Interceding for the People: The Gospel in Esther

Written by Kailynn Nelson

One of the beautiful parts of the Bible is how the Old Testament and New connect to each other. Throughout the Old Testament, we see stories and pictures that point us to something beyond what is going on in that moment. Many Old Testament stories point us forward to Jesus. Some familiar examples include: Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and the many references to the Messiah in the prophets. These all are great stories on their own of God and how He deals with His people. But they also point us to the beauty of the gospel. There is one other story in the Old Testament that I want to focus on that paints a beautiful picture of what Jesus does for us. That story is the story of Esther.
Ever since I was a little girl Esther has been one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It has always been a reminder to me of how God uses us where He places us. For many, Esther is a story of God’s sovereignty and provision for His people. He knows what is going to happen to His people and He will provide for them. That is usually the main lesson we pull form the story of Esther. Or we even like to make ourselves the hero in the story. I know many times I have read through this story assuming I am Esther, the woman that God will use to save His people.
However, I believe there is something much deeper going on here. I believe that if we look at Esther’s story in light of the gospel, we also see a picture of what Jesus has done for us. As we will see, the Jews in the book of Esther needed to be saved. They needed someone to stand in their place before the king, someone to intercede for them. Likewise, all of humanity needs to be saved. Because of our sin, need someone to stand in our place before God. In this story of Esther, read in light of the gospel, we see how God saves His people through intercession, through someone standing in their place.
Esther is set around the same time as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, during the reign of Ahasuerus King of Persia, following the exile of the Jews to Babylon. The story starts out with King Ahasuerus removing Vashti, his first queen, from her position as queen because she refused to come before his officials during a feast. After removing her, the king is counselled to seek another queen. So, he finds all the young virgins in the kingdom and brings them to the palace. Esther, a Jew, is one of those women. Esther quickly gains favor with the people in the palace, including the king himself, and is crowned queen.
After Esther is crowned queen, she learns of a plot devised by the king’s right-hand man, Haman. Haman ordered that on a certain day the people of Persia are to kill the Jews. This plot is meant to be a form of revenge against Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who refused to bow down and pay homage to Haman. Mordecai will not bow down to Haman because he is a Jew, and like many others in the Bible will not put another human being above God. Haman does not want to just hurt Mordecai, so he decides to hurt all the Jews. Mordecai tells Esther about Haman’s plan and asks her to go to the king and “plead with him on behalf of her people” (4:8).
According to Persian law, if anyone approached the king without being called they were sentenced to death, unless the king held out the golden scepter to them. But, Esther decides to help Mordecai save the Jews from Haman’s decree. She goes before King Ahasuerus, who holds out the scepter to her. She asks for him and Haman to come to a meal she has prepared for them. Then, she invites them to come back again the following day. During that final meal, Esther reveals Haman’s plot. Ahasuerus orders that Haman is to be killed and gives Esther permission to write a decree that allows the Jews to defend themselves. On the day when they are meant to be destroyed, the Jews end up seeing victory instead of death.
Like the Jews, all of humanity has been sentenced to death. This is a death that we deserve because of our sins. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” In Genesis 2:17, God tells Adam that if he eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he will die. The sacrificial system in the Mosaic Law was meant to show, through the death of animals, that someone has to die to pay for our sins.
In the story of Esther, the Jews were also unable to ask the king for help. First, in the Persian Empire, laws and decrees were set in stone. Once a law or decree was made it was impossible to revoke or change it. Also, the Jews were merely subjects and had no right to approach the king. When Mordecai asked Esther to help, she reminded him that “if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law- to be put to death, except to the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live” (4:11). Even if the Jews were part of the royal family they would not be able to ask for help unless they were called. There was nothing that they could do to save themselves.
We find ourselves in a similar position. The death that we brought upon ourselves cannot be revoked. We, as mere subjects, are also unable to approach God to ask for help on our own. Moses is told in Exodus 33:20 that no one can see God and live. The Bible makes it clear that we are unable, and even unworthy, of approaching God to plead for our lives on our own. Even if we were allowed into His presence, we have no right to argue for our own lives because of our sin before Him.
As I said before, many times when I read the Old Testament I want to put myself in the position of the hero. I want to be David killing Goliath or, in this case, I want to be Esther saving God’s people. And while Old Testament characters surely provide us with examples of faith whom we should strive to be more like, more often we should be casting ourselves in the place of the Jews, the ones who need saving. When we put ourselves in the position of the Jews we can see the message of the gospel more clearly. We need someone who can approach the throne of our Lord. This someone needs to be more than a subject. They need to have favor and good standing with the King. They also need to be willing to risk their life to help us.
The Jews had Esther. She had been brought by God into the household of the king and she had been granted favor with the king. She was the queen. She was loved and chosen by the king. Esther as a Jew could empathize with the fate of her people. But, as a member of the royal family, she could approach the king on their behalf.
We, have Jesus, a better Esther so to speak. The book of Hebrews talks about Jesus being a great high priest. The role of the high priest was to intercede for the sins of the people. They were qualified by God to stand before God and plead with Him. Jesus came into our world and took our place in His life, death, and resurrection.
Hebrews 2:17 says that He was made like us in every respect so that He could empathize with our situation. Jesus sees us on our way to deserved death, and has compassion. Because He is also God Himself, Jesus can stand before God and beg for our lives. Hebrews 7 says that Jesus always lives to intercede for those who draw near to Him. Like Esther, Jesus saves the people of God by going to the King on their behalf, through intercession.
What makes Jesus better than Esther, however, is that He allows us to approach God ourselves. Hebrews 4:16 says that because of the intercession of Jesus Christ, we can approach “the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Christ’s favor with God not only extends to us on the outside, He actually brings us inside the family of God. Jesus Himself, stands beside us as He intercedes for us.
Like many other stories in the Old Testament, Esther ultimately shows us a picture of Jesus. In this story, we see how God saves His people through Esther’s intercession. She was the only one willing to approach the king, risking her own life. She stands in place of the rest of the Jews, and pleads for their salvation. She risks her life so that they might live. It is only through Esther’s intercession that His people are saved. Jesus gives up His life so that  might live. And it is only because Jesus stands before God on our behalf, only because He intercedes for us that we are saved.
Related Resources:
Read Scripture: Esther
Desiring God: Our High Priest is the Son of God Perfect Forever

1 Comment

Gene Robinson - January 28th, 2023 at 8:07am

This is a great summary and explanation of the book of Esther. Really appreciate the application to Jesus and how Esther points to our Savior and Redeemer.

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