This week we’re looking at the OT story of Esther. You really need to start from Monday’s post.
Today (just to change the order of things), read the final three chapters of Esther first.
And so ends a most secular telling of sacred history. What are we to make of all this? As my friend Marc Rader says, the fingerprints of God are all over this story. I mean think about the coincidences:
Is it just a coincidence that there’s a royal vacancy a few years before this crisis?
- Is it just a coincidence that Esther won the favour of the chief eunuch? I mean, she’s a smart, attractive woman. Perfectly understandable.
- Is it just a coincidence that out of all the attractive women, Esther, a Jewess, is selected as queen?
- Is it just a coincidence that Mordecai wasn’t rewarded at the time of the failed assassination attempt?
- Is it just a coincidence that the king couldn’t sleep that night?
- Is it just a coincidence that the chronicles of the king’s reign were opened to that page about Mordecai?
Well was it? Was it just a series of coincidences? The author doesn’t say. He remains blatantly agnostic.
- He will not say ‘it was God’.
- He will not say ‘God has placed you here for this’ – he just says ‘who knows?’
- He will not say ‘God will save us’ – he just says ‘deliverance will arise’.
And we’re left with the ambiguity. With the fingerprints of God all over the story. But without the comforting narrator of, say, Deuteronomy, or Samuel, or Kings, giving us The divine interpretation of these events.
Isn’t that our life?
Aren’t we left with just a bunch of stuff that – if you told someone who doesn’t believe in God – they’d be able to explain away as a series of coincidences? We don’t get fire from heaven like Elijah did. We don’t get a burning bush like Moses. We don’t even get a voiceover saying, ‘This all happened to Tim because he did right in the eyes of the Lord, for he tore down the high places and smashed the Asherah poles, and did not follow the practices of his ancestors.’
We get none of that. We’re left to work it out for ourselves. What we get are things that take place in our lives that we see the fingerprints of God on. We’re left with the ambiguity. We’re left with thinking ‘was that God, or… who knows?’ The story of Esther, in all of its agnostic, secularity – has more in common with our experience than the rest of the OT.
And yet. Although this story in isolation reads like an event in the history of any other nation, it doesn’t come to us in isolation. It’s part of the Hebrew Bible. The sacred writings of God’s Old Covenant people, Israel.
And whenever Israel has read this ambiguous, agnostic story, it’s always been in the context of a sovereign, active, faithful God. The God who revealed himself to them in action through a dramatic rescue in Egypt; in word through the giving of the law on Mt Sinai. They read Esther not ambiguously, like the narrator. But through the eyes of faith, because of what they know of God.
In fact, in the Greek version of Esther… (Greek version? In the centuries leading up to Jesus, Greek became the dominant language of the empire, and the Jews scattered throughout the empire translated their Scriptures into Greek.) In the Greek version of Esther, there are dozens of additions, adding in that missing, theological commentary. Re-telling this story through the eyes of faith. The feast of Purim is explicitly celebrated as yet another act of God in delivering his people. Despite all the careful hedging of Esther’s narrator.
What about our lives? All the isolated ‘coincidences’ of our experience? Things that could be interpreted one way, or the other. The ambiguity of our stories. What about them?
They’re not in isolation, either. They’re in the context of what we already know of God. How he revealed himself to us supremely in the person of Jesus. How he made his character known through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. How he gave us proof of his existence through Jesus’ miraculous, supernatural resurrection.
We live our lives in the context of the cross. Which means we make a decision – like the Jewish people with Esther – to read our ambiguous, everyday lives with the eyes of faith. Not blind faith. But informed faith. Adding in for ourselves the missing theological commentary. Maybe not in Greek, but in our own language.
Live your life, trusting that all over it are the fingerprints of God. Live each moment confident that God has indeed placed you here for such a time as this.