IS ESTHER REALLY A BOOK ABOUT HEROES?
ESTHER HID HER FAITH,
SLEPT WITH A MAN TO WHOM SHE WAS NOT MARRIED,
AND MARRIED AN UNBELIEVER.
YET WHEN CALLED UPON TO RISK HER LIFE FOR HER PEOPLE
DID SHE CAPITULATE OR WAS SHE A HEROINE?
The story of Esther has been so mis-interpreted. Why?
- We have so often failed to realize the Bible is not about us but about God.
- We have been taught wrong and then read it that way, instead of really looking.
- We have missed the satire and thus reversed the meaning.
WE HAVE MISSED THE TRANSFORMING MESSAGE GOD LONGS TO GIVE US.
One of my favorite books on the planet is:
Sally Lloyd Jones writes:
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it… But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done…
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes. The Bible certain has some heroes in it — but most of those heroes did really bad things, and sometimes on purpose.
No — the Bible is most of all a Story. …It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
WE HAVE MADE THE BOOK OF ESTHER ABOUT HEROES
BUT THOSE HEROES DID REALLY BAD THINGS
AND THEY DID THEM ON PURPOSE
AS SALLY LLOYD JONES MIGHT SAY,
THE BOOK OF ESTHER ISN’T ABOUT HEROES
IT’S ABOUT GOD
AND HOW HE IS SOVEREIGN OVER EVERY DETAIL
FOR HE HAS A GRAND PLAN
HE SEES HOW WE FAIL
YET HE DOES NOT LET OUR FAILURES
DETER HIS PLAN
HE CAN EVEN TURN THE ASHES OF OUR FAILURES
THERE IS A HERO IN THE BOOK OF ESTHER
IT IS THE LORD OF THE STARS
THE LORD OF THE SEA
AND THE LORD OF YOU AND ME
THIS IS THE MESSAGE WE MUST NOT MISS
Sally Lloyd-Jones doesn’t cover the book of Esther in her children’s book, and I think that is wise. In order to make it appropriate for children, you would have to leave out so much that it no longer is the true story. Much better to wait until they are ready.
It isn’t just the Jews who have distorted the book of Esther (at Purim the children boo whenever Haman’s name is read and cheer whenever Mordecai or Esther’s name is read — making it a book of villains and heroes), Christians have distorted it too. I’ve seen books and Bible studies and movies that have completely distorted the story, missing the satire and the sexual abuse involved in the contest for the new queen.
Feminists and liberals want to make Vashti a heroine. She defied the king, refused to be humiliated, and boldly broke the rules. But we do not know why she defied the king – were her motives noble or ignoble? The text doesn’t tell us. Historians say she was a vengeful woman who had the tongues of Ahasuerus’ (or Xerxes in the Greek) concubines cut out. But neither can we know that for certain. This chapter isn’t about Vashti — it’s about God showing the folly of the kings of the earth who do not bow to Him.
Conservatives want to make Esther a heroine. And though it is true and laudable that she risked her life for her people, she made plenty of compromises before that point. This book isn’t about Esther, though she made a turn that is admirable. This book is about God and how He is sovereign over every detail because He loves us so.
It is absolutely vital, in understanding the book, to see the literary device of irony throughout. As Matthew J. Klaassen put it:
The interwoven plot lines of Esther, with different kinds of literary irony,
are identified and illustrated to show the essential fallenness of all peoples.
The Persians — Vashti, Xerxes, and Haman were all fallen. But Mordecai and Esther were fallen too.
THERE IS CERTAINLY AN IRONY IN REALIZING THAT GOD GAVE US THIS BOOK
TO SHOW HOW HE REDEEMS OUR FALLENNESS,
YET WE HAVE MADE IT A BOOK ABOUT HOW WONDERFUL WE ARE!
This week we will look at the opening of Esther — and of how important it is to read it through its intended literary device: irony. Xerxes thought he was amazing — but he was not. He was a fallen sordid king. His court doesn’t exactly shine either. It’s ironic humor, and you have to see it. When I was growing up there was a television show called Archie Bunker about a man who was a bigot and a sexist. But some people made him a hero — reversing the meaning of the show.
Next week we’ll look at the beauty contest — and if you haven’t seen it before, it will be eye-opening to you. The Keller sermon is amazing and you’ll have this week and next week to listen to it, because I so want you to hear it.
I have a studyguide on Esther, “A Woman of Faith.” (The publisher chose the title, but other than the title, I loved writing this guide and thank God for allowing me to work closely with a woman professor at Dallas Seminary who teaches Hebrew.) If you don’t understand how God is making fun of the king and his “wise men who knew the times,” you can completely misinterpret chapter 1. God was angry at the men who were so abusing women, but instead, this chapter can be used to reinforce bad behavior toward women. Did you know that this is the only place in Scripture were the literal word “obey” is used in regard to wives? And it is used satirically! As Professor Coover-Cox told me, “Women are supposed to respect and submit to their husbands – that is a different concept than obedience. Obedience is appropriate for children, but not for women who are called to be co-heirs. God was angry with these foolish men and is parading their foolishness just as Ahasuerus paraded his possessions.”
Let us not be afraid to look at this story carefully. God has a transforming message for us, and we must not miss it.
1. How were you, if you were, taught the book of Esther?
2. What two things stood out to you about the above and why?
MONDAY/WEDNESDAY (BIBLE STUDY)
Do not miss the irony as this six month party is described, a perpetual smorgasbord of gold, glitz, and glamour — that Xerxes (also called Ahasuerus) threw to impress all the leaders of the 127 provinces of Persia. (an area bigger than the United States).
Read Esther 1:1-9
1. As you read, find the satire and any evidence of parading of possessions and pride.
2. Meditate on verse 4. How does this show the fallenness of the king?
Read Esther 1:10-12
3. What is the last “possession” Xerxes wanted to parade before this drunken group? How did his plan backfire?
Read Esther 1:13-22
4. Find the satirical humor. Discover why God may be “laughing” (yet really weeping) in:
This leads into finding a replacement for the queen. Keller thinks as many as 1,000 young virgins may have been taken. Josephus believes the number to be about 400. We don’t know — but there were 127 provinces, and the girls were taken. (Perhaps you’ve seen the movie on the sex trade with the title “Taken.”) Another movie that shows the horror of young girls taken from their homes is Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden’s account based on his interview with a geisha. In this case they were sold by their father. Below is the opening of this movie — 3 or 4 minutes will give you the idea of the horror of being taken.
We’ll look at this in more detail next week. What you must not miss is that in the midst of a fallen world — whatever your circumstance, God has a plan for His people, to prosper them and not to harm them. No matter the difficulties you face, He is with you. You will see next week how He was with Esther, even in the midst of a terrible situation.
5. What thoughts do you have at this point?
Thursday – Friday
Listen to this amazing message on Esther by Tim Keller. It is free! (LINK) If you don’t get to it this week, you’ll have another chance next week.
6. Share your notes and comments on the sermon.
7. What have you learned about reading the Bible accurately?
8. What is your take-a-way and why?
8. There are quite a few take aways for this post. It has been rich and the sermon was great. This is the thing that I think God is pointing out to me. I have become much more able to see godly beauty in others who don’t necessarily possess worldly beauty. The thing I do not do is look at myself through that lense. I remain down because I possess none of the traits that are beautiful in a worldly sense. I must thank God that I do not for this keeps me separate, whether I like it or not.
Anne, I will let the other’s give you their advice in the morning, but honestly, I seen worldly and Godly beauty in you. I’ve seen picture’s of you on fb and I think you are very lovely and keep yourself fit and you are full of God’s what God see’s in us, when he looks at us.. It’s hard as we age and we loose out what God see’s in us, when he looks at us.outer beauty, but that’s not
My favorite “Old” gospel song is “In the Garden” and I am singing it to myself all the time now, since Dee had us sing so much last week. I love lots of songs, but this one sticks in my head for some reason and my favorite part in it is, ” He tells me I am his own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.” I feel a little flutter in my heart when I sing that part, because I feel like he is telling me just how much he loves me and wants to be with me, in those little words.
“Our God is a Awesome God” and “How Great Thou Art” and “It’s well with my soul” and “I can only Imagine” are some other songs that give me that very special feeling that I am his own and he loves me beyond compare of any other love I’ve know and will ever know!
Just sing to yourself you songs that you love, that give you that special loving feeling from God, when you are down and out. I know you know what I mean. What are your favorite songs? I’d love to know! You are so special to me, Anne!
I am sorry…my keyboard keys are sticking and I need a new keyboard. I mess up and then try to go back and fix it, after it posts and only mess up worse! The periods and explanation marks aren’t where they are suppose to be after you post! This isn’t the first time!! That first pharagraph was suppose to say how lovely you are inside and out, Anne. And as we age it gets harder for us to be as we use to be, but that’s not what God see’s. He see’s us through filtered and airbrushed eyeglasses!! We appear young and beautiful to him!! Now if I messed this one up, I’m not going to try and fix it after it posts!! Going shopping for a new keyboard…will not right now! anyway!!!
No I was not drinking when I wrote that! (I just reread the first pharagraph!!)
Oh Joyce…..I don’t think any of us here would suspect you of being tipsy! I love your reply to Anne.
Agreed, I love your response Joyce!
Anne, you have that gentle quiet spirit mentioned in 1 Peter 3, we love you here, you bring such richness to the discussions we have.
I agree wholeheartly with Joyce
Joyce my mom used to sing In the Garden, it touched my heart today to remember that, and think of her in heaven now.
Anne: Isn’t that interesting — that we can see this in others but are hard on ourselves!
In one sermon Keller gave on Esther he talked about outer beauty being a gift that could be used for God’s glory but so very few use it that way. That was an intriguing sermon.
You so bless us here Anne. I always smile to see your name
Joyce. You are so dear..
Dee, yes, that is just what I was thinking! Esther certainly did use her beauty for God’s glory. There are several references to her obedience. I wonder if that is what kept her in a place wher God could use her for His purpose.
Joyce, thank you so much for your encouragement! Sorry about your keyboard. I think I understand what you mean. My last sentence was very much the result of some recent observations mostly at work. If a woman or man has natural qualities that are worldly pleasing, like beauty, they have an edge. Very often they can become twisted inside if they use it for their own advantage. It is to the point where I have been tempted to warn my sons to be very careful about beautiful women. Keller sort of addressed this in his sermon too.
I know I came across a little whiney. I have lately had days when I battle depression and yesterday was one of them. I know it is enemy attack. Your encouragement and prayers sustain me. I love you and all of my sisters here so very much. Now onward to next week!
Anne, I have to tell you I read this last night and have been pondering it ever since–God is using it to encourage me–thank you for your transparent heart. I very much relate to all of what you said. I grew up always feeling like the least attractive–always surrounded by worldly beauty. My older sisters, as well as my best friend, were each named “most beautiful” in high school. I even remember over-hearing a girl say she didn’t know why my boyfriend (now husband) was dating me because I wasn’t that pretty. I used to spend nights just praying I would somehow become beautiful. I remember honestly wondering in middle school, if I’d need to marry someone with poor eyesight. Those feelings aren’t gone–I realized last night how much I have just stuffed them down. When I read what you wrote–it’s like I had to finally connect what I heard from the sermon, what I have heard my Prince say to me, what I write and say I know is true–I had to finally receive it, BELIEVE it. I am beautiful to the only One who really matters–the KING.
Oh Elizabeth, I so understand your wounds.
My sister who was 3 years older than I was, had a great figure, as children I can remember wishing that I had a flat stomach and thighs that didn’t rub together like she did, She wore bikinis, I wore those suits chubby girl suits, with the dress like tops.
My best friend in jr. high and high school was beautiful, she was the Queen of Hearts at the dance, voted most photogenic. I felt I lived in her shadow.
One of Bills friends asked him why he was marrying me when we were dating, right in front of me!
I still feel such insecurites about these things, Bill is aging really well, me not so much.
It is not easy to stop hearing those voices, listening to lies that paralyze us from paying attention to things that really matter.
Chris and Elizabeth…you are beautiful!
Such things are so painful yet I believe they are the things that drive us into His arms. When it hurts I have to wonder where I would be if not for this.
Dee, I saw your class reunion comment on FB and I have to agree with you. You noticed that the popular boys turned nurdy and the nurds were successful as a rule. I found the same in my high school class. A good example of how worldly blessing can be a bad thing. I encourage my boys that life is nothing like high school and not to worry about popularity but rather about character. That helped my oldest a great deal and Joey has relaxed a lot too.
7. What have you learned about reading the Bible accurately?
From last week – ask myself those questions – WHY am I reading the Scriptures, what is my motive? And this week, that the Bible tells the story of people like Esther, or David, or Moses, etc…but it’s not a book about people; they are not the heroes – the hero is God. It’s about what God has done in their lives, and so often it is to redeem their failings and mistakes and still make something beautiful of their lives. On every page, my focus needs to be to look for God.
8. What is your take-away and why?
I haven’t listened to the sermon yet, I’m sure that would have added much more to this week’s lesson. One take-away is, I found it very interesting an eye-opening to read through the first chapter of Esther the way it should be read; seeing the irony. It was like reading it from God’s perspective. I want to remember to look for the real Hero when I read the Bible, to remember the focus is on Him.
“He has a grand plan – He sees how we fail – yet He does not let our failures deter His plan” This is a good take-away. I think it even ties-in with the talk we listened to last week by Paige on repentance. If I don’t believe this, then I will have that worldly sorrow and live with regret and self-hatred. David had to believe this, or he wouldn’t have run to God with repentance. I can fail miserably and wretchedly, yet go to God based on His character and that He still can accomplish His plans. It is like a springboard to repentance.
…let us seek the same desires after our Lord as those which glowed in the heart of the elect spouse. See how she leaps at once to Him; there are no prefatory words; she does not even mention His name; she is in the heart of her theme at once, for she speaks of Him who was the only Him in the world to her. How bold is her love! it was much condescension which permitted the weeping penitent to anoint His feet with spikenard-it was rich love which allowed the gentle Mary to sit at His feet and learn of Him-but here, love, strong, fervent love, aspires to higher tokens of regard, and closer signs of fellowship. Esther trembled in the presence of Ahasuerus, but the spouse in joyful liberty of perfect love knows no fear. If we have received the same free spirit, we also may ask the like. By kisses we suppose to be intended those varied manifestations of affection by which the believer is made to enjoy the love of Jesus. The kiss of reconciliation we enjoyed at our conversion, and it was sweet as honey dropping from the comb. The kiss of acceptance is still warm on our brow, as we know that He hath accepted our persons and our works through rich grace. The kiss of daily, present communion, is that which we pant after to be repeated day after day, till it is changed into the kiss of reception, which removes the soul from earth, and the kiss of consummation which fills it with the joy of heaven. Faith is our walk, but fellowship sensibly felt is our rest. Faith is the road, but communion with Jesus is the well from which the pilgrim drinks. O lover of our souls, be not strange to us; let the lips of Thy blessing meet the lips of our asking; let the lips of Thy fulness touch the lips of our need, and straightway the kiss will be effected. ~Spurgeon
Todays Spurgeon mentions Esther so I copied.
This is beautiful, Kim. May we rejoice in his kisses to us.
Do you get Spurgeon emails every day? I would like to get them as well. Can you give me a website to go to so I can subscribe?