The Bible in a Year – 27 August

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

Introductory notes to Esther

The book of Esther in the ‘standard’ Bible, i.e. the one generally read by the Protestant church, consists of ten chapters.  It is in fact an abridged version of the full story as found in the Greek (Septuagint) Bible still used by the Catholic Church and which consists of 16 chapters. However scholarship has shown that these are out of order.

 I am commenting on the fuller text as set out in the Revised Standard Version Common Bible (Collins edition, 1973), which sets these 16 chapters out in a sequence that tells the story of Esther in its natural order. This is why the chapter numbers may appear in my comments to be out of order.  I hope that makes sense.  In this version, the name of the King is Ahasuerus.  In other translations this Babylonian name is rendered Xerxes (don’t ask me why!)

27 August. Esther chapters 7 to 10

The third and final part of the book turns the fear of disaster among the Jews into salvation and celebration. In chapters 7 and 8 Esther explains Haman’s plot to the king; Haman’s attempt to plead to Esther for mercy is misinterpreted by the king as an assault on her, and he is hung immediately without trial. Esther and Mordecai are then allowed to write the text of a second royal edict, not only cancelling the first one and saving the Jews from ethnic cleansing, but permitting them to slay all their enemies without reprisal on the day when they were intended to have been the victims.

Again, the full text (in chapter 16) gives the text of this edict, which is more of a diatribe against Haman than a diplomatically worded legal text. Verse 7 seems very pertinent today with the very undemocratic actions of Presidents Putin and Trump: “What has been wickedly accomplished through the pestilent behaviour of those who exercise authority unworthily, can be seen not so much from the ancient records which we hand on, as from investigation of matters close at hand” (RSV).

The last two chapters explain how these incidents are the reason for the Jewish feast of Purim. The additional text in chapters 10 explains how God provided ‘purim’ (chances, opportunities), ‘one for the people of God and one for all the nations’ (10:10). That ties in with the later Christian idea of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus being given ‘first for the Jews and then for the gentiles’.

Esther may only be a story, rather than having any historical basis, but it reminds us of the ever-present danger of ethnic hatred and persecutions. We have seen such hatred flaring up in recent years in places such as Rwanda, Syria and parts of the former Soviet Union, as well an in Nazi Germany. In these situations, people of different religious or ethnic groups who used to live together peacefully find themselves fighting against each other, often stirred up in the first instance by a very small number of extremists.  But such events seem to have an unstoppable momentum, unless someone who is there ‘for such a time as this’ is courageous enough to step in and bring peace and justice.  For what time and purpose has God put you were you are?