Esther

The Word Is Alive

Esther

The Talmudic sages describe the events recorded in the Book of Esther as the last of the miracles to be written and canonised as part of Scripture. Clearly, the prophets and sages determined that this first attempt at genocide and the way it was thwarted were relevant to the Jewish people throughout the ages.

The story of Esther is deceptively simple. If one were to hear it for the first time as an adult, it would be exciting and suspenseful, but it would seem to be without religious significance, for its plot seems to be a string of coincidences that come together to produce a happy ending. In fact, apart from the Song of Solomon, it is the only Book of Scripture where God’s name is never mentioned.

This book has been criticised because it does not mention the name of God as neither does the Song of Solomon. Some say that the name of God was left out of Esther because of its use in the festivities surrounding Purim, where people commonly became drunk. One rabbi taught: “A man is obligated to drink on Purim until he is unable to distinguish between ‘Blessed be Mordecai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman.’” Some have wondered if, in that atmosphere, it would be too easy to profane the name of God if it were to be read at such a festival. Others see the name YHWH hidden in acrostics, based on the initial and final letters of successive words in Esther 1:20, 5:4, 5:13 and 7:7. In some manuscripts, the letters in these words are written a bit larger to give them prominence. Perhaps also Esther does not contain the name of God because it was written under Persian rule, and for distribution in the Persian Empire. Most likely, Esther does not have the name of God because it shows how God works behind the scenes; God is always active in Esther, even though it is behind the scenes.

Precisely that phenomenon is what give it profound significance, especially for believers mired in an existence where God’s hand seems to be absent; for that is the predicament in which Esther and her people found themselves. She was an unwilling queen to an anti-Semitic king; her husband was the same Ahasuerus who, as recorded in the Book of Ezra, had put a halt to the Second Temple. And she lived during the years of the Babylonian exile, a time when Jews feared that God had rejected them and they were no longer his chosen people.

Into this time when God was concealed, Mordecai entered and convinced the doubting, fearful nation that God was indeed cognisant and concerned, and that repentance and reignited fervour for God’s service were the keys to their salvation. And Mordecai prevailed upon his cousin Esther, whom he had raised, to throw reason to the wind and risk her life in order to turn her king away from the powerful and wicked Haman.

One can interpret events as coincidences – until they fit a pattern too well to be anything but part of a well-concealed plan. So it was in the Book of Esther. All the pieces fit, and the Jewish people suddenly realised that nothing had been left to chance, that God had been watchful all along, and that all that was wanting for their salvation was more necessary for a nation in exile, a nation that would have to endure more exiles before the final redemption would come? So the Book of Esther is the last one to be recorded, and one of the first that should come to mind when everything seems hopeless.

Introduction Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three
Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight Chapters Nine and Ten Summary

There is some supplementary material for the book and a mind map of its structure that may prove useful for study.

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