The Bible’s Political Thriller

January 11, 2016

I thought I’d read the book of Esther … again. It’s a relatively short book, not like Isaiah with 66 chapters, or even the psalms. As I started with the first chapter, I remembered again what I’d read somewhere, that God was not mentioned in the book of Esther. And as I’ve done so many times before, I decided to test this out. They’re right you know! Not even in the famous “for a time like this …” passage (Esther 4 v14).


If this is the case, why do I like this book so much? First, it tells a story. Books like Genesis, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings and Acts are historical narratives; Joshua, 2 Samuel and the gospels are biographies. There are lots of prophesies, sayings, doctrine and so many other kinds of books in the Bible, but Apart from perhaps Ruth, Ezra and Nehemiah, there are few other books that tell one story.


And I love stories! I grew up on bedtime African folktales that dealt with such significant topics as why the shell of a tortoise is rough, and addressed such moral issues as selfishness and greed. Then, when I started to read, I found princes and princesses falling in love and living in castles, fairytales, Enid Blyton and all the other children’s books, just waiting to be devoured. Those I couldn’t find in Braille, friends and family read to me. Even now, I still spend a lot of time telling stories, listening to stories and reading stories.


Sometimes, I think my love of stories affects my Bible reading. Ask me anything about a Bible story – what Abraham, Moses, David, even Jesus did – I’d probably be able to tell you. I’m not so hot on epistles, prophets, the laws of Moses, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, or the conversation between Job and his friends.


The book of Esther has a clear storyline, with a beginning and an end. Imagine picking up a book and looking in the back cover and reading: “Haman was a top official of Ahasuerus, king of the Medes and Persians. His one aim was the destruction of the Jews. As the lives of the Kingdom’s Jews hang in the balance, only Mordecai and his niece Esther can stop him. But to do so, they have to first persuade king Ahasuerus that Haman’s plans are evil”.


It’s also a page turner, a political thriller complete with the good and bad guys, conflict and suspense. Like all good stories, it starts by introducing us to the main characters, describing the end of the Vashti era and how Esther becomes queen. We’re also introduced to King Ahasuerus and Mordecai who had brought Esther up. Then we meet Haman and discover his hatred of Mordecai as a person and the Jews as a whole.


But if God is not mentioned once in the book, you see His power everywhere. This is a thriller with a difference. Imagine reading a book where the good guys are discussing strategy. One of them says “The odds are stacked against us, but there’s only one way, we fast for 3 days”.


The immediate result of the fast was that Esther was able to step out in faith and walk up to the king. This demonstration of reliance on God is significant; if king Ahasuerus had not held up the sceptre to Esther, the law says she’d have been executed. But there was more; the day Haman had planned for Mordecai to be hanged, the king couldn’t sleep. He just happened to pick up the record of how Mordecai had discovered an assascination plot and he remembered that nothing had been done to honour him. What a transformation!


This is where you will find one of my favourite passages of scripture. The king asks Haman what should be done to someone the king desires to honour. Mordecai, thinking that it is he who should be honoured says that such a person should be made to wear the king’s own robes, then placed on the king’s own horse and paraded throughout the city with a herald shouting, “this is what is done to the one the king desires to honour” (Esther 6 verses 9-10). And so, Haman who had planned to hang Mordecai now had to lead him throughout the city and proclaim that the king desires to honour him.


One day, as I read this passage, it was like God was telling me that this is what He, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has done for us as Christians. He has put on us His robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61 verse 10). By ourselves, we have no righteousness to speak of, nothing that would lead us to be honoured, or even to approach God. And according to 2 Corinthians 2 14, he leads us in a triumphal procession. In psalm 23 verse 5, we read that He prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies. In that famous passage Matthew 5 verses 13-19, Jesus says we shouldn’t hide, we are a city built on a hill and so should let our light shine to the glory of our heavenly Father. God wants us to be clearly visible as Christians, to the Glory of our Heavenly Father; we are His honoured children.


Hold on! If I’m reviewing the book, I shouldn’t give the ending away. All I will say here is that I want to be like Esther and all the other Bible characters who took a step of faith and because they trusted God, great things happened. We read about some of them in Hebrews 11, but there are more. Imagine Peter hearing Jesus saying he should come, and he walks on water! Or even after he’d fished all night and caught nothing, hearing Jesus say go and cast your net and he catches the largest haul imaginable.


As I say, I didn’t see God mentioned in the book, but He was everywhere. Oh and by the way, something else which always catches me out in Esther, how short the very last chapter is. Now what should I read next? Another story, a prophesy, an epistle, …?