It has been said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it. The Bible, however, adds another important element to the definition of courage: trust and faith in God, which is illustrated by the life of Esther.
The story begins with Esther, a young Jewish girl living in ancient Persia with her cousin, Mordecai, a Jewish servant "in the king's gate" (Esther 2:19), implying Mordecai held a position in the king's court.
When Queen Vashti publicly humiliates her husband, King Ahasuerus, the mighty ruler of the Medes and Persians, he decides to replace her with a new queen chosen from among the beautiful virgins in his kingdom.
Esther is among the young women chosen to be presented to King Ahasuerus for consideration as his future wife and, on the advice of Mordecai, Esther does not reveal she is a Jewess to the king, even after she is chosen as queen.
Some time after this King Ahasuerus appoints an official called Haman over his princes and commands his servants to bow down to Haman and pay him homage. Mordecai refuses to do this and Haman becomes so enraged he devises a scheme to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom.
Haman sets his plan in motion by telling King Ahasuerus the Jews were not keeping his laws, convincing the king to issue a decree offering 10,000 talents of silver to anyone who would destroy them (Esther 3).
Once this terrible decree was made, the Persian custom of the time did not allow it to be revoked or amended. It had to be carried out, and even the King could not change what he had set in motion.
This situation understandably resulted in great mourning and fasting among the Jews, and Mordecai tries to convince Esther to go before the King and plead for her people. She is unwilling because another Persian law mandated anyone who approached the king without being specifically summoned would be put to death, unless the king made an exception by holding out his golden sceptre, thereby sparing them.
Mordecai challenged Esther’s hesitation by asking the piercing question: What if God had made her queen for the specific purpose of helping to save her people at this critical time? (Esther 4:13-14).
This helped Esther realise she could not allow fear to paralyze her. It was clear she really only had one choice --- to act in faith and leave the outcome in God’s hands. So she sent word to Mordecai asking the Jews to fast with her and her maids for three days and nights, then she promised to go before the king, knowing full well she was risking her life (Esther 4:16).
When Esther finally approached the King he did extend his golden sceptre, sparing her life and enabling her to eventually reveal Haman's plot, resulting in the king ordering Haman hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai's execution.
Mordecai was promoted and the king issued a new decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves against anyone who attacked them. To this day, many Jews still observe the Feast of Purim in honour of this event.
Fear is a normal human reaction when faced with some critical decisions, and acknowledging this is the first step towards realising we must not allow fear to paralyze us into taking no action at all.
This then leads to recognising we need God’s help and that He has promised never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). If we seek His will with prayer and fasting we can move ahead with the courage and conviction that God is on our side to help us make the right decision.
Perhaps a fitting conclusion to this story of godly courage can come from the words inscribed on a monument to Lord Lawrence in Westminster Abbey: "He feared man so little because he feared God so much."
The Good News magazine