Let’s just finish Esther already (On Purim & History) | Esther 9 & 10

Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur—that is “the lot”—to crush and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that the wicked plot that he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.
Esther 9.24-28

Historically, I wonder: Is this it? Is this the reason for this story? As I said before, it genuinely doesn’t look like this story is historical, so it must have served some other purpose in the community. I wonder if the Jews were coming back from exile and had this random festival named after the plural of “lots”, and so they needed to write a story about how it came about. But if so, how do you go from the word “lots” to all of this story? Quite the stretch. So…what’s the historical core? This one’s tough.

King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. All the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.
Esther 10

So… Mordechai is the hero here? I guess it could make sense, but he plays such a bit part in the story. He’s consequential, sure; he’s just not around that much, is all. This seems more like the mythologizing of a popular leader in the Jewish diaspora.

And lastly, one last “Christian” reading of this story. If we can analogize this a little, Mordechai “intercedes” for God’s people, for their good and for their descendants. And they’re enemies (like death and sin for us) are comprehensively and almost over-the-top-ly destroyed. And God is faithful to accomplish all of this, even when he seems absent. With this book, that’s the best I can do. I genuinely don’t like this story.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.


Some emotional outbursts at Esther. I don’t like this book. | Esther 9

Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes, the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin; and no one could withstand them, because the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples. All the officials of the provinces, the satraps and the governors, and the royal officials were supporting the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. For Mordecai was powerful in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces as the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. So the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people. They killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews; but they did not touch the plunder.
Esther 9.1-10

What on earth? No gonna lie, this is maybe the first real deep reading I’ve given to Esther. I never internalized that this part was here. This is always skipped in popular retellings of this story. And I can see why. What was the point of this stuff? Save the Jews just to kill an even greater number of people? I can see why this book was so despised by many Jews. Once again, Esther is no model to follow after. I genuinely have no idea why this book is in the Bible. What little research I’ve done has said that there’s no evidence that this meant to be taken historically, so what purpose would this book have played in the community? Anti-imperialist wish fulfillment? A giant cathartic “what if?”

That very day the number of those killed in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king. The king said to Queen Esther, “In the citadel of Susa the Jews have killed five hundred people and also the ten sons of Haman. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done; a decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed three hundred persons in Susa; but they did not touch the plunder.

Now the other Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and gained relief from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them; but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness.
Esther 9.11-17

What? Oh, and 75,000 people killed? Yeah right. This is a despicable book.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The King’s Authority: more Christian lessons from Esther | Esther 8.7-8

When King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, “See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”
Esther 8.7-8

Oh the beauty here. Look at this. This is the king who had conquered the enemy of God’s people, sitting down and lending his authority to the very people that he was previously in a contract of anger and condemnation towards. He lends them his very authority and gives them the responsibility and freedom–based on what they know of the world and culture around them–to proclaim the good news to their people with the king’s authority. Sound familiar? This is what we do as Christians, and we strive to do that faithfully.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Death as home; Death as gift | Esther 8.1

On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her.
Esther 8:1

Continuing the theme from an earlier note which compared Haman, the enemy of the Jews, to our enemy, sin and death. Here, we see that after the King has conquered our enemy, we’re then given the house of the enemy. In our case, the house of sin and evil is death itself. But because of the Resurrection and God’s victory over death, death is now given to us as a gift. A place of rest, and the doorway to help.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

How to read Esther Christianly | Esther 7:4–10

For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. The king rose from the feast in wrath and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him. When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining; and the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the words left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
Esther 7.4-10

This book is so weird. Again, Esther is no paragon of virtue or model woman. She sleeps with the King to get ahead, is completely self-interested (has to be convinced to say her people because she might get caught up in the slaughter!), and she refuses to give mercy. This particular story of Haman’s condemnation, in both structure and language, seems to mirror David’s condemnation by Nathan. And yet, David gets mercy. Haman does not.

So what are some Christian take-aways from the book? A couple of things off the top of my head: life for God’s people only comes through a substitute, putting Death to Death, and something becoming a curse. Further, it’s the King who deals the death blow, even as the Enemy assaults us. Lastly, Salvation for God’s people is found when the King’s anger abates.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Esther & Political Advocacy by God’s People| Es4.3,8 [DOUBLE-HEADER]

esther_mordechai-arent-de-gelderUpdate (3/8): This little seemingly inconsequential post caused quite the comment thread on Facebook and represented every reason I’ve started this series. I got challenged and my view of the book of Esther got broadened more than I ever could have imagine. I’ve reproduced those comments below.

In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. —Esther 4.3

Notice here that when the Jews are faced with political persecution, and an actual existential threat from the political authority, their response is not activism,  nor violence, nor lobbying, it is instead to pray, weep, lament, fast, and cry out to God, their true king and political leader.

Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people. —Esther 4.8

Well…Okay, okay. I see that only a few versus later, Mordecai does try to appeal to Esther, the political insider, to lobby on behalf of her people. So, that sort of goes against what I just said above.

But, notice that they still did not use violence or mass political demonstrations or mobilization. They peacefully engaged those from their community who were specifically equipped to engage politically. They didn’t see themselves as primarily political creatures,  nor their problems primarily as political problems,  nor the answers primarily as political solutions. The political piece was merely one facet in the kaleidoscope of human experience through which God works his will,  and not even the main one.

My not-so-subtle point: the Evangelical obsession with political activism and using politics to accomplish (what they view as) the goals of the Kingdom are anti-biblical and find no basis in Scripture.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

[image credit: “Esther and Mordechai write the Second Letter of Purim” by Arent de Gelder]

Esther is no Sunday School role-model | Esther 2.8-9

So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king’s palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem.

Esther 2.8-9

She “pleased him.”  You know what that means, right?

Here and throughout the book are instances where Esther shows herself time and time again to not be faithful to her people or her God in any way. She is selfish, power-hungry, narcissistic, unmerciful, and only helps her people once she is scared she will get killed with the rest of them. She’s kind of a terrible human being. No wonder this book wasn’t accepted as canonical by huge communities of Jews.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Male Headship & Societal Injustice | Esther 1:17-22

Queen_Vashti_Refuses_to_Obey_Ahasuerus_CommandToday’s post falls into both our new section of the site called Marginalia and our on-going series on Women in the Church.

For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath! If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”

This advice pleased the king and the officials, and the king did as Memucan proposed; he sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.
Esther 1.17–22

I can imagine a conservative evangelical looking at this and saying to themselves, “Now, the king’s court is recognizing a natural order in the way God has made a marital relationship to work, even though they go about reinforcing this biblically-supported picture in the wrong way–through force and not love”. I hope that’s a fair representation.

But either way, (1) they would not want us to pull from this text any lessons about how male headship itself is wrong, just how it’s done badly here, and (2) they would still think the concern of these males is justified (and perhaps even right), as we’ve seen similar dynamics play out in our culture in the aftermath of feminism.

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