Every year Jews celebrate Purim. It is a remembrance of the events that took place in the book of Esther. The Jews remember they were saved from annihilation. Samuel Wells encourages us to remember in his commentary on Esther part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. In this two part review, the other being Daniel, in the same commentary volume by George Sumner, remembrance and living in exile will be explored.
The book of Esther is one that has no mention of God. But it is in the Hebrew and Christian canon, nonetheless. Samuel Wells illuminates the book of Esther wonderfully. He argues the book of Esther has great elements of horror and humor, a tension in this journey as a Christian. He proposes Esther typologically to Jesus’ future salvation of the whole world. The book of Esther is a challenge to the church in how to balance its impact on the culture—it is neither a compliance with nor an outright refusal, but a faithful balance. Esther is a Jew in the Persian culture. She incorporates Persian influence without denouncing her Jewish identity. This is the tension the Christian lives in, in all parts of the world. We are in exile, but we also are American, European, part of the nations we live in.
Esther presents the question of what do we do in great danger in a kingdom that passes ridiculous and ever-changing (upon a whim) policies of life and death, excess and pride. Esther poses the question of what does one do when it seems God is silent. Esther uses her beauty, her Jewishness, herself to persuade a king to stop a massacre from happening that he barely remembers signing over the decree to Haman. Our human folly, distraction and indifference are written all over the pages describing the Persian Empire. But Esther and Mordecai’s steadfastness and loyalty to their people is the contrast in the story. What is the Christian to do when facing great opposition and destruction? Be as cunning as the snake and as gentle as the dove. And let the King bring the opposition, the enemy to justice with pleading.
Samuel Wells also brings the book of Esther into a liturgical perspective. He reminds us, as the Jews do, to remember, record, repeat, read, and relish. In the same way, we Christians are to remember that the Eucharistic celebration is that of a fearsome edict being overturned. If Haman’s decree was not overturned, it would have meant no Christianity. Wells encourages us to remember the great thanksgiving goes back to Jewish history. We remember what took place, we read what was recorded, we repeat the celebration, instead of overly elaborate Persian feasts, great celebrations with the communion of saints in the kingdom of God. Wells encourages us to learn from the example of the Jews—we are saved from great peril.