King William IV unexpectedly became monarch of the UK, Ireland, and Hanover in 1830. With two older brothers he had not anticipated ascending to the throne. When they both died William was shouldered with the burden of leadership he had hitherto evaded. Instead of the requisite stately life of a public figure, he had enjoyed a prodigal routine of hedonistic indulgence.
He drank like a sailor, swore like a sailor, and fathered ten children out of wedlock. He was such a spendthrift that parliament censured him by curtailing his salary until he got married. Like a stroppy teenager who had just had his allowance reduced, King William threw a tantrum before parliament, and vowed to expunge all of his own debt…by marrying a wealthy heiress.
Staring down the barrel of life as a broke bachelor William set himself to scouring the landscape of Europe for a princess who would deign to marry a fifty-something, lecherous, alcoholic philanderer who had ten illegitimate children. Unsurprisingly, the pickings were slim.
His reputation of debauchery was so notorious that despite being the king, he couldn’t find a woman of royal blood willing to debase her own reputation by marrying him. Several proposals—issued in rapid succession—were declined.
However, as providence would have it, there was one unmarried German princess, who was twenty-seven years his junior, who was courageous enough to try her hand at reforming the future king, for the sake of the British nation.
Her name was Adelaide.
Well, actually her name was Adelaide Amelia Louise Theresa Caroline, Her Serene Highness, the Duchess of Saxony and Princess of Saxe-Meiningen. The couple met once, a week before the wedding. William was surprised at how pretty and friendly she was. Unlike her irreligious fiancé, Adelaide was known widely for being deeply devout in her faith, chaste, kind, sensible with money, and extremely dignified in her demeanor.
After the wedding Adelaide soon endeared herself to her subjects and become one of the most beloved and respected queens in British history. She was loved for her kindness to the poor, her modesty, and her genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Not only was Adelaide able to put up with William, but slowly people began to notice her ameliorating influence on him.
At her behest, the couple moved to Hanover—unprecedented for a British royal—because the cost of living was cheaper than London. The queen effectively curbed her husband’s spending, decreased his drinking, and even stopped his swearing. Against all odds, the couple enjoyed a happy marriage.
Sadly, the queen suffered multiple miscarriages and never produced an heir for the throne. But her grace, dignity, and faith in God’s providence shone through that series of dark trials. Adelaide’s legacy is marked by how liberally her name was used in memoriam: the capital of South Australia is named for her, as well as countless roads, parks, rivers, towns, and forts in all corners of the commonwealth; not to mention little girls precious to their dads (my fourth child is named after her).
But this courageous queen was not the first to marry a licentious man, only to model character and exert godly influence over the king for the sake of her nation.
Queen Esther was noticed for her supermodel attractiveness, but she was remembered as a model of courage and character who saved a nation.
Many Jews did not return to the Promised Land of Israel after the seventy years of Babylonian exile. Esther was a Jewish orphan, a descendant of exiles, now living under the rule of the Medo-Persians, and thoroughly enmeshed in Persian culture and society.
Many other people groups were also integrated into the Medo-Persian Empire, including an ancient arch-enemy of the Jews, a terrorizing people called the Amalekites. One Amalekite, Haman, from the clan of King Agag (of “hacked to pieces by Samuel” fame) is functioning as the Medo-Persian Prime Minister.
All citizens bow down to him. Except one. Mordecai the Jew rigidly refuses to bend in obeisance. Mordecai is a descendant of the clan of Kish, i.e. the same clan as King Saul, commissioned by God to kill King Agag. Their animosity spans centuries. Haman persuades the king to issue a decree that all Jewish people may be plundered, and if they resist, may be killed. Mordecai, the uncle of the little Jewish orphan who has become queen, persuades her that she will also not escape and that she has to be the one to speak to her husband. But as everyone knows, entering the moody king’s presence without an invitation was punishable by death.
As Esther steels herself for bold intercession, we can glean three lessons from her courage so we can face our fears and do what is needed in the face of danger…
Esther 4:15-17 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
1. Apply your courage
When I say the word courageous your imagination may conjure an image of a scarred war hero donning the purple heart medal, or a soot-stained firefighter charging into a burning building. What you probably don’t think of is an aging beauty queen reclining in a palace.
But leaving your comfort zone of safety and security is one of the most courageous actions you can take for God’s glory. It’s not your size or occupation or gender that makes you tough, it’s your character. It’s your willingness to take a stand for what is right in the face of perilous pain and even mortal danger, in order to accomplish God’s will.
When Esther determined to approach the king on behalf of the Jews she was saying she was willing to die in order to be part of preserving God’s reputation as the Savior of his people.
And as even the Marvel comic universe concedes, heroes and heroines don’t always act alone…
2. Access your community
Esther probably felt very alone in this kamikaze mission. So her simple request is for her community of kinsmen outside the danger zone to hold her up in devoted fasting before the Lord (v. 16).
Sometimes when we need to do the right thing but fear the consequences, the best support is knowing that we are not left alone in our trial.
This is the purpose of the church community, our home groups, our accountability partners – it is to uphold one another in prayer, to offer words of encouragement, and if possible physical presence of support. Short-term missions teams do this for our missionaries, the visitation ministry does this for shut-ins and bedbound hospital patients, and even text messages can bolster a fearful saint when they need to stand up to a boss or colleague at work.
We need to have courage to do what God wants us to do, and we also need to support those trying to do what God wants.
3. Accept the consequences
Notice too that Esther is not naïve about the danger. She knows full well the potential consequence of her actions. The king is an unpredictable and powerful man. Her statement, “If I perish, I perish” is not a resignation, it’s a resolution. It is a declaration of her resolve to do the right thing, or die trying.
This is the definition of true courage. It is not doing the right thing when it’s easy, it’s doing the right thing in the face of consequences. Part of the sacrifice is being willing to suffer unjust consequences for righteous behavior.
It reminds me of John Bunyan, who accepted that his stance against the Catholic regime would result in his imprisonment. He didn’t attempt to squirm out of the punishment; in fact on occasion his prison door was left unlocked and unguarded because the guards knew he would not escape.
Perhaps your boss asks you to do something illegal. Maybe you are a young person whose peers are pressuring you to do something against your conscience. Or your co-workers are constantly indulging in drunkenness after work, or rude joking, or gossiping about the boss, or complaining about their wages. Whatever it is, if you stand apart from the sin, you will be targeted. You might lose popularity, you might lose promotion opportunities, you may even lose your job.
It’s not fair, but it’s real. And as believers we need to accept that consequences are part and parcel of Christian courage. As Paul warned, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim 3:12).
And what happened to Esther?
Esther 5:1-3 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.”
In this case she was spared the consequence, but that does not mean it always pans out this way.
Fellow-exiles, Daniel and his friends avoided the consequences of their courageous stand, but centuries later John the Baptist wasn’t spared. He stood up to Herod’s adultery and found himself in jail until he was made a head shorter. The Apostles weren’t unscathed by unjust persecution, and neither are millions of Christians in our world today. But this is what living in a sin-cursed world looks like most of the time.
And for those of us who enjoy relative freedom of religion and opportunity to do God’s work…we have no excuse for apathy or fear. When you need a reminder, look to this supermodel of courage.