The Jews were threatened with genocide. A decree ordered the extermination of young and old, women and children. The place: Persia. The time: fifth century B.C. The book of Esther describes how this crisis was averted through the bravery of Esther, the wisdom of her stepfather and the unity of the Jewish people. It also reveals the God who quietly—and sometimes unexpectedly—works behind the scenes to order the events of our lives. Joyce Baldwin draws out the beauty and power of this book by discussing its background, structure and theology, and by providing a passage-by-passage analysis of its contents.
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“The date, possibly part of the contents of the official wording, was memorable to any Jew because it was the day before the slaying of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:6). That memorial celebration, with its rehearsal of God’s deliverance from the Pharaoh, could scarcely fail to provoke the question, can our God not save us in an equally decisive way from death under Ahasuerus?” (Page 75)
“The right reaction, however, is not to assume that for some reason God is on our side and will continue to give us on a plate all the good things we request, but rather to be in awe that the mighty God should condescend to answer our prayers despite our many shortcomings and downright failures. The sense of wonder should result in more whole-hearted commitment to his service. The caution is necessary when, as a result of observing God’s good hand at work in the past, one presumes to know his mind in all other situations.” (Pages 40–41)
“Either she was required to appear naked, or she had some disfigurement, both of which eventualities would have made her refusal understandable in Jewish eyes, or she was openly flouting her husband’s authority, considering that his authority had proper limits. The omission of a reason strengthens the tension of the story by implying that Vashti had no rights in relation to her husband, and therefore reasons were irrelevant.” (Pages 60–61)
“Given that the Jews lived in a fate-ridden culture while they inhabited Persia and the other lands of exile, we can readily appreciate that their theology needed to comprehend a belief in the power of their God to overrule the way the dice fell (Pr. 16:33). The book of Esther took the matter further: even when the dice had fallen the Lord was powerful to reverse its good omen into bad, in order to deliver his people.” (Page 23)
The late Joyce G. Baldwin was Principal of Trinity College, Bristol.