Reading Esther

For the past several weeks as part of my Thursday night Bible Study group, I have been studying the Book of Esther. I would like to suggest this book for you. It might be a good read over the 40 days of Lent. It is challenging and full of many things to discuss and reflect on. The only book in the bible that does not mention God; God is not seen or active in this book and for that reason the story found in it mirrors our life. It talks beautifully about what it means to live a life of faith when God seems absent. It shows how one should and should not respond to life when it seems God is not showing up.

The Book of Esther is part of the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament. It tells the story of a Jewish girl named Esther who became queen of Persia and thwarted a plan to commit genocide against her people. The story of how one person can change the course of history. Also called the Megillah, the book is the basis and an integral part of the Jewish celebration of Purim. The full text is read aloud twice during the celebration, in the evening and again the following morning.

It is set in the third year of Ahasuerus, a king of Persia. The name Ahasuerus is equivalent to Xerxes, both deriving from the Persian Khshayārsha, thus Ahasuerus is usually identified as Xerxes I (486-465 BCE). Esther is usually dated to the 3rd or 4th century BCE. The primary source relating to the origin of Purim is the Book of Esther, which became the last of the 24 books of the Old Testament canonized. The Greek Book of Esther, included in the Septuagint, is a retelling of the events of the Hebrew Book of Esther rather than a translation and records additional traditions, in particular the identification of Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes and details of various letters, dated to the 2nd to 1st century BCE.

There are many classical Jewish readings of allegories into the book of Esther. Some say that the literal meaning is true, but that hidden behind this historical account are many allegories. Though God is never explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, some Christians believe and I tend to agree with them, that His influence during the story is implied. Some Christian readers consider this story to contain an allegory, representing the interaction between the church as ‘bride’ and God. This reading related to the allegorical reading of the Song of Songs and to the theme of the Bride of God, which in Jewish tradition manifests as the Shekinah.

Studying this book has helped me to see God where I would not normally believe he could or should be. It has taught me that where we don’t think God is He just might most present. It is important to understand that as we live our lives and move closer to God that God becomes present. It is not necessarily that God shows up more, but that our awareness and trust in God is increased and activated. A life of faith is not just about that one moment that we chose to follow God or the one-day a week that we come together in community to worship God. A life of faith is about how we live in each moment and how we respond with our life to the love and grace of God. Faith should help us live more humble, Christ centered, God glorifying lives.

I hope this suggestion is what you are looking for to bring more of God into your life during the Lent season. I pray that this lent season will be fruitful and productive for all of us.

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