Friday, December 6, 2013

Amazing Esther

Today is the final day in our 48th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Esther 5-8; Revelation 2.

As many times as I've read the story of Queen Esther, I've never read it like I did today!  (If you've been reading the Bible long, you've had that experience, too--where a story that you've read a hundred times will all of a sudden stand out and speak to you.)  This morning, I was stuck by the symbolism in this book.  I won't say that the symbolism was divinely embedded within the story, as if these events took place just to foreshadow future events--but today I see a parallel between Esther, the mediator for her people, and Jesus, the mediator for the whole world.

Andrea del Castagno (1423-1457)
Famous Persons: Queen Esther
Fresco transferred to wood
Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence, Italy)

Now, as we know, analogies are imperfect--and so is this one.  But just go with me on this, and you'll see what I mean.

First, God the Father is here represented by Xerxes (Ahasuerus), the king who is all powerful and holds life and death in his hands.  (Yes, I know that Xerxes is a pagan...but that's beside the point.)

Next, Vashti is a picture of other religions, that are insufficient to please God.  (Yes, I know that Vashti did the right thing in refusing what was probably expected to be a public erotic dance...but that's beside the point.)  As a symbol of religious practice that doesn't please God, she is banished for her insufficiency.

Then, Esther, who is the most pleasing of all, is altogether lovely, and perhaps the fairest of ten thousand, symbolizes Jesus.  Just as He is both human and divine, Esther is both one of the Jewish people who are threatened with death, and also a member of the royal household.  (Yes, I know that Esther is female and Jesus was male...but that's beside the point.  And don't get me distracted by pointing out that Jesus was God who became human, while Esther was a commoner who became royal.  That just sidetracks us.  Let's keep on task here.)

Humanity as a whole is represented by the Jewish people.  The Jewish peole, in turn, are depicted by Mordecai.  Just as Jesus is of the Jewish family, so Esther is of the family of Mordecai.

Finally, of course, there's Haman, the adversary, who stands as a type of Satan.  He threatens both the murder of Mordecai and the genocide of the Jewish people.  (No--I don't believe that Satan ever tricked God into pronouncing a death sentence on humanity because of sin...let's keep it simple and not get hung up on details.)

Mordecai would probably like to go before King Ahasuerus and intercede for the people himself.  Yet, he knows that he cannot enter the king's presence and live.  It takes someone special--someone who is a member of the king's household--to do that.  Anselm of Canterbury wrote a treatise entitled Cur Deus Homo ("Why the God-Man?"), in which he stated that nobody except a God-Man could have sufficed for our salvation.  Sinful humanity could never approach God to intercede for itself; an intercessor who knew not the sufferings of humanity could never represent those suffering people before God.  It took the God-Man, Jesus.  In the same way, it took a Jewish Persian queen.  Nobody else could have entered the king's presence and lived to convince him of the people's need for salvation; Nobody else would have had the motivation to do so.

Esther realizes that going before the king without an invitation may lead to her death.  But Esther bravely says, "If I perish, I perish."  She lays down her own life in order to save her people.  Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13 ESV)."  Esther couldn't have shown any greater love--she laid her life down, only to receive it again when the king held out the golden scepter (representing resurrection).  Without Esther's willingness to die for the sake of her people, they never would have been saved.  

I love the irony in this story, that on the one hand we have Vashti, who would not come when bidden.  On the other hand we have Esther, who goes even unbidden, into the king's presence.  At the beginning of the story, the king gives orders and Vashti disobeys.  In chapter 5, the king says, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther has asked (v. 5, ESV).”  Literally, it says, "that we may do the word of Esther."  

And there's more irony, that the very stake Haman had erected for Mordecai's torturous death ends up being the instrument of his own demise!  What irony that Satan, who seeks the destruction of humanity, will one day know the eternal destruction of the lake of fire!

As I said before, I don't believe that these events played themselves out just so I could write an article about parallelism between the Old and New Testaments.  I do, however, find the symbolism fascinating.  And I do hope that Christians who might be tempted to minimize the importance of women will recognize the importance that Esther played in the history and salvation of her people.  I'm delighted that God chose a woman to represent Christ in this way, and that this morning the Lord showed me the story of Esther in a way that I've never seen it before.

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