Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ten for Tuesday: The Book of Esther

1. This book appears in the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament. It provides the backstory regarding the Jewish holiday of Purim, and the name is derived from the main character of the story.

2. The events discussed in Esther occurred during the third year of the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. This was during the time Jewish people were living in exile in Persia. My very own Bible states the story portrays God’s providential care of people committed to Him in the midst of overwhelming challenges to their faith.

3. God is never mentioned by name or referred to, however the book has several instances that provide evidence of belief in the active involvement of God.

4. Only canonical text not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

5. Most scholars agree that the author of Esther is unknown, but Jewish tradition holds that the book was written by Mordecai, her uncle. Esther had never lived in the promised land. She was from a wealthy and powerful family even in exile.

6. The story recounts how the hatred of one man for the Jews nearly resulted in the eradication of the Jewish people in the entire Persian Empire.

7. The basic plot involves Esther, a Jewish girl, and her uncle Mordecai. Esther becomes the new wife and queen of Artaxerxes, but doesn’t tell the king she is Jewish. My Bible states Esther’s risky work in preserving the Jewish people reflects the worldview category of ethics and morality.

8. Most discussions concerning the book of Esther state the villainy of Haman demonstrates human depravity at its worst; the integrity of Mordecai shows the enormous good that one person can do. Esther’s story (like Joseph’s in Genesis) demonstrates that when God’s people face difficult circumstances, they are to act courageously and risk themselves for a righteous cause rather than give in to “fate” or “being unlucky.”

9. The key verse of the book…Who knows, perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this….Esther 4:14.

10. The first ones to hear the story of Esther were Jews in Persia, sometimes after the feast of Purim had become an established custom. By this time, the post-exillic people of Israel had adopted the name “Jew” for the term Jew(s) occurs more in the book of Esther than in the rest of the Old Testament combined.

The image with this post is the painting Esther by John Everett Millais in 1865. Millais painted Esther as she prepares to enter the presence of her husband uninvited. Notice the yellow gown Esther has on. Millais borrowed the yellow gown from General Gordon. He had received the gown from the Chinese emperor after his defeat of the Taiping Rebellion. Millais turned the gown inside out so that the fact the gown was obviously Chinese could be hidden….notice the culturally unspecific abstract patterns. One of General Gordon’s military exploits is detailed in the movie The Four Feathers.

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