I invite you to open your Bible this morning to Esther 4:12-17. Last week we considered God’s measure of a man. This week we’ll try to get our minds around some of what makes a godly woman.
And yes, I realize I’m on a high wire here. And it feels a little shaky and precarious. I’m a man. Unlike Helen Reddy I can’t stand up here and sing, “I am woman hear me roar ….” I’m not a woman. What do I even know about women? Probably a lot less than I think I do. But I know a little bit about the Bible. Lots of women in the Bible. There are a few naughty ladies for sure—do the names Delilah and Gomer and Jezebel ring a bell? But there are lots of remarkable, unique, smart, strong, clever women in the Bible too.
- There’s Eve—mother of the human race who enticed her husband to disobey God … which he promptly did.
- There’s Sarah—Abraham’s wife, mother of the covenant promise, who didn’t have that covenant child until she was 90. I’ve visited a lot of young mothers in maternity wards. Got to tell you: they often look the worse for wear. Sarah was 90 when she had her first child. Wow! Hats off to Sarah. Must have been a trooper.
- There’s Rahab—a Jericho prostitute and madam who protected Israel’s spies and helped Israel capture their first town in the conquest.
- There are Zelophehad’s five daughters who pressed for their father’s land inheritance in a man’s world and got it.
- There’s Ruth—that Gentile nobody from nowhere who just happened to become great-grandma to Israel’s greatest king David. Nobody except God saw that coming.
- There’s Hannah—a barren woman for whom God finally answered her prayer for a child. She and her husband named him Samuel. And when that boy was weaned, she gave him back to God, where he was raised by the High Priest Eli, and Samuel became a great priest, prophet, and judge in Israel.
- There’s Deborah—a first-class leader and Israel’s one and only female judge.
- There’s the ideal woman of Proverbs 31—she gets up early, she deals in real estate, she’s a blue-ribbon gardener, she cares for the needy, she makes her husband a better man, and her kids think she hung the moon. She has no name because there is no flesh and blood ideal woman, but it does give a woman a target to shoot for.
- There’s Mary—Jesus’ mother. Enough said.
- And there’s Mary Magdalene—the first witness to the resurrected Jesus and the first to preach that Jesus rose from the dead.
See what I mean? There are lots of remarkable women in the Bible. And just like with the men in the Bible, there is no cookie cutter concept of what makes for a godly woman. So how to get at it? Here’s how: choose a biblical woman to serve as one kind of model for a godly women. I’ve chosen Esther. Hear a piece of her story in the word of the Lord … (read the text).
Hearing these few lines out of an entire story is sort of like joining a movie a third of the way in. You feel a little lost.
So let me catch you up. The story begins in the third year of the reign of Xerxes, King of Persia. Like so many rulers, Xerxes was full of himself. He was richer than Bill Gates and wanted everyone to know. So he decided to throw a big party. He invited everybody who was anybody to attend. For six months (that’s a long party) he showed off all his stuff: his spear collection, his fleet of chariots, the royal jewels, his swimming pool. He had it all. He showed it off. And then he closed out his big to-do with a seven-day banquet held in the enclosed garden in his palace. Ricky Nelson sang, “I went to a garden party.” Well, he never went to a garden party like this. This was the mother of all garden parties. Plenty of food. Barrels of wine. And did they ever party hardy! They had way too much to drink, guzzling their wine out of golden goblets.
By the last day of the party, when everyone was pretty well wasted, Xerxes decided to show off the one thing of which he was most proud—his beautiful Queen Vashti. He ordered her to come to the party, wear her royal crown (some say, only her royal crown), and strut around like a peacock before his drunken friends. But Queen Vashti played the party-pooper. She was a strong woman. She refused to be treated like just another piece of the king’s property. And for all we know, she may have even made a few suggestions as to what the king could do with her royal crown. Well, talk about embarrassed. Xerxes must have turned ten shades of red. His wife had just shown him up in front of all his friends. And who knows? Bolstered by the courage they found in their drunkenness, maybe his friends gave him the business: “Xerxes is hen-pecked. Xerxes is hen-pecked.” Or, “Hey, King, we see who wears the pants in your family”—you know, stuff like that, stuff that’s hard for a proud and pompous king to take.
Anyway, Xerxes was some kind of chapped. He had to do something to recover his pride, his power, and his machismo, so he consulted with his advisors and the vote was unanimous: de-crown the queen; kick her out of the palace; and make a national example of her. “King, if she gets away with this behavior, women all over Persia are going to start demanding to be treated like human beings with equal rights, and they’ll foul up our whole male-dominated system. Women must be kept in their place.” And so that’s what Xerxes did. He gave Queen Vashti the royal boot.
Xerxes was glad to be shed of Vashti, but what’s a King without a Queen? So the search was made for a brand new queen. The best looking young virgins in Persia were brought in for a big beauty contest of sorts. Before they were ever presented to the king, they were given a year-long membership at First Persia Fitness and Spa. They devoted themselves to a regimen of mudpacks and makeovers, aerobics and Pilates. One of the girls happened to be a Jewish exile named Esther. Nobody in charge of the search knew she was a Jew. Esther never told them. She just did what everyone else did, and when it came time for her one-night stand with the king, the king picked her. So Esther won the Miss Persia pageant and became Queen Esther. And the king threw her a coming-out party to beat the band.
Now Esther had a cousin much older than her. His name was Mordecai. He was a devoted Jew, but he was a good citizen of Persia too. And one day, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king. So Mordecai spilled the beans to Queen Esther who told the story to the king. She made sure Mordecai got the credit. His story was investigated, found to be true, and the two conspirators were hung by the neck until dead. You’d think the king would have done something to reward Mordecai for overturning this plot, but what with the hubbub of settling in a new queen and all, things were so hectic at the palace that Mordecai’s good deed got lost in all the commotion. Well, not entirely lost—those who kept historical records recorded Mordecai’s heroism in the annals of the king.
In the meantime, a Persian named Haman rose to power. When we meet Haman in the story, King Xerxes has just given him a promotion to Chief of Staff. Next to the king, Haman is the man. And Haman loved every bit of it. He had an ego the size of Texas. And the thing he liked most about being the big cheese was the way everybody bowed down to him when he passed by. And everybody did—the king had ordered it. Everybody bowed down—everybody except Mordecai. Well, Haman was not the kind of man who could say, “Hundreds bow down, one doesn’t. Big deal.” Not Haman. He wanted to throw a necktie party for Mordecai, so he built a gallows on which to hang him. And more than that, Haman wanted to murder all the Jews in Persia. His thinking was like this: “If one Jew gets away with such subordination, all Jews will do it, so we might as well go ahead and kill them all. That will fix the problem for sure.”
So Haman talked to the king about it. The king was apparently preoccupied with other things and without thinking gave Haman what he wanted. And a decree was announced that on such and such a day, it would be open season on Jews: “Kill ‘em all—men, women, and children. Kill ‘em all and take their property for yourself.” The decree went out. And with the decree was the promise of payment for anybody who would do the killing. Haman put up the cash himself. Talk about a dark day for every Jew in Persia!
And when Mordecai got word of the king’s decree, he put on rags and went to the king’s gate. He couldn’t get past the gate, but he did get word to Esther about the situation. Mordecai told her she needed to talk some sense into the king and get him to drop the decree and call off the dogs.
But that would be no easy task. The king had this big pet-peeve about people just dropping in on him. He didn’t like it and wouldn’t stand for it. The king even made it a capital offense. If anybody—including the queen—dropped in on him without invitation, he or she could face the death penalty. The only hope was if the king extended his golden scepter to his visitor. Esther reminded Mordecai of this. Esther feared for her life.
But Mordecai wouldn’t take no for an answer. He reminded her that she was the best hope for their people. If she didn’t try to stop this, her family would die and she’d be pushing up daisies like the rest of the Jews. “And who knows,” said Mordecai, “whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Anyway, that little speech made the difference. Esther sent back word to Mordecai that she’d do it. She asked that the Jews have a three-day fast for her. She’d fast too. And then she told Mordecai, “When this is done, I’ll break the law and go to the king. And if I perish, I perish.” She had no idea how this was going to turn out. She was risking her life, but she’d do it.
And she did it. And the king welcomed her. And to make the rest of a long story short. This king (who we already know was more interested in parties and girls than in governing) didn’t realize he’d done such a thing to the Jews. And while he couldn’t go back on his decree—something about the law of the Medes and Persians, you know—he did give Jews permission to fight back. They did fight back. The Jews won the day. And for those of you who enjoy irony, Haman was hung on the very gallows he prepared for Mordecai. And Mordecai was made the king’s Chief of Staff.
That’s quite a turnaround! The only person in position to turn the tide was Queen Esther. And at the risk of her life, she turned it. “And who knows,” Mordecai had said to her, “whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
“For such a time as this.” I’m wondering if maybe that phrase is one key to godly womanhood: “for such a time as this.” Esther came to peace with that, rose up, and did what only she could do to save her people.
A woman “for such a time as this” understands that God knows her situation and has her there for a purpose. She doesn’t feel forgotten. She doesn’t feel alone. She doesn’t feel adrift. Oh, she may for a season until some Mordecai in her life reminds her that God knows her situation and has her there for a purpose. And steeled by that knowledge, she rises up and does what only she can do to help her family, her business, her circles of influence, her church, the kingdom of God, whatever.
I can’t emphasize this enough because women get this better than men. In our day too many men never grow up. Too many men live a life solely for self—letting their parents take care of them or their wives take care of them so they can be perpetually 16 years old without having to go to school. They may work, but their off hours are playtime, me-time, video-game time, hang out with friends time. Too many men are self-absorbed children in man bodies. They live to be served rather than to serve. They need to grow up and play the man.
For some reason, women in our culture, by and large, don’t have that option. They grow up faster. They seem to care about things outside themselves more deeply than do many men. Today’s young women seem more willing to take responsibility than a lot of young men. Some examples …
We’ve graduated several classes of Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World. This is part of CCMC’s Bridges Out of Poverty program that’s changing lives and slowly changing Hot Springs. And in every class, women outnumber men 8-1, 10-1. Women look at their situation, rise up and take responsibility to do what they can to help themselves and the people they love. These are “for such a time as this” women.
And when you look at the 2-year Journeymen Program in our International Mission Board, you’ll see the same thing. A journeyman missionary is typically a young adult just out of college willing to give two years to mission service somewhere in the world. Would it surprise you to know that young women vastly outnumber young men in this program? (Seriously, they ought to change the name from The Journeyman Program to The Journeywoman Program.) A lot of the world needs the gospel. Who will take the gospel to the world? Way more women’s hands go up than men’s. They are “for such a time as this” women who love Jesus and the nations more than self, understand kingdom needs, and are willing to sacrifice at least two years of their lives to make a dent in them.
And when you look at the church you see a similar thing. Thankfully, we have numerous families in which husband and wife are both highly invested in the Lord’s work in the church. But when only a husband or a wife is invested, wives outnumber the men exponentially. Here’s the woman’s thinking: “We only have our kids for a short time, and I want to do everything I can to help them know Jesus and grow up to be responsible followers of Jesus.” These are “for such a time as this” women.
Are you a “for such a time as this” woman? You can be. No matter your situation. God knows your situation and has you there for a purpose, has you there “for such a time as this.”
- “But I’m a mom up to my neck in dirty diapers, fussy kids, little sleep, and little patience.” Yes, but God knows your situation and has you there for a purpose. Raise those kids to love Jesus, His word, and His church. God is with you. And He has you there for such a time as this.
- “But I’m a career woman in a men’s club world. They get the promotions and the higher salaries. I get passed over and treated less seriously.” Yes, but God knows your situation and has you there for a purpose. Is it time to raise that issue in some way with the powers that be? Yes, it could create more problems for you, but who knows, maybe God has placed you in that company for such a time as this?
- “But I’m a single woman in a couples’ world. I don’t know if I want to get married or not, and yet people are always trying to match me to some man.” Yes, but God knows your situation and has you there for a purpose. Could it be that God wants you to model contented singleness, to model what it looks like to be married to Jesus and live a fulfilled life as a single? Maybe God has you in that situation for such a time as this.
- “But I’m a single mom. No time. Great demands. Always tired. Always feel like I fall short.” Tough situation for sure. I was raised by one of those moms. And whether you chose that situation or not, God knows your situation and has you there for a purpose. Do the best you can in such a time as this, and in 20 years your kids will be praising you for your selfless love.
- “But I’m a woman who wants a child and can’t get pregnant.” That’s about as deep an angst and a pain as a woman who wants children can feel. But God knows your situation and has you there for a purpose. How might God use your life for His glory in this situation? Is God leading you to foster or adopt? Is He growing your soul, teaching you to wait? Is He preparing you to be a great comforter to women in a similar situation? Who knows? God may well have you there for such a time as this.
- “But I’m a woman in a bad marriage.” God knows this. And unless you’re being abused or your husband is being an adulterer, God may have you there to model patience, committed love even when the loving feelings are absent, and to hold your family together until the marriage can be renewed or restored. Discern God’s leadership, draw from His strength, be the Christian wife in a precarious marriage. Yes, your husband needs to step up. But even if he doesn’t, who knows but what that you are in that marriage for such a time as this?
- “But I’m a lonely old widow with little energy to do much anymore.” But God knows your situation and has you there for a purpose. Can you ramp up your prayer life? Can you write notes of encouragement to people? Can you mentor some younger woman who needs a wise hand of influence in her life? You may have been born for such a time as this.
Will you be a “for such a time as this” woman? You can because Jesus is your “for such a time as this” Savior. No one else could have done for us what Jesus did. No one else was God’s Son. No one else ever lived a sinless life. No one else could have been the perfect Lamb without blemish whose sacrifice for our sins would be acceptable to the Father. Galatians 4:4-5 reads, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” Jesus was, is, and always will be a “for such a time as this” Savior. And unlike Esther who didn’t know when she took the risk to save her people whether she would perish or not. Jesus knew He would perish on the cross. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus can save all who put their faith and trust in Him. And when Jesus saves us, He sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us. And the Holy Spirit brings courage and power and giftings to be the woman God wants you to be. Being a “for such a time as this” woman is not something that depends solely on you. It’s not just about stirring up your courage; it’s about leaning into Christ and drawing on Holy Spirit power. God has your back. God supplies your power.
Women, whatever your situation is, God knows. God knows who you are and where you are and what you’re dealing with. And God knows something else: as you lean into Jesus, God can make you equal to “such a time as this.”
A godly woman is a woman for such a time as this. I hope this is making sense to you. Not being a woman, and not pretending that I know how women feel, I’m doing the best I can to communicate what God put on my heart for you today. You are every bit as valuable as a man. God counts you every bit as important and capable as a man. You are the glue that holds family and church and community together. What would have happened to God’s people in Persia if God hadn’t put Esther in the king’s palace for such a time as that? What would have happened if Esther hadn’t embraced her purpose and did what only she could do to save her people? And what would happen in our world today if God didn’t raise up women who will live their purpose in the troubled, risky times in which we live? Disaster—that’s what would happen. We need courageous, Spirit-filled, godly women in the worst way.
Barbara Walters did a 20/20 segment on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan, a few years before the Afghan conflict. She noticed that women customarily walked five paces behind their husbands.
She returned to Kabul some years later after the ejection of the Taliban and observed that women still walked five paces behind their husbands. Despite the overthrow of the Taliban and their repressive ways, the women seemed content to maintain this particular custom. Walters asked an Afghan woman, “Why do you so happily hold on to this custom you once wanted to change?”
Without hesitation, the woman gave Walters her answer: “Landmines” —which may prove the old adage that no matter the language you speak or the culture in which you live, behind every man is a smart woman.
Behind every man, before every man, beside every man, sometimes in place of absent men, and sometimes all on their own, God raises up smart, strong, godly women, for such a time as this. You be that woman.
Preached: May 14, 2017
First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR
John Scott McCallum II