Christopher Ash on Teaching Esther

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Christopher Ash on Teaching Esther

Nancy Guthrie interviews Christopher Ash

Transcript

The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Christopher Ash: When Mordecai says to Esther, “Relief and deliverance will come from another place.” He’s preaching the gospel to her. He’s saying, in effect, there’s a covenant to Abraham that one day his seed will rule the world. And how can all the people be destroyed? Relief and deliverance will come. And Paul says in Galatians 3:8 that the promises to Abraham are the gospel preached in advance. So I think Mordecai is in a real sense preaching the gospel to Esther.

Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible.” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of The Gospel Coalition, sponsored by Crossway, a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org.

I’m getting to sit with one of my favorite writers and Bible teachers today, Christopher Ash. Those who have listened to “Help Me Teach the Bible” may remember a previous episode I did with him almost probably two years ago now on the book of Job.

Christopher, thank you for being willing to sit down with me again to help us teach the bible.

Ash: It’s a privilege for me.

Guthrie: This conversation, we are going to take on the book of Esther. But before we do that, let me tell you a little bit about Christopher. Christopher is currently the writer-in-residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England, which I got a little tour of yesterday, by the way, which was so much fun. I have a dream of coming to spend a week or more than that at Tyndale House to study, but here’s the thing, Christopher, I would feel like such a fraud. I mean, you guys have all of these books, and you know, all of the codex of all of these, you know, translations in the original Hebrews here and all of that. And I don’t do any of that. So I would feel like I was, like, a fraud there trying to act like I was more intelligent than I am. But it would sure be fun to have access to all of those books you have there.

AshMany of us are frauds. There’s a lot of bluff that goes on.

Guthrie: I don’t believe it. Before having this role of writer-in-residence at Tyndale House, you were a pastor for many years in and around Cambridge. And you spent many years with the Proclamation Trust running its Cornhill training course. So you have had a hand in training many a Bible teacher.

Ash: It’s been a great privilege.

Guthrie: Yeah. Well, we thank you for that because we need people to help us. Everybody needs help getting better. And we’re always trying to get better.

AshWe are, and we need to help one another.

Guthrie: Yes, we do. Well, that’s what we’re going to do. Over this next hour or so, we’re going to seek to help one another get better on teaching this one specific book. One reason I’m talking to Christopher about this book. He has written a book for Christian Focus Publishers that’s called Teaching Ruth and Esther. So he puts those two unique Old Testament stories together. But one thing I love about this book, it’s not really a commentary, although you do go verse by verse, but it really has lots of help specifically for the person who’s getting ready to teach it. Helps on things you should do, things you should look for, as well as little warnings about ways we might go wrong when we’re teaching a particular passage from that book.

And I’d like to begin with the place you begin in your book, Teaching Ruth and Esther. You go through, I think it’s three things we need to do, things we need to remember when we are teaching this book. And so, maybe that’s a good place to start. And your number one thing you have here to consider when we’re approaching the Book of Esther. You say, “Beware of moralizing from Esther.” Many of us have grown up with most Old Testament teaching being moralizing, and maybe we have the sense, “Yeah, that’s not good.” But some of us aren’t even sure, really, when we’re doing that, and what that looks like. So help us with that.

AshYes, thank you for asking that. Our instinct, when we read an Old Testament story is to cheer when we think somebody has done something good or to boo when we think they’ve done something bad, a little bit like a pantomime. But unless the narrator indicates that they want us to approve or disapprove of something, that may not be the point of it. And very often they’re telling a bigger story. And particularly in Esther, many of the actions that people take are ambiguous. Not all of them. Haman, the enemy of the Jews is clearly evil. And indeed by the end, a figure of tragic fun in a way, and we are meant to boo. But the narrator indicates that one way or another. So at the beginning, people are forever trying to evaluate Esther morally. Was she right to do what she did or wrong to do what she did? And our evaluations often tell us more about ourselves than they do about Esther, so we just need to be very careful. And, you know, I guess, if we want to know what’s right and wrong, the law is the place to go in the Old Testament. The law tells us what’s right and wrong.

Guthrie: Maybe what drives us in that regard as Bible teacher, is we really do want to get to application. That’s a good push, wouldn’t you say?

AshYes.

Guthrie: A good desire. But we tend to lean toward making the application, here’s what you should do and what you should not do. Perhaps we don’t esteem the value of application in terms of being, “What does this show us about God’s kingdom? What does this reveal to us about God’s King? About our mediator, about identifying with God’s people?” And so, those would be the…wouldn’t those be good examples, I hope?

AshRight.

Guthrie: About not moralizing, but yet, very personal pointed application?

Ash Yes, I think so. And also with a narrative, with a story, very often the application comes when we’ve read sufficient of the arc of the story to get it. And one of the troubles with writing Bible study notes for narrative is that we have smaller chunks. And the chunks are too small and you have a little bit. And you think, “Well, I need some application.” So you end up moralizing, instead of which we should sometimes say, “Well, I need to read more before I can get a sense of the point of the story.”

Guthrie: Oh, that’s helpful. All right, so that was number one, beware of moralizing. The second one, kind of, corresponds with what we’re talking about, Seek Christ in Esther. And that may sound like a huge challenge to some people. Esther is one of those books where I’m not sure we even have a mention of God, and yet you’re telling us that we should seek Christ in Esther. This is taking place hundreds of years before he was born, so how are we going to do that?

AshYes, and that’s a really good question. And Christians have approached this slightly differently, but I’ll say what I think and then those who listen to this can make up their own minds. It seems to me that God is the hero of every Bible story, but God’s Christ is also the hero. And very often there’s a human figure who in some way foreshadows or has the shape of Christ about them. Sometimes it’s very obvious, the kings in David’s line, or the prophets foreshadow the great prophet, or the priests foreshadow the Great Priest, or the wise men foreshadow the man who is our wisdom. But in other ways, I mean, in the book of Esther, you get a young woman who goes into the place of power to mediate for her people at great cost or potentially great cost to herself.

And you say that and you think, “Oh, I know another story of somebody mediating for their people at great cost to themselves.” And there’s something about Esther that foreshadows the shape of Christ, lots that doesn’t. Or Mordecai who is a righteous man. He saves the king’s life, he does the right thing. He’s unrecognized. Here is a righteous man who is unrecognized. And then later in the story, you see him transfigured and you see him in glory for a day riding on the king’s horse. And you think, “Oh, this is a great man.” And then he goes back to his normal life. And then later you see him elevated to the place of authority in the Empire. And you think, “I know another story of a righteous man who was unrecognized, who was momentarily transfigured and people glimpsed His glory. And then later he was elevated to the position of power in the universe.”

I mean, and perhaps I could share with you a little analogy I sometimes use, because Christians sometimes get a bit, sort of, twitchy about this sort of thing, and think it all feels a bit arbitrary and, “Where did you get this from?” And certainly, if you have two figures in a story, you know, like the Narnia stories, we all know that Aslan is the Christ figure, there isn’t any other Christ figure in the Narnia stories, it’s very clear and simple. But “The Lord of the Rings” there’s certainly three Christ figures. I mean, Gandalf is the wise man who dies, really, and is raised from the dead. Aragorn is the king unrecognized who comes into his kingdom. Frodo is the one who bears the burden of the ring. Each of them, one way or another…

Guthrie: Shows some aspect?

Ash …you know, if you know the Christian story, you think, “Oh, this reminds me a little bit of the Christian story.” And I think in that kind of slightly fluid way, you know, we can see little foreshadowings of the shape of Christ here or there.

Guthrie: So we can see Christ in some of those people, could we not also see Christ by contrast in terms of a King? Because we’ve got a picture of a very worldly King, in terms of what he values, how he rules, where his wisdom comes from, perhaps we could get to Christ by seeing…

Ash And we have a better king. Yes.

Guthrie: : And we have a what?

AshA better king.

Guthrie: Yes, that we have a better king.

Ash Yes.

Guthrie: Yeah, who rules over his people with justice.

AshI think the thing with the Old Testament is, because all the lines of foreshadowing converge on Christ, Prophet, Priest, King, wisdom, sacrifice, everything converges on Christ, all the lines of God’s promise. The question when reading the Old Testament, and teaching, and preaching the Old Testament of how we see those arrows to Christ is an art rather than a science.

Guthrie: Yes.

AshAnd, you know, sometimes it’ll be very clear.

Guthrie: Yes.

Ash A King in David’s line. You know, it’s very clear where that’s going. Sometimes it’s a little bit less clear. And I think Esther is one of those books where it’s not so clear.

Guthrie: Another way I’ve heard someone get to Christ from the book of Esther is just talking about looking at this theme of this great reversal the day when it’s supposed to be death, and there’s actually, they rise up and defeat those who are meant to kill them. I mean, what a beautiful picture of the personal work of Christ.

AshAnd the whole structure of the core of the Book of Esther is that topsy-turvy turning upside-down thing.

Guthrie: It keeps happening, doesn’t it?

AshYes. Yes, indeed. I think, you know, those who’ve seen in the book of Esther, the great reversal of the cross, it fits in all sorts of ways. I think it makes a great deal of sense.

Guthrie: Okay, so we had number one, beware of moralizing. Number two, seek Christ in Esther. And then number three, this is very important, read “Jew” in light of biblical theology.

AshYes.

Guthrie: That might take some explanation for us.

AshYes, indeed. Because Esther is a very Jewish book, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Yes.

Ash Mordecai the Jew, Haman the enemy of the Jews. I mean, it’s a very Jewish book. And so you think, how do you read it Christianly? And in Christian history, some people have struggled a bit to think, how do we read it Christianly? And I think the key is biblical theology. I often turn to the end of Romans 2 where Paul says, “A true Jew is not one outwardly. Circumcision is not ultimately a matter of the body but of the heart. A true Jew is somebody who by the Spirit is circumcised in the heart.” That kind of language. And I think that sense that the fulfillment of Jew is the people of God in Christ who are now Jew and Gentile, because those of us who are Gentiles have been grafted in by grace. So if I’m teaching Esther, I’ll often go from the Jews to the covenant people of God, because it’s easier then, from the covenant people of God, you think, “Who are the covenant people of God under the new covenant?” Answer, Jew and, wonderfully, Gentile in Christ. But I think that’s really important.

Guthrie: Okay, when you say that you talk about the covenant people of God, are you talking about, as you teach Esther, just your verbal habit comes to be that where the passage is talking about Jews? You’re using the term covenant people of God to help your listeners think of them on those terms. Is that what you mean?

AshThat’s exactly what I mean. Yes, yes. So I’m deliberately, you know, varying the language. So I won’t just say, “The Jews. The Jews. The Jews.” Because if you simply say the Jews, people will assume there’s a one-to-one correspondence between the Jews in the old covenant and the Jews as an ethnic group today. And you read the whole of Biblical theology and you see that actually, the Jews in the old covenant is the old covenant people of God and now that is the new covenant people of God in Christ. So I try to use that language of, “The people of God,” or “The covenant people,” just to help my listeners to make that biblical theology transition, really.

Guthrie: Do you use the same technique, perhaps, in that we’re talking, this is a story of a kingdom, and we believe this is a historical story? In fact, I loved it, the last time I came to England, I got to go to the British Museum, I’m sure you’ve seen this many times. And I had this handy little book, “Through the Bible in the British Museum,” something like that.

AshYes, wonderful.

Guthrie: And, isn’t that fabulous? And it tells you everything to look for in the British Museum that connects to the Bible. And one of my very favorite things, there’s a golden goblet…

Ash I’d forgotten that.

Guthrie: …that’s there. There’s a goblet that’s there that would have been from the same time period of Esther.

AshYes.

Guthrie: So that was just fabulous to me, because we’re going to dip into the story in a moment, and it begins with the story of this fabulous banquet.

AshYes.

Guthrie: And it tells us all of this detail including that they drank from these goblets, right?

AshYes.

Guthrie: It’s wanting us to get a sense of how grand this banquet was, and even down to the goblets that they used. And so anyway, that was just an aside. That was free for our listeners, no charge for that. But anyway, you were talking about how you, verbally to help your listeners understand the Jews and understand we’re talking about the covenant people of God. We’re also talking about a kingdom here, the specific kingdom of Persia. But in a sense, we want our listeners to get a sense of a broader kingdom than just this one in this time, don’t we?

AshYes, yes.

Guthrie: So how do you do that?

AshWell, I’ll tell you what I do, and it may be a help to some. I will certainly say, “The Persian Empire,” so that people know that this is historical, and when it comes from, and all that kind of thing, but I’ll often then just simply refer to it as, “The Empire.” And remind people of Star Wars. It’s a sense of saying, the Persian Empire is a historical embodiment of the Empire of the world. It’s the world empire. It’s what John would call the world. And so you begin to make that transition, and you think, “Here are the people of God living in the empire of the world. How do they live? How do they survive?”

Guthrie: That makes it sound very modern.

Ash Yes.

Guthrie: Because that’s us, isn’t it?

AshYes, yes, yes. So I think…

Guthrie: And I also see into the future, Babylon the great at the end of revelation, isn’t that the Empire?

AshIt’s exactly the same thing, that Babylon which was a historical, you know, The Neo-Babylonian Empire. It becomes very soon really, a symbol of the world.

Guthrie: Well, let’s dive in to this book. Boy, I don’t know how we’re going to work our way through it because it’s such a great story. It’s so easy to get lost in so much detail, but…

Ash It’s certainly gripping, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Right. Do you find humor in this first picture of this banquet? It tells us…I’m in the ESV which says, “Ahasuerus…” I think you’re working in the NIV, and it gives this king a different name which can be confusing to some people as they’re reading it, but does that matter much?

AshShall we just call him the king?

Guthrie: Let’s call him the king. Let’s call him the king. And he is throwing this big feast, and it is giving us all of this detail about this feast. I mean, good grief, in verse 6, “White cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened.” I mean, just such detail. What do you think we’re meant to take out of this picture of this lavish banquet that this king is throwing and all of the detail that’s given?

AshBecause the description is way over the top, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Yes.

AshWe’re supposed to be open-jawed with wonder, it’s enormously impressive. I think there’s no language quite as impressive, except in the description of Solomon’s temple in the early chapters of 1 Kings, interestingly. So here is something which is purporting to be like a temple, almost. It’s enormously impressive. It’s enormously desirable. I want to have a share in that. I want it. I think I used to live in the middle of London and you come out of the metro in Canary Wharf, one of the big business districts. And you see these awesome high buildings, like, you know, in the United States in Manhattan. And you look around with wonder, and you think, “Here is majesty, and here is something immensely desirable. I want this.” And I think it begins with that, you know?

Guthrie: Mm-hmm.

AshBut it’s very much, the exterior, it’s the outside. And this is superficiality about the Empire.

Guthrie: Because the king looks like he has it all.

AshYes.

Guthrie: But we are about to discover he doesn’t have it all.

AshAnd we are going to laugh.

Guthrie: In verse 10, we’re told that this king, his heart is merry with wine and he commands his servants to bring in the queen, Queen Vashti, before the king with her royal crown. And we’re told his motives, in order to show the people and the princes her beauty for she’s lovely to look at. And then comes the first real crisis in our book, “But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command.”

AshAnd it’s so funny, isn’t?

Guthrie: Yes.

AshI mean, it’s all superficiality. The banquet is superficiality. And Queen Vashti, it’s also…they want to look at her. It’s all about appearances. I mean, there’s something pretty ugly about the men’s attitude, but it’s all superficial, it’s all appearances. And then she says, “No.” You know, I can imagine people tweeting #VashtiSaidNo. And you can imagine it would go viral, wouldn’t it? And it would cause such an embarrassment to the king. That this king…

Guthrie: I mean, he’s having this banquet to show off all of his wealth.

Ash And he rules 127 provinces.

Guthrie: But here is his own queen, and she won’t obey him.

AshThat’s right. And he cannot control the spirit or the heart of a human being. So we are meant to laugh. I mean, it’s dangerous, but we are meant to laugh.

Guthrie: In many ways, this king is the opposite of King Solomon. He has these supposed wise men around him, and so he didn’t know what to do about his queen.

Ash It’s fascinating, because at no point in the entire book does the king ever make a decision on his own.

Guthrie: He’s, kind of, pathetic in that way.

AshHe always needs somebody to tell him what to do.

Guthrie: But their advice is so bad, I think. Their concern is that all of the men in the kingdom are going to hear, “Oh, the king’s wife didn’t obey.” And so now their wives aren’t going to obey them. So it seems to me if you were smart, you would just try to keep this quiet.

AshInstead of which, they broadcast it to the whole Empire.

Guthrie: Instead, they broadcast it.

AshIt’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Yeah.

AshThey turn an embarrassment into an empire-wide crisis.

Guthrie: Yes, it’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?

Ash It is.

Guthrie: Vashti is out, then once again, these wise men, they’ve got an idea. So, in chapter 2:2, “Then the king’s young men who attended him, said, ‘let the beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins,'” that’s interesting repetition, “to the harem in Susa, the citadel under the custody of the king’s eunuch who is in charge of the women. Let them be given cosmetics. And let the woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti. And this pleased the king.”

Ash I guess it would, wouldn’t it, please the king?

Guthrie: Mm-hmm.

Ash But it’s ugly, isn’t it? It’s really ugly. And it’s…

Guthrie: It’s not presented as dark…

Ash Very dark.

Guthrie: …but when you begin to think about what’s happening here, then you begin to realize what it’s like to be one of those women.

AshYeah, yeah. It’s not just they’re pretty, they’re sex objects, that’s the reality. And in case people think that this is a, sort of, feminist point, again, and again, you meet these eunuchs. So there’s a succession of boys who’ve been castrated. So the Empire is a terrible place. Treats people as just instruments to be what we want them to be for our own benefit.

Guthrie: And we can think of this as a beauty pageant, but it’s really, it’s more than that, right?

Ash It’s a sex competition.

Guthrie: Yes. Because all of these women are actually…aren’t they going to sleep with the king?

Ash Mm-hmm.

Guthrie: Have a try out in bed?

Ash Yep, I’m afraid so.

Guthrie: Right. And then if they don’t pass muster, then they become a part of the harem?

AshYeah, yeah. I think you can say, “If they didn’t perform,” because that’s what it is. Which is ugly, isn’t it, the whole thing?

Guthrie: Yes.

AshWe’re meant to look at the Empire. We’re meant to laugh at the Empire in chapter 1, and to think it’s not as impressive as it seems, but we’re also meant to shiver and think there’s something terribly dark about the way the Empire treats people. That’s how it is outside of God and His grace. And it’s very contemporary, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Yes.

Ash Plenty of examples of powerful men treating…well, particularly these days, of powerful men, treating women as objects for their own pleasure. Ugly.

Guthrie: Ugly. But then we discover verse 5, “Now there was a Jew in Susa, the citadel whose name was Mordecai.” And it gives us his whole pedigree.

AshDoesn’t it?

Guthrie: Yeah, it does. And, you know, honestly, most of us, I think, because maybe those names don’t immediately mean something to us. Maybe we might be tempted to just brush over them and thinking the Bible is giving us some detail that we don’t really need. That’s probably not the case here with Mordecai’s heritage.

Ash I think that’s right. He’s from the tribe of Benjamin. And amongst his ancestors, he names a Kish. And with Bible memories, we think of King Saul, the son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin. So we just make a little mental note at that point, there’s a connection with King Saul.

Guthrie: Something is going to come up here.

AshWe’ll come back to that.

Guthrie: And it tells us, they were carried away from Jerusalem. And we remember our Bible history about being carried away to Babylon back when Nebuchadnezzar did that. But we realize, this is many years later. And this is after the 70 years. This is after the time when they were given permission to go back to Jerusalem. And, I don’t know, it’s, kind of, interesting to me when I first studied this, to think about the fact, here is Mordecai and Esther, they’re Jews, but they haven’t chosen to go back to the Promised Land. Do you do anything with that?

AshYes. It’s an interesting question, Nancy, isn’t it? I mean, certainly at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, you know, we’re supposed to honor those who went back with them. The narrator of Esther doesn’t explicitly drop any hints of disapproval about Mordecai. So I would want to be a little cautious about that. Maybe not to, sort of, boo too loudly.

Guthrie: Yeah.

AshWho knows quite why they’re there?

Guthrie: Would you agree that in general, in the Old Testament, to be in the Promised Land, that’s the one place where God has promised to bless His people. That it does hold that up as being a person of faith, is to want to live in his land in his presence?

Ash I think that’s right, and certainly when we were talking about the Book of Ruth, that going back to the land was a mark of faith and belonging in the people of God. I think that’s probably true. Just because the narrator doesn’t make a big deal of it, I would tend to think of it as a little bit of a side thing perhaps.

Guthrie: And that’s a good, just general rule as a Bible teacher, is it not? That we oftentimes want to impose our questions, the things that are important to us on a text. And it’s important as a Bible teacher to say, “Okay, well, if there’s something God hasn’t seen fit to reveal to us in this text, perhaps it’s not his main point and therefore should not be our main point.”

Ash That would be my thought.

Guthrie: It’s interesting, verse 7, we’re first told her Hebrew name. “He was bringing up Hadassah,” that is Esther. That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it?

Ash She has these two names, doesn’t she? And it’s just one of these little hints that she is going to struggle with a question of identity. Is she going to identify as the member of the people of God or is she going to be identified as a member of the Empire? And that’s going to be one of the big things going on in her life?

Guthrie: And isn’t that a big thing going on in my life and your life?

AshYes, yes.

Guthrie: Am I going to be identified with the people of God? Is that going to be at the heart of who I am?

AshAm I going to be identified as one of the exiles?

Guthrie: We learn that she gets swept up. We read that she’s one of the young women who is gathered in Susa to the citadel and she’s taken to the king’s palace. And it’s interesting, verse 9, it says, “And the young woman pleased him…” they’re speaking of the man who is overseeing all of these women, and evidently Esther pleases him, they become friends, wins his favor. And so he kind of gives her the extra stuff. He gives her the really good food. She gets the Filet mignon, I think, right? She gets the expensive cosmetics, not the cheap ones from the drug store. He advances her. Tell me what to do, when I get to verse 10, what to think of this? “Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known.”

Ash Yes, isn’t that an interesting verse? And sometimes we want to cheer or boo and say, “Mordecai should have told her to…” Or, “She should have done…” Or, “She shouldn’t have done…” And we’re not told. But I think the significant thing is that, there’s an atmosphere of fear. And to be a member of the people of God is clearly a dangerous thing, to be known as a member of the people of God is a dangerous thing. And there’s this hostility to the people of God, which is going to become very intense in chapter 3, but it’s just there. So my advice to Bible teachers is, “Don’t worry too much about whether Mordecai was right or wrong or Esther was right or wrong, but just note that it’s dangerous.”

Guthrie: Dangerous.

Ash The other thing I think it’s probably worth noting is that, we’re told that Esther has a beautiful figure and she’s beautiful, very rare in Bible stories for physical descriptions to be given of anybody. You get of King Saul, who a head and shoulders above everybody else, but it’s very rare. And she’s a creature of the Empire, because what you know about her is her appearance. The Empire is all about appearances. And all you know about her at this point is that her appearance is pleasing. Well, later, things will happen in her heart, but not yet.

Guthrie: So her turn comes, and she spends the night with the king. And we read in verse 17, “The King loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her Queen instead of Vashti.” So here is the king, he doesn’t know about her Jewishness, although we don’t know if he would care about it much. We know somebody else in the kingdom does. But she is made queen.

Ash Yes, yes. And it’s an interesting moment, isn’t it? Because you’re wondering what’s going on and what God is doing. It’s worth remembering, of course, that to be made queen, we’re wrong if we think, “Now all the problems are over because she’s powerful.” Because to be queen, she’s no more powerful than Vashti was. It’s like in English history, to be one of Henry VIII wives, you wouldn’t necessarily congratulate someone on being married to King Henry VIII, and you wouldn’t want to congratulate someone on being made queen. She has no power at all. But nonetheless, she has some measure of access…

Guthrie: A comfortable life every day.

Ash And you’re just wondering what’s going to happen.

Guthrie: What is going to happen? But first, we have to get introduced to these other characters. We were briefly introduced to Mordecai, we learned about his heritage, but then the end of chapter 2, we learn about something that happened a long time ago that Mordecai was a part of. There is this plot he learned about that they were going to kill the king. And Mordecai reported it. And the men who were going to put the king to death were put on the gallows, and this was written down in this book, like the book of everything that happens that’s important in the kingdom. And once again, that’s setting us up for later.

Ash Yes.

Guthrie: When this book is going to become very important, so, oh, it’s building.

AshIt’s like a time bomb ticking away.

Guthrie: It’s building there. It’s there in the book. But then we’re introduced to, I don’t know, I always think of this book, or certainly this character, Christopher. When we come to Haman, I always think of him a little bit in, remember there was all black and white movies where they’re silent movies, and so then things get written that they’re saying. And they’re so…you know, you got this dramatic music. And Haman… You know I picture him having one of that handlebar mustache, right? He’s so evil in the story.

Ash He’s almost a cartoon baddie, isn’t he?

Guthrie: He’s so evil. So tell us about Haman, and what is his problem?

AshYeah, he’s introduced to us in chapter 3:1 as an Agagite, which is…

Guthrie: There’s that history, again.

AshAnd there’s a history there. So Agag the king of Amalek, who had such problems with Saul, or Saul had such problems with him in 1 Samuel 15. And then you track right the way back to Exodus 17, and the people of Amalek, of who Agag later was the king, threatening the people. Ancient enemies of the people of God. And what you’ve got here is a hint of an ancient enmity going on. Right back at the time of the Exodus, there was that enmity. The time of Saul, there was that enmity. And remember, Mordecai seems to track his descent to Saul’s family in some way. And now you’ve got that hostility again surfacing. It’s a sort of reminder that there’s a hostility that people of God that goes back a very, very long way.

Guthrie: All the way back to the garden in many ways…

AshAll the way back to the garden, yep.

Guthrie: …with the announcements of the offspring of the woman are going to be at enmity with the offspring of the…

AshAnd Cain with Abel, and right the way back.

Guthrie: Right. Understanding the lineage of both of them helps us to understand this deep hatred that Haman has. Why he hates Mordecai so much, why it just galls him, especially when we read in verse 5, that when Haman saw Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury.

AshMordecai will have knelt down or bowed down before the king. There will have been no problem with that. It’s something to do with this ancient enmity and whether Mordecai was wise or unwise, the point is the enmity, I think. And he won’t bow down. Here is a representative of the people of God who will not bow down to this ancient enemy, this heir to ancient hostility to the people of God. I think that’s the thing. There are lots of ambiguous actions but the hostility is really clear.

Guthrie: Haman is not just content to punish Mordecai for this lack of willingness to honor him. We read in verse 6 of chapter 3, “So as they made known to him, the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.”

Ash And that’s extraordinary, isn’t it? I mean, it’s, kind of, overkill for an office tiff.

Guthrie: Yes. You’re mad at one guy. No. You want to kill all his people.

AshThat’s right, yes. And bearing in mind the size of the Persian Empire, that is almost all the people of God. Those who’ve gone back to the Promised Land, they’re still in the Persian Empire. And there might have been a few who are in, you know, the Greek territories, but almost the entire people of God. So it’s very sobering. Here is this murderous, deceitful, comprehensive, hatred. The devil who hates the people of God. He’s a murderer, and a liar. And that’s what we’re seeing a little bit of here.

Guthrie: And if we’ve been tracing the story of the people of God ever since Genesis. You know, over and over again, we have had genealogies, we’ve been tracing God’s people, we’ve seen the threats. We saw the threat to them in Egypt when the midwives were killing all of the baby boys, and that made us wonder what’s going to happen to that promised seed. And all of these battles when Israel the people of God were threatened, we’re meant to feel that tension, what’s going to happen? How would this promised offspring come? If all of the Jews are threatened to be killed, where will this promised child come from?

AshYes.

Guthrie: We feel that tension as we read. So he goes to the king. And here is, once again, the king. He’s just not the sharpest knife in the block, is he? And Haman is able to have his way with him and to get the king to sign this edict. And once again, the wording is so significant to me. I’m in chapter 3:13, “Letters were sent by carriers to all the king’s provinces with instructions to…” and listen to, you know, these three verbs, “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, young and old, women and children.”

AshIt’s chilling, isn’t it?

Guthrie: It is.

Ash And we need to note all the details, the signet ring.

Guthrie: Oh, tell me about that.

AshWell, that’s going to be echoed later on in the reversal. The couriers going on their famous horses all around the Persian Empire, the language, “Destroy, kill, annihilate all including women and children.” Every one of those little features is going to be echoed in the great reversal later on. But it’s chilling.

Guthrie: It’s chilling. And what that king doesn’t know is that there is one of these Jews living in his palace that he’s actually married to.

Ash Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Guthrie: But he doesn’t know.

AshAnd when teaching this it’s so important to be clear that this is not about antisemitism. So antisemitism is evil. I mean, any hatred of any people purely for their ethnicity is evil, whether they’re Semitic or whatever they are. But this is not about this, this is a deep hostility against the people of God of every age. So I think that’s quite important to draw out so that nowadays the equivalent of that hatred is hostility and persecution of people of Christ, Jew and Gentile.

Guthrie: And we still see it in this day and age, certainly.

AshAnd we still see it.

Guthrie: That’s right.

Ash All around the world.

Guthrie: All right. So Mordecai learns about this edict, and he is in sackcloth and ashes. We read in verse 3 of chapter 4, that, “In every province wherever the king’s command and his decree has reached, there is great mourning among the Jews with fasting, weeping, lamenting, they were in sackcloth and ashes.” But it’s interesting to me that then when Esther’s young women and eunuchs, they come and tell her, “Hey, your uncle is out at the gate,” and it’s really, kind of, embarrassing because he is in sackcloth and ashes. She doesn’t seem to know why that is. So like, everyone in the kingdom knows, but here is this Jewish woman inside the kingdom, she is so removed from her people at this point, she doesn’t know.

AshYes. Chapter 4 dramatically, you got two places. You got Esther in the palace and Mordecai outside the gate because he can’t go into the gate when he’s in mourning. He is a civil servant, it seems, but he can’t go to work because he’s in mourning, two people. And then you’ve got this messenger shuttling to and fro between these two worlds, there’s a world of mourning for the people of God, and Esther who, as you say, she seems to be a creature of the Empire. She is beautiful to look at, but she doesn’t as yet seem to have any idea, really, as to what’s going on. She’s at best ambiguous.

Guthrie: And so Mordecai, he doesn’t give up. He sends a written copy of the decree to show it to Esther, and to explain it to her. And then Esther sends him back and tells him to go to Mordecai and say, I’m in chapter 4:11. To tell him, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know, if anyone goes to the king inside the inner court without being called there’s but one law, to be put to death.”

AshSo she says to him, “You must be joking. How could I possibly do that?” He says, “We need a mediator, and you can be the mediator.” And she says, “There’s no way.”

Guthrie: Yeah. And she says, “I haven’t been called to come to the king for these 30 days.”

AshAnd then your heart sinks, because the only thing she’s got going for her is her appearance and her body. I mean, he only wants her because he wants her in bed. That’s how the kingdom works. And if he hasn’t had her for 30 days, that probably doesn’t mean… He’s probably not been sleeping alone. He’ll have no shortage of others from the harem.

Guthrie: Yeah. So she has no reason to think, “Well, he loved me once and he thought I was beautiful, so surely he will put out his scepter for me.”

AshYes, yes.

Guthrie: Perhaps she has every reason to think otherwise. Then Mordecai tells her… I’m curious to hear what you think about his words here. He says in verse 13, “Do you not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews? For if you keep silent at this time, relief, and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, 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?” So what do you make of Mordecai’s words?

AshI think it’s a critical time. I mean, I think, when Mordecai says to Esther, “Relief and deliverance will come from another place.” He’s preaching the gospel to her. He’s saying, in effect, there’s a covenant to Abraham that one day his seed will rule the world. And how can all the people be destroyed? Relief and deliverance will come. And Paul says in Galatians 3:8, that the promises to Abraham are the gospel preached in advance. So I think Mordecai is, in a real sense, preaching the gospel to Esther. And he’s saying, “This is the gospel, there is blessing with Abraham and Abraham’s people, and this curse outside of that.” And you need to decide who you’re going to identify with. It’s a critical moment in the book. I think that verse 14, “Relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place,” I think those are hugely important words in the book.

Guthrie: So he’s completely trusting in God’s sovereignty over God’s people.

AshYes, he doesn’t know where.

Guthrie: And yet there is a sense of human responsibility here, “Who knows if maybe you are the person through whom God intends to accomplish this deliverance of his people.”

Ash Yes. And she is going to be the mediator.

Guthrie: She will. And so she asks everybody to fast. And then she’s going to go to the king. And then these are probably the most famous words from the Book of Ruth, where she says, “I’m going to go to the king and though it is against the law,” she says in verse 16, “If I perish, I perish.”

AshIt’s wonderful. I mean, I think there’s a real sense in which Esther is perhaps even converted, but there’s a sea change in Esther. It’s extraordinary, you know, up to now she’s ambiguous. We know she’s pretty, we know she performs well in bed, we know that she can do the, sort of, empire things, but we don’t really see evidence of anything else. And it’s very interesting that she’s called in the book, Queen Esther, I think 14 times, 13 of them come after this. And from now on, there’s a dignity to her. And you see her now, not as a piece of fluff, a sort of dumb blonde or whatever she was. Not someone who it’s only her appearance. Now, she’s a woman of faith, and initiative, and courage, and… It’s almost an echo of Daniel’s friends, isn’t it? “If I perish, I perish.” You know, “Our God can rescue us, but even if he doesn’t, you know, we’re not going to bow down.” And there’s something wonderful about that.

Guthrie: And she’s solidly identifying herself with the people of God, because as she does this, she’s going to be outed.

AshYes, yes. And there’s no question that this is a turning point in the book. When people want to make Esther a, kind of, feminist icon, it’s tricky.

Guthrie: Why?

Ash Well, because of the early bits. You know the message, “If you want your daughter to be influential in the world, you should put her into high-class prostitution. And if she gets to sleep with someone really important, she might be able to affect things.” And you say that and you think, “No, that can’t be it. You know, how could that possibly be a feminist message? You know, that’s absurd, that’s horrible.” But that’s what’s happening at the beginning of the book. So she can’t be a feminist icon in that simple sense, she’s much more complex than that. But there is a great dignity to her from now on.

Guthrie: Very strong.

AshWonderful.

Guthrie: And, in fact, when we get into chapter 5, I mean, she comes up with this plan for these banquets. And what’s fabulous about this is, she seems to understand what appeals both to the king, what’s going to appeal to Haman, but all of that to accomplish her plan, which is to kind of expose Haman’s plan to the king and turn the king’s heart to do right by her people.

Ash Yes, yes. One of the interesting things which I think are good to note, if we’re teaching Esther, is the way time is handled.

Guthrie: What do you mean?

Ash Well, you know, in a drama, when time slows down a director of a movie is wanting to say, “Watch this.”

Guthrie: Okay.

Ash So you get it in the “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” the movie of that, and the children are rushing around the professor’s house, and then everything slows down as Lucy goes into the room with the wardrobe. And she goes to the wardrobe and it happens very slowly, and the director is saying, “Watch this.” You get it with “David and Goliath.” Goliath comes out and suddenly time slows, and the camera goes from Goliath’s head right down to his feet very slowly. And the director is saying as it were, “Watch this.” And it’s fascinating because in Esther, chapter 1, we’re in the third year of the king’s reign, chapter 2, we’re in the seventh year of the king’s reign, chapter 3, we’re in the 12th year of the kings reign. So the first three chapters have covered maybe nine years or so of the King’s reign, quite a long time and we’re not told much. Chapters 5 to 7 happen in two days. So suddenly, over just two days, the camera has slowed. And it’s as though the narrator is saying, “Just watch this very carefully. What’s happening now is very important, it’s just two days.”

Guthrie: So she plans this banquet, and she invites, of course the king, but also Haman. And Haman is whistling on the way home. He is so excited because, oh, you know, all of his desire to be important, and powerful, he is getting invited to this banquet with the king that the queen is throwing.

Ash And you get this fascinating insight into Haman’s heart, which again, you don’t usually get in Old Testament stories, but you get what he’s thinking.

Guthrie: Yes.

AshNowadays in a novel, we’re used to that, we learn what the characters are thinking. You don’t often get it in Old Testament narrative. But when you get to, you know… And you get it again in the following chapter.

Guthrie: Then something terrible happens on the way home that turns his mood, sours his mood significantly. And that is, that there’s that Mordecai again. And once again, he won’t bow down to him. And he is so annoyed about that. He talks to his wife about it, and she’s got this idea, his wife and friends, you know, to set up gallows, and to have Mordecai hanged. And that’s not going to work out all that well for him.

Ash There’s something absurd about it, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Yes.

AshBecause the gallows or the stake, or whatever it is, in it’s absurd height, it speaks of the absurdity of Haman’s ego.

Guthrie: Uh-huh.

AshBecause it’s far higher than it needs to be.

Guthrie: Ah, okay.

Ash It’s absurdly high.

Guthrie: Then we come to chapter 6 where there’s one of these, that maybe it seems like it just, kind of, happened, but maybe the sovereign God is at work. When we read in chapter 6:1, “On that night, the king could not sleep, and he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds.” I love that, I can just, kind of, see this book, and on the front, “The Book of Memorable Deeds, The Chronicles,” and they’re read before the king.

AshIt’s like the equivalent of the late-night movie, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Yeah. I don’t know if he’s trying to get the most boring material so he will fall asleep or the most exciting material about the great things that people have done.

AshAnd it will mainly be the great things he’s done.

Guthrie: Yes, “Let me read about myself, and how great I am.” But instead, he reads about this plot against him and about this man, Mordecai, who saved his life and had never been honored.

Ash And that really matters, because for the Persian kings, you had to reward loyalty. Because, of course, it encourages loyalty.

Guthrie: Yeah, you want somebody else to come forward the next time, right?

AshAnd if somebody has been loyal and you haven’t rewarded them…

Guthrie: Maybe somebody won’t come forward next time.

AshYeah, yeah.

Guthrie: Yes. And so Mordecai whistles into work again the next day. He has the gallows made, and in chapter 6:6, the king says to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?”

Ash It’s told so beautifully.

Guthrie: Isn’t it?

Ash I mean, it is hilarious.

Guthrie: And you’re right about how it reveals what he’s thinking because we read there, “And Haman said to himself…”

AshYes, yes.

Guthrie: We get his inner thoughts, “Hmmmm…”

Ash“Must be me.”

Guthrie: “…must be me.”

Ash Why would the king want to honor anybody except me? And you see his self-centeredness, writ large.

Guthrie: Yeah. So he describes what he would most like to have happen to him.

AshAnd even as we laugh at him, there’s also just that thought that there’s something of Haman in me. That’s the sobering thing, I think. I laugh at him and I think how absurdly self-centered he is, but there’s something in me of Haman, by nature. So I just need to be a little bit careful.

Guthrie: So he describes how the man would be put on the horse, and led through the city, and proclaim him honored by the king. And oh my goodness, what bad news it must have been to Haman when he finds out, “Okay, it’s actually Mordecai, the person I hate, and that I was hoping to kill tonight.”

AshIt’s a terrible moment, isn’t it? Because he’s just created this fantastic honor for himself. And it’s very big to ride the king’s horse. I mean, it’s almost like, I’d like to ride in Air Force One, you know? It’s like that. It’s almost claim the throne, it’s quite audacious. And then, “Really, good idea,” says the king, “Really good idea. I couldn’t have thought of anything better. Why don’t you go and do that for Mordecai the Jew?” And, you just think, Haman’s world crashes around him. But it is funny as well.

Guthrie: It’s funny.

AshVery funny.

Guthrie: But yeah, you can just picture though. We read in verse 12, “Haman hurried to his house mourning with his head covered. He tells his wife what has happened.” And, you know, he’s totally discouraged. His plan has totally backfired. But he’s still…you know, he’s got that banquet going for him, and so, he heads off to the banquet.

AshBut it’s so funny, though, because his wife and his advisors say in chapter 6:13, “Since Mordecai is Jewish, you can’t win.” And if I was Haman, I’d have said, “You might have told me that yesterday.” But in some way, these outsiders to the people of God, they know. It’s like, Balaam in Numbers, this pagan prophet seems to know that the people of God are going to win.

Guthrie: God protects His own.

Ash Yes.

Guthrie: And he has a plan for His people. It’s like they know a thing.

Ash They seem to know this. Interesting, isn’t it?

Guthrie: Fascinating. So he goes to the banquet that night and it’s kind of interesting the way Esther works that out. She invites them, and she shows them a good time. But she doesn’t deal with it that night, she basically says, “Come back another night.” What do you make of that?

AshIt’s hard to know. I mean, there may be real wisdom because the king will have promised her, I think by the end, three times up to half my kingdom, which doesn’t mean, “Up to half my kingdom.” It means, “I’m in a good mood. Try me out, you know, you might get lucky.” But the more he promises it in the presence of witnesses, the harder it is for him to go back on it, and she may be just stacking the cards against the king in some wise way. It’s hard to tell but it certainly raises the tension.

Guthrie: It does, in terms of storytelling.

AshYeah, we know the gallows or the stake is waiting for Mordecai and by the next banquet, he may be dead.

Guthrie: When we get to chapter 7, the king asks her straight out, you know, “What is your wish?” And as you mentioned, he says, “Even up to half of my kingdom.” She says, “Let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request for we have been sold. I and my people to be…” and it’s interesting, we hear those three words repeated again, “destroyed, to be killed, to be annihilated.” And King Ahasuerus, you know, he kind of plays dumb. I guess he is kind of dumb, he doesn’t know what he’s signed. And he’s, “Who is this evil person who has done this evil?” And once again, I kind of see it in silent picture black and white, she points at Haman because he asks, “Who is he? Where is he who has dared to do this?” And Esther said, “A foe and an enemy, this wicked Haman.”

AshAnd it’s staccato, really, “A foe, an enemy, this wicked Haman.”

Guthrie: Yes. Yes.

AshAnd it’s a bad moment in Haman’s dinner party, isn’t it? I mean, you know, not good.

Guthrie: Mm-hmm.

Ash And he’s terrified. It’s fascinating, it now says, “He’s terrified…”

Guthrie: He’s terrified before the king and the queen.”

Ash “And the queen.” She’s now just called the queen. There’s a dignity to her. And Haman, the enemy of the Jews is terrified before this Jew, this member of the people of God.

Guthrie: The tables are turning.

AshThe tables are turning. There’s that funny scene where the king storms out into the garden and Haman doesn’t know. He can hardly follow the king. He can’t run away. He’s not allowed to be in the presence of any of the king’s women, but he reckons that’s the least bad option so he stays and he falls. I mean, it’s inconceivable that he’s actually trying to assault Esther, but there’s something ambiguous about his bodily movement. In fact, there’s an old Jewish writing, which says that the Archangel Gabriel pushed him. And you can see it that the king comes in and there’s something ambiguous about his falling. And the king thinks, “Right, I can get him on that.”

Guthrie: “Would he even assault the Queen in my presence in my own house?” And you talked earlier about actions slowing down. It almost feels like it’s picking up here, doesn’t it?

AshYes.

Guthrie: It says, as the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. They hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. So in some ways, we might think that the story’s over. The threat is over, it seems, except that there’s been this edict.

Ash It’s really interesting, this, Nancy, because what’s happened in these two days is, there’s been a turning upside down in the center of power of the Empire. It’s almost like at the heart of the universe, there’s been a reversal. There’s been a turning upside down. There’s been an unrecognized, righteous man who’s been vindicated. There’s been an enemy who’s been defeated at the center of power. But the implications of that in the citadel, because the citadel is a bit like the Kremlin, it’s like the center of power. The implications of that for the whole wide Empire have yet to be seen. And it, kind of, reminds us of an event at the center and heart of the universe in which a righteous man has been vindicated and raised from the dead, and his enemy defeated at the cross. But the implications of that great reversal have yet to be seen in the whole world. And in a way, that’s where we are, we’re waiting for the final denoument.

Guthrie: When we’re teaching this, someone teaching might wonder, “Well, the King has made this edict but, you know, why can’t he just say, ‘Never mind.'”

AshYes.

Guthrie: How would you answer that?

AshYes. There’s something about the unchangability of the edict. The edict has gone out with the couriers in all the languages to all the different corners of the Empire. It’s almost like in the Book of Daniel where, you know, the laws, the Medes and Persians can’t be revoked. There’s something about it that’s gone out. There are all these people waiting for the set day when they can kill their enemies, the people of God. And there’s something irreversible about it, or not.

Guthrie: Or not?

AshThere’s an edict for destruction that’s gone out, and there needs to be an edict to reverse that edict.

Guthrie: And that’s what we see here in Esther’s story.

Ash That’s what we see.

Guthrie: Because, she and Mordecai come up with this plan for a very different kind of edict. I’m in chapter 8, and I’m in verse 5, “And Esther and Mordecai suggest that an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the King.” And how is he going to do this? Another edict.

AshIt’s fascinating because in some ways, it’s the same. You’ve got the same signet ring, you’ve got the same couriers, you’ve got the same writing in different languages, the same is spread through the Empire, all sorts of echoes of the same thing. But the edict now is that the people of God are given permission to defend themselves against those who would destroy, kill, and annihilate them.

Guthrie: And we read that’s exactly what happens in chapter 9. We get to that specific date, “The 12th month, tells us exactly when the initial edict was about to be carried out on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hope to gain mastery over them, the reverse occurred, and the Jews gain mastery over those who hated them.” This great reversal has taken place.

AshAnd we’re meant to rejoice. We tend to be on the back foot and a bit embarrassed by this, but it’s a sobering thing and it’s a dark thing, but it’s a rescue. It’s people who would have been destroyed who have now been rescued. And there are a number of indications that, I’m sure on the ground, there were Jews who did vicious things, and, you know, there will have been bad things done. They’re allowed to defend themselves against those who would attack them, not against anybody indiscriminately. They’re allowed to take plunder, but they don’t. We’re told more than once, they don’t take the plunder. So it’s like the old holy war regulations where they don’t benefit from it financially. Just those indications that there’s something about it, which is, at least in a rough and ready way, it’s a good and righteous thing.

In chapter 9:12, the king says to the queen, “They’ve been 500 people in the citadel who’ve been killed and the 10 sons of Haman have been killed.” And Esther then says, “Can we have another day to kill some more?” And we all think, “Oh dear, this sounds a bit nasty for this sweet, pretty, girl.” We think, “Oh, I don’t know what’s happening here.” I suspect the way we’re meant to respond is to think how frightening to think that in the citadel in the seat of government of the Empire, she knew that there were more than 500 people who were determined to kill the people of God. And in some dark way, it was necessary. You know, if they weren’t destroyed, these were people who had set…they’d had months in which to change their minds, these people. Months and months, they’d had nearly a year to change their minds, but they’d set themselves, they’re determined to kill the people of God. So we probably shouldn’t feel quite so sorry for them. You know, there is something determinedly evil about this hostility. It’s a challenge as Bible teaches, especially in our culture, because these things are, as you said, Nancy, not at all politically correct. But it’s clear the narrator wants us to rejoice, the people of God have been rescued.

Guthrie: They’ve been rescued, yeah. And from them, a savior will come.

Ash And from them a savior will come. And it’s interesting when the feast of Purim is instituted to remember this, they don’t remember the killings, they remember the rescue. And they give gifts to the poor. And, you know, they’re not remembering the violence, they’re remembering the rescue, that’s the thing they rejoice in.

Guthrie: So when we teach the Book of Esther, we come to the end. What is the impact we hope this book has had on those who are teaching?

Ash I think in brief, we get a real sense of how frightening it is to be one of the people of God in exile, in the Empire of the world, that there is a deep hostility. Even when we’re not victims of overt persecution, the world hates the church, always has, and always will. And we’re soberly reminded of that. But we’re reminded that even when there aren’t obvious miracles, in the hidden providence of God, the righteous man is elevated to the place of power in the universe. There is a mediator. God is working to rescue His people.

And in this little rescue, I mean, it’s a big rescue, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a little rescue. We see a foreshadowing of the great rescue at the end of time and we rejoice that on the cross, that there’s been this great change of power at the heart of the universe. The righteous man has been elevated, the evil one, Satan, has been defeated. And we rejoice that on the last day, there will be a great rescue for the people of God. And of course, you know, at the end, lots of people were choosing to become Jews, whatever that meant. They certainly wouldn’t have done at the beginning, it was very dangerous. And in a way, that’s conversion, isn’t it? I’m becoming one of the people of God. I’m saying, I can see where the universe is going. I can see that if I continue as part of the Empire, I’m for judgment. And so I’ve become one of the people of God by grace. And I look forward to that final rescue.

Guthrie: What a great call to those who are teaching to come be identified with the people of God. Make your home in the Kingdom of God under this good king, and know that you can anticipate ultimate rescue and safety in His presence. Thank you so much, Christopher, for helping us with this beautiful book, the story of Esther.

You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.

The book of Esther presents us, as teachers, with an incredible opportunity to tell a dramatic and captivating story. But the narrative also presents challenges.

God is not mentioned once throughout the book. We tend to want to make judgments and draw conclusions about the motives and morality of the characters. But in this conversation, Christopher Ash—writer-in-residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and author of Teaching Ruth & Esther—warns us away from over-evaluating Esther morally, and from leading those we’re teaching to either cheer or boo at the actions of the characters, since many of the book’s actions are ambiguous.

Instead, he demonstrates how we can teach the book of Esther in a way that points to Christ, a greater mediator than Esther, a more righteous man than Mordecai, who brought about a greater reversal than the king’s edict.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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Editors’ note: 

Nancy Guthrie will be recording a live session of Help Me Teach the Bible at our 2020 Women’s Conference, June 11 to 13 in Indianapolis, as well as speaking twice on the book of James. You can browse the complete list of topics and speakersRegister soon!

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