Esther I: Vehicles of Grace   1 comment

Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus

Above:  Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus, by Paolo Veronese

Image in the Public Domain

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The daily lectionary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), as found in their service book-hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), is the one attached to the Revised Common Lectionary.  For the Thursday before Proper 12 through the Wednesday after that Sunday in Year C the first readings come from the Book of Esther, starting with 2:19 and continuing through 8:17.

The Book of Esther exists in two versions–Hebrew and Greek.  The Hebrew version, which does not even mention God, probably dates to 400-300 B.C.E., at the end of the Persian Empire or the beginning of the Hellenistic Age.  The 107 additional verses in the version from the Septuagint bring the word “God” into the story and elaborate on certain details.  The Greek version of the Book of Esther is canonical in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

As I read the Book of Esther again I will consult Jewish and Roman Catholic Bibles.  My plan is to read the Greek version fully in English-language translation.  The New American Bible labels the Greek additions conveniently as Chapters A-F, a system I will cite.

The Book of Esther is a satire, comedy, burlesque, and work of religious fiction.  Jewish exegetes have known this for a long time.  Some characters are buffoonish, our heroes (in the Hebrew version) are strangely less dimensional than other characters, and exaggeration abounds.  One should not, out of piety, become so serious as to misread a book of the Bible.  There are various contexts in which one should read scripture; genre is among them.  Furthermore, the internal chronology of the Book of Esther (in either version), like that of the Book of Daniel, makes no sense.

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In the Greek version the book begins with what The New American Bible calls Chapter A, containing 17 verses.  We meet Mordecai, a Jewish member of the court of King Ahasuerus (sarcastically “the great,” according to A:1) at Susa.  Ahasuerus is a fictitious monarch of the Persian Empire.  Sources I have consulted indicate elements from the actual Xerxes I (reigned 486-465 B.C.E.) and Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424 B.C.E.).  Mordecai has a dream in which, on a gloomy day amid “tumult, thunder, and earthquake,” two dragons prepare to go to war.  The just live in fear of what might happen to them.  They cry out to God, a mighty river arises, sunlight breaks through, and the lowly rise up and devour the boastful.  Mordecai awakens and attempts throughout the day to comprehend the dream and what God intends to do.

We read in A:1 that Mordecai is not only of the tribe of Benjamin but a descendant of Kish.  This makes him a relative of King Saul (whose father was Kish), who conquered Agag the Amalekite in 1 Samuel 15:1-9.  Haman, Mordecai’s foe, is an Agagite.

Mordecai overhears two eunuchs plot to assassinate Ahasuerus.  The loyal courtier alerts the monarch directly.  Ahasuerus orders the arrest, interrogation, and execution of the eunuchs.  Mordecai receives a reward for his fidelity, but Haman, who had conspired with the eunuchs, begins to plot to harm him.

Chapter 1 depicts Ahasuerus as less than great.  The text states that the king ruled over 127 provinces, or satrapies, but historical records indicate the existence of between 20 and 32 satrapies during the duration of the Persian Empire.  Ahasuerus is wealthy, living in luxury.  He is also mostly powerless, for people manipulate him easily.  The king is also too fond of alcohol in excess.  Ahasuerus orders Queen Vashti to degrade herself  by displaying her beauty to his courtiers .  She refuses the command, thereby disgracing the drunken Ahasuerus.  Thus an imperial incident occurs.  Can the monarch restore his honor?  Vashti loses her position and possibly her life, for he proceeds to choose a new queen from his harem.  Among the virgins in the harem is one Esther, cousin and foster daughter of Mordecai.  This is a secret relationship, however.  He coaches her in how to become the next queen.  She succeeds Vashti.

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What are we supposed to take away from this material and apply to life?  God works behind the scenes in the Book of Esther.  God even works through drunk and easily manipulated monarchs.  Vehicles of grace come in many shapes and sizes; many of them will surprise us.  Many of them do not even know that they are vehicles of grace, but that does not prevent God from working through them, does it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/prologue-to-posts-scheduled-around-proper-12-year-c-revised-common-lectionary/

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One response to “Esther I: Vehicles of Grace

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  1. Pingback: Prologue to Posts Scheduled Around Proper 12, Year C (Revised Common Lectionary) | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

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