When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Esther is an anomaly in the Bible in that it doesn’t directly mention God. For that, and other reasons, many Biblical scholars have questioned both its inclusion in the canon and its historicity. Martin Luther seems to have thought that it belonged more with the Apocrypha than in the canonical Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, it is included in the third and final section, the Ketuvim (Writings).
I don’t think it matters whether the events described in Esther really happened or not. It may very well be historical fiction, but just because a story didn’t happen the way it is told doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction, in part because of the way these stories are able to pull readers out of the boxes of their own perceptions and see contemporary issues with new eyes. Well-crafted stories are timeless; they speak to us just as well today as they did yesterday, and will tomorrow. That’s what I think of as “eternal” truth.
Esther’s words to Mordecai in the passage above remind me of the Doctor Who episode, “Face the Raven”. Anticipating her own death as a result of her efforts to save another character, Clara says “Let me be brave”. Esther makes the choice to try and save her people, even though she is very aware that her attempt may prove fatal. Things turned out better for Esther than for Clara, but the truth behind both stories is that doing what is right is more important than doing what is easy or comfortable, sometimes critically so.
The eternal truth in the story of Esther reminds me of Jesus’s words: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” I doubt (and certainly hope!) that I will never find myself in a situation as dire and with consequences as far-reaching as the one in which Esther found herself. But if I am a serious follower of Jesus, I will find myself doing things, not because I want to do them, but because they are the right thing to do.
Paradoxically, I have found that as I strive to focus on being kind, helpful, and affirming to others, I find not only that I am more at peace with myself, but that there are sometimes surprising and wonderful consequences that follow. That’s what the story of Esther says to me, and what I think Jesus meant about losing your life in order to find it. And that’s good news to me.