Esther is an obscure book to many, even though it is a story of romance and palace intrigue set in the glory days of the Persian Empire. A Jewish maiden, elevated to the throne of Persia as its queen, is used by God to preserve His people against a Hitler-like annihilation.
To this day, the Feast of Purim commemorates the memory of this deliverance. Even the works of Shakespeare's dramatic genius cannot compare with the drama and irony in this captivating epic.
However, the book deals with real historical events, not just a story to highlight a moral. It deals with an escape from genocidal annihilation after their return from Babylonian captivity. Chronologically, Esther makes possible Nehemiah. It was Esther's marriage to the king of Persia that ultimately leads to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and enables the chain of events that led to the appearance of the Messiah five centuries later.
The Mysteries of the Book
However, the Biblical mysteries abound: There is no mention of the name of God in the book. There is no reference to worship or faith. There is no mention or prediction of the Messiah; no mention of heaven or hell; there is nothing "religious" about it. It is a gripping tale, but why is it here in the Bible? Martin Luther believed it should not be part of the Canon!
The name Esther gives us a clue: it means "Something Hidden"! And we discover that there are numerous surprises hidden behind, and underneath, the text itself.
Summary of the Drama
Orphaned as a child and brought up by her cousin Mordecai, Esther was selected by King Ahasuerus to replace the queen when Vashti was disgraced. Haman, the prime minister, persuaded the king to issue an edict of extermination of all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Esther, on Mordecai's advice, endangered her own life by appearing before the king-without being invited - in order to intercede for her people.1
Seeing that the king was well disposed toward her, she invited him and Haman to a private banquet, during which she did not reveal her desire but invited them to yet another banquet, thus misleading Haman by making him think that he was in the queen's good graces. Her real intention was to take revenge on him. During a second banquet, Queen Esther revealed her Jewish origin to the king, begged for her life and the life of her people, and named her enemy.2
Angry with Haman, King Ahasuerus retreated into the palace garden. Haman, in great fear, remained to plead for his life from the Queen. While imploring, Haman fell on Esther's couch and was found in this ostensibly compromising situation upon the king's return. He was immediately condemned to be hung on the very gallows which he had previously prepared for Mordecai.
The king complied with Esther's request, and the edict of destruction was then changed into permission for the Jews to avenge themselves on their enemies.
The Feast of Purim was instituted by Mordecai to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's plot to kill them. Our Jewish friends continue to celebrate this feast to this day, which is based on the events in the Book of Esther. Purim (from Akkadian, puru, "lots") is so called after the lots cast by Haman in order to determine the month in which the slaughter was to take place.3
Surprising Roots Behind the Tale
The two principal protagonists are, of course, Haman and Mordecai. We are surprised to discover that this narrative has its roots several generations earlier. Haman was an "Agagite," a royal Amalekite, the last of his proud house to occupy a position of influence and power.4 "Agag" was the name given to the kings of Amalek, the people "against whom the Lord hath indignation forever." We first read of the land of the Amalekites, in the valleys of southern Palestine, involved in the great conflicts of the Elamite ascendancy from which ultimately the Persian Empire emerges.5
To fully understand the cosmic drama taking place, one must begin with the birth of Esau and Jacob.6 The twins - Jacob and Esau - struggling together picture the flesh and Spirit struggling against one another.7 Amalek descended from Esau.8
Amalek fought with Israel at Rephidim. "YHWH will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."9 Both Balaam10 and Moses11 foretold the doom of this haughty foe. Every time Israel rose up in their own power, they were clobbered; whenever they rose up in faith and the lowliness of self-judgment, Amalek's power was broken.12
Samuel commissioned Saul to "go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not."13 But Saul failed to carry it out. He spared Agag, and so God took the kingdom from Saul.14 Had Saul been obedient, Haman could never have appeared on the scene. Although Samuel subsequently showed Agag no mercy, some of his children escaped him. Haman is witness that Samuel likewise failed to exterminate the rest of the royal family. Sin unjudged, evil propensities unmortified, will result in grave trouble later. It is also important to realize that Mordecai was a descendant of Shimei, who was a recipient of David's grace when he refused to take vengeance upon him.15
Now 600 years later, Mordecai, a descendant of the house of Kish, the father of King Saul, and a royal Amalekite by the name of Haman, a final descendant of Agag, confront each other! With Haman's death, and that of his ten sons, the name of Amalek will be blotted out from under heaven.
One of the many surprises hidden within the text itself are the presence of eight microcodes: five acrostics and three "equidistant letter sequences" that spell out the name of God and with some surprising designed-in relevances!
Of even more personal impact than the microcodes are the macrocodes which seem to be hidden behind the narrative. Paul reveals that the historic incidents that happened to Israel are intended as types (or models) for us:
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [as a warning]: and they are written for our admonition [instruction]... - 1 Corinthians 10:11
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. - Romans 15:4
The Book of Esther also seems to foreshadow the Book of Romans as the story-behind-the story: the classic struggle between the flesh and the spirit. The Bible is given to us (1) to know God; and (2) to know ourselves! And it is our very selves which also seem to be in view in some surprising - yet practical - ways.
It is not only a gripping and enjoyable drama, but a challenging puzzle to unravel, and it can be a deeply impacting influence on our Christian walk! Good hunting!
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