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[September 2020] Book of Esther

By Gordon Hall

(Picture above) Ernest Normand, Esther Denouncing Haman to King Ahaseurus, 1888.

The Book of Esther, is a woman’s heroic story based in historical facts is also referred to as The Scroll to Jews who celebrate a minor holiday called Purim, is merrily read, recounting the rescue of the Persian Jews in 357 BCE from genocide. Like Song of Solomon, Obadiah, and Nahum, the New Testament does not quote or allude to Esther.

“Hadassah” (2:7), meaning “myrtle,” was the Hebrew name of Esther, which came either from the Persian word “star” or possibly from the name of the Babylonian love goddess, Ishtar. As the orphaned daughter of her father Abihail, Esther grew up in Persia with her older cousin, Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his own daughter.

Even though the name of God is nowhere mentioned in the book, His sovereignty and providence are evident throughout. Vashti’s dismissal, Esther’s regal position, Xerxes’ indebtedness to Mordecai discovered during a sleepless night, and the miraculous deliverance of the Jews all demonstrate God’s control and care for His people (Psalm 121:4). Esther and Exodus both chronicle how vigorously foreign powers tried to eliminate the Jewish race and how God sovereignly preserved His people in accordance with His covenant promise to Abraham (ca. 2100-2075 B.C.; Gen. 12:1-3; 17:1-8). As a result of God’s prevailing, Esther (chapters 9 and 10), records the beginning of Purim, a new annual festival in the 12th month (Feb. / Mar.), to celebrate the nation’s survival. Purim became one of two festivals given outside of the Mosaic legislation to still be celebrated in Israel (Hanukkah), or the Festival of Lights is the other (compare John 10:22).

A third theme is evident, that of anti-Semitism. When fully developed, animosity toward Jews results in genocide: the attempt to exterminate a race. This satanic scheme is probably much older that the time of Haman. In Moses’ day, Pharaoh attempted to exterminate the Hebrew slaves.

There are the beloved Five Scrolls in the Hebrew Scripture, including Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Lamentations and two named for valiant women: Ruth and Esther.

Ruth was the consummate loyalist, paradigmatic convert to Judaism—a maternal ancestor to the Davidic line. Christians link her spiritually to Jesus. Esther, an unlikely Jewish royal chosen to the throne of Persia by a classically sexist king at the apex of Hebrew exile, turned heads and won minds because she had the savvy and the guts to stand up against wanton ethnic cleansing.

I love this story, one rooted in real, painful history, harvested from the timeless male penchant for enslaving women and exhibiting brutality. The genocidal Prime Minister Haman, an egomaniacal, high-ranking official figure is a type we still see today around the world.

The story of Esther, has a major principle to reveal: Even when God seems to be absent, God is working behind the scenes and anyone can be used as an instrument of God’s grace and salvation.

Esther, beautiful, clever, filled with moral outrage, more focused on her people than her own safety, steps up as God’s change-agent. She isolates the brutal Haman, a man dripping with bloodlust and racism, and exposes his criminality before the impressionable (though not-so-innocent) King Ahasuerus. The Jews are saved (at least then); Haman goes to the gallows that he had built for Esther’s pensive and proactive Uncle Mordecai.

Yes, as with most scriptural literature, it’s mostly a lot of men moving around each other in manipulation and insecurity. But none of these males are moved to their resolutions until Esther raises her voice and plays her strength. In this singular case of seemingly absence of divinity, a woman fills in the heavenly signature. Go, girl.

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