Up to this point in the year, we have been talking mostly about characters in Scripture who might be on an official list of prophets, poets, and preachers. Esther doesn’t quite fit this mold. A Jewish orphan whose family is in exile, Esther is a prophet in a very loose sense–she confronts the powers that be, at risk of her own life, and for the sake of her people, God’s people.
The prophets are typically sent by God to speak to the people or to those in power, but the name of God is used only one time in the whole book of Esther. It may be fruitful to wonder together with your class (especially older ones) in what way Esther might be considered a prophet, or at least prophetic. Is she? Isn’t she? After reading the story, what do your students think?
Okay. Let’s be honest. This story is a bit, ummm, dark. Lot’s of death, gallows, tricksters, and evil plots. Ironically, the word “joy” appears frequently. For those who are living in captivity in Babylon, under Persian rule (we’ve changed hands in exile… yet again), the death of captors might spark joy. Perhaps that is what is happening. It’s not an easy story for us, but there are some wonderful things about it–first, we have a female heroine (about time!) who shows tremendous courage at great risk to herself. Second, we see God’s people saved from certain death (important since without their being saved, we don’t have the line of people that ends in Jesus!).
By Zereshk at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Hear the Story
Esther is a story that is read aloud in assembly often. Every year at Purim, Jews read the story at least once. This story is often read or presented in engaging and interactive ways. Perhaps your class can read and hear the story in the same spirit.
Focus on Esther 3-5:3 You should be able to find some version of the Esther story in almost any children’s Bible in the Christian Education Cabinet (I checked almost all, if not all of them). One suggestion for an interactive story: when Esther’s or Mordecai’s names are read, invite your class to applaud. When Haman’s name is read, everyone should boo or hiss.
Respond to the Story
- Act it out: After presenting or reading the story, act it out. There are many ways your class could do this–breaking into small groups of about 4 (a king, Haman, Mordecai, and Esther) or staying in your large group. Here are some printable Purim masks if your class would like to act out with character masks. You might also try these finger puppets.
- A portrait of courage: before and after. What is courage and what about the story causes us to identify Esther as courageous? Using art supplies, create a visual profile of Esther before and after her pleading with the king for her people. You could make this profile together or individually.
- The Law of the Land: In the story of Esther (and last week’s story of Daniel, for that matter), those in power make laws that affect their Jewish subjects. Daniel’s defiance of the law lands him in a den of lions. Queen Esther finds herself pleading on behalf of her people over an unjust law. Ask your students to imagine that they are a King or Queen. What king of law would they make? How would that law be enforced? How would their law be good for God’s people? Give each child paper and art supplies. Roll the paper into a scroll and create a “law of the land.”
- Feeling Ambitious? Make Hamantaschen, a German pastry with poppy seeds that is a popular Purim food. You can find lots of different variations here (some are very simple). If you are interested in this, please email me regarding allergies and we can look for a variation that is allergen free.
- “Xerxes, may I?”: In our story, Esther went before the king even though he had not called for her. This was a moment of profound courage on Esther’s part as she could have been punished or put to death for doing so. Play an adapted version of Mother, May I? One student should be appointed Xerxes and given something that may be used as a scepter (see activity below if you would like to make scepters and then play Xerxes, May I? with them). All other students should line up shoulder to shoulder and ask in turn “Xerxes, may I take (number) of steps?” Xerxes may say yes or no. The first child to reach and tag Xerxes becomes the king. The game starts over. Play as many times as you would like. If the weather is nice on Sunday, take this game outside (the kids have been inside too much!)
- Make a Scepter, King or Queen crown: Use popsicle sticks or pipe cleaners to make a King’s scepter. Once the students have finished, have them practice the part of the story in which Esther approaches the throne.
- Bible Verse Memorization: Check out this active Bible Verse memorization suggestion from Ministry for Children. In addition to their suggestions for Esther 2:17, I bet there are other verses that are equally well suited to this approach to memorization. Esther 4:16, Esther’s request to gather the community for prayer and fasting, may be particularly appropriate during this Lenten season. At the link above, there is also a game which is an adaptation of musical chairs (scroll all the way to the bottom).