Lessons from the Old Testament: Coming of Age


Kathleen H. Hughes
Esther not only makes a choice that will benefit her people but also demonstrates that she knows who she is and what she can do when hard things come.

Photograph by Busath Photography

With its intriguing plot and interesting characters, the book of Esther has all the elements of a good story. A beautiful Jewish girl is chosen by the king to become his queen; fellow Jews are condemned to death by a wicked prince; the Jewish queen saves her people by exposing the wickedness of the prince; the people are saved.

But Esther’s story is not quite that simple. She is a beautiful young woman, but she is encouraged by her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, to enter what amounts to a beauty pageant in which the winner gets to be the queen. The reader of the story is left wondering about the motives of these characters: is Esther merely an obedient, naïve young woman who does what she is told? Or does she, along with Mordecai, understand that her beauty offers her a chance to play an important role for her people? It is interesting that neither she nor Mordecai discloses to anyone at the time that she is Jewish. Would that knowledge have eliminated her from the contest? Readers are left to wonder.

King Ahasuerus, as we know, selects Esther to be his new queen, but when Haman, one of the princes of the kingdom, plots to have the Jews in all 127 provinces killed, we see a new Esther—her choice and courage to defend her people create a stronger, more spiritually minded woman. When Mordecai, through Esther’s servant, tells her of the decree against the Jews and requests that she go into the king to plead for her people, she is reluctant. She reminds him that she can go into the king’s presence only when called. Mordecai’s response is direct: “Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, … thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed” (Esther 4:13–14).

A Crucial Decision

Now it is decision time for Esther: does she risk not only her place as queen but her very life by going to the king and pleading for her people? If she chooses to approach the king, she must make known her background and religion—knowledge she has kept from him. How will King Ahasuerus view her deception? But if she does nothing, all her people, and perhaps she too, could die.

After considering the options, she consents to the request. She asks Mordecai and all the Jews in the city of Shushan, as well as her handmaids, to fast “for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day … ; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

At the moment of truth, Esther not only makes a choice that will benefit her people but also demonstrates, through her actions and her request, that she knows who she is and what she can do when hard things come. For readers of Esther’s story, this is the first hint of faith or religious commitment from either her or Mordecai, but when she requests that others fast for her, we know that she had received religious training. She knows God, she knows the power of fasting and prayer, and she uses that understanding when she needs courage and strength.

While there is little in Esther’s story that gives us clues to her previous behavior and life, it is not difficult to imagine that in her role as queen, she didn’t do many dishes, tend children, or clean house—or even make too many important decisions. Her life was largely about her. And then came the edict of death for her people. Esther suddenly had to grow up—she had to face a serious dilemma. When she had to, she responded in a mature, thoughtful way. Her actions speak for her, saying she must have realized, “I’m not as important as the people I can save.”

Our Own Tests

And what of us? In each of our lives as members of the Church, there will be moments of decision that will test us, that will ask us to come of age, to act in a way that says: “My needs and wants are not as important as the cause of building the kingdom. I will commit my life to Christ.”

Let me share some examples: We frequently hear young women say they dread the day when they will have to leave the comfort of the Young Women program and enter Relief Society. And admittedly, it can be hard. Anytime you walk into a room of people you don’t know well and who don’t know you, it can be difficult. But saying good-bye to the Young Women program and taking your place as a woman of Relief Society is a sign that you have grown up. It means you have a testimony and understanding of your place as a woman in the Church, that you are willing to move into a new season and depth of service in the kingdom of God.

Young men, along with senior couples and sisters, are often reminded that they should plan to serve missions. My husband and I are approaching senior couple status, and a mission is part of our future. Do most of us doubt or worry about our ability, our families, or where we will be called to go? Of course we do! I would be more surprised if people said they didn’t think about those things. But I also know that putting aside our fears and exercising faith by responding to our Heavenly Father’s request will bring us great blessings and confidence. It’s another kind of “coming of age.”

Another example: Recently I listened to a woman describe her first visit to her new ward. She indicated that as she entered the chapel, not one person spoke to her. After sacrament meeting she asked someone where the Gospel Doctrine class was being held. In that class, as well as in the Relief Society meeting that followed, no one asked for her name or asked her to introduce herself. She felt devastated. But, you say, she should have taken the initiative and done something herself. To some extent, that is true. However, what of the members of the ward? Shouldn’t we be looking for the stranger in our midst? Shouldn’t we be grown up enough to recognize that because we are comfortable in our environment, we need to welcome and befriend those for whom the surroundings are unfamiliar?

Showing Our Commitment

I recently spoke to a woman who said she does only one thing for herself at Church meetings on Sunday: she takes the sacrament to receive the benefits it can personally bring to her. Then, she said, “Everything else I do at those meetings is for the benefit of others.” She asks herself, “How or what can I do for someone else during this time?” It requires spiritual sensitivity and maturity to look outside oneself to this degree—it is a conscious and courageous decision she makes each week to serve and bless others’ lives.

It’s rare for a person to be in as dangerous or dramatic a situation as Esther’s, but each of us daily has the privilege of influencing someone, of deciding to show our Heavenly Father that we understand and are grateful for His plan for us and that we accept and are committed to live by the covenants we have made with Him. Like Esther, who was asked by Mordecai, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” we have come to the kingdom for this time, and we need faith, testimony, and courage to live up to the promises made to us by the Father.

Helps for Home Evening

Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions, personal reflection, or teaching the gospel in a variety of settings.

  1. 1.

    Pass out papers, each with the name of a different family member at the top. Have everyone list a gift, talent, or blessing of that family member. Give everyone a chance to write about everybody else. As you tell Esther’s story, invite the family to listen for how she used her gifts to serve. Encourage family members to select a gift from their own paper and set a goal to use it to serve others.

  2. 2.

    Ask family members to share past life-changing events or decisions. As a family, imagine several different endings to the history and the implications of each. Discuss how Esther made life-changing choices and what might have happened if she had chosen differently.

[illustration] Queen Esther, by Minerva K. Teichert, courtesy of William and Betty Stokes

[illustration] Illustration by Robert T. Barrett