Introduction to the Book of Esther
Having completed the book of 1 John last week we are beginning a new study here at Community Church. We are going to be studying through the book of Esther. I will be honest with you that I am both intimidated and excited to go through the book of Esther. I am intimidated because when compared to other books in the bible so few pastors have decided to study this book with their congregations.
Surprisingly, when I went to one of my books at home that traces the foundations of grace throughout all of the bible and church history I found that there were no comments on the book of Esther. I looked for quite some time but Dr. Steven Lawson did not have a section that discusses Esther in what has been called his Magnum Opus work. From what I could tell he traced the foundations of grace through every book in the bible but Esther. I did, however, find one cross reference from the book of Esther when he was writing about one of the prison epistles.1 Next time I go to a conference where he is speaking I will have to ask him about this.
Could it be true that there is no treasure to be found in the pages of this book? Could it be true that there are no doctrines of grace to be discovered in this book that is in our bible? Is there none to be found in all 10 chapters? Is there nothing of value in this book and its 166 verses?
Spurgeon once said that every text, every verse, and every word of the bible longs for its opportunity to declare the glory of Christ. This is our opportunity for us to open our bibles to the book of Esther and to declare the glory of God by considering every verse.
I am excited to embark on this study because I know that God will bless our time in this book and that He will apply these truths to our hearts in profound ways. The book of Esther has many relevant things for us to contemplate that will help us in our own day as the setting of this book concerns believers of God who live in a very pagan society. It concerns the faithful who live in a world dominated by political power and pagan religions. In that day, God’s people probably often wondered if God was present in their lives. In this book we will see that God is always present and active.
Interestingly, the book of Esther and the book of Daniel are the only two books in the bible inwhich its setting takes place entirely outside of the Promised Land. Even more interestingly is the fact that the book of Esther shows no interest in the Promised Land at all.2 However, one of the main topics of this book is the Jewish people and how God preserved them throughout the whole kingdom of the Persian Empire.
Then we must consider that Esther is only one of two books in the bible that does not mention God by name at all. The other book in which God is never mentioned is the book of Song of Solomon. The fact that the Song of Solomon did not mention God by name did not stop Martin Luther from often quoting from it and even saying that that book painted a profound picture of what the Gospel looks like in the life of a believer. However, Luther was not as fond of the book of Esther. He argued that the book of Esther did not belong in the cannon of scriptures.
There have been other reasons why some have questioned the place that Esther should have within the cannon. They have brought up the fact that Esther was the only book contained in the Old Testament that was not found among the Qumran scrolls. And they will point out that the early church fathers did not quote from or comment much from the book of Esther.
Yet, none of this should dissuade us from wanting to study this book and enjoying it as part of the inspired and authoritative Word of God. There are many other reasons why we should have confidence to study this book. For example,
In AD70 Josephus’ writings suggest that Esther belonged within the Cannon of Scripture.
The Mishnah, and other rabbinic teachings, suggest that the book of Esther is to be included within the Old Testament Cannon.
The council of Jamnia (90AD) considered Esther to be a book that should be included in the Cannon.
The Council of Hippo (AD393) included Esther in the Cannon.
The Council of Carthage (AD397) included Esther in the Cannon.
And today the book of Esther remains central to Jewish liturgy, and Christian theologians appreciate its historical progress into the canon as a sign of its centrality and importance within the faith story of God’s people.3
The fact that God is not mentioned by name in the book of Esther has caused me some pause concerning going through this book. What a contrast from the books that we have recently gone through. Books like: the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Philippians, and 1 John. And yet, this particular characteristic concerning this book may make our study even more fruitful than we may realize at first. Consider what Debra Reid says in her commentary on Esther concerning this very thing. She says, “Instead of giving up on a theological quest, we find ourselves searching more earnestly for a God whose non-appearance seems to enhance His presence. The result is that, because our minds are teased, our subsequent theological conclusions incorporate reflection at a number of penetrating and intriguing levels.”4
I love the words, “...Instead of giving up on a theological quest, we find ourselves searching more earnestly for a God who non-appearance seems to enhance His presence.”
There have been times when people have left our church because they did not think that we focused upon the right things. They left the church because they thought we did not emphasize what they wanted to hear. Let me give you two examples.
There have been people who have decided to leave this church because we did not spend some time each week addressing political and world events in view of the scriptures. One person told me that he wanted to attend a church where the preacher has a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
After I was told this I asked myself, and probably some of the elders, if we were doing something wrong? Is it not good enough that Community Church has made it a priority to go systematically through the scriptures? Should we be topical? Should I preach with a paper in one hand and the bible in the other? But in response to this question comes Paul’s charge to young Timothy, “I charge you...preach the Word; be ready in season and out of seas