This morning I read the first couple of chapters of Esther. Hovering over chapter two. And something about Esther strikes me — she ate the king’s meat.
Esther and Daniel were contemporaries. Both Jews. Both taken from their homeland. Both were used of God in mighty ways. And yet, it seems to me, the contrasts far outweigh the similarities.
Daniel seemed to be able to retain his Hebrew identity, rarely is he referred to by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. Esther’s Jewish background is swallowed up by her contemporary culture, and Hadassah (Es. 2:7) was to be kept a secret (Es. 2:10). Daniel was quickly recognized for his brains. Esther was notable for her beauty (Es. 2:7). Daniel was trained up to be part of a royal cohort known as “the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans” (Dan. 2:2), men who the king would turn to for advice and counsel. Esther was prettied up to part of a cohort known as concubines, women who the king lustfully used once, taking away their virginity according to his will not theirs, and consigning them to be but objects for future pleasure and removing from them any hope of another relationship.
But the contrast that strikes me this morning is that somehow Daniel was able to resolve “that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (Dan. 1:8), while Esther, it would seem, had no such option (nor perhaps, inclination) and, in preparation for inevitable defilement by the king, applied “her cosmetics” and ate her “her portion of food” (Es. 2:9) To use King James language, while Daniel refused the “king’s meat”, she ate the king’s meat.
While Daniel from the onset is set up to be a hero, Esther’s apparent destiny is but that of a harem.
And we’re inclined, I think, to extol Daniel for daring to be a Daniel and keeping himself pure, but don’t really know what to do with an Esther who, because she was Esther, really didn’t have that option open to her. Moreover, how often do we think that because of Daniel’s bold stand he kind of earned the right to be a hero? And yet, Esther the heroine reminds me this morning that the secret sauce to being used of God is favor.
Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. . . 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.
(Esther 2:15b, 17 ESV)
Esther won grace and favor. And I think this earthly reality is meant to reveal a heavenly dynamic. That just as the Sovereign God had made Daniel a man of favor (Dan. 1:9), so too He was working behind the scenes to elevate this beloved daughter to being a woman of favor. That what mattered most concerning her impact for the kingdom, was less about who she was and the opportunities she had been afforded, but more about who God is and the purposes He has determined.
I’m thinking it’s easier to want to dare to be a Daniel believing that by our merit we can do much for the kingdom. But what if we are all really more like Esthers? Without position or power, feeling subject too often to the ways of this world? Could God use us too for His glory? Apparently (as I’ll be reminded over the next few mornings).
I’d like to think I’m like an elite Daniel primed for the lion’s den. I’m more likely, however, a dime-a-dozen Esther which the world considers expendable. So, it’s not about whether or not I eat the king’s meat, as much as it is about whether I have known the King’s favor.
And I have.
That’s what grace is all about. That’s why God gets all the glory.