In chapter 2, we meet the main characters of our story - Mordecai and Hadassah. These two were part of a large community of Jews who had been taken into exile several decades before by the Babylonians. They are likely the second generation of God’s people who have grown up in captivity, having never seen their homeland. Mordecai and Hadassah have sent their whole lives trying to thrive in an environment that is, as we will see, hostile to their beliefs and their ethnicity.
Mordecai, from what we can tell, was a mid-level political official for the emperor. Verse 2:21 in the New Living mentions him being “on duty at the king’s gate” (other translations say “sitting at the king’s gate”). This likely meant that he was a member of the king’s court - a deputy minister fairly low down in the hierarchy. Successful, but not prominent or famous, Mordecai had positioned himself well to provide for his family while not drawing dangerous attention to himself.
Hadassah is in a similar position. As the text mentions, she goes to great effort to avoid letting anyone know her heritage. She takes the name “Esther,” which is a clever play on words. In Hebrew, the root word for “Esther” means “to hide or conceal,” but in ancient Persian it sounds almost exactly like the name “Ishtar” - the Babylonian goddess of love. “Esther,” like her cousin Mordecai, is doing what it takes to survive in a culture prejudiced against her and her people.
Toward that end, Esther enters the Xerxes’ twisted beauty contest. It is likely that Esther did not expect to “win” and become queen. Joining the harem of Xerxes was a position of some influence, and would allow her access to the king’s court where she could hopefully hear and see things that would help her people and advance her family’s interests.
It should be noted that becoming Xerxes concubine - or even his wife - was not well regarded by the law of Moses. As a gentile, Xerxes wasn’t a suitable husband for an observant Jewish young woman, and becoming anyone’s concubine was completely out of the question as far as the Law was concerned. However, living in exile is messy, and both Mordecai and Esther do what they can to survive in a culture hostile to their faith and even their very existence.
But while they are in less-than-ideal circumstances, both Mordecai and Esther remain honorable people. Moses may not have approved of their jobs, but they both worked hard to try - and be - their best despite their situation. Mordecai hears about a plot against the king, and instead of rushing to join it, he serves his master well and stops the murder. Esther, for her part, easily could have sulked or laid about in her cushy position in the harem, but instead aims to excel in the place she finds herself, ultimately becoming queen of the empire.
We too often find ourselves in places we don’t want to be, doing things we don’t want to do for people we don’t really want to work for. Maybe you are working for a lousy boss who loves to bully his workers. Perhaps you are in class with a teacher who simply doesn’t care for their students. Maybe you are between jobs, spending lots of anxious hours at home waiting for the right opportunity.
It is easy in those situations to simply sink to the level of your surroundings - to decide that, since your circumstances are terrible, you might as well be terrible as well. We have all experienced the temptation to put in the minimum for the teacher or boss whom we don’t respect, or to give in when we are stuck at home wishing we could do anything else. Mordecai and Esther remind us that we are called to do everything to God’s glory - even when the job seems far from glorious.
How can you strive to serve God between in your position? Are you tempted to “phone it in” because things aren’t going as you hoped? Are you waiting for a change before you are willing to change?
Talk to God about it today. Ask Him to show you how you can serve Him by pursuing excellence.