With chapters 7-10, so concludes the brief, wild ride that is the Book of Esther. This book’s inclusion in the canon of scripture has caused debate among Jews and Christians alike, perhaps not surprising considering it would, due to violence and sexual content, easily merit an NC-17 rating were it a movie. Some, such as Martin Luther, question its presence with the charge that there is no gospel content found in the book and God is not mentioned anywhere in it.
[Right: Haman and Ahasuerus visit Esther by Rembrandt]
That said it is certainly gripping reading. Full of plot twists, it is the amazing story of how an orphaned Jewish girl named Esther became the queen of Persia and with the prompting of her faithful guardian, Mordecai, saved the Jewish diaspora from a holocaust of biblical proportions.
This intervention to protect and save the Jews scattered throughout King Ahasuerus’ (Xerxes) kingdom – a kingdom stretching from India to Ethiopia – is the basis for the Jewish festival of Purim, two days of feasting and gladness, remembering “the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday.” (Esther 9:22)
Much could be said regarding Haman’s fall due to his greed, pride, and hatred toward Mordecai and the poetic justice of his being hanged from the gallows he made for Mordecai. Much could be made of the faithfulness of Mordecai who, at real peril to himself, defied the edict of the king and would not bow down to the man, Haman. Or of the perfect godly timing and intervention of the king’s sleepless night when he is reminded that it was Mordecai who warned him against the plot of his eunuchs. We could explore the faithfulness of Esther who, at risk to her standing and security, pled with the king on behalf of her people and ultimately contributed to their being saved.
[Left: Haman Recognizes His Fate by Rembrandt]
However, I propose that we reflect on the faithfulness and freedom of God. Whether through the imperfect yet more sympathetic characters of Esther and Mordecai or through the less savory character of King Ahasuerus or the reprehensible character of Haman, we see the faithfulness of God working to save his people and the freedom of God to work through sordid and seemingly unholy alliances.
It is important to remember in our spiritual lives that not only is God carrying out his purposes, but that he is free to carry them out in ways that can seem to us very un-Godlike. Whether during Ether’s days or ours, the only people God has to work through are sinful and flawed people. Whether church or state, the only institutions in place are flawed.
I would argue that this reveals the amazingly gracious character of God that he is willing and able to work through all of this to fulfill his purposes. God is not limited by our character or by our circumstances, but is greater than them, and even goes so far in his grace to move into our circumstances to save us from them.
In this we see the foreshadowing of what is made known to us in Jesus – a gracious God who wades into the mire of the human condition and stretches out his arms upon the cross to redeem and save – who instead of crushing us, is crushed himself that we might be saved.