I love Esther herself. Its a confusing book though, not just because it famously doesn’t mention God, but also you really aren’t sure to what extent God is at work in the circumstances described here. On a personal level the story of Esther is beautiful, and her struggle to step up loyally to her appointed task is very real and brave, a great example for me to learn from.
But the larger political scene gets a bit revenge-y. There is a plot to kill the Jews, but when the tables turn, I feel in other parts of the Bible I would expect to see mercy and instead there is return treatment just as harsh. The Jews kill the people who don’t like them instead of vice versa. It is justified to an extent because of the legal situation of the kings decrees.
He is basically a fool in this book. He’s issued a decree that all Jews must be killed that he comes to regret, but can’t rescind it, by royal tradition. So he sets up a kill or be killed scenario that works ultimately in the Jews’ favour.
But there is no guidance about how to feel about it. I don’t know if I can ask “why is this OK God” because I maybe God doesn’t think its OK. How can you tell?
The bible project summary on youtube speaks of the moral ambiguity of the book. The jewish festival, purim, that comes from it, literally roll of the dice, sounds crazy, you are encouraged to drink to excess.
The events occur about 100 years after the return from exile. Maybe the sense that the Jewish religion has become more about nationalism than God, at least at an explicit level, is simply reflecting history.
So you are left with a message of providence in a messy world. It is a great reminder and window into how God works his purpose out, and how he works through history. Esther is a counter intuitive hero, getting access because of her beauty and using her hostess skills to defeat the enemy with a series of feasts. She is as brave and loyal as the bravest biblical hero.
And Haman is one of the bible’s best villains. He has arrogance, nastiness and pride and he gets his comeuppance brilliantly. His enemy gets the honour he designed for himself, and he gets the ignominious death he designed for his enemy. I mention a commentator at one point who said that it conforms to a genre narrative of the day, and that is totally plausible. She probably was a real person though, there are apparently almost too many Jewish queens that could be her.
I actually do believe in detailed daily providence far more than is probably fashionable. 20th century existentialism and post modernism has made everyone OK with random, and attributing life events to God’s hands publicly seems a bit fortune teller-y. But in my head, I do it quite a bit, like a guilty secret. So maybe Esther is telling me to be more comfortable with neatness. We won’t be told for sure if its God, but just maybe it is…
I think I had an example of this at the indigenous spirituality day I went to earlier this year. Speakers had talked about how Christianity was not such a surprise to aboriginals, because their existing belief system had much of its revelations about God already in there.
Someone asked how they knew their old religion was not evil. Why is it not a false God? It seemed like a rational question, but really I think it was disrespectful, because you know. The answer was “by their fruit you shall know them”, and Esther reminds us that in life you don’t get a clear purity test on whether something is from God, like a pregnancy test. Evil or not evil.
And you can be deceived. But we have the Spirit. Mostly, you do know.
Esther replaces Queen Vashti… its a perilous job
1 Starts with the King of Persia, during Jewish exile, needing a new Queen after his queen Vashti goes all feminist on him and his mates wanting to oggle her while drunk
2 Esther, a displaced jew becomes the new girl in the Kings harem, and furthermore her uncle Mordecai foils a plot to kill the king. Their stakes go sky high
Enter Haman, anti semite and King manipulator
3 Haman a jealous official engineers a loyalty test for Mordecai which he fails, and goads the king to allow him to kill all jews. I contemplate the point at which you compromise
4 Esther must be bold, and is though she finds is almost impossible, a true mark of heroism. She will raise the edit to kill the jews with the King
5 Esther invites the King and Haman to a feast. Feeling honoured, Haman builds a gigantic gallows on which to hang Mordecai, Esther’s secret uncle.
6 The king independently decides that Haman should honour Mordecai, which fuels his hatred to operatic proportions.
7 Haman’s downfall, the low raised up and the high bought low, he is hung on the gallows he build for Mordecai. Esther has saved her people.
Mordecai’s career as adviser to the King and secret pro-Jew influence
8 The plot now follows Mordecai’s career, he becomes a trusted adviser and boosts the jews.
9 The victory of Mordecai and Esther is mirrored across the empire, with Jewish people routing opposition of other peoples. I wonder about the godliness of this triumphalism
10 Wrap up of Mordecai’s life, I take the challenge to be a bold and effective witness