Esther, Judith, Mary

It has long been the teaching of the fathers of the Church—going way back to St Justin in the second century with his understanding of Mary as the New Eve—to see in the Old Testament various symbols or prefigurations of the mystery of the Mother of God.  Here I want only to look at two women of the Old Testament who offer us some insight into what Our Lady does for us and for our salvation.

There’s a connection between Queen Esther and Mary, the Queen of Heaven, and it is not only because “she was exceeding fair, and her incredible beauty made her appear agreeable and amiable in the eyes of all” (Esther 2:15).  Nor is it only in the fact that Mary pleased God and was made Queen of Heaven as Esther pleased King Ahasuerus and was made queen of his realm: “She pleased him and found favor in his sight… And the king loved her more than all the women, and she had favor and kindness before him… and he set the royal crown on her head…” (2:9, 17).

At Fatima, Our Lady appeared with a star near the hem of her robe.  This is interpreted as a symbol of her intercessory role. The name Esther means “star,” and we know that in the Bible, the beautiful Queen Esther interceded with the king to save her people from the destruction plotted by an evil man.  The people were to be annihilated on the 13th of the month (Our Lady appeared in Fatima on the 13th of 6 successive months).  Esther went to the king and pleaded that her people would be spared, and the king granted her request, executing the evildoer instead.  This is a prefiguration of how Mary, the Queen of Heaven, appears before the King to intercede that her people be saved from the evil one and all his treacherous plots against our souls.

We read in the Book of Esther that that her uncle Mordecai “charged her to go to the king and make supplication to him and entreat him for her people” (4:8).  This is precisely what Mary does for us: making supplication to the King of Heaven for her people.  We should be grateful that God has chosen and loved one of us so much as to make her our Queen, with the power of intercession, and so her petitions He will never refuse.  “What is your petition, Queen Esther?  It shall be granted you” (7:2).

Another Old Testament heroine is Judith.  The way she prefigures Mary is somewhat different.  As we know from Genesis, God put enmity between the woman and the serpent, who represent Mary and the devil, respectively, and through the power of her Son, the Woman would crush the serpent’s head.  Well, Judith is an image of this mystery, for she saved her people by cutting off the head of the evil and tyrannical general, Holofernes.  Judith, like Esther and like Mary, was exceedingly beautiful and devout, and was held in high honor by her people.  When their faith wavered in the face of the threats and power of the enemy, she counseled them to trust in God, and not put Him to the test by placing a limit on how long they would wait for Him before they would surrender to their enemies.  For God would deliver them at the proper time by the hand of a woman.

After Judith had killed the enemy leader and returned victorious to her people, they sang to her (and this is used in the Latin Rite on certain feasts of Our Lady): “You are the exaltation of Jerusalem; you are the great glory of Israel; you are the great pride of our nation!  You have done all this single-handedly; you have done great good to Israel, and God is well pleased with it.  May the Almighty Lord bless you forever! … The Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman!” (Jdt. 15:9-10; 16:6).  Our Lady is the Woman at whose hand (or rather, under whose foot) God has foiled the designs of our evil enemy, the devil. God has chosen her to bring the Savior into the world and to stand with Him and to wield the power He has given her to protect us from evil and to neutralize its power and influence in our lives.

There is much more that can be said about Old Testament prefigurings of the Mother of God, but let this suffice for now.  Let us realize that just as the mystery of Christ was known in Heaven for all eternity, the mystery of his Mother was known as well—for how could there be an incarnate Son considered in isolation from the one who gave flesh to Him?  So the mystery of both Mother and Son was intimated in the stories of salvation history, until their complete revelation in the fullness of time—and the ever-deepening understanding of these divine mysteries in the ongoing life of the Church, until the Lord returns in glory.

About Father Joseph

I am a priest and monk currently serving with the Contemplatives of St Joseph in South San Francisco, CA. I am in my 33rd year of monastic life and in my 24th as a priest.

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