Reflection by the Rev. Elizabeth Felicetti
This week ends our study of Esther, which means the conclusion of this session of the Good Book Club. Ash Wednesday is next week, so our season of signs and wonders will end, and the season of repentance and preparation for Easter begins.
These final two chapters of the book are a denouement: the day everyone has been dreading finally arrives. On the thirteenth day of Adar, thanks to Mordecai’s edict, the Jews fight “those who had sought their ruin” (9:2). Many who might have tried to annihilate them do not try, thanks to Esther speaking up to the king in Haman’s presence. Five hundred die, however, including Haman’s ten sons, but the Jews do not plunder the possessions of any of those killed. Esther then requests that the killing in Susa be allowed to continue a second day, and that Haman’s sons be hung on the pole.
The rest of chapter nine institutes the feast of Purim, which will be a day of gladness and feasting with gifts of food and presents to the poor. This holiday is observed by Jewish people today. When the sole Esther reading shows up in our Episcopal Revised Common Lectionary, I give the children in our congregation noisemakers called “groggers” to use every time the lector says Haman’s name, and I hope that we observe this in a way that is respectful, not culturally appropriating. (One Jewish tradition is to read the story of Esther and invite the children to boo or jeer each time Haman’s name is mentioned). In my context, I don’t know whether the children completely comprehend the story, but I am sure they will remember being encouraged to make noise in church.
As you finish reading the book of Esther this final week of the Good Book Club, what are your thoughts about it? Does the violence make you cringe? I am uncomfortable with the violence too, but then I remember that much of the Bible is violent, as is, sadly, our world today. I appreciate that the book portrays an oppressed people defending themselves while not forsaking their values (e.g., not touching the plunder) and how Esther herself represents these principles. She does not have a choice in the matter of being taken into the king’s harem. She marries the king and then uses her position of power to save many lives. Mordecai also does all he can with what he has, and he ultimately finds himself in a position of influence, which he uses to protect his people. One of the twists of Esther is its hyperbolic tale of subversiveness.
For further reflection:
Does your opinion of Esther change at all in chapter 9, when she asks that the killing continue for a second day?
The book of Esther offers clear protagonists and villains. Other books in the Bible are not as clear, or at least offer fuller pictures of the sinfulness of some of the protagonists. For example, David (especially if we read the Samuel/Kings cycle instead of the Chronicles cycle) and Paul are held up as heroes of our faith, yet they both had blood on their hands. Think also of people presented as villains, such as Jezebel and Judas. Can you find traces of humanity in what we have in the Bible for them?
As we near the end of our study of Esther, how do you feel about this book being in the Bible, especially as it does not mention God? Do you find God between the lines? Do you find God in these two final chapters, and if so, where?