Lesson 5 of5
In Progress

Theological Themes in Esther

Ambiguity of violence

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the book of Esther is the excessive retributive violence apparent in the end when the Jewish people destroy all of the enemies who intended to destroy them, and then they rejoice. One can read this theme as part of the exaggeration of the book, never intended to be taken literally, and providing the hope of satire and fantasy. Or one can note that when the reader comes to celebrate the very violence feared from the enemy, then the finger is ironically pointed back at the reader.

Community and accommodation

The book of Esther subtly shows how one might live and form community when living under a foreign power. Esther and Mordecai work for the best interests of the foreign king until such interests come into conflict with the needs and concerns of their community. They then risk everything for the good of the community.

The cost of discipleship

Discipleship always carries with it a degree of risk. This reality is highlighted by Esther’s act of bravery in standing in defense of her people and risking the consequences of the king’s displeasure.

God as both absent and present

For many, the most notable issue for the book of Esther is that God is never mentioned (except in the Greek additions to Esther found in the Apocrypha). But the hidden God can be intuited as present and active in various details of the book: in the coincidences, as highlighted in the name of the Purim (“lots”) holiday; in the lamenting and fasting; in the reversals; in the presence and leadership of Mordecai and Esther; and even in the misconception of Haman’s plea (Esther 7:7-8). Detecting God when seemingly absent is one way for a people without power to live faithfully in the midst of a foreign culture.

Humor in the face of fear

One of the complex challenges of reading the book of Esther is how to find meaning in, with, and under the humor and exaggeration found throughout the book. Everything in the book is writ large: the palace trappings are overly pompous; the feasting takes place over exaggerated spans of times; the king’s law is both unassailable and changeable; the good folks are very good and the bad are very bad; and even the violence is over the top. Such satire can be uplifting to folks who live in fear that those in power might turn against them, showing that laughter in the face of fear offers subtle encouragement, helps to form community, and gives courage where needed to face an unknown future.

Unrestrained use and abuse of power

Unrestrained power can be dangerous, particularly when combined with ignorance and discrimination. The book of Esther unmasks this reality and describes in exaggerated detail the dangers of such power.