“Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him” (v. 20).
Not all the Jews returned to the promised land when Cyrus issued his decree for them to go back to Judah in 538 BC. Many of them, in fact, preferred to remain in Babylon and elsewhere, having built lives for themselves. This was true over the centuries that followed as control of the land of Judah passed from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans.
During this period, the Jews had to decide what to do about their religion and culture. They faced the persistent temptation to adopt the beliefs and customs of the nations into which they had been dispersed. While many Jews were intent on preserving their Jewish identity, others were not. They readily assimilated to the cultures around them. Mordecai and Esther were among those who did so.
We encounter Mordecai and his cousin Esther for the first time in today’s passage. Both of them have names most likely related to Persian gods—Marduk for Mordecai and Ishtar for Esther—indicating a certain willingness on the part of their families to blend in with the Persians. Moreover, when King Ahasuerus was looking for a queen to replace the deposed Vashti, both Mordecai and Esther were not afraid to put Esther in the running (Est. 2:1–11). Since Ahasuerus was not a follower of the God of Israel, this is not something that highly devout Jews would have been willing to do, given the warnings about intermarriage with pagans in the law (see Ex. 34:12–16). The author also tells us that Esther, under the direction of Mordecai, was careful not to reveal “her kindred or her people” (Est. 2:20). Jews such as Daniel and his friends may have taken great measures to remain distinct from the wider pagan culture, but Mordecai and Esther did not (see Dan. 1).
Mordecai was an official in the Persian government (Est. 2:5), a position not inherently forbidden to God’s people given that many others, including Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah rose to prominence in foreign states (Gen. 41:39–43; Neh. 1:11; Dan. 2:48). But his and Esther’s willingness to compromise by having Esther marry Ahasuerus was clearly contrary to God’s law (Est. 2:12–18). Nevertheless, as we will see, this ended up putting Esther in a place where she could save God’s people. God providentially used their sinful decisions to set them up for the rescue of the Jews. That does not excuse their lack of fidelity to the law, but it does remind us that the Lord can use all things to bring about good for His people.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
As Christians, we know that we are to live separately from the world, not following its evil customs as we seek to be lights pointing the way to Christ (2 Cor. 6:14–18). It can be difficult to know how to remain separate from the world and yet engaged with the world, but we should regularly examine our thoughts, motives, and actions to make sure we have not become worldly people but remain faithful servants of Christ.