“Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I am willing to die.” - Esther 4:16
Respect must be earned. It may be demanded, but it can never be imposed. Fear may be coerced, and obedience may be enforced; but respect flows freely from a heart full of appreciation for admirable qualities and behavior.
King Xerxes of Persia apparently did not know this. He was incensed when Vashti, his beautiful queen, refused to be paraded before his majesty’s drunken friends (1:10-12). In his opinion, Vashti did not show him proper respect, so she was deposed as queen and banished for life (1:19). This, the king and his advisers decided (1:20), would ensure that men would be respected by their wives! It is a rare woman who respects such a man.
Some time later a shady character by the name of Haman was elevated to the number-two position in the kingdom (3:1-6). He demanded respect and expected everyone to bow before him. But a feisty official, a Jew called Mordecai, had no respect for Haman and refused to bow. Haman’s response was to order the annihilation of all Jews! This, he determined, would teach the Jews the meaning of respect! It is a warped mind that orders “ethnic cleansing” as a response to an insult.
Some leaders have egos that cannot bear the slightest slight. They abuse power, and their punishments bear no resemblance to the imagined crimes. Such leaders receive only hatred and disdain.
But then there was Esther. Esther was Vashti’s successor as queen of Persia. She was also Mordecai’s cousin. As queen, she remained a closet Jewess because Mordecai had told her to keep her nationality a secret (2:10, 20). Esther was informed of the imminent destruction of her people, and she was reminded that she was in a position to do something about it. She must approach the king, an illegal and dangerous act (4:11). She must use her exalted position as a platform for righteousness. She must disclose her ethnicity and perhaps sign her own death warrant. She knew how desperately she needed both her kinsmen’s support and the Lord’s enabling (4:16).
Xerxes and Haman, with their small minds and fragile egos, craved respect but generated only fear. Esther, with her quiet courage, sense of duty, and simple faith, rescued her people and earned their respect. Leaders who demand respect often do not receive it. But you can respect a leader who leads by example and demonstrates dignity.
For Further Study: Esther 1:10-20, 3:1-6, 4:1-17
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