Archive for the ‘Esther’ Category

Staying on Old Testament narrative… I’m working at the book of Esther at the moment so let me share some of the stuff I’ve found most helpful…

Jane McNabb’s, Daylight at Midnight reflects on Esther particularly from a woman’s perspective but not at the expense of a wonderful, careful handling of the text, brilliantly bringing out the twists and turns and depths of the story.

“At first glance, Esther’s story is appealing and exciting, a true ‘rags to riches’ story… but… this isn’t necessarily the fairytale lifestyle it appears” (p.18-19).

Instead, as McNabb shows, the Persian court and Persian society is deeply chauvinistic, the king a pervert, the harem system into which Esther enters a form of cold sexual abuse. This is a deeply challenging read (particularly as a bloke):

  • Why do I initially read this as a fairytale? Do I share the king’s (and my society’s) assumptions and idolatries about sex, power, physical beauty and celebrity?
  • On a deeper level still – Do we sometimes think that God is like the Persian king, a self-centred dictator, concerned only to show off his wealth, make harsh demands, fly into a rage, needing to be placated and impressed and in a good mood for you to safely enter his presence (and who offers a heaven similar to the Islamic paradise)? To put it another way, reading Esther 1-2, who is more like God – the omnipotent Xerxes or the oppressed and humiliated Esther?

Another very helpful read is Barry Webb’s Five Festal Garments which has a great section on Esther from a biblical theology perspective. Here are some of the gems:

  • Promise – Just as at the beginning of the book of Exodus, the promise to Abraham is in the balance, God’s people are numerous but they’re not in the land and they’re not being blessed so much as oppressed and they’re soon in danger of being wiped out.
  • Deliverance – Like the whole Bible, Esther is all about deliverance, but one that looks quite different to the deliverances of Exodus and Judges…
  • The ‘absent God’– How do you deal with times when God doesn’t seem to turn up?

“God is present even when he is most absent; when there are no miracles, dreams or visions, no charismatic leaders, no prophets… And he is present to deliver. Those whom he saved by signs and wonders at the exodus he continues to save through his hidden, providential control of their history.” (p.124-125)

  • Fate or a personal God – Haman and co. cast lots believing in blind fate, in lucky days and inauspicious days (as have many modern political leaders). Esther and co. believe in a personal, sovereign God.
  • Sovereignty not morality – Mordecai and Esther are great heroes of the story but their morality is ambiguous and sometimes questionable (Is Mordecai right to advise Esther not to disclose her Jewishness and why does he then refuse to bow to Haman which seems to contradict that advice? Is Esther a willing or unwilling concubine?). In many ways their morality is beside the point – as Webb notes, this is not a “moralizing… exemplary tale” (p.129). The point of the story is not so much that goodness is rewarded but that God is acting in sovereign grace to position and deliver his people.
  • Despised exiles – as the Jews in the dispersion so are we are as we follow the despised Christ (1 Pet. 2:11; Mt. 16:24; Heb. 13:13).
  • Feasting and reversal – There are three rounds of feasting (Ch. 1-3; 5-8; 9) and “each is connected with a significant reversal: Vashti and Esther, Haman and Mordecai, the Jews and their enemies” (p.116). Makes you think of what Jesus said about feasts (see Luke 13:26-30).
  • Humour and reversal – It’s brilliant storytelling and you’ve just got to laugh (we’re supposed to laugh) as the ruler of 127 provinces is embarrassed by his wife, as he reads the chronicles to cure his insomnia, as Haman gets the wrong end of the stick… It’s a savage humour with a theological and pastoral point: the Hamans of this world might look powerful but from God’s perspective they are laughable (Psalm 2:4).
  • Ultimate reversal – Just as Esther’s willingness to perish points irresistibly to Gethsemane and the One who really did perish for his people, so Haman points irresistibly to the great enemy of God’s people. The day when the Enemy planned his greatest triumph and it looked like Jesus the Jew was defeated became the day of Satan’s humiliation and the triumph of the true king (Esther 9:1; Col. 2:15).

You can listen to Jane McNabb speaking on Esther at a ladies conference in the UK here.

More sermons on Esther are on the Gospel Coalition site here (the ones by Christopher Ash and Dale Ralph Davis are particularly brilliant).

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