My Lord, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. Be mindful of me, O Lord. Give me courage. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord.
This powerful prayer might have been spoken by Queen Esther, the Jewish bride of the Persian king Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes. She had learned that an evil member of court, Haman, had concocted a plot to have the king hang her uncle Mordecai and kill all the Jews in the land. The date for the massacre was determined by casting lots, or pur, hence the Jewish name for this festival is Purim. Esther was persuaded by Mordecai to try appealing to the king to save her people, though she could lose her own life in the process when it was revealed that she, too, was a Jew.
In the story, Esther invites the king and Haman to a banquet where she denounces Haman. Rembrandt has painted the three of them in his customary hazy manner. The king is at the center of the picture, taller than the others, but it is Esther who captures our attention as Rembrandt depicts her as luminous and lovely. She seems to have just finished speaking, as we see that her hands are about to rest on the table. The king, with his crowned turban and rod of authority, appears to be glaring at Haman, who slumps and shrinks into the shadows, recognizing his defeat.
The plot of the story has several elaborations that I haven’t listed here and is well worth a read. In the end, though, Queen Esther saves her people from certain doom through her courage. The prayer above does not actually appear in the Book of Esther, it is one I found in a Lenten devotional and it appealed to me.
Do you face a situation where you could be endangering yourself by speaking truth to power? Or perhaps where helping someone else places you in a precarious situation? Remember Esther and bring this prayer to mind. Call on the power of God to give you persuasive words and courage.