Esther and Shrewdness

Whilst we have admitted that we don’t know exactly why Esther chose to delay her request until the moment she did, we can certainly say that it was a wise thing to do. She comes across in several places as a shrewd young woman, knowing not just when but how to act. Here she seems to have cunningly got Xerxes in just the right mood and frame of mind to be amenable to her request. Even the way she puts the request to him in Esth 7:3-4 shows how careful she was not to arouse the wrath of the king. Another example of her shrewdness is when she chooses to take Hegai’s advice in Esth 2:15, trusting a man to know what kind of clothes the king would find appealing.

But while “wisdom” is undoubtedly a virtue for Christians to pursue, can the same thing be said of “shrewdness”? One dictionary defines shrewdness as “showing clever resourcefulness in practical matters; artful, tricky or cunning; streetwise”.

In one of his strangest parables, Jesus tells the story of a dishonest manager who nevertheless is commended for his behaviour and used as a positive example:

"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8,9)

It raises the question of when shrewdness crosses the line into dishonesty or deviousness. In Matt 10:16, Jesus plainly tells his disciples that they will need to be shrewd – there are people out to get them. Yet he clearly believes that this does necessarily involve moral compromise – you can be shrewd and innocent:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matt 10:16

I think that the need for shrewdness is especially necessary when living in a culture that is hostile to Christian belief. How can we maintain a Christian lifestyle and witness without unnecessarily getting ourselves into trouble? This is where shrewdness comes into play. It is this kind of “clever resourcefulness” that enables us to fulfil our God-given mission and calling, while staying under the radar of those out to stop us.

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