She is clothed in a silky, blue robe with gold trimmings, which loosely covers a form-flowing, white gown. Her perfectly postured head is adorned with golden tresses and precious jewels. Perfectly placed around her long neck is a large, round, ruby amulet. The exquisite Queen Esther steps boldly into the inner court of the King of Persia, holding her hooves in a fur muff. Whoa. Wait a minute. Hooves? As in the toes of an ungulate animal? Is the Queen of Persia a goat? Baaaah!
In his illustrated children’s book entitled Esther, Kurt Mitchell depicts the characters from the book of Esther as a variety of animals. Queen Esther is portrayed as a good-lookin’ goat. King Ahasuerus is a strapping dog, etc. It was one of my favorite picture books as a kid. Not that Mitchell’s illustrations were particularly remarkable (who makes their female lead a goat?), but I loved the story.
Esther. She’s like the Bible’s own Disney princess: a perfect Cinderella story. Young, beautiful, orphaned girl left to be raised by her older cousin, ends up marrying the king and bravely risks her life to save her people from annihilation. It’s a perfect princess story that I spent many of my younger days poring over. And, at the time, the only mode I had for envisioning this heroine, Esther, was a hairy, albeit well-dressed, goat.
Esther became Queen through an ancient-day version of The Bachelor. King Ahasuerus had been greatly offended by his queen, Vashti, and had banished her. With the help of his harem manager, Hegai, he began to search for a new queen. They gathered the most beautiful virgins in all 127 provinces of Persia; and then, Hegai devoted the next year to beautifying the women.
Because of her beauty and likeability, Esther – a Jewish orphan – was chosen for the king’s harem. She continued to win the favor of those in charge of her and everyone who met her, while successfully keeping her nationality a secret. She had one night to win the favor of the king and the book of Esther says, “the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17). And they lived happily ever after.
Well. That’s partly true. But there’s more to the story. Second-in-command, Haman, had a deep-seeded hatred for the Jewish people, especially Esther’s cousin. “When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone… Haman sought to destroy all the Jews…throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (3:5-6). Haman manipulated the king to create a horrific edict that allowed for the genocide of the Jewish people. Mordecai immediately sent word to Esther and insisted that she “go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people” (4:8).
By approaching the king without being called, Esther would need to gamble a high-risk game where the stakes were “but one law – to be put to death” (4:11). After discussing back and forth what she should do with her cousin Mordecai, Mordecai argued, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14).
All those years of preparation to be where she was at that moment. Hiding her identity, winning the favor of those around her, Queen of the entire known world. What was she thinking? Look what happened to Vashti. Her best chances of saving the Jewish people and of even surviving were marginal to say the least.
But what if she were a part of something more perfect than marble pillars, golden vessels, and mosaic pavements, something more powerful than the allegiance of 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia? What if she were a part of something more important than the royal glory, splendor, and pomp of Persia? What if before King Ahasuerus chose her, God chose her? What if before one of the greatest kings of this world unbelievably made her his queen, the almighty God miraculously created Esther his own? What if she were God’s instrument? What if she had indeed come to this kingdom for such a time as this?
The book of Esther states that she resolved, “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (4:16). And so her story goes that she was successful in thwarting the plans of Haman. She was not executed. She was not banished. She remained Ahasuerus’ queen. Her people were allowed to join forces and protect themselves. Her cousin, Mordecai, was given Haman’s title, position, and house. And the Jews no longer lived in fear, but “had light and gladness and joy and honor” (8:16).
That’s why I read and re-read my goat princess story. Not just because Esther was beautiful or loved or favored. Not because she beat the bad guy or lived happily ever after. But more than that. Esther had a greater significance. A significance that was realized when she stumbled into a critical dilemma: stay hidden in the significance created for her by her position or reveal her true significance in God. In that desperate moment, she chose to lay everything aside and walk dangerously forward into King Ahasuerus’ inner court, not as his queen but as God’s chosen instrument.
God wants our significance to be found in Him as well. He wants us to trust His will, His way, His ideals, so much so that when the “significance” that we have spent our lives creating for ourselves stands against God’s will, we confidently drop everything and go with God. Even when we stand before the world with our hooves in a fur muff, not knowing what will happen next. But holding tightly onto God’s promise that He is working everything out to our good, to the good of His people, and ultimately to His glory.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” ~ Philippians 3:7-8