A few years ago, my daughter Marissa decided to adopt a dog. She lived in an apartment so she wanted a small, quiet pup. She found her new companion at a local Humane Society. Her dog is a sweet, smart Havanese whose difficult past life was as a breeder at a puppy mill. The Humane Society had named her Esther, and Marissa immediately thought of Queen Esther in the Old Testament, so she kept the name. That was a good decision, as keeping the name grew our interest in learning more about this Biblical heroine.
Some say that Esther reads like a movie plot. Indeed, a search of Amazon.com reveals several movies telling the story of Esther. The USCCB website sums up the plot like this:
The Book of Esther tells a story of the deliverance of the Jewish people. We are shown a Persian emperor, Ahasuerus (loosely based on Xerxes, 485–464 B.C.), who makes momentous decisions for trivial reasons, and his wicked minister, Haman, who takes advantage of the king’s compliance to pursue a personal vendetta against the Jews by having a royal decree issued ordering their destruction. The threat is averted by two Jews, Esther and Mordecai. Their influence and intervention allow the Jews to turn the tables on their enemies and rout their attackers. This deliverance is commemorated by the inauguration of the Jewish festival of Purim on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar (mid-February through mid-March)
The USCCB summary omits the display of wit, irony, and courage in Esther. I especially admire her bravery, probably because it is something I lack. Courageous people are not necessarily fearless. They are those who do what is right despite their fears. This, too, would describe the Queen. She was afraid, but she relied on God to give her what she needed to save her people.
After Haman successfully convinced the king to allow the decree that would destroy the Jewish people, Mordecai went to Esther. He convinced her to try and persuade the king to save the Jews. You would think that the queen talking to the king would not be an issue, but there is a problem. Esther 4:11 (RSCVE) tells us:
“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law; all alike are to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter that he may live. And I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”
After this comes one of the more famous lines from this book, spoken by Mordecai in Esther 4:14 (RSCVE):
“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
The last line gets the most attention. Those first words, “And who knows”, makes it even more powerful. How do we know when something is God’s calling or just something we desire? In Esther’s case, her decision could cost her life and still not save her people. Yet at some point, we have to take that leap of faith that God will not abandon us if we are doing our best to follow His will. Unfortunately, most who quote this passage leaves out those first words.
Then there is the first sentence in this verse. It shows Mordecai’s complete confidence that God will one day deliver the Jews.
Mordecai must have been convincing because this is what happened next.
Then Esther told them to reply to Mor′decai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Mor′decai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. (Esther 4:15-17, RSCVE).
Esther loved her people with enough passion to risk giving her life for them. The decision did not quell her fear, though. From Esther 14:1,2:
And Esther the queen, seized with deathly anxiety, fled to the Lord; she took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body, and every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair.
She fled to the Lord in her anxiety. That is a lesson for me. Her entire eloquent prayer moves me greatly. She glorifies God, she asks for Him to put words in her mouth, and she shows her complete dependence on God by asking a couple of times for God to help her, “who am alone and have no helper but thee”.
As a person lacking courage, I especially relate to the last verse of her prayer, Esther 14:19:
O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!”
Did God save her from her fear? That might depend on your definition of “saved.” I encourage you to read the book yourself.
As might be obvious, I find some of the most moving verses in this book to be the prayers of Mordecai and of Esther. I could almost go line by line and write an entire column just on those chapters. It was a surprise to me to learn that our Protestant brothers and sisters do not have the advantage of those prayers in their bibles. In Protestant scripture, Esther is one of two books that never mentions God.
Many Protestants who write about this book say that God is obviously behind the scenes, but not all agree. I read comments from one individual who is not a fan of the book. He considers Esther and Mordecai to be ungodly. He attributes selfish motivations to their acts, adding that it is telling they never utter God’s name.
This person is quite aware of the prayers of Esther and Mordecai that appear in Catholic scriptures. He just does not believe they belong in this book.
In my curiosity about Protestant thought on Esther, I ended up reading several blogs, including debate after debate about what should constitute Scripture. There was misinformation on both sides, which became apparent as those debating the issue corrected each other.
It taught me something. It is impossible for most of us to know by our own reasoning which books belong in the Bible. Even people who are passionate about the subject, full of knowledge and a desire to serve God, cannot agree.
There have been many different ideas of what belonged in Scripture even in the days of Jesus and earlier. My understanding is that ultimately Protestants use the books of the Hebrew translation and Catholics use most of the books of the Septuagint (the Greek translation). There are claims that the Septuagint is never used in the New Testament, proving that Jesus and the apostles did not consider it Scripture. This is not true. There is ample evidence that Jesus and the apostles referenced it.
I do know that the early Christians used the version of the Bible that Catholics still use today. We can know this because the Council Synod of Hippo in the year 393 listed the books in Scripture, and it was confirmed in various later councils.
If God wants us to know Scripture, He must have given us a way to figure out what books belong to it because we certainly cannot all figure it out on our own. I grew exhausted reading the many arguments for and against disputed books. I know some educated people who do not believe that Song of Songs belongs in Scripture. Yet it is not their decision to make. One individual person does not have the authority to change what is in Scripture. This just confirms to me that God gave us the Church to figure these things out.
Following our daughter’s lead, my husband and I named our dog Kolbe. I spell his name when I introduce him to others in order to clarify that he was not named after colby cheese. This gives me an opportunity to educate people about St. Maximillian Kolbe.
St. Maximilian’s feast day is August 14, and I will be writing again near that date. Stay tuned.