5 Things About Esther That Nobody Talks About

Purim is supposed to be joyous—complete with feasting, drinking, and gorging ourselves on jam-filled cookies. Of course, no celebration is complete without the traditional reading of the Megillah.

Despite being the namesake of the book, Esther’s role is frequently sidelined. Instead, we often pit good vs. evil, Mordecai vs. Haman, and treat Esther like the obedient Jewish queen they brought along for eye candy.

Despite being the namesake of the book, Esther’s role is frequently sidelined.

But to minimize Esther—one of the few, true heroines of the Tanakh—and the fullness of her character and story only serves to dim the power of the story itself.

Her story isn’t as pretty as her face. It’s gritty and (unfortunately) may be relatable to many readers. But in it, we see Esther’s triumph of character even before we read about her famous heroics that preserved our people.

Here are the five things nobody talks about:

1. She was exiled.

Esther and a significant number of the Jewish people lived scattered throughout Persia after the Babylonian exile. Although they had been granted freedom to return to their homeland, many of the Jewish people stayed where they had settled rather than return to a war-torn Jerusalem.

2. She was orphaned.

According to Scripture, Esther had no parents. She had lost both her father and her mother and was raised by her older cousin, Mordecai (Esther 2:7).

3. She was kidnapped.

The Persian king, Xerxes (a.k.a. Ahasuerus), was displeased with his wife and sought her replacement. So, naturally, he made a decree in order to gather to himself all suitable virgins in the region.

When the king’s edict had been proclaimed, young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa and placed in the custody of Hegai. From the language of the text and our knowledge of the culture, we can safely assume Esther didn’t have much say in the matters that unfolded. She most likely didn’t raise her hand excitedly, rush to the front of the line, and volunteer for the harem. She was young, she was pretty, and she was taken.

4. She was raped.

This part comes as a shocker to people—even to those who have read the whole Megillah as part of their yearly Purim celebration. But the Scriptures are pretty clear about what happened.

The virgins, who were likely in their early teens, were escorted to the king, who is said to have been approximately 40 years of age at the time. They were taken one by one to his sleeping quarters. “In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines” (Esther 2:14). 

They didn’t return to the other virgins, but instead were added to the number of the king’s other concubines (a.k.a. sex slaves without wife status). No other man could ever be their husband, and they never saw the king again unless he was “pleased with them.” In short, the king test-drove all the models before making his purchase, and he “purchased” Esther to replace his former queen.

5. She risked execution.

Though this fact about Esther is well known in the telling of the story, it becomes even more impressive when we take stock of her experiences leading to that moment. 

When Mordecai learns of Haman’s plot to annihilate all of the Jewish people, he tells Esther to throw herself before the king and beg for mercy. Unfortunately, anyone who approached the king without first being summoned was killed (seems like a chill place)—unless the king was in the mood to extend his scepter and spare their life. What Mordecai was asking her to do could have easily been the last thing she ever did. 

She’d already endured so much, but Mordecai said, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13–14). Hello, Jewish guilt.

Esther chose the selfless and heroic act. She, Mordecai, and the Jewish people fasted and prayed, and when Esther went before the king, he held out his scepter, heard her case, and granted her requests.

Not only did Esther survive a disproportionate amount of horrific hardship that would be enough to unravel the average human, but she also then chose to be an advocate for justice for others. She stood up for her people, and God used her in a powerful way to deliver the Jewish people from obliteration.

God chose a woman who had everything taken from her—her parents, her freedom, her virginity—and put her in a position of power. He used someone who, due to gender, culture, and circumstance, was invisible and uninfluential and made her the pivotal, formidable heroine. 

To me, that story of victory makes Purim a celebration of an even greater freedom—one that frees us from anything that threatens to oppress, damage, or diminish us. God doesn’t just promote our survival; He provides for our growth. Chag Sameach!