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sermon: Esther (Part Four)

Plot Structure

Given 11-Feb-17; Sermon #1363; 76 minutes

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Richard Ritenbaugh, realizing that although some people regard approaching the Bible as literature to be demeaning or perhaps even heretical, contends that the literary approach can be a powerful tool to understanding and appreciating it more fully. A good story does not lay itself, but it takes a lot of work on the part of the narrator to make it impelling, memorable, or riveting. A successful play, a short story, a novel, or a poem unfolds as a three-part formula of (1) setting up the structure, (2) providing an intense complication, escalating the conflict between hero and villain until the situation appears hopeless, and (3) resolving the tensions, a process called the denouement. The book of Esther can certainly be dissected into these three elements, but because it follows the Oriental tradition rather than the Western tradition, the chiastic "X" structure provides a better paradigm of the plot. This structure can be seen in Psalm 64, in which the first five verses set the situation, reaching a massively disturbing complication at the middle, only to be overturned by the last five verses, which provide a corresponding set of positive circumstances cancelling out all the negative circumstances in the first five verses. Each verse in the second set of five verses systematically annuls a corresponding verse in the first set of five verses—6 overturns 1, 7 overturns 2, etc. The structure in the Book of Esther shows a similar pattern, with the negative events moving to a high point of tension when Esther decides to enter the King's presence uninvited, followed by a turning around and cancellation of all Haman's evil plans for the Jews and the restoration of Mordecai's honor, a truly dramatic reversal. The invisible God evidently loves a cliff-hanger.

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Next in this series

Esther (Part Five)