Day 36: Esther – A Godless & Chauvinistic Book

Derek Ouellette —  February 21, 2011

Esther stands out among biblical books in a few unique ways.

First it is the only God-less book of the bible in a very literally way: there are no mentions of God, the Lord or any variations of him explicitly. That said; God is implied throughout. A couple of examples will suffice.

And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? – Esther 4:14

Esther’s uncle Mordecai is wondering if perhaps Esther’s newly appointed position was a result of divine providence – as a Jew we can assume Mordecai would appeal to God before odd luck – in order to be instrumental in the halting of the annihilation of the Jewish race across the Empire.

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed… two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. – Esther 6:1-2

God’s dealing with pagan kings by way of dreams was quite well known to the early Jews. There can be no question of the divine providence behind God’s dealings here as well; for as Haman is entering the palace to request permission to hang Mordecai on the gallows, the king – unable to sleep and desiring to read from the boring records, “happens” to be reminded of the record in which Mordecai warned the king of a assassination attempt and then decides to honor him for this. The irony cannot be missed either, because the king orders whoever is in the outer court to be the one to honor Mordecai, “Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace” (Esther 6:4).

The one who intended to murder Mordecai is the one who ends up honoring him. God’s finger print is all over that; and I think the author knows it.

Secondly it is the only book – as far as I know – which gives us an insider’s look at life and politics during the exile period. Whoever wrote Esther – probably Mordecai as most scholars believe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Esther had a leading hand in it either – had detailed knowledge (probably due to access to the royal records) of the inner workings of Xerxes kingdom. For example, when King Xerxes sends for his Queen, Vashti, to join him at a banquet, he sends out the seven eunuchs to get her:

Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas – to bring before him Queen Vashti. – Esther 1:10

The eunuchs are named for no apparent reason except accuracy sake. Or consider this account:

Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king – Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan. – Esther 1:13-14

Again, the wise men are named for no apparent reason and the author was familiar with “customs”  of “law and justice” of those days. The book of Esther fits quite well in the same literary genre as Thucydides, the Greek general who documented the Peloponnesian War. Like Thucydides, Mordecai seeks to record the “bare facts” of the events of those days from his perspective, he seeks to do so using whatever royal sources are available to him at that time for accuracy sake, and he seeks to keep things “down to earth” as it were, meaning not to speculate too fancifully about what might be going on in “heaven” (contrasted with the book of Job – see the next post) in terms of the interaction of God’s dealing throughout these accounts.

Finally it places greater emphasis upon various women per-allotted space than any other biblical book so far. Unfortunately the issue raised throughout the early chapter is one of male authority in the home and society.

It has been said that Queen Vashti was the first feminist in history. That may be true and perhaps had not certain men fearfully stepped in, the “Women’s for superiority” movement (prominent today under the guise of “feminism”) would have taken hold twenty-five hundred years earlier.

For the Queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands. – Esther 1:16

And so an edict was proclaimed throughout the entire Empire in every language

That every man should be ruler over his own household. – Esther 1:22

This is a fascinating verse given it’s allusion to the curse of the fall pronounced on Eve in Genesis 3:16

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

The woman will “desire” [cf. Genesis 4:17] to rule her husband (eg. Vashti and the implications of her actions via that women will “despise” their husbands by usurping his household authority) but in fact their husbands will rule them (eg. Esther 1:22 quoted above). Thus the balance of creation has been – as history abundantly testifies to – thrown way off kilter.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.