Bidden or Unbidden God is present. My sisters and brothers, God is always working in our lives whether we name him or not. What is most conspicuous about the Book of Esther is the absence of God being named. Esther is the only book of the Bible that does not mention the word God. But God is present, God acts in the world, God’s work among us is apparent in the story of Esther and in our daily lives.
Imagine with me that we have entered a darkened movie theatre. We have our popcorn and pop. We turn off our cellphones and settle in to sit through the interminable previews. Then the title appears on the large screen: Purim: Esther’s Epic. Now during the real Jewish festival of Purim the Book of Esther is read in its entirety. The music swells and the cast of characters is presented graphically interspersed with scenes from a lavish banquet. We meet Esther, of course, whose name is from the Persian stara meaning star and likely derived from that of a Babylonian deity, Ishtar. We will later learn that Esther, being an orphan, was raised by her cousin Mordecai whose name is from that of the Akkadian god, Marduk. Mordecai, a Jew, served in the royal court of King Ahasuerus from the Persian form of the Greek Xerxes. King Ahasuerus ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. Haman is introduced with a suspenseful musical underscore that gives us a foretaste of the intrigue that he will bring to today’s feature presentation.
(During the celebration of Purim when the reader mentions Haman (and that is 54 times in the reading) the congregation hisses and stamps their feet and rattles a noisemaker called the ra-ashan.) Haman was a member of the court; for a time he served as the prime minister. (Hisses and boos and stamping of feet, please!) Esther’s story took place in the 5th century BC. The Jews were in exile in Persia having been conquered by the Babylonians. Haman and Mordecai are antagonists, Haman being Agagite, an enemy of the Jews. Mordecai was descended from Kish who was exiled more than 150 years before Esther’s tale. And Saul, Kish’s son had taken King Agag in battle. King Ahasuerus appointed Haman prime minister. As such all were to bow to Haman. Mordecai refused, and Haman put a plan in place to kill not only Mordecai but all the Jews throughout the king’s domain.
Without the cinematic tools of flash-backs or flash-forwards, this story begins with an empire-wide banquet that lasted 180 days. Our screenplay adapted from the Book of Esther is set around 10 such celebrations, although lesser in scope but not in significance for God’s people. These Persians were noted for their overindulgence in drink at these banquets. By law the guests were to partake cup for cup as the King drank. In his drunken state the King wished to show off his wife and she refused, thus paving the way for Esther’s entrance into the king’s court and into his heart. (God does indeed work in To further set the stage for this captivating story of Queen Esther saving the Jews from annihilation, after the King’s former queen disobeyed him she was dismissed, and Mordecai brought the fair and beautiful Esther to the king’s court. Esther earned his favor from among all the young women in the harem (According to the ancient historian Josephus there were 400 girls in all.). The king chose Esther as his Queen although she kept her ethnicity to herself as Mordecai had advised her. Mordecai overheard a plot against the king and Esther shared this with the King thus saving his life.
So in the fifth year of the lovely Queen Esther’s rule, Naman is finalizing his plans to destroy Mordecai who has offended him, but not just Mordecai, but all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Haman and the King conferred and cast Pur – or lots – to set a special date for this campaign against the Jews. Haman had made his case before the King spinning half-truths into threats by the Jewish community. True, the Jews had their own laws as set in the Torah, set by God, but they also obeyed the king’s laws. The king was convinced not to tolerate the Jews and gave the order to use 10,000 talents – that is 375 tons of silver – to carry this out. Haman issued a royal edit to destroy the Jews – to Mordecai sent word to Esther along with a copy of the written decree ordering the destruction of the Jews. By law noone could go to the King unless summoned – on pain of death. Esther asked Mordecia and the Jews to fast and pray for her mission. On the 3rd day of the vigil she dressed in her finest robes and went uninvited into the inner courts of the king. She won his favor, and he offered her anything she ask for, even half of the vast kingdom of Persia. She asked the king to bring Haman to a banquet that she had prepared. But Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s court and made plans to kill him having the gallows erected, planning to hang him and then go to the queen’s banquet supposing that he Haman was to be honored there.
The night before Queen Esther’s banquet, the king was troubled and could not sleep.
He asked to have the royal records read to him. He was reminded in the annals how Mordecai had saved his life earlier. So he called Haman and asked how this person had been repaid demanding that Haman dress the one who had saved him in royal robes, be given a horse the king had ridden, and for a crown to be placed on his head. He then named Mordicai as the one to be honoured and demanded the Haman dress him and lead him through the city square to honor him. Haman was mortified.
Haman did go to Esther’s dinner believing. All the while the gallows were waiting for Mordecai within steps of the banquet hall. The 2nd day of the banquet the king asked Esther for her petition. She asked for her own life and for the lives of her people. She reported that she and her people were to be annihilated. The king asked her who had plotted such a thing, and she identified Haman. So Haman was “hoist on his own petard” – hanged on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The Jews were saved from destruction throughout the Empire, and Mordecai was given the kings signet ring to act on his behalf as prime minister.
Mordecai commanded that all Jews should keep a holiday, days of feasting and gift giving to the poor. To this day Purim is celebrated in the Jewish community – named after the lot, the Pur, that determined the day of their destruction that was thwarted.
A rather new addition to Purim in Europe is masquerading in costumes. By dressing up on Purim and hiding their faces, Jews remember how Esther kept her Jewish heritage hidden, how Mordecai hid his knowledge of languages so that he could learn of the plot against his king, and how God remained hidden throughout the Purim miracle. Through Esther’s story (and the omission of God's name in it) we learn that while God may not be conspicuously present at all times, God nevertheless has played an essential role in the future of the Jewish nation and continues to play an important role in everyone's lives.
Seen or unseen God is there. Bidden or unbidden God is present.
If the Book of Esther were adapted for the screen, it would be a screenwriter’s dream.
The villain Haman is dead; the king Ahasuerus and the good queen Esther are united; and the faithful Jew Mordecai has been rewarded. Everyone lives happily ever after. But all is not well. Yes, God’s people have been saved and God has been at work through the heroine Esther and hero Mordecai. But the Jews are still in exile. The Persian king has not mended his ways and Persian law still rules and the fortune of the Jews could change on a whim. The happy ending is oh-so precarious – dependent upon humans not God.
The security of the Jews and our own security depends upon God alone. A rewrite to turn the heart of the King and return the Jews to Israel might be a change we would like to see. Perhaps an epilogue might reveal a change in ultimate control with a shift to God’s agent Esther or Mordicai. But for certain when the screen fades to black and the credits roll we surely would want to see God’s name placed prominently in the production crew listings to acknowledge who was in control throughout the Esther Epic.
Seen or unseen, bidden or unbidden, God is present.


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