Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that the civil Festival of Purim in the Jewish community, commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from virulent anti-Semitism in ancient Persia, explains that this festival is celebrated with a notable spirit of merriment because it depicts a miraculous rescue from a hopelessly impossible situation brought about by a perennial, anti-Semitism. In terms of plot of the Book of Esther, the writer uses a chiastic X-like pattern, in which a situation grows grave and hopeless in the first half of a narrative, leading up to a peripeteia (that is, the axis point or the center of the X), in which a sudden reversal takes place, turning everything around from hopelessness to joy. This ubiquitous pattern of a sudden reversal recurs throughout scripture, demonstrating how God deals with the children of Israel, humbling them into repentance in order that He may bring them good in the end. This pattern of reversal-of-fortune provides an insight as to how God deals with us individually. God allows each of us to experience trials and tests to humble us, leading us to repent, obey and trust. Going through this process we learn to be steadfast and to endure. The axial moment in the Book of Esther seems to be a series of mundane events beginning with the king's inability to sleep—- mundane, yet leading to Haman's execution, Esther and Mordecai's advancement and the salvation of the Jewish people. These seeming coincidences (a powerful "unseen hand" reveals God's sovereign protection over His godly seed, which ultimately produced Our Savior Jesus Christ, who currently protects the godly spiritual seed (comprising the Church or the Israel of God, the Bride of Christ), descendants of Abraham through God's Holy Spirit.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Psalm 83:4-8, which describes the hideous character traits of Israel's ancient enemies, identifies descendants of Amalek, a particularly proud and hate-filled man, assembling a confederacy of vengeful peoples having ties to the lineage of Ishmael and Esau, all bearing an ever-burning hatred for the descendants of Jacob. The descendants of Esau (the Edomites) have perpetually hated the descendants of Jacob, pursuing them with a sword, cowardly attacking the weakest, showing no pity, constantly nurturing their wrath in supercilious satanic pride. As a result of Saul's failure to follow God's instruction to eliminate all the Amalekites, their remnants later re-emerged in Persia, as recorded in the Book of Esther. Haman was the treacherous and deceitful offspring of King Agag, and Mordecai was the godly descendant of King Saul. Their pairing in the Book of Esther provides a sequel to the unfinished story of I Samuel 15. Haman, like a 5th century Hitler plotting a 5th century holocaust, hated Mordecai so much (because he would not bow down to him) that he wanted to destroy his entire people. Tricking the gullible and inept King Ahasuerus to execute a genocidal order against the Jews, promising a sizeable cash bounty for the execution of the so-called "enemies to the state," Haman cast lots to determine the day this would be carried out. God, controlling the outcome of the fall, sovereignly, allowed enough time for Mordecai and Esther to foil the plan. As a sort of poetic justice, God brought about the execution of Haman and evil sons on the very pole the deceitful schemer has created for the purpose of slaying Mordecai. The Israel of God still lives in perilous times when the descendants of Amalek are ready to decapitate God's people. For their implacable hatred -put into-action, God will blot out the name of Amalek and descendants forever.
Richard Ritenbaugh, marveling about biblical scholars' tying themselves into knots as they consider the proper genre for the book of the Esther— parable, comedy (in the classical sense), chronicle, morality play or fictional drama —reminds us that God wants us to study the Bible in depth, including the symbolic connections, but especially the plot and characterization, integral parts of the book of Esther. Mordecai, identified as a Benjamite (the tribe with a checkered past), lives and behaves as a man of God should, both an ideal Jew and a typical Jew, exiled as an aristocrat, an ethnic Jew related to King Saul, with special abilities from God, adopting his orphaned cousin Hadassah as his own daughter. Mordecai's sterling character does not change, but remains the standard against which all the other characters are judged, serving as a type of God, an invisible guiding force, concealing and protecting Hadassah from danger. Haman the Agagite is an evil, power-hungry schemer, a Satan-like being, the nemesis of the Jews, including Mordecai and Esther and King Ahasuerus. Esther is a Jewess living in a pagan culture, with a name referring to the goddess of love. Her Hebrew name represents a white flower with a perfume more exquisite than the rose. Just as Mordecai conceals Esther, God conceals His people in secret places under the shadow of His wings, in the sanctuary—the fellowship of the Church. Like Esther, we are pawns at the beginning of our conversion, but we must change dramatically to love God with all our hearts, actively doing His commandments, growing spiritually in responsibility as did Esther, who grew from her initial passive role to taking one of leadership, and that in sharp contrast to King Xerxes, an alcoholic whose advisers easily manipulate.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the widespread belief in many pagan cultures that local tribal deities claim territoriality over their adherents' land, maintains that God had to disabuse Israel from believing such nonsense, using scattering and exile to partially accomplish His purpose. God is sovereign over the entire earth; His power is not venue-dependent. When Nebuchadnezzar had enough of Judah's rebellion, he transported the entire ruling class to Babylon, including Daniel and his companions. God used this event to scatter Judah and Benjamin through the prominent cultures of the earth. Jeremiah sent a letter in 597 BC, giving specific instructions to the captives as to how to conduct themselves in Gentile cultures, assuring them that they would be in this predicament for seventy years, after which God would rescue them. They were to improve their skills, buy houses, plant gardens, raise families, and be model citizens. Although they were not to assimilate inwardly, they were to blend in wherever God's Law was not violated. They were not to make a nuisance of themselves by proselyting, a principle still in effect today for God's called-out ones. In post-exilic times in Persia, God used concealed Jews (exampled by Mordecai and Esther) to ascend to levels of prominence on behalf of their people. Esther (her Persian name, a variety of Ishtar) and Mordecai (his Persian name, a variety of Marduk, a Babylonian deity) served as a kind of protective covering, enabling them to quietly carry on God's purpose. Paul applied the essence of Jeremiah's letter to Christians living in this present evil age, admonishing them to lead a quiet life, mind their own business, stay aloof from governmental affairs and set a godly example through diligence and good works.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The Bible contains an interesting phenomenon, one found especially in the Old Testament, in which God coordinates events to place one of His servants in a position of high visibility and sometimes great power at the center of world events. ...
Mordecai, a Jew living in the Persia capital, faithfully guided Esther through a time of potentially great trouble. Mark Schindler uses his example to show that such character is not out of our reach!
Queen Esther, faced with the destruction of her people in Persia, put her life on the line. Ronny Graham describes how her example should be an inspiration to us. Also contains the inset article, God—Absent from Esther?
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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