Searching For Jesus Christ In The Book of Esther
Posted by Job on November 12, 2008
I am probably not qualified to make this statement, but of the books of the Bible, Esther is my least favorite. (If it is possible to list favorite books, as many do, then perhaps it is possible to list least favorites.) This is not to say that I do not regard the book as belonging in the canon. Like the other members of the canon, when reading it, its truth and authority are self – evident, especially in contrast with books that did not make the canon. It is just that despite my being able to acknowledge that it belongs in the canon, I do not know why it does, what purpose it serves.
I did not always feel this way. Quite the contrary, Esther was once one of my favorites! It is gripping narrative centered around a very sympathetic protagonist (and featuring a vile antagonist plus not a few fascinating agonists) who was heroic in every sense of the word. Small wonder that Esther has been a favorite for Bible stories and adaptations. However, the Bible is not supposed to be just great armchair reading, a pious page turner if you will.
One of the issues that I have with the book: it concerns the events of the disobedient Jews who refused to heed God’s command to return to an extremely difficult rebuilding job in Israel that was vital to their religious character, history and duty as a nation and a people because they had gotten happy and comfortable with their lives IN BABYLON (with all the negative typology and allegory that it entails) that they were just fine forsaking the city of David and being without the temple and their religious systems and to just hang out with pagans. (This is strangely similar to how the earliest Jewish Christians, despite being specifically told by Jesus Christ to go make disciples to the ends of the earth, disobediently stayed in Jerusalem and only left because of persecution!) So, the threat of extinction that they faced at the hands of Haman that required Esther’s intercession was a problem created as a result of their own disobedience. Yet, this context manages to be the book’s strongest point that I can figure out. First, it verifies that Paul’s statement that God has not cast aside His people the Jews to be correct long before Paul’s statement was written. It also shows that God continues to pour His mercy and blessings, indeed His grace, out upon His elect even while they are continuing in a state of sin and disobedience, which is truly a comfortable message to Christians that struggle with sinful areas in their lives.
The book has another useful characteristic: to me it helps rebut the notion that the Jewish conceptions of the spirit realm and afterlife did not come until after the exilic or post exilic period. Liberal scholarship asserted that Jews had no real concept of angels, demons, the spirit realm, the afterlife etc. and were basically worshiping what amounted to a very naturalistic religion very similar to the pagan systems of the ancient near east centered around land and promises of long life, wealth and many children until A) being torn from the land and facing dire circumstances caused them to re – evaluate their religious worldview and B) they encountered Zoroaster and his Zoroastrian cult while in Babylon whose doctrines spoke to their new situation in ways that the Sinai religion did not, so they adopted them as their own.
As the story goes, before then their religion was limited to land, children, rituals, and temporal blessings, but it was only after their fall to Babylon, their encounter with Zoroastrians, and the persecution at the hands of the Greeks and then the Romans when demons became a convenient way of explaining temporal evil, and the afterlife became the promise for religious people experiencing widespread poverty and persecution. For this reason, all of the Old Testament references that mentioned demons and the afterlife had to have been either written or edited after the Jewish encounters with the “wise Zoroaster.”
Of course, liberals believe this because they reject the Bible. Jews are not stridently opposed to the idea that Babylon influenced their theology because of the need to defend the legitimacy of the Babylonian ideas that are pervasive in the Talmud and kabbalah. The concern, however, is that this idea has basically been accepted by leading evangelical thought. They have adopted this “the Jews learned of the afterlife from Zoroaster” theory as basically being part of progressive revelation, completely unbothered by how it makes Jesus Christ, who spoke of evil spirits and the afterlife far more than anyone else in canonical scripture prior, a mere exponent of Zoroastrian – Jewish syncretism that has little if anything to do with the Old Testament. (In other words, according to the liberal theology that is basically being advanced by many evangelicals, JESUS CHRIST WAS WRONG AND THE SADDUCEES WERE RIGHT!) In order to defend their adoption of the liberal historio – critical angle so as to be counted respectable in the scholarly community, they deal with references to evil spirits in books that they have to admit are pre – exilic with such tricks as claiming that the evil spirit that troubled Saul was merely an emotional problem, ill temper, a case of the blues!
Well, the book of Esther clearly represents the exilic mindset. This is evident by the fact that no mention of God is made whatsoever. Which, of course, is the main reason why the book troubles me. This is also in evidence by the man made creation of the holiday Purim. Of course, the only holidays, or “holy days” were created by God, and man has no right to declare them. Yet Purim was merely the first of several more such “holy days” declared by Jews and later by Christians. (By the way, similar to the actions of the judges including but not limited to Gideon and Samson, an event’s being recorded in the canon does not imply that it has God’s approval.) So, how can the references to evil spirits and the afterlife in the Old Testament be due to exilic and postexilic authorship and revisions if the Bible book that most reflects exilic theology and thought makes no mention to anything spiritual at all?
Many deal with the lack of mention of God in Esther by asserting that it is a profound statement of providence, God’s unseen hand moving through history to control its events and work things out for His people. Esther 4:14 – “…And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” is often used as the key passage for such a view, and there are others. While this is certainly true, I struggle with the notions of great theological significance often afforded to Esther because of it, because it does not seem to fit other examples of God’s providence in scripture that explicitly mention God’s will and role, such as Joseph’s telling his brothers that his plight was the result of God’s using him to save his family and many other people. Further, Joseph and the other incidents of providence in scripture are related to salvation history, such as Ruth’s joining the line of David and Jesus Christ. Where does Esther fit into salvation history, since the Jews that were saved were not those who returned to Israel to play out their role, but rather the ones who remained in Babylon?
My main issue with Esther is my belief that the role of the Bible is to reveal Jesus Christ: to teach us about His Person, His Mission, His Office, and His Nature, so that through the revelation of Jesus Christ we can learn about the Father and His Will for us. But where is this in Esther? It is my position that every book in the Bible teaches us about Jesus Christ, and that is why the books are in the canon. As a matter of fact, that is where the authority that is self – evident in the Bible books come from in my opinion. But where is it in Esther?
Of course, some may question the notion that every book in the Old Testament teaches or reveals something about Jesus Christ – and many do – and use the very short books of the minor prophets as an example. To answer that objection, please recall that the minor prophets were originally one single book, the Book of the Twelve, so that covers that matter. Also, the book of Esther is quite a bit longer than the book of Obadiah, isn’t it? It contains many verses that could be used to reveal something about Jesus Christ!
Now of course, I could be wrong! Indeed, I frequently am, and often find myself in need of further study, or of someone more knowledgeable than myself concerning matters of scripture to come and instruct me. I certainly hope that such is the case with the book of Esther, that I can discover or someone can come along to rebuke, reprove and admonish me and then tell me about how this book teaches the church about Jesus Christ in ways that I in my ignorance, spiritual immaturity, hard heartedness, arrogance and blindness did not receive in my heart! I hope that day comes very soon, not so much that Esther can once again become one of my favored books of the Bible – for God is not obliged to honor or be concerned with the arbitrary likes and dislikes of my puny feeble mind – but rather so that the contents of this book can reveal to me and teach me in some area that I am obviously very needful of and desperately missing.
Were anyone to contribute to my search, to inform and teach me of what I have been missing, I would be exceedingly grateful!