A Brick in the Valley

Preaching and Esther: She Won the Contest
June 8, 2007, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Esther, Preaching

 Even if you argue that Esther was forced to spend the night with the king, the fact remains that she kept her identity a secret and that she won the contest.  She may have been forced to spend the night with the king (though we do not know that is the case).   She did not have to conceal her identity and surely she did not have to win . . .

What is the point?

Throughout church history, Esther has created quite a lot of controversy.  How do you deal with a book where God is not named and the central characters make questionable choices?

Karen Jobes, in her excellent commentary,  got my attention with this quote.

 “Beyond the fact that the book of Esther is conspiculously nonreligious, the two main characters, Esther and Mordecai, do not seem to reflect the character of other great biblical heroes and heroines.  Unlike Daniel and his friends, Esther shows no concern for the dietary laws when she is taken into the court of a pagan king.  Instead of protesting, she conceals her Jewish identity and plays to win the new-queen beauty contest.  Esther loses her virginity in the bed of an uncircumcised Gentile to whom she is not married, and she pleases him that one night better than all the other virgins of the harem.  When Esther risks her life by going to the king, she does so only after Mordecai points out that she herself will not escape harm even if she refuses to act.  Furthermore, Esther displays a surprising attitude of brutality.  She she hears that the Jews have killed five hundred people in Susa, she asks that the massacre be permitted for yet another day and that the bodies of Haman’s ten sons be impaled on the city gate.  As a result, theree hundred more Gentiles die.”  (Karen H. Jobes, NIVAC commentary on Esther, page 20).

What do we do with Esther?

Calvin’s solution was to ignore it.  He did not preach on it so far as we aware. 

Luther, never one to be shy about such matters, said that Esther has too many “heathen unnaturalities.”  He wanted it to go away, and said so.

But, I look forward to preaching it.  Starting Sunday.  I believe the solution is to avoid what Greidanus called “exemplary preaching” (Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts).  Greidanus argued that the historical church, including even the Reformers, has had a tendency to present biblical characters as  moral examples.  And, this, leads to difficulties with complex situations like the one in Esther (or say the story of Tamar and Judah).   

Rather, than holding up Esther as a moral example, and making her the hero of the book, we should understand that Esther is a story about God and what he is doing in and through history.

 Surely the central point of Esther is the providence of God.  Jobes argues (page 43) that Esther is the most striking statement of the providence of God: “that God works in and through the normal and the ordinary course of human life.”  That God is not named is the point.  God is there, even when we do not see him.  And, he will accomplish his purposes.

 God is always the hero.

2 Comments so far
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Esther loses her virginity in the bed of an uncircumcised Gentile to whom she is not married

Surely she was married to him in every way that was meaningful in that culture. In some sense every woman in the royal harem was effectively a wife of the king, although perhaps she only became fully so from the ceremonial occasion when she was first led into his presence. They didn’t have church weddings in those days. Indeed they were not the rule until the 18th century! For millennia up to that time the only definition of marriage was that a man had publicly taken a woman as his wife. And Xerxes had clearly taken Esther as such, so there is no question of this being a relationship outside marriage.

Comment by Peter Kirk

Thanks for that input. That is helpful.

Comment by cdbrauns

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