Some Thoughts on the Book of Esther

The book of Esther begins not with a prayer or an exhortation that acknowledges God’s justice and rule (indeed, he fails to mention God throughout the whole book). Instead, he begins with the foolish whims of a king, mighty in this world, who is enraged by the unexplained choice of a woman. This king, so powerful and mighty at the beginning of the chapter, is reduced to undignified, drunken acquiescence to the self-serving counsel of his “wise men.”

While the purpose of Esther is not to explain or to illustrate the proper marital relationship (as some conservative commentators suggest), the battle of the sexes portrayed here is illustrative of the fallenness of humanity. Both Vashti and Xerxes refuse to bend and the king’s advisors seem more concerned about how this will affect their home lives (although they seem to be concerned about appeasing Xerxes above een this).

Feminist theologians have not been fond of Esther, convinced that Esther merely continues, and contributes to, the patriarchal domination of the culture. They have also seen her as self-serving, benefiting from Vashti’s stand against male dominance. Thus, they stress the differences between Vashti and Esther and see Vashti as the nobler of the two.

The writer does, however, intend to propose a difference between Vashti and Esther, just not in the way feminist scholars would like to believe. Not only does Vashti’s story demonstrate the type of culture in which Esther lives and the milieu into which she will enter upon becoming queen, it also highlights the autocratic power of the king and his advisors along with the charged atmosphere (both sexually and politically) in which Esther finds herself.

The writer of Esther is cynical about the powers of this world. He, presumably, lives with faith in the one whose rule is not whimsical or self-serving and who cannot be manipulated by cronies whose self-serving attempts at manipulation only further their own agendas and make their own lives easier. The God of the author has allowed his people to be taken captive by strangers. In this God has chastised his people, but he has not forsaken them.

These seemingly uncontrollable, one might say random, events of history are under the control of God and he uses them to accomplish his purposes. Those who think they are in power are really under the control of God as he manages his world according to his own agenda. God ordains and maneuvers and disposes as he chooses and he chooses as he sees fit, especially with regard to his people. Worldly powers have no power to determine the destiny of God’s people.

When confronted with the picture of human power, and its power to corrupt (remember the old proverb, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”), the Christian must think of the true king of all kings, the one who is truly Lord over all, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ rules and he rules in righteousness. Jesus could not be tempted with offers of power during his earthly ministry (Matt. 4:1-11) and taught his disciples to choose humility over power, as that is indicative of the kingdom of God (Mark 10:35-45).

Jesus is not self-seeking nor does he rule to satisfy his own personal whims or fancies; Jesus Christ rules considering the needs of his people. He not only teaches true servant leadership, but models it as well. This servant-attitude extends to his death on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8) and even at the end of all things, when the plan of God is consummated, even then he will not claim for himself more than is due him. He will hand the kingdom over to the Father, that “God might be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28) and the Godhead rule with the harmony that characterizes our Creating, Redeeming, and Reigning God.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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