Below is an excerpt from chapter 4 of my newest book A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Phlegmatic Child. Read how Queen Esther serves as a biblical model, portraying the strengths and weaknesses of the phlegmatic temperament. Temperament studies are not just for kids!
Phlegmatic women tend to be supporters of leaders of other temperaments. They express their temperament quietly, often at home. Few become famous. Esther would probably never have been known to history, except for the special circumstances she found herself in. She shows how one phlegmatic person can make a huge impact for God by following his will.
A phlegmatic replacement for a defiant, choleric queen
Esther’s story is found in the biblical book named after her. King Ahaserus (also known as Xerxes) is married to a beautiful woman named Vashti. When the king holds a banquet, he calls his wife to come show off her beauty to his guests. The choleric Vashti refuses. Ahaserus responds by deposing the queen and seeking another wife. He eventually chooses Esther, a Jewish girl who is Vashti’s temperamental opposite.
Esther spends a year in the king’s harem, being prepared to meet him. When at last it is time for her to do so, she does exactly as the eunuch in charge of the harem advises her. Throughout the story, we see Esther’s compliance and obedience, two typically phlegmatic traits. Perhaps these are what attract Ahaserus to her so that he makes her his queen.
Mordecai is Esther’s cousin. He raised her after her parents died. On his advice, Esther keeps her Jewish heritage secret. She shows her loyalty to her cousin, even though he is no longer in authority over her. The phlegmatic, as a lover of the status quo, has the most loyal temperament. She (in this case) listens to those she loves. She rouses herself to do heroic deeds for them. Her calm exterior hides deep feelings. Family, tribe, and nation have her allegiance.
Haman is the king’s chief adviser. He is ambitious, envious, and vengeful. He makes the people of Susa bow down in reverence to him. But Mordecai sees this bowing as a kind of idolatry. He refuses to bow before anyone but God. When Haman discovers Mordecai is Jewish, he plots revenge on the entire Jewish people.
Loyalty, discretion, and indecision
The phlegmatic can also be very discreet when necessary. She has the classic poker face. No one can guess what she is thinking or feeling, or if anything at all is going on behind her mask of a face. God uses this characteristic to surprise Haman, who has no idea that the queen is related to Mordecai. Esther does not reveal anything about her heritage or her concern for her people. She gives Haman no chance to form a response to her accusations against him.
But at first, Esther does not know of Haman’s plot. She learns of it when some of her servants tell her that Mordecai is distressed. Mordecai asks her to plead for the Jewish people before Ahaserus. Esther replies:
All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law; all alike are to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter that he may live. And I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days. (Est 4:11)
The phlegmatic resists being told how to act. With family and close friends, she may initially respond with protests or excuses. But given some time, she usually comes around. Esther wants to do what is right, but she is fearful. She is not used to speaking out, especially against the rules. She likes to keep the peace, not make waves, do as she is told. Here the two authorities over her—the old (Mordecai) and the new (Ahaserus)—oblige her to act in opposite ways. How can she decide which to follow?
The phlegmatic often finds herself paralyzed by indecision, when two opposing choices both seem reasonable, or when two people she loves have opposite expectations. The last queen was deposed for simply defying her husband. Can Esther dare break the law that is punishable by death? She owes loyalty to Ahaserus as both her husband and her king. But she owes loyalty to Mordecai as the man who brought her up, and to her people. Mordecai reminds her that her own safety is not guaranteed either. “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?13” She recognizes that her highest allegiance is to God. His will reigns over all. She finally resigns herself, probably with a sigh, then utters her famous words, “If I perish, I perish.”14
Esther still needs others’ support to carry out her task. She asks the Jews in Susa to fast three days before she approaches the king. The phlegmatic needs to know that she is not alone, that others support her. She relies on their steadfastness to buttress her strength.
Putting off a difficult task
Even still, Esther approaches Ahaserus in a phlegmatic manner. She enters his court quietly, waiting for him to notice her, unsure of her fate. When he extends his scepter in mercy and asks what she wants, she does not immediately speak of Haman’s plot. She puts off the final confrontation, inviting the king and Haman to a banquet. Few things freeze the phlegmatic as much as the need to publicly confront someone. She will endure almost any hardship rather than speak a difficult truth. At the banquet, Esther again puts off speaking, inviting them to a second feast. Then at last she knows she must speak or lose the courage to do it at all. She does not accuse Haman straight out, but appeals to the king’s love for her, telling him her life is in danger. When Ahaserus’ anger is aroused against the enemy, she has the courage to name him.
Esther shows how even an indecisive, timid phlegmatic can change history by relying on the grace of God. With others’ prayer, affirmation, and moral support, the phlegmatic temperament brings great glory to God.
The ebook version of A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Phlegmatic Child is now available on Amazon for just $3.99. Watch for the paperback availability announcement in the next couple of weeks. (This is an affiliate link.)
13 Verse 15.
14 Verse 17.