The courage of Esther is on display in response to Mordecai’s trenchant challenge in Chapter 4:14: “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” The time in question is the eve of Haman’s pogrom against the Jews. But for the people of God, it is always, “such a time as this.” There is always risk, danger, challenge and an opportunity (sometimes the same thing) before the church. Esther takes the risk in hand with the words that perhaps form the climax and lesson of the book: “If I perish, I perish” (4:16). Such words of trust and abandon into the hands of God have inspired and sustained God’s people through similar trials.
Esther also reveals the true nature of anti-Semitism. Haman’s honor and joy are spoiled by the fact that a man won’t bow and tremble before him, a man who will only do that before his Lord and Creator, Mordecai (5:9-14). Such idolatry of state and celebrity did not end with Haman, and throughout the world there are still “The people of the Book,” the sons and daughters of Abraham, who are conscientious objectors to the worship of place, people and potentates (Czar, Fuhrer, Emperor, fashion designer, etc.), because their loyalty and adoration go to one universal, immortal, divine King. Adding to the imperial irritation was Mordecai’s presence in sackcloth, in a place where all sorrow and pain are usually denied. He served as an inconvenient and distressing reminder to the powers-that-be of the costs of the misuse of their power.
The fall of Haman, and the installation of Mordecai in his place, have elements of comic irony. It is Exhibit A of the verses in the Psalms and Proverbs that speak of the wicked being “snared in their own traps.”
In revealing the roots of anti-semitism, Esther also lays bare the cluelessness and powerlessness of our so-called divine kings. Asahueras did not at first understand the scope, nature or target of the devastating decree that Haman wheedled him into signing. Once he did, he was powerless to undo it. He could only set the targets (the Jews) against their enemies, thus provoking something of a brief civil war in his dominion, something else not uncommon to the reigns of tyrants and despots. The reader will have to determine whether the self-defense and vengeance of the Jews against their attackers is a satisfactory solution, but the king himself had set up his people for a no-win situation. His counter-decree served notice that any who took up arms against the Jews did so at their own risk, with no help from the crown.
Esther’s story is the basis for the Jewish celebration of the Feast of Purim. For more information on how it is observed, even with food, fun and noise, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purim.
THE BOOK OF JOB
The Bible, as the Word of God to humanity, contains humanity’s words to God, even words of complaint, anger, confusion, doubt and grief. Job stands as a testament to the dark and difficult side of life and faith, giving voice to all who have suffered in innocence, and challenging the tendency to believe that success, comfort and ease are tantamount to merit and virtue. That idea we might believe from a superficial reading of the Law and the wisdom literature of the Bible, which point us toward prudence and virtue, and away from the unnecessary and avoidable sufferings of sin. But those are not the sum total of suffering and evil in the world, and I don’t think either Moses, Solomon or David would have us believe so. Neither Law nor wisdom are necessary in the kind of perfect, mechanical and predictable world that Job’s comforters seem to believe in.
In Job we meet a shadowy, mysterious figure who has only previously been hinted at in the Bible: the Satan, or Accuser. Among the created heavenly beings, he seems to fill the role of a prosecuting attorney, scouring the sons and daughters of Adam (and other beings?) for sin, insincerity, and for mixed and mercenary motives. Thus he was able to trip up King David with his census (I Chronicles 21). Thus he is still called “The Accuser of the Brethren (Rev. 12:90.” Such things are not hard to find in any of us, which should push us to stay close to the One who alone justifies us.
That God would agree to let Satan test Job in such a contest as what we read of in chapters 1 and 2 pushes us to ask whether The Book of Job is history or drama. If it is history, it is related in the literary style and shape of a drama or theater, not so much around action and the clash of characters, but around the clash of ideas. It is also poetry, in a style that catches and pleases the ear, making the pain, pathos and confusion of the characters all the more impressive and engaging.
While the idea of such a contest between God and Satan over the battle ground of a human life and family is disturbing, to say the least, the believer recognizes that his or her life is also a battle ground with an audience. In Job, it is the human and his or her faith who is on trial, not God, and so are we. “We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings,” in I Corinthians 4:9. Do not enter the arena of faith if you are not willing to do battle.
…is a penitential psalm, in that it recounts the deliverance of a saint who realized and confessed his sin (v. 12). More than that, it also recounts the awakening of his or her heart and soul to God, such that “my ears you have opened” (v.6) and “Your law is in my heart” (v.8). Unlike other penitential psalms, it begins with the testimony of God’s deliverance and his/her transformation, before the confession of sin and the prayer for deliverance. In effect, this is the gospel: God’s work of deliverance that permits our transformation, through confession and repentance.