Have you ever found yourself in a new place, forced to navigate within a different culture? Today, we meet Esther as she is about to leave the Hebrew world where she was raised and enter the decadent Persian world into which she has been thrust.
In most stories, the author introduces the protagonist at the beginning. But we are well into chapter 2 before we meet the main characters. The author tells us Mordecai was (1) a Jew, (2) of the tribe of Benjamin, and (3) the son of Jair, Shimei, and Kish (vv. 5–6). Mordecai’s Jewish heritage was obviously a key factor and would become a central point of conflict as the story unfolded. The author also makes a connection between Mordecai and King Saul, whose father’s name was Kish (v. 5). Verse 6 gives some additional historical context for this narrative by explaining that Mordecai found himself in Persia because of the Babylonian exile—the first wave of which took place in 597 BC. Mordecai himself was probably not yet born at that time, but by connecting Mordecai with the exile of Judah’s King Jehoiachin, the author further connects Mordecai to his people.
Next, we meet Esther, Mordecai’s cousin and an orphan (v. 7). The author makes special note of her beauty. In a Hebrew narrative, when physical attributes are described, they are of particular relevance to the story. The mention of Esther’s beauty provides a hint of what is to come. Esther is called by two names: her Hebrew name, Hadassah, and the Persian word for star, Esther. Esther is the only person in the story identified by two names. This detail further illustrates Esther’s reality as a young woman who is navigating between two very different worlds.
>> Can you identify with Esther? Have you ever found yourself caught between two cultures: the culture of your birth and the one where you live—or the culture of your faith vs. that of the world? What daily decisions must you make to live with integrity and love?