All About the Book of Esther (Pt. 2)

Esther

We stopped last time just as I was about to introduce the two most important charactersa in the Book of Esther – Mordecai and Esther herself. Let’s do that now

Esther:

Esther was a secular Jew who was not a passionate follow of God. She doesn’t have many positive lessons to teach us. Instead, we’d be better off learning how not to act from her! Please take time to re-read those last three sentences again! Many people have a warm, friendly view of Esther. Some Bible study books even trumpet Esther as a role model for young women. That is a terrible thing. If you want your little daughter to be like Esther, then you haven’t read Esther very closely! Here is why, and this will be explained more as we go through the book:

  • #1 – She actually wanted to be the wife of a pagan king

We now this because she made sure she pleased the man who took care of the young virgins who were gathered for the king:[1]

Esther 2:8-9a So it came to pass, when the king’s commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king’s house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women. And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him . . .

  • #2 – She didn’t eat kosher food when she entered the king’s harem, like Daniel did
  • #3 – She hid the fact that she was a Jew, because the king allowed Haman to issue a decree that all Jews in the kingdom should be killed!

If she concealed the fact she was a Jew for so long, it must mean that she didn’t live her life like a Jew. She may have even worshipped pagan gods along with her husband; if she hadn’t, it would have at least raised a few eyebrows. Contrast this with the faithfulness of Daniel. Contrast this with the faithfulness of Ezra.

Ezra 7:6 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.

Don’t believe that Esther had to hide her Jewish faith upon fear of death – that’s not true and the exilic returns prove it. It’s not as though Jews would be killed if they lived their lives as Jews – after all, Ezra did was a renouned scribe raised in the Jewish community in Babylon. Jews had their own little communities all over the Persian Empire – that’s why Haman was able to issue his decree to kill them all, because they knew where to find them.

The very best that could be said about Esther is that she was a secular Jew.[2] She was born as a Jew, she knew about God and the various covenant promises. She was a brave woman, no doubt – and good for her. But, her faith was lukewarm – if it even existed at all. Her piety and devotion was practically non-existent. She probably worshipped pagan gods, or at the very least pretended to.

Mordecai:

Mordecai was Esther’s older cousin (Est 2:7). He was a secular Jew who was not a passionate follower of God. He doesn’t have many positive lessons to teach us. Instead, we’d be better off learning how not to act from him! Here is why:

  • #1 – A godly Jew wouldn’t tell Esther to keep conceal her Jewish identity

Esther 2:10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.

Christians who read Esther usually assume that her life would be in danger if she lived like a Jew. This is nonsense. As I mentioned above, Ezra was trained as a scribe in the Jewish community in Babylon, and earned the king’s favor. Cyrus had instituted a policy of kindness and tolerance towards Jews about 100 years earlier. Nehemiah lived as an open Jew and was the cupbearer to this king’s son.

Nobody really knows why Mordecai told her to keep it a secret. We do know that her life wasn’t in danger. We also know that it might have been a political calculation on Mordecai’s part – i.e. she’d have a better shot at being the new Queen if she concealed her Jewish identity and simply assimilated.

  • #2 – Mordecai started the feud with Haman:[3]

Esther 3:1-4 After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. Then the king’s servants, which were in the king’s gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment? Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.

Don’t get the idea that Mordecai was a pious man because he refused to bow and “worship” Haman. Bowing wasn’t a form of worship; it was a mandated sign of simple respect for their culture. Mordecai simply didn’t like the man.

  • #3 – Mordecai kept his Jewish heritage a complete secret until the feud with Haman started (Est 3:4)[4]

He only told them he was a Jew when his co-workers asked him why he wouldn’t bow to Haman. He was likely just using his Jewishness as an excuse[5] – compare that to Daniel’s real piety!

The best you could say about Haman is that he was a secular Jew. He raised Esther as a secularist. He was a secularist. He knew about God and the various covenant promises. He had a high sense of national, Jewish pride. He may not have even been a saved man – only God knows.

More on why the Book of Esther should matter to you next time . . .


[1] Ronald Pierce wrote, “. . . one finds here a diaspora Jewess who desires a chance at the throne so greatly that she is willing to betray her heritage at the advice of her cousin without a hint of resistance. Moreover, she participates in the contest with no evident reluctance, resulting in the king being pleased with her more than all the other women and thus giving her the crown (2:16),” (“The Politics Of Esther And Mordecai: Courage Or Compromise?” Bulletin for Biblical Research 02:1 [1992], 85).

[2]  “If it seems incredible that the Jews who remained in exile should have so utterly lost all knowledge of God and all religious habits and instincts, as the book of Esther indicates, we have only to recur to the testimony of the prophet Jeremiah and Ezekiel to have all doubt removed. Esther becomes only the natural and necessary sequel to the appalling apostasy and depravity to which both these prophets testify,” (Smith, “Esther,” 399).

[3] Joyce Baldwin observed, “It is still part of eastern courtesy to bow in recognition of age and honour, and there is evidence that Israelite culture was no exception. While obeisance was given supremely to God and the king, suppliants bowed when seeking favour (so Jacob to Esau, Gn. 33:3) or when expressing indebtedness (e.g. David to Jonathan, 1 Sa. 20:41). Mordecai stubbornly refused to submit for any reason to Haman; indeed there seems to have been a general lack of respect for this man, otherwise there should have been no need for a royal command that people should bow down to him,” (Esther, vol. 12, TOTC [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984], 72). See also Whitcomb (Esther, 63-64).

[4] See Whitcomb (Esther, 64-65).

[5] “Probably this persistent (day after day) refusal stemmed more from pride than from religious scruples. For several years Mordecai had not let Esther tell the king she was a Jewess (2:10, 20), but now Mordecai was using their national heritage as an excuse for not giving honor to a high Persian official,” (John A. Martin, Esther, Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985], 705).

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