What comes to mind when you think of the word 'orphan'?
You might think of a lonely child in an orphanage praying for a place to call home, barefoot and dirty children begging for food on the roadside, or a young and unprepared mother leaving her baby in the hands of strangers.
What you probably didn't envision is a beautiful queen draped in the finest of robes and feasting in a royal banquet hall with a king.
I'm sure Queen Esther herself could never have imagined that one day, an orphan like herself would go from the slums of Susa in Persia (modern-day Iran) to saving all exiled Jews from India to Cush (part of modern-day Africa).
Her brave and courageous actions have been commemorated throughout all generations and since then have become a Jewish national holiday called Purim.
On Purim, the story of Esther is read in the synagogues, and gift baskets filled with hamantaschen, baked goods, snacks, wine, and groggers are given to neighbors, friends, family, and loved ones. Children and adults dress up in original costumes and creative masks in honor of Queen Esther, who hid her Jewish identity, and people party and dance into the night.
But before we skip to her triumphant ending, the beginning of Esther's life was no fairytale:
“And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.” – Esther 2:7
Esther was an orphan girl living in exile in Susa. She didn't have much, but what she did have was beauty.
As King Xerses had banished Queen Vashti for her refusal to join him at his royal banquet, he set out to find a young and beautiful young woman in her stead. Soon, she was taken to the royal palace together with many other young virgins to compete for the chance of becoming queen.
Esther found favor with everyone who laid eyes upon her. She underwent months of beauty treatments, ate special food, and was given seven female attendants to serve at her beck and call. Out of all the lovely young women, King Xerses chose Esther and crowned her as queen.
If you thought that was her happily ever after, think again--a sinister danger was lurking beneath the surface in the form of a power-thirsty and influential man named Haman.
Haman was infuriated with Esther's uncle, Mordecai, who would not bow down to honor him as he passed at the city gate. So, he convinced King Xerxes to decree all Jews to be killed.
Upon receiving this dire news, Esther had a decision to make--would she expose her identity to save her people? Or would she continue to hide to save her own skin?
"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 4:15-16
An orphan child is miraculously elevated to a position of power and wealth only to come face to face with one of Jewish history's most critical moments.
Most would dismiss this orphan girl as powerless to save her people, who could be wiped out on a whim of a temperamental and merciless government official and the seal of a king's ring.
The early days of Esther's hard life prepared her to become a woman of brave character and great wisdom -- noble enough to risk her own life to save her people.
Where is God in all this? Was He blind to the evil plan threatening to demolish His people?
Although God is not clearly referred to by name in the book of Esther, His presence shines through and through.
What does the Bible say about the orphan and the fatherless?
God’s word is very clear that His heart goes out to the orphan and the fatherless and that He is there to defend them from all harm and see that they have everything they need.
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:18
Yeshua cared for the orphan, the widow, and the lowly; in fact, His life and ministry were dedicated to uplifting the downtrodden, and He performed many miracles to prove it.
He resurrected a widow's only son being carried out the city gate to be buried (Luke 7:11-17), honored and encouraged those living in poverty (luke 6:20-21), and taught His disciples to live out their faith in acts of service as in James 1:27:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Clearly, Esther did not forget where she came from, and she stepped out in courage and fought for the rights of the powerless and the oppressed. Risking her own life, she exposed her Jewish identity to King Xerxes, pleading with him to spare her and her people and put an end to the evil plans of Haman.
Does that sound familiar? Yeshua did the same for us. Taking on the role of a humble servant kneeling before a powerful king, He too fought to cancel the enemy's plans when He pleaded to God the Father to forgive us our sins.
Or as the psalmist Asaph says in Psalm 82:2-3:
"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
The story of Esther comes to prove that no matter what unfortunate circumstances distress your life, there is a hero inside of each and every one of us; and that the 'widow and the orphan' are not second-class citizens but strong and resilient individuals that, given the opportunity, have the ability to rise up in the face of dire circumstances with courage some could only dream of having.
Just as Yeshua and Esther remembered the downtrodden and powerless and fought for their case -- so must we. Purim is a time of celebrating victory over evil, from which we still benefit today. However, we must also remember that the poor are still with us.
Every day, children are still abandoned by their parents, a spouse might suddenly lose their husband or wife and poverty still weighs heavy on the lives of hard-working families.
Purim is an opportunity, not just to celebrate the heroic acts of Esther and the eternal forgiveness of Yeshua, but also to give gifts to the poor.
The Jewish people call this tradition in Hebrew 'Matanot L'evyonim', which means gifts to the poor. Anything from giving in a financial way or donating in other means is an excellent way to fulfill this heartfelt Purim tradition.
It is good to remember the exemplary acts of Yeshua and the courageous actions of Queen Esther.
You and I might not have been born with royal blood by birth, but through Yeshua, we possess a nobility that comes from within. And that nobility? That can save the world.
As we say in Hebrew, Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha—When the month of Adar begins, our joy increases!
Wishing you a Happy Purim!