2 August, 2021

Racism in the Bible: What Esther and Mordecai Can Teach Us

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by | 1 February, 2021 | 5 comments

The book of Esther is an example of how to biblically respond to racism, especially in America today. Esther used her privileged position as queen to speak up against racism and genocidal laws, even though it was against the law for her to do so. Her relative Mordecai protested against racist laws, told the truth of what was happening to the Jews, and developed a plan to address it. Together, their actions saved the Jews from genocide.

As Christians, the Bible is our guidebook for how to live our lives. Christians can follow Esther and Mordecai’s example, educate ourselves, and use our individual positions in society to address racism. 

Jews Encountered Racism in the Kingdom of Xerxes

Early in the Bible book, after a selection process, Esther was appointed queen by King Xerxes. Mordecai, who raised Esther, told her not to tell anyone she was a Jew, and she obeyed him. Mordecai and Esther were aware of the racist environment in the kingdom during this time, and they hid Esther’s ethnicity from the king’s household.

Later, Mordecai had a run-in with Haman, one of the king’s nobles, because Mordecai would not kneel down and honor him at the city gates, as commanded by the king. Some scholars contend Mordecai did not bow down to Haman because of longstanding hostility between the Jews and the Amalekites (Haman’s people). The Bible says the royal officials “told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew” (Esther 3:4). Haman was enraged and “looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (3:6). Haman responded with racist anger against all the Jewish people, not just Mordecai.

Haman then convinced King Xerxes to decree genocide for all the Jews, an order communicated throughout the kingdom. This decree stated all Jews (young and old, women and children) would be annihilated on the 13th day of the 12th month and their goods plundered. Haman was racist and saw Mordecai’s disobedience as an opportunity to kill off the Jews, using his high position in the kingdom to do so.

Mordecai and the Jews Protested across the Country

After Mordecai heard the decree, he put on sackcloth and ashes and “went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly” (Esther 4:1). He made his pain and disagreement known; he was vocal and public about it—he protested. Mordecai protested at the king’s gate and refused to accept the clothes Esther sent him. 

The Jews made their pain known across the kingdom. “In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:3).

Mordecai Shared the Truth about the Racist Laws 

When Mordecai refused Esther’s offer of clothes, she sent one of her attendants to find out why he would not accept them.

“Mordecai told him everything. . . . He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her” (Esther 4:7-8).

That Mordecai told the attendant everything, even giving him a copy of the text of the edict, is striking to me. It was a very thorough response to her question. I think he did this so she would believe him, for it probably was hard to fathom. Mordecai conveyed the hard truth of the horrible plans—approved by the king—to murder every Jew and steal their belongings. 

Mordecai urged Esther to go to the king and plead for her people. But even with the knowledge she possessed, Esther was hesitant to act for fear of her own safety. A law forbade anyone from going to the king without being summoned; to do so meant death unless the king decided to spare their life.

The strongest passage in this book was spoken by Mordecai: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:13-14). Mordecai meant that Esther should not think her current position as queen would protect her. If Esther didn’t speak up, she would die anyway, and God would carry out his will through someone else. Mordecai encouraged Esther by saying that perhaps God put her in this position to do this work.

Esther Prepared for Action and Saved the Jews

Esther decided to take action, but before visiting the king, she fasted, directed her attendants to fast, and asked Mordecai and other Jews to fast for three days.

“When this is done,” she said, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Esther resolved to be obedient and use her position to speak up.

Esther was fortunate the king spared her life and allowed her to speak with him. After several dinners, Queen Esther told the king that she was a Jew and that Haman’s decree would kill all her people.

The king became angry when he learned who authored the decree, and he ordered Haman to be hung.

Mordecai was then given power to work with the king to reverse the murderous decree by empowering the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies, and even to plunder their enemies’ property.

Government attitudes changed throughout the kingdom. “And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them” (Esther 9:3). The decrees were reversed and the Jewish people were saved!

A Holiday Was Established for Remembrance

The story did not end there. Mordecai ordered that a day of remembrance be observed throughout the kingdom.

“These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants” (Esther 9:28). A kingdom holiday was declared so the history would not be forgotten.

There Are Parallels for Christian Life Today

I see parallels from the book of Esther in our nation today. In America, people are protesting and raising awareness about racism against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). It is similar to what Mordecai and the Jews did.

Even though Esther was initially scared, she ultimately broke the law and spoke up against the government’s racist edict. That is pretty radical. Esther spoke up even though she could have been killed for it. 

Mordecai and Esther developed a plan and acted, using their abilities and positions in society. As Christians, we are called to do the same. If the Bible really is our guidebook for life, we should educate ourselves about racism and act against it. We should use our privilege to inform others and work to repeal racist laws, change government, and dismantle systemic racism. We ultimately should remember these events by designating certain days of remembrance throughout the year. We should educate our children so that history does not repeat itself.

Here are three calls to action from this story:

1. Don’t be a Haman—Don’t be an active perpetrator of racist laws and systems.

2. Listen to a Mordecai—Listen to the truth and educate yourself on the history of racism and white privilege in our country. Become aware of racist laws and beliefs that remain. 

3. Be an Esther—Do what you can wherever you are. Use your current position in society to speak up and act, even if it scares you. God has placed you where you are for a reason; if you don’t speak up, God will carry out his will through someone else, but you would miss the opportunity. You have family members, friends, a social network, job, neighborhood, and community you can influence.

<a href="https://christianstandard.com/author/bronwynjones/" target="_self">Bronwyn Jones</a>

Bronwyn Jones

Bronwyn Jones lives outside Washington, D.C., with her family and is active in the life of a local church. The Cornell University graduate is a business consultant and writer.

5 Comments

  1. Loretta Woods

    I love the line, “If Esther didn’t speak up, she would die anyway, and God would carry out his will through someone else. Mordecai encouraged Esther by saying that perhaps God put her in this position to do this work.” – it makes me feel like if God has called you to do something trust him and do it.

    Thank you for the calls to action. We all need those reminders.

  2. Jim Kinney

    Insightful current-day application from an old familiar passage – appreciated.

  3. Bill Dickens

    The author fails to note how Mordecai years earlier provided intel about a planned coup against the Persian killed. The coup failed thanks to Mordecai. The book of Esther is really more about the heroic feats of Mordecai than Esther.

  4. Skip Mintchell

    There is much to taken from the book of Esther and racism is one of them. Allowing ourselves to used by God is the ultimate as we see Him work through Mordecai and Esther. Using God’s Word in everyday life is vital for our walk to righteousness.

  5. Elana

    Thank you for this incredibly insightful interpretation of the book of Esther. It is thoughtful, incisive, and relevant especially given the times we live in.

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