A couple of years ago, I had a series in which I blogged about books of the Bible as I read through them. Some books, like Esther, got shortchanged. So here we go 🙂
It’s hard to top the story of Esther : gorgeous girl marries the king and heroically saves her people from extermination.
That summary, however, omits some ambiguous issues. For example:
- the book of Esther tells the story of those Jews who hadn’t yet returned home, even though it had been over 50 years since Cyrus the Great’s decree (Ezra 1:1-4, or see my timeline)
- the fact that Esther concealed her ethnic identity and almost certainly compromised her ritual purity (I won’t even mention what happened in Esther 2:16-17)
- the subjugation and sexual exploitation of women in the society Esther lived in—from Vashti to the virgins
That aside, how does this book which doesn’t mention God make us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15)?
Some historical background may be helpful. Haman, the book’s archvillain, was a descendant of Agag (3:1). Agag was an Amalekite king (1 Samuel 15:8). The Amalekites had been in conflict with Israel since the days of Moses (Exodus 17:8-14). After that first encounter, Yahweh promised He’d wipe the memory of Amalek from the face of the earth.
King Saul, a Benjamite, fought against the Amalekites, but disobeyed in that he took plunder and failed to kill Agag. Mordecai too was a Benjamite (Esther 2:5). What Saul failed to do, Mordecai did. Additionally, Esther 9 states thrice that the Jews laid no hands on the plunder of their enemies.
Moving to the top level of the narrative, that of God’s plan of eternal redemption, we see that the covenant promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 sets the scene for Esther—all who bless Abraham and his seed would be blessed, all who curse him and his seed would be cursed. Haman’s wife and his advisers spoke better than they knew when they warned Haman of his impending ruin (6:13).
Yahweh’s word to Abraham also included the promise that all families on earth would be blessed through him. Later divine revelation indicated that this blessing would come through a single descendant of Abraham, who as of yet had not yet been born. Had Haman succeeded in annihilating the Jews, the promise of Messiah would have been voided. So the Holy One of Israel chose to use a compromised young woman to accomplish His purposes of saving His covenant people.
What a picture of the God of the Bible—He stands by His word even when His people haven’t. And His covenant community today (as well as those who desire to be a part of it) can depend on the same steadfast love!
More on Esther:
I’ve found these helpful, and some I’ve even copied from to produce this blog post 😮
- Eisegesis in Esther, by Wendy Alsup
- OT Survey: Daniel, Esther and Isaiah, by Douglas Stuart
- Old Testament Narrative: Letting the Literature Speak, by Kathleen Nielson (MP3)
- The silent sovereignty of God, by Tim Keller (MP3)
- The politics of Esther and Mordecai: Courage or Compromise? by Robert W. Pierce (PDF, scholarly article)
- Probing Moral Ambiguity: Grappling with Ethical Portraits in the Hebrew Story of Esther, by Charles D. Harvey (PDF, scholarly article)