WHY HAVE WE DISTORTED THE BOOK OF ESTHER? (Bible Study That Transforms)
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?