Lessons from Esther: What Makes a Hero?

Mordecai sent this answer back to Queen Esther: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house that you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14 NIV)

Whom do you think of when you think of a hero? Recently many people will think of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who successfully crash-landed his plane in the Hudson River saving the lives of all 155 people aboard. Others think of the 9/11 First Responders who helped rescue hundreds of people by bravely rushing into the burning Twin Towers, many losing their lives when the buildings collapsed. The Coast Guard men and women who saved hundreds of lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by snatching them off the roofs of houses come to the mind of others.

People often put Mordecai and Esther on a pedestal, even calling them heroes for saving the Jewish people. But what makes a hero? Heroes can fall into several categories. There’s the Accidental Hero: that person who happens to be in the right place at the right time and just acts reflexively, like a person who snatches a pedestrian back out of the path of a fast-moving vehicle.

Then you have your Reluctant Hero: that person who would prefer to keep a low profile and stay uninvolved but then steps up when no one else will act, like a person in a bank robbery/hostage situation who finally steps up and overpowers one of the hostage takers.

But the true heroes that we love to recognize are the Intentional Heroes: those people who plan to risk their lives every day, laying their lives on the line to save others. This would include the men and women of our police and fire departments, search and rescue teams, soldiers, etc.

One such hero was Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the US Medal of Honor for the risks he took as a young medic to save lives during the battle for Okinawa. He was the company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.

Following this, Doss ignored heavy rifle and mortar fire to rescue men more than 200 yards in front of the American line. Two days later he treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making four separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, PFC. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.

What drove Doss to risk his life in the face of death raining down all around him? He refused to kill, or carry a weapon into combat, because of his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. Because of his faith in the Lord Jesus, he patterned his life after the teachings of his Savior who said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NIV) In signing up to be a non-combatant medic, Doss committed himself to place his life on the line regularly for the sake of his fellow soldiers.

In contrast, Mordecai and Esther are in a crisis due in part to Mordecai’s own actions. Due to his resentment toward Haman, a descendant of hated enemies of the Jews, Mordecai refused to bow down before Haman. Enraged, Haman decided to wipe out, not only Mordecai, but all of the Jewish people. He convinced King Xerxes to allow him to declare an edict authorizing genocide. This forced Mordecai to some desperate action to reverse this edict.

Mordecai mourned so loudly outside of the palace, that he attracted the attention of his young cousin, Queen Esther. When her appeals for him to stop the mourning failed, she finally learned of Haman’s dastardly plot. However, she claimed helplessness since she had not been in contact with her husband the king in over 30 days and any attempt to see him unsummoned could be punishable by death.

This prompted Mordecai’s response above. He pointed out that she might be in the right place at the right time to save her people. Finally, Esther bent to her older cousin’s repeated pleas. She became a Reluctant Hero. She agreed to risk her life for the sake of her people. In so doing, she becomes an Old Testament picture of what Jesus would do centuries later.

However, Jesus is clearly an Intentional Hero. He set aside His glory as God and deliberately humbled Himself to become human in order to be able to take God’s punishment upon Himself and set us free. Normally, the Intentional Hero is risking one’s life, that is, he/she takes a chance that puts one’s life in danger with the hopes that one’s efforts will not cost one’s life. Usually, reasonable risks are taken and it is the rare case that one dies in the process.

But Jesus knew that he was not risking his life, but giving His life. We learn in the Bible that, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NIV) Giving His life was the plan from the beginning.

Often times someone is another person’s Personal Hero. In other words, one person risks one’s life to save one other person, like the case of the person who snatches another out of the path of a moving vehicle. In the case of Jesus, He is the Universal Hero. His action in laying His life down on the cross saves all who believe on Him. Thus He is the Savior of all humankind.

When Desmond Doss saved someone out of the line of fire, that soldier had to place himself into Doss’ care and trust him as he removed them to safety. In the same way, we are to place ourselves into the hands of Jesus and trust Him to carry us safely home. We need to rest in the arms of our Hero.

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