry and so he goes to his “yes” men to have his ears tickled and get the emotional support that he needed. Again, we see his insecurity playing out in these behaviors. They basically say, “Forget her. Let’s go find you ‘the most beautiful girl in the world.’” Queen Vashti is banished from the kingdom and Esther Chapter 2 begins with a description of the process of the search to find a replacement wife for King Xerxes.
Now, Esther was a young woman who lived with her older cousin Mordecai because she had lost both of her parents. He loved her “as his own daughter.” When Xerxes’ order was proclaimed, she “was taken” into the custody of the man in charge of the harem. She was forced out of her home. In time, Esther impressed him and won the favored position among the girls. During her preparation time in the palace, Mordecai walked around the courtyard so he could keep his eye on her. He truly thought of her as a daughter and was concerned for her safety and well-being. He had warned her not to let the king know about her lowly Jewish heritage.
It must have horrified him to imagine the things she would have endured and the abuse that awaited her as one of the girls in the king’s harem. As her adopted father, it must have pained him greatly knowing that there wasn’t really anything he could do to get her out of this awful situation. In spite of the way this is often taught, this was no beauty pageant with a scholarship and glamorous travel schedule awaiting. In reality, it was a series of events that started with a forced removal from their homes and ended in sexual assault. These girls were taken away from their families and homes, isolated from the relationships that rooted them, denied the practice of their faith/beliefs, pressured into changing their appearances and mannerisms, stripped of any self-expression so they could conform to the whims of another, and they were eventually sexually assaulted with no other intention than to pleasure the king until he had chosen a bride. Esther wasn’t a pageant girl. She was an innocent young woman who was forced into sexual submission by her circumstances and a king with an inferiority complex and low self-esteem. He was using her to fill his own emptiness and desires. Esther was trafficked. And there were countless others who not only allowed it to happen, but encouraged it and aided in the process.
After abusing Esther as well as many other young women, King Xerxes eventually chooses her to take the place of Vashti and be his wife. From our vantage point it may appear that there were some privileges and advantages to the title of Queen, but that’s what a trafficker does. He makes “the life” appear to be a great opportunity. The reality however, is that none of those things could give back her innocence. None of those things could heal the trauma or fill the void left by the abuse that she had endured. She may have had the title of Queen, but she was damaged, hurt, and broken by this forced relationship and the constant suffering of the continued abuse.
However, as the book continues and the story develops, we find Esther to be a wonderful example of a woman of faith. In the midst of her circumstances and her abuse, God was with her. She may have been damaged, but as one of God’s chosen people, she still found her identity in the Lord. When a plot to kill the Israelites (her people) is revealed, she risks her own life and goes before the King to save her people. There are at least 5 risks she took.
- Initiating a conversation with the King broke the law and could result in death.
- In order to make her request, she had to reveal that she was a Jew.
- Laws were irreversible in the Persian Empire.
- Haman was 2nd most powerful man on the earth.
- Esther had to be extremely gentle and careful with her speech because the King had so many insecurities. It’s difficult to get someone to change their mind without offending their pride.
In spite of her lowly heritage, Esther uses her position of influence and her relationship with the king, to stand up to him, and save her people. Rather than asserting power and making demands, Esther works behind the scenes relationally to influence and lead the people around her. It is her quiet strength that influences the evil king.
Esther and Vashti are both women to be admired. Both stood up to injustice.
Vashti represents one way of handling the evil requests of ungodly men. She starts from a position of power and stood for what she believed was right, but she also had to be willing to sacrifice her power/position to make her stance.
Esther represents another way. She starts in a humble position and plays along working behind the scenes to build an influential relationship. Out of this relationship, she stands up for what she believes is right as well.
Both women are guided by their conscience. Esther is empowered by her faith.
Now let’s be clear: In spite of how this passage is sometimes taught. God did NOT put Esther in this situation. It was NOT God’s intention for her to be trafficked. Human sin, and specifically King Xerxes and his men are the abusers/traffickers here. God however, is able to reach into any and every situation and rescue us or use us for His glory and His purposes. As Genesis 50:20 describes, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” When we experience evil, we must recognize that God can turn it around and make good of it. As a loving father and one who is all powerful, He is able, and He is willing.
What does this mean for us? How should we respond? I’d encourage you to ask yourself several questions:
Like Vashti, is there some evil that you need to stand up against or a wrong you could make right? Are you willing to pay the price of your own reputation, wealth, or social standing to do the right thing?
Like Esther, what kind of influence do you have with the people who surround you? Is there someone who could serve as a Mordecai for you who encourages and supports you through your difficult circumstance? Do the people around you notice your Godly demeanor? In what ways do you stand out from everyone else? Is Jesus’ name lifted up? Are people encouraged? Are people being treated well or even rescued/saved due to your influence? Is there a way God could use you in a difficult situation? Is He calling you to be involved in His work?
Esther was trafficked, but you and I have been too. God created you, but sin has coerced and convinced us that it has a better way. Its intent is to enslave us where we will be used and abused for the sake of its own glory and satisfaction. The world wants to use and abuse us for its own purposes. It seeks to isolate us from those who truly care for us so it can have us all to itself. Sin “crouches at the door and desires to have us.” (Gen 4:7) It will use us and destroy us just as Xerxes did to Esther. Like her, we have been trafficked.
There’s good news though. In the midst of her enslavement, God made a way for her people to be saved. Esther suffered through all kinds of abuse, but eventually God used her to save His people. In the midst of our enslavement, God has made a way for us to be saved too. Jesus’ blood on the cross is evidence of the suffering He endured, but through this suffering, God has provided a way for us to be rescued as well. Jesus is our rescuer. He is our Savior.
Esther was trafficked.
You have been trafficked.
Esther was used by God to save others.
Will you allow God to use you?
PS – If you’d like more information about Human Trafficking, check out Refuge for Women .