Volume 46 - Issue 3

Raised up from the Dust: An Exploration of Hannah’s Reversal Motif in the Book of Esther as Evidence of Divine Sovereignty

By Justin Jackson


The book of Esther presents a challenge for many modern interpreters, since the book does not mention the name of God or his direct action. This glaring omission has led some throughout history to doubt Esther’s place in the canon of Scripture. Contrary to such doubts, this article seeks to show that textual evidence of God’s sovereign work does indeed exist in Esther. By highlighting the inner-biblical parallels between Hannah’s psalm of great reversal in 1 Samuel 2 and the events that take place in Esther, this article will argue that Esther presents the God of Israel as the same God who humbles the self-exalting and exalts the humble whether it be in the life of King David or the lives of his exilic people in Persia.

For generations, Bible scholars have questioned Esther’s place and contribution in the canon of Scripture. Behind this questioning is the awkward fact that Esther is the only book in the canonical Scriptures that does not mention the name of God even once.1 This omission has led some to reject Esther entirely—thus refusing to give her a place in the canonical storyline. For example, fragments of every Old Testament (OT) book have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls except the book of Esther, implying that the Qumranites did not accept Esther as an inspired text.2 In later days, even the great German reformer, Martin Luther, questioned the canonicity of Esther. Indeed, “questioned” is too soft of a word as evidence shows that he vehemently opposed Esther being included in the OT canon. In his Bondage of the Will, Luther argued that Esther had more reasons to be treated as noncanonical than did the apocryphal books of Judith, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.3 According to his evaluation, the book of Esther had “too many heathen unnaturalities.” Of course, not everyone in history doubted Esther’s place in the canon. The vast majority of Jews apparently had no qualms in reading the book during Purim, and Josephus valued Esther enough to comment on it in his Antiquities, believing that the book appropriately represented Jewish heritage. Nevertheless, the book still challenges teachers, preachers, and Bible study leaders today. How should the church teach theology from a book that does not even mention the name of God?

In seeking an answer to this question, one has to wonder whether the judgment that Esther is completely void of any textual evidence of God’s sovereignty is all that valid. Is the book of Esther truly empty of any literary testimony to the hand of God? To be sure, the omission of God’s name and the absence of any mention of his direct work may seem troubling to many. However, such concerns may be unnecessarily exaggerated. Could it be possible that readers might have simply missed the author’s intentional literary allusions that not only affirm but assert God’s sovereign actions in the preservation of his people?

This article will argue that the book of Esther employs the great reversal motif described in 1 Samuel 2:8, in order to subtly highlight the sovereign hand of God, who works to bring low arrogant princes and exalt those who are humbly seated in the dust. It is as though the entire story is intended to be a visible illustration or a historically true parable demonstrating Hannah’s great reversal motif at work in the preservation of God’s people in Persia.4 If this is indeed the author’s intention, then the great reversal motif is utilized to reveal God’s sovereign, though hidden, hand. Throughout Scripture, and especially in Esther, the great reversal motif is employed to proclaim the truth that “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s” (1 Sam 2:8).5 He exalts the humble to princely places and humbles the self-exalting because he alone is King whether in Israel or Persia. It is always God who is behind all such reversals.6

First, this article will provide a brief methodology that will highlight the importance of inner-biblical exegesis in the book of Esther. From there, Hannah’s psalm of reversal in 1 Samuel 2 will be considered in preparation for discerning the thematic allusions made in Esther. This paper proposes that the author of Esther intentionally used the narrative of Samuel as the backdrop of the story of Mordecai and Haman. Once this backdrop is established, the thematic and literary parallels between Esther and Hannah’s psalm will be made more evident. If these parallels are indeed authorially intended, then it can be concluded that the author utilized Hannah’s reversal motif in order to communicate God’s sovereignty in the exaltation of his humble people.

1. A Brief Word on Methodology

The practice of “intertextuality” has stirred up mixed feelings in the scholarly realm. Some argue that the practice is baseless and in danger of inviting Bible readers to commit the “parallelomania” that Samuel Sandmel denounced.7 To be certain, this type of baseless, evidence-free intertextuality is dangerous as it dismisses authorial intent and invites semantic autonomy.8 Understandably, the broad practice of intertextuality has been met with no small apprehension in recent years. Lau and Goswell note their concerns:

The free association of all texts, and, as usually understood and practiced, challenges the idea of canon as a fixed group of texts, viewing canon as an illegitimate fence around Scripture that gives a privileged status to certain texts over other texts. For intertextuality there are no boundaries, and the result is that there is no settled context from which to determine the stable meaning of a text, for it may be compared and associated with any text at all. Without the concept of canon, a text is hermeneutically equidistant from all other texts.9

Russell Meek likewise expresses his concerns stating that intertextuality tends to be “free from the constraints of the written word” and fails to develop “criteria for determining intertextual relationships between texts.”10 He argues that “inner-biblical exegesis” should be preferred over intertextuality.11 Though, broadly speaking, the practice of intertextuality has many deficiencies as Meek shows, it is not fair to say that everyone who practices “intertextuality” does so without concern for exegetical criteria.12 Whether one refers to the practice as “intertextuality” (which is very broad) or “inner-biblical exegesis” (which is much narrower), scholars must be careful to not undermine parallels that do indeed exist between the various OT texts. Careful exegesis reveals that the biblical authors often utilized previously given motifs and lexical forms for the sake of doctrinal and typological development.13 That is, a later biblical writer may at times allude to previously written Scripture to make a theological point. Discerning such authorially-intended inner-biblical connections will only serve to enrichen one’s understanding of the book’s theological message.14

For the literary connection to qualify as an allusion the author must have intended his audience to discern the parallel. In other words, there are no maverick allusions; instead, all allusions are intentionally constructed. Just as no one constructs a bridge that has no intended purpose, so also literary bridges deliberately connect point A to point B. These authorially constructed literary bridges can be discerned through textual markers—shared language, shared motifs, and shared theological or historical concepts. Proposed allusions that meet these criteria are more likely to be authorially-intended than the proposed allusions that meet few or none of these criteria. Proposed connections must be textually proven, otherwise they must be relegated to speculation.

It is beyond the scope of this article to give an extended evaluation of the differences between the broad practice of intertextuality and the narrower practice of inner-biblical exegesis.15 Therefore, because of the deficiencies found in the broad practice of “intertextuality” (the scholars who practice “intertextuality” with responsible exegetical criteria notwithstanding), this paper will use the narrower practice that has been termed by some as inner-biblical exegesis. While there may certainly be some who practice intertextuality without concern for textual evidence, this paper’s inner-biblical exegesis will rely on the author’s lexical forms and recycled literary motifs in establishing connections. More specifically, this type of inner-biblical exegesis examines a biblical author’s use of previous OT texts to theologically develop a particular point or truth. In short, this article does not merely claim that the author of Esther was alluding to Hannah’s reversal psalm in the book of Samuel; instead, it seeks to prove the connection by exploring the shared language and literary themes that are embedded in each work. This article then considers what theological purpose is carried forward in these inner-biblical allusions.

2. Hannah’s Psalm of Reversal

Before considering the narrative of Esther, it is essential to understand Hannah’s psalm, which introduces the literary motif of the great reversal. In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah praises the Lord for answering her prayers and giving her a child. After years of intense emotional abuse from the arrogant Penninah (“the fruitful/fertile one”), God overturned Hannah’s barrenness leading to Samuel’s birth. Hannah’s psalm of exaltation not only praises what God has done for her personally but also what he will do for his humble people on a national and cosmic scale.

Hannah exalts in the Lord, who has exalted her “horn” (a symbol of strength). She proclaims that there is no one like the Lord. Therefore, self-exalters are to be warned: “Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed” (1 Sam 2:3). The implication is that God will judge the proud—that is, those whose speech is “high” (גבה), suggesting self-exaltation. He knows their arrogance and their prideful actions are weighed (תכן), literally “measured.” As the psalm’s series of reversals demonstrate, those who make themselves “high” will be brought low, while those who are low (i.e., humble) will be exalted. Hannah’s psalm envisions once mighty people being weakened, while the humble-weak “bind on strength.” Those who were arrogantly full hire themselves out for bread, while those who were hungry are now full.

The reversal of the humble poor and the arrogant described in verses 7 and 8 pertain explicitly to our discussion of Esther. “The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor” (cf. Ps 113:7–8).16 “Poor” (דָּל) in verse 8 does not refer merely to the financially destitute. The word may also signify a state of weakness or powerlessness. It is, at its root, vulnerability. In the context of Scripture, the word describes those who have not the means nor the status to protect themselves from oppressors. In his Law, God revealed that his heart was for those who lived in such vulnerability, and he would not tolerate their oppression. God will judge those who harass the helpless.17 Hannah’s psalm of reversal contributes to the great reversal motif by showing that God will stand for the poor and helpless who cannot stand for themselves. He will humiliate (שׁפל) those who exalt themselves against his people and exalt those who humbly trust in him. This truth certainly fits the context of Esther in which the helpless people of God are harassed by the powerful Haman.

For Hannah, this great reversal serves to highlight the Lord’s sovereignty over all the earth: “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world” (1 Sam 2:8). God can bring low and raise up, make poor and make rich, and exalt the poor to princely places, specifically because all the earth belongs to him. The very foundations of the earth (symbolized by pillars) are his. With these metaphorical lyrics, Hannah expresses that any great reversal is an expression of God’s direct sovereignty. He alone humbles the self-exalting and exalts the humble because he alone is King.

Throughout the book of Samuel, Hannah’s psalm serves as a paradigm that helps explain the various “falls” of arrogant antagonists in contrast to the rise of the humble-hearted David. Eli exalts himself and in humiliation “falls” to his death. The Philistines proudly place the ark in their temple and their god, Dagan, “falls” and is embarrassingly broken to pieces on the threshold. Goliath arrogantly taunts God’s people and “falls” by the hand of humble David. Finally, the tall and proud Saul, “falls” on his own sword, leading to David’s exaltation to the throne. Through the great reversal motif, God shows that those who are proud and self-exalting “fall,” while the humble, faithful, dependent people of God are exalted to high places.

While 1 Samuel is not the first place the reversal motif is used, it is in 1 Samuel that the great reversal theme is made most evident in the OT. Following Hannah’s psalm and Samuel’s use of the reversal motif, Bible readers should pay careful attention to how other OT books employ this motif and consider how subsequent reversals communicate God’s sovereign work. In other words, it seems logical to say that other OT authors may often utilize the same reversal theme to express God’s sovereignty in the humiliation of the proud and the exaltation of the humble, which ultimately leads to the enthronement of God’s anointed King. The author of Esther certainly seems to employ the reversal motif for this purpose. The reversal motif becomes a medium through which God’s sovereign work is communicated, even if the author does not explicitly write about God’s direct action. The author of Esther may not mention God even once, however by using the reversal motif he expects his readers to pick up his intentional, albeit implicit, message. In Scripture, if a reversal happens, someone must have caused it. From a Biblical perspective, such reversals are always due to God’s humbling and exalting work.

The lexical and thematic markers that connect Esther to Samuel imply that God is at work in the arrogant Haman’s humiliation and the humble Mordecai’s exaltation to a princely place.18 In Esther, Mordecai, a descendant of Kish, strives against Haman, a descendant of Agag—a renewed struggle that began in the book of Samuel. In due time, Mordecai is raised from the dust/ash heap and exalted to reign as a prince in Persia. Haman, on the other hand, who exalted himself through arrogant manipulation, “falls” (נפל) before Mordecai and the Jewish people. In this way, Haman falls just as Eli, Dagan, Goliath, and Saul “fell” when they arrogantly oppressed God’s people. In Esther, the theme of God’s sovereign reversal is carried forward showing that he will faithfully preserve his humble people and bring low any who pridefully try to destroy them.

3. The Book of Samuel as a Backdrop to Esther

While the book of Esther is named after the Israelite maiden, Esther (her Jewish name is Hadassah), who is exalted to become a Persian queen, the conflict between Mordecai and Haman takes center stage. In no way undermining Esther’s crucial role in the narrative, Mordecai seems to be the primary actor.19 Michael Fox writes, “Mordecai is the dominant figure in the book. He is introduced first (2:5) and praised last (10:2–3), and his glorification lies at the book’s turning point and presages the Jews’ victory.”20 Importantly, Mordecai’s conflict with Haman reaches back to Saul’s failed war with the Amalekites and King Agag. Mordecai is introduced as a “son of Kish, a Benjamite” (בֶּן־קִישׁ אִישׁ יְמִינִי), while Haman is introduced as “the Agagite” (הָאֲגָגִי). These epithets serve to connect the Mordecai-Haman narrative with the Saul-Agag narrative in 1 Samuel 15.21 As a brief review, The Lord commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites for their oppression of Israel when they came out of Egypt. God’s justice on Amalek’s hostility was to result in complete annihilation. According to the Lord’s command, all that belonged to Amalek was to be “devoted to destruction.” The verb חרם (“to put under the ban” or “to dedicate to destruction”) reaches back to God’s commands to Israel as they entered the Promised Land. This absolute annihilation was a holy punishment for the Canaanites’ depravity and also prevented the spread of their depravity to God’s people.22 When Israel failed to heed God’s חרם in the book of Judges, God determined that the remaining people groups would become “thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judg 2:3). Saul repeats Israel’s sin by leaving Agag, king of the Amalekites, alive and failing to carry out the task of חרם.23 Saul’s hesitation to obey the Lord allows Agag’s seed to continue, and as was true of the remnant Canaanites in the Judges’ era, Haman the Agagite becomes a thorn in Israel’s side.

By highlighting the conflict between a son of Kish and an Agagite, the author of Esther makes the book of Samuel the backdrop of his narrative. In this way, the author signals his intention for readers to recognize the parallels that exist between the two narratives. Namely, the reversals embedded in the book of Samuel will be repeated in the book of Esther. Just as the poor rise and the arrogant fall in Samuel, so also the poor will be exalted and the arrogant will fall in Esther, thus revealing the Lord’s all-encompassing sovereignty. The implication of this is that the Lord is not just sovereign in Israel and over Israel’s kings, but he also sovereign in Persia and over the Persian princes. Yahweh is not a god bound by geographic territory. Instead, the whole earth belongs to him, and it is his hand that brings down princes and raises the poor.

4. Great Reversal in Esther

Robert Alter rightly notes, “Reversal is key to the plot of Esther.”24 Moreover, Esther alludes to Hannah’s psalm of a great reversal in several ways. Hannah’s statement in 1 Samuel 2:8 that God raises up the poor from the dust and ash heap so that they may sit with princes and inherit honor is a particularly important parallel with the events that occur in the exaltation of Mordecai. What follows is a brief explanation of the thematic and lexical parallels that connect the narrative of Esther with Hannah’s song of reversal.

4.1. Haman the Agagite

While it is debated whether the term “Agag” does indeed connote “high” or “lofty one,” the designation of Haman as an Agagite nevertheless casts him in a lofty and arrogant light and sets the stage for a great reversal.25 Furthermore, the name Haman likely means “celebrated one,” and his self-celebration of his oppressive schemes works to make an ironic twist of events as it is the Jews, not Haman, who celebrate in the end.26 Haman fits the role of an arrogant, self-exalting oppressor, who sets out to harass the poor and powerless. From the beginning, he is obsessed with his exaltation in the eyes of others. Chapter 3 says that King Ahasuerus “lifted up” (נשׂא) Haman and entrusted him to govern the kingdom’s officials. All who sit at the king’s gate are now expected to bow and pay homage to him. However, Mordecai refuses to bow. The reasons for this are unclear, but given the emphasis on Mordecai’s and Haman’s ancestries, it is possible that he refuses because of Haman being a descendent of Amalekites.27 Whatever the case, Haman is “hot with anger/venom” (יחם) when he hears of Mordecai’s refusal. His venomous rage reignites the ancient enmity of Genesis 3:15.28 In his hostility, Haman is also cast as a new Pharaoh who seeks to kill God’s son, Israel.29

Haman, however, is not content to punish Mordecai alone. Instead, he is determined to exterminate all the Jews throughout the entire kingdom. Lots are cast (פּוּר) and the month of Adar is selected as the desired execution date. The casting of lots in ancient Persian times was a form of divination.30 The irony of this historic fact is that it is Israel’s God who governs the outcome of the lots and not the Mesopotamian or Persian gods. Through manipulation and deception, Haman convinces the king that there was a group of people within the kingdom who threaten the king’s rule. Haman claims that the danger is so urgent that the king should not rest while they live. The king consents by taking his signet ring and giving it to Haman—a symbol of authority and power to do as he wills. King Ahasuerus commissions him saying, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you” (Esther 3:11). After the edict is written and delivered to the provinces, Haman “[sits] down to drink” in celebration. Throughout the rest of the story, Haman, “the celebrated one,” tends to prematurely celebrate the success of his evil plans. In chapter five, his proud heart is joyful at the queen’s invitation to dinner, and in chapter six, he arrogantly thinks that the King wants to honor him. In both cases, his celebration is presumptuous. The latter leads to his humiliation, while the former leads to his death.

Esther 5 humorously records Haman’s vain and arrogant heart. “And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king” (v. 11). Haman is literally “counting” (ספר) the “glory” (כְּבוֹד) of his wealth. The irony of this arrogant inventory-taking is that all these things will be taken from Haman before the end of the narrative—Haman’s wealth will be given to Mordecai, his ten sons hanged, and his position given to the one whom he tried to kill. In a silent but sovereign irony, Haman’s “glory” (כְּבוֹד) will be given to Mordecai, who, as Hannah sings in 1 Samuel 2:8, will inherit Haman’s seat of honor (כָבוֹד).31 This man who speaks so proudly and exalts himself is the perfect candidate to receive the humbling of which Hannah spoke.

4.2. Mordecai, Who Sits in the Dust

Haman’s greatness is contrasted against Mordecai’s poor status. In Esther, where one sits and what he wears is vitally important to the narrative. Haman sits with the king, drinking, and wears the King’s personal signet ring. Mordecai, on the other hand, sits in the king’s gate, in the dust, and wears sackcloth after hearing about Haman’s plot. In many ways, the story of Esther is the story about how Haman and Mordecai switch places and wardrobes. Mordecai moves from the king’s gate to the king’s right hand and exchanges his sackcloth for royal robes. In contrast, Haman moves from the king’s right hand to the gallows and exchanges a noble’s crown for a shameful head covering (6:12). Borrowing from Lamentations 4:5, the book of Esther illustrates how one who sits on the ash heap becomes robed in royal purple, while “those nurtured in purple now lie on the ash heaps.”

The king’s gate was often the place where officials gathered and legal matters were discussed.32 In Esther, Mordecai’s place at the gate probably serves a mediatorial purpose. On the one hand, Mordecai serves as a representative of his people—as demonstrated by his mournful sitting in sackcloth and ashes at the king’s gate. On the other hand, it is also the place where Mordecai actively blesses the city in which he lives (e.g., Jer 29:7). For example, it is at the city gate that Mordecai overhears the plot to assassinate the king and works to prevent it. Thus, it is at the city gate that Mordecai advocates for his people and honors the king. In this way, even while being “poor” in Persia, Mordecai serves as a prince among his people.

While many scholars highlight the seemingly apparent assimilation of the Jewish characters in Esther, there is plenty of evidence that Mordecai was a faithful Jew even in exile. To be sure, his name may be Persian, however, his actions prove that he is anything but Persian. The conflict with Haman is initiated because Mordecai, as a Jew, refuses to bow down. While some scholars have argued that Mordecai’s motive was jealousy, there is no evidence of this in the text itself.33 After the king’s servants question Mordecai’s refusal, they indicate that the primary reason Mordecai had given for not bowing was that he was a Jew (3:4).34 In Esther, Mordecai takes on a truly heroic role—advising Hadassah, uncovering an assassination plot, refusing to tremble before Haman, leading the Jews in crying out and fasting, petitioning Queen Esther’s assistance, and eventually being exalted to a princely place in the king’s court. The theory that Esther records God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithful and unrepentant Jews in Persia simply does not hold when considering Mordecai’s humble work on his people’s behalf.

In Esther 4, Mordecai takes on the role of the “poor” seated in the dust (עָפָר) mentioned in 1 Samuel 2:7. “When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes (אֵפֶר)” (4:1). With him, many of the Jews also wore sackcloth and laid in ashes (אֵפֶר). The mention of ashes or dust (אֵפֶר) corresponds with the similar, though distinct, noun עָפָר found in 1 Samuel 2:8, which also means dust. Though these two lexical forms are not one-to-one correspondences, it is not difficult to imagine an at least conceptual parallel between the poor who sit in the עָפָר and the Jews who sit in the אֵפֶר —both of which denote an abject humiliation.35 In OT symbolism, dressing in sackcloth and ashes signifies mourning and suffering. However, it can also symbolize weakness and emptiness.36 In this way, the Jews’ sitting in the ashes/dust is a self-humiliation that expresses the seriousness of their plight. With the helpless lying in dust and ashes, the stage is now set for a great reversal. According to Hannah’s reversal psalm, Haman is destined to be brought low, while those who sit in the dust, like Mordecai, will be raised up from the ash heap.

4.3. A Preview of Reversal

Esther 6 provides an amusing preview of the reversal that is to come. In Jon Levenson’s proposed structure of the reversal motif in Esther, the royal procession of chapter six stands as the center of the chiasm, demonstrating that this event is the turning point of the narrative.37 If this is true, then the momentary reversal in Esther 6 creates an air of “cruciality,” showing that the entire narrative flows toward and from this ironic reversal.38

In the previous chapter, Haman was counting the glory of his wealth and position. And yet, even with all his wealth, Haman is not content. He laments to his wife, “Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (6:13). As an answer to this lament, Haman’s wife and friends hatch a plot to acquire the king’s permission to hang Mordecai in the morning. Haman presumptively constructs the gallows and afterward sets out to receive the king’s assent.

While Haman and his evil cohort are concocting schemes and building gallows, the king is unable to sleep. The king’s lack of sleep can be interpreted as an act of God, especially in light of the fact that his insomnia leads to a nocturnal reading of Mordecai’s deeds which saved the king. The king asked if any distinction (גּדוּלָּה) had been given to Mordecai as a reward and found that nothing had been done for the man who saved his life. When morning comes, the king is told that Haman is waiting in court to seek an audience with him. Comically, the man whose execution Haman is seeking is the very man whom the king desires to honor.

Upon his entrance, the king asks Haman, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” (6:6). The phrase “the man whom the king delights to honor” is repeated no less than six times in this short section, which furthers the ironic fact that this mysterious man is not whom Haman expects. His arrogant thoughts are recorded in verse 6: “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” This prideful thinking leads Haman to recommend the most extravagant of parades. The “man” is to be adorned in royal robes that the king himself has worn, given a horse the king himself has ridden and then crowned. If that were not enough, the noblest of the king’s officials are to dress the man and lead him in a royal procession throughout the city. The suspenseful buildup climaxes in the king commanding Haman to do so to Mordecai the Jew and ends with the humorous command, “Leave out nothing that you have mentioned” (6:10).

While Mordecai refused the garments offered to him by Esther in 4:4, it is Haman, the enemy, who must now take off Mordecai’s sackcloth and dress him in a royal robe. It is Haman who must put the crown on Mordecai’s head, and Haman who must humiliatingly serve as Mordecai’s herald. The clothing and crown are given to the humble Mordecai, who moments before was lying in ashes. In contrast, Haman, who longs to wear the crown, walks away in humiliation and a “head covering” (וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ), as a symbol of shame (cf. Jer 14:3).39 This self-made covering may be a subtle foreshadowing of the death shroud that will be placed on him before execution in Esther 7:8. In this way, Hannah’s great reversal principle is powerfully illustrated as the “poor” (i.e., helpless) Mordecai is crowned and exalted to a princely place, while the “lofty” Agagite, who seeks to oppress him, is humiliated and ashamed. This unexpected change of clothing hints at the reversal that will be completed in the final chapters of Esther.

4.4. Haman’s Fall and Mordecai’s Exaltation

Throughout the book of Samuel, the word “fall” (נפל) typically refers to the humiliating death of the arrogant. Their “fall” visibly indicates that proud oppressors are brought low by the Lord because of their self-exaltation. The word נפל denotes the same idea in Esther.40 Haman has exalted himself, and as a consequence, he is doomed for a divinely tailored fall. After receiving the humiliating order to lead “Mordecai the Jew” in a royal procession, Haman returns crestfallen and ashamed to his wife and his friends who, just a few verses earlier, counseled him to have Mordecai hanged. This time, however, Haman’s wife and friends prophetically warn of his coming ruin: “If Mordecai before whom you have begun to fall (נפל), is one of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall (נפל) before him” (6:13). The doubling of the word נפל in Hebrew communicates the certainty of Haman’s impending doom. Haman’s entourage sees what he cannot: those who arrogantly oppress God’s people, who sit in the dust, will fall before them in shame.41 It is as David Firth writes:

Zeresh’s speech, though at one level ignorant of Hannah’s Song, thus points straight back to it. A theological interpretation of Haman’s fall, which is complete the following day when he is impaled on the stake he erected for Mordecai (7:10), is thus provided in advance. Zeresh can see this only as something inscrutable about the Jews of the empire, but by situating the story within the traditions of Samuel, the narrative fills that out to point to Yahweh’s concern for the weak.42

In short, Esther’s implicit dependence upon the Samuel narrative demonstrates that self-exaltation against God’s people will always end in humiliation and defeat.

The author insinuates divine timing as the king’s eunuchs come to escort Haman to the very feast where he will meet an ironic demise while his friends are still speaking. It is at Queen Esther’s feast that Haman’s true plot is revealed to the king. In Esther 3:15, Haman celebrates his presumptuous victory over the Jews by sitting down to drink with the king. The author masterfully notes the irony by highlight that it is on the second day while “they were drinking wine” (7:2) that the reversal takes place. Esther tells her husband that there is one who seeks her life and the lives of her people. In apparent shock, the king asks, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” Esther answers, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” (7:6). The scheme is now out and Haman’s true intent exposed. The man who is enraged when Mordecai refused to tremble, now sits in terror before the king and queen. Naturally, the king is outraged, which is made evident by his sudden departure from the wine-drinking.

Haman begs for his life, and when the king returns, he finds Haman falling (נפל) on the queen’s couch. Here, נפל carries a double irony. Haman “falls” before Esther in humiliating defeat—the prince becomes a beggar—and yet, the king interprets his actions as attempted molestation (כבשׁ) of the queen. Molesting the queen was considered a usurpation of the king’s authority, and though Haman is begging Esther and not actually molesting he, he nevertheless dies a self-exalting usurper’s death.43 The prince who exalted himself against God’s people meets his end when the pagan king mistakenly interprets his falling as an attempt to seize the throne.44 This ironic confusion leads to Haman’s immediate shame: “As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face” (7:8). Haman’s head covering in Esther 6 now becomes a death shroud. Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, reports that Haman had prepared gallows for Mordecai, the man whose actions saved the king. Then comes the swift order: “Hang him on that” (7:9).

The author concludes Haman’s fall, writing, “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated” (7:10). That Haman hangs (תלה) on the gallows or, literally, a tree (עֵץ) is a subtle allusion to Deuteronomy 21:23 that says that anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed by God himself.45 Therefore, Haman’s hanging on a tree signifies both that Haman has been cursed by God and that the Abrahamic promise, “Him who dishonors you I will curse” (Gen 12:3), is upheld. While this thematic connection of Haman’s cursed death does not directly connect to the book of Samuel, it does nevertheless prove that Haman’s demise is due to divine causality. Haman’s attempt to shame Mordecai falls back on his own head (9:25), and he dies by the very means he intended to destroy Mordecai.46 In this way, Haman’s arrogance-induced “fall” certainly alludes to the great reversal motif established in the book of Samuel. The “lofty” Agagite falls before those who sit in the dust; and, as will be seen in the narrative’s conclusion, those who sit in the dust are raised to princely places.

4.5. Mordecai’s Exaltation

In Esther 8, the signet ring that had once been given to Haman and all of Haman’s property become Mordecai’s possessions. In this way, the Jew “plunders” his enemy instead of Haman plundering the possessions of the Jews. An edict is then signed into law and sealed with the king’s ring declaring that the Jews are free to defend themselves from impending attacks. Mordecai came into the king’s palace as an oppressed Jew but leaves as a powerful prince dressed in royal robes and wearing a golden crown (8:15). The Jews’ mourning, fasting, weeping, and lamenting (4:3) is replaced with light, gladness, joy, and honor (8:16). On that day, a “reversal” (הפך) occurred as the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.47 The Jews’ sorrow is reversed (הפך) and is turned into gladness. They go from mourning in the dust to rejoicing and feasting (9:22). The passive form of הפך should be viewed as a divine passive, as it was God who reversed the Jews looming defeat into an outstanding victory. Thousands of enemies who “hated them” die, including the sons of Haman—of whom Haman had boasted in 5:11.48 They are hung and Haman’s future line is completely wiped out thereby accomplishing the חרם God had commanded of Saul in 1 Samuel 15. The Pur (casting of lots) that once signified death becomes a holiday in which the Jews celebrate their salvation. Even more significantly, it is during Purim that the Jews give gifts to the “needy” (אֶבְיוֹן), perhaps as a reminder that God will lift “the needy (אֶבְיוֹן) from the ash heap” (1 Sam 2:8) as he did with Mordecai. The narrative concludes with a final word about Mordecai, who in his exaltation becomes “great” (גדל) in the kingdom and among his people. His exaltation secures both good and shalom for the exiles. With this final description, the author reminds his readers that those who think of themselves as great will be humbled, while those who humbly know they are weak will become great. Put simply, those who humbly depend on God will be saved, while the arrogant will be ruined.

5. Theological Implications of Hannah’s Reversal Motif in Esther

Having explored the great reversal theme in Esther, which mirrors the reversal spoken of in 1 Samuel 2:8 as well as the various “falls” of the arrogant throughout the book of Samuel, one is left asking what theological message the author intended his readers to discern. If he was indeed employing Hannah’s great reversal motif, then to what end? As mentioned before, Hannah’s reversal psalm crescendos in a declaration of the Lord’s sovereignty: “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world.” In other words, such reversals prove that the Lord alone holds ownership over all things. He alone is King of the earth. In Esther, the reversal of the humble poor and self-exalting princes happens not in the Promised Land but in Persia—where, according to the ancient Near Eastern thought, Israel’s deity has no jurisdiction or domain.49 The book of Esther powerfully asserts that the Lord’s sovereignty is not limited to life in the land of Israel. Even the pillars of Persia are his, which is made evident by the fact that his poor people are exalted to princely places and made to inherit a seat honor, while their self-exalting oppressors “fall” before them. In this, God will preserve his covenant people come-what-may. It is as Peter Lee argues: “The book of Esther testifies again that there is nothing that can halt the Lord from accomplishing his divine plan”—not even exile in a foreign land.50 Who else in all of OT Scripture is said to raise up the poor from the dust? Mordecai’s rise from the dust/ashes was a clear indication that the God of Israel is still with his people and is working to bring his redemptive plan to fruition. Even though the remnant of Judah languishes in Persia, Israel’s God still knows the arrogant speech of their enemies and measures their actions in judgment. Even in times when God’s hand seems hidden, his hand is ever moving toward the enthronement of his anointed (1 Sam 2:10). His silent sovereignty preserves his people and ensures that the redemptive plan with its telos in Christ will one day be fulfilled.51

6. Conclusion

As this article has labored to demonstrate, it is not entirely accurate to say that the author of Esther gives no literary place to God or God’s sovereign work. To be sure, the author may have had a purpose in not explicitly mentioning God. However, his use of the great reversal motif powerfully brings God into the foreground, as it is God who sovereignly brings about such reversals.52 Abraham Winitzer agrees: “Israel’s deity is indeed to be found in Esther, even if on the face of it his presence is only alluded to by Mordechai’s [sic] faithful words and loyal conduct.”53 The story of a lofty, self-exalting prince being brought low, while a humble Jew who sits in the dust is exalted to a princely place mandates the conclusion that it is God who did it, thus proving that “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world.” Evil men may cast Pur, but it is the Lord who sovereignly determines the result (Prov 16:32).54 Esther powerfully shows that it is the sovereign God of Israel who will humble the self-exalting and exalt the humble, no matter how the lots may fall. He alone brings his poor people from ashes to glory, from fasting to feasting, and only he can cause them to rise from the dust to sit with princes. It is through the great reversal theme—evidenced by Mordecai the Jew rising up out of the dust to inherit honor (glory) and the proud Haman “falling” in disgrace—that Esther proves that, even if hidden, God is still “present as deliverer.”55

In the final evaluation, then, the book of Esther contributes to the canon by calling God’s people to a humble and faithful dependence upon Yahweh who, while at times unseen, knows and weighs the actions of all people. In his sovereignty, the Lord will bring about a great reversal, thereby securing redemption for those who trust in him and bringing about the fall of all who arrogantly oppress them. Thus, by using the reversal theme established in the book of Samuel, the author of Esther testifies to all: “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world” (1 Sam 2:8).

[1] It is debated whether the Song of Solomon does or does not mention the name of Yahweh (Song of Solomon 8:6). Also, the Apocrypha’s Greek additions to Esther differs significantly from the OT version of the book. Most significant is that in the Greek additions Esther prays to “the Lord God of Israel,” who then changes the Persian king’s heart (Additions to Esther 14:3).

[2] This implication will of course need to change if Qumranite fragments of Esther are discovered in the future. Robert Alter posits, “The pious Dead Sea sectarians might well have looked askance at it not merely because it never mentions the name of God but also because its narrative world is fundamentally secular.” Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: The Writings (New York: Norton, 2019), 713.

[3] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 143.

[4] It should be noted early on that this article disagrees with Alter’s assertion that the book of Esther was written “primarily for entertainment” or that Haman’s plot is “a manifest fantasy.” Alter, The Writings, 713. Instead, I agree with Eugene Merrill, who writes that though no other extrabiblical historical documents have affirmed Esther and Mordecai’s existence, “an argumentum e silentio should never be used in serious historiography. Unless irrefutable evidence to the contrary surfaces, one must on principle assume that Esther is a reliable historical document originating in and faithfully recounting the era it professes to record.” Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), 500.

[5] It is as G. Keys writes that the elevation of Esther and Mordecai “reveals the hand of a God who is infinitely more powerful than the whole Persian Empire, a God who is truly the King of kings.” G. Keys, “Esther,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 199.

[6] Psalm 72:12–14 offers one scriptural example of God’s sovereignty over reversals. Of course, this is not intended to negate the importance of the human responsibility/initiative theme in Esther. To be certain, the author of Esther describes Esther’s and Mordecai’s faithful action as the means by which the reversal occurs. However, even Mordecai admits that if Esther refused to act, “deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place” (Esther 4:14).

[7] By “parallelomania,” Sandmel means that “in dealing with similarities we can sometimes discover exact parallels, some with and some devoid of significance; seeming parallels which are so only imperfectly; and statements which can be called parallels only by taking them out of context.” Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” JBL 81 (1962): 1, 7.

[8] The phrase “semantic autonomy” comes from E. D. Hirsch Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 12.

[9] Peter H. W. Lau and Gregory Goswell, Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth, NSBT 41 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 66.

[10] Russell L. Meek, “Intertextuality, Inner-Biblical Exegesis, and Inner-Biblical Allusion: The Ethics of a Methodology,” Bib 95 (2014): 282–84.

[11] Meek writes, “Whereas with intertextuality one need not be concerned with issues of textual origins and directionality of influence, inner-biblical exegesis requires that scholars make known and defend their view of a text’s provenance.” “Intertextuality, Inner-Biblical Exegesis, and Inner-Biblical Allusion,” 288.

[12] Consider, for example, Richard B. Hays and G. K. Beale, both of whom provide a criterion for substantiating proposed parallels. See G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 40. See also, Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University, 1989).

[13] To this point, Michael Fishbane’s explanation of traditio and traditum is useful. Fishbane argues that ancient scribes “adapted, transformed, or reinterpreted” traditum, which he defines as the “content of tradition.” He goes on to argue, “In the light of its post-biblical cogeners, it may be observed that inner-biblical typologies constitute a literary-historical phenomenon which isolates perceived correlations between specific events, persons, or places early in time with their later correspondents. Since the latter occur either in the present or in the immediate or envisaged future, there is an implied emphasis on the linear and historical aspects of the correlations. For in so far as the ‘later correspondents’ occur in history and time, they will never be precisely identical with their prototype, but inevitably stand in a hermeneutical relationship with them.” Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 351.

[14] David Firth writes, “One can read the narrative of Esther perfectly well without seeing the varying levels of intertextuality and still appreciate the meaning communicated by the text, but at the same it is the intertextuality that enrichens our reading of the text.” David G. Firth, “When Samuel Met Esther: Narrative Focalisation, Intertextuality, and Theology,” Southeastern Theological Review 1.1 (2020): 21.

[15] For an extended review of these practices see chapter two in Jonathan Gibson’s book on Malachi. Jonathan Gibson, Covenant Continuity and Fidelity: Inner-Biblical Allusion and Exegesis in Malachi, LHBOTS 625 (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).

[16] It is important to note that Psalm 113, which alludes to Hannah’s psalm of reversal, is situated in Book V of the Psalms—the very book that is generally focused on Israel’s exile and restoration. This detail may provide an important link between the exiles of Esther’s narrative and Hannah’s reversal motif in 1 Samuel.

[17] One thinks of Psalm 107:39–40, in which the Psalmist warns that when the poor are diminished or brought low through oppression, God “pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes.”

[18] This article is not the first to connect Samuel’s reversal motif with that of Esther’s. David Firth argues, “Readers attuned to the placement of this motif in Samuel are thus aware that it points beyond itself to offer a further reflection on how the reversal of fortunes might occur.” Firth goes on to explore two instances (King Ahasuerus’s feast and Haman’s fall) and their inner-biblical connections to the book of Samuel. Firth, “When Samuel Met Esther,” 23.

[19] In saying that Mordecai is the primary actor in the narrative, this author in no way intends to minimize Esther’s brave and faithful actions. As the book of Esther shows, Hadassah was truly an exemplary woman of Yahweh.

[20] Michael V. Fox, Character and Ideology in the Books of Esther (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 185.

[21] Several studies connect Esther/Mordecai’s rise with that of Joseph’s in Genesis. See Abraham Winitzer, “The Reversal of Fortune Theme in Esther: Israelite Historiography in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” JANER 11 (2011): 170–218. See also, Gabriel F. Hornung, “The Theological Import of MT Esther’s Relationship to the Joseph Story,” CBQ 82 (2020): 567–81.

[22] Ralph Klein notes that the ban was intended to “wipe out all traces of syncretism.” Ralph W. Klein, 1 Samuel, WBC 10 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 149.

[23] “Agag” (אֲגַג) seems to be a title given to Amalekite kings rather than the name of a specific individual, just as “Abimelech” is most likely a dynastic title given to the kings of the Philistia. Consider the fact that the term “Agag” is used in Numbers 24:7 long before the reign of the Agag in 1 Samuel 15.

[24] Alter goes on to say, “In the first verse of chapter 9, this pattern is actually spelled out in two Hebrew words, wenahafokh hu’, ‘on the contrary’ or ‘it was the opposite.’” Alter, The Writings, 714. Dumbrell likewise argues, “Reversal seems to be the most important structural theme in Esther.” William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 300.

[25] While this point is debatable, it is possible that the term “Agag” may refer to one who is “high” or “lofty.” The promise that Israel’s king will be “higher than Agag” (Num 24:7) certainly seems to suggest that Agag connotes someone who is “high.” If this is true, then Samuel’s cutting the “lofty one” (a euphemism for pride) into pieces (שׁסף) serves as a visual fulfillment of Hannah’s psalm that prophesies that the Lord’s enemies will be broken into pieces, though a different word (חתת) is used in 1 Samuel 2:10.

[26] G. K. Beale, Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019) 29.

[27] Frederick Bush, Ruth-Esther, WBC 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 385.

[28] Dempster connects Esther’s opposition against Haman as parallel to Eve’s opposition against the serpent. Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT 15 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 223.

[29] Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 222. See also Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 222.

[30] Abraham Winitzer, “The Reversal of Fortune Theme in Esther: Israelite Historiography in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” JANER 11 (2011): 196–98. John Walton explains the process: “In the casting of lots, markers with designated meaning were put together in a container. The container was shaken up and down until one of the markers came out (thus drawn by deity rather than by human involvement). Instead of observing a sign that deity was believed to have written of his/her own record (such as celestial signs), this method gave the deity the opportunity to provide a sign (just as extispicy did).” John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 256, 259.

[31] The phrase “seat of honor” (1 Sam 2:8) in other OT passages (e.g., Isa 22:23) can refer to a high administrative office. Mordecai receives a “seat of honor” as he is exalted to a princely status in Persia’s royal court. See Klein, 1 Samuel, 18.

[32] “Gate,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 321.

[33] For a list of opinions about Mordecai’s disobedience, see Marion Ann Taylor, Ruth, Esther, The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 131–32. Anthony Tomasino’s description of Mordecai as a “trouble-maker” seems unwarranted. See Anthony J. Tomasino, “Interpreting Esther from the Inside Out: Hermeneutical Implications of the Chiastic Structure of the Book of Esther,” JBL 138 (2019): 118. See also the conclusion that Mordecai was acting out of pride in Bruce K. Waltke with Charles Yu, Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 767.

[34] Schreiner writes, “It seems that bowing down to Haman would violate his devotion to Yahweh as the God of Israel. The Lord was Mordecai’s king and sovereign, not Haman.” Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 222.

[35] Firth notes that while the specific language may differ, “the intertextual allusion is precise in that Mordecai’s experience is indeed one where the poor are exalted and made rich while the powerful are brought down.” Firth, “When Samuel Met Esther,” 27.

[36] “Ashes,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 50.

[37] Jon D. Levenson, Esther, OTL (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 5–12.

[38] While his central focus on Esther 5 is debatable, Anthony Tomasino is certainly correct in saying, “The ‘hinge’ of the chiasmus should possess true cruciality, being essential to the narrative or thematic development of the text. A chiasm necessarily focuses attention on a central thought or scene, and that scene should therefore be important.” Tomasino, “Interpreting Esther from the Inside Out,” 106, emphasis original.

[39] Taylor, Ruth, Esther, 171.

[40] Winitzer writes, “Concerning npl in general, however: it is submitted that the intersection between what this verb intends to recall throughout Esther on the one hand, and the reversal them in all its manifestations on the other, constitutes nothing less than the core message of the book.” Winitzer, “The Reversal of Fortune Theme in Esther,” 182.

[41] Webb writes, “Zeresh here probably confronts Haman with something he himself already knows but has been fighting against; this is a fight he cannot win.” Barry G. Webb, Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther, NSBT 10 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 123.

[42] Firth, “When Samuel Met Esther,” 25.

[43] Taylor notes that molesting the queen would have been taken as “a ploy commonly used by usurpers of thrones.” Taylor, Ruth, Esther, 182.

[44] Taylor writes, “Given that Xerxes had just a day earlier been reminded of the plot to kill him and seize power (2:19–23; 6:1–3), and given that royal wives and concubines were often used as pawns in royal power plays, and given Haman’s obvious obsession with honor, success, attention, and the idea of being king for a day … it is not surprising that Xerxes may have believed Haman was intent on usurping the throne.” Taylor, Ruth, Esther, 183.

[45] While the actual practice may very well have been impalement (no less of a humiliation), the Hebrew author decides to depict Haman’s death as “hanging on a tree” in order to emphasize that his death was a curse from God.

[46] Josephus comments, “And from hence I cannot forbear to admire God, and to learn hence his wisdom and his justice, not only in punishing the wickedness of Haman, but in so disposing it, that he should undergo the very same punishment which he had contrived for another; as also, because thereby he teaches others this lesson, that what mischiefs anyone prepares against another, he without knowing of it, first contrives it against himself” (see Jewish Antiquities 11.6.268). Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 303.

[47] Firth says that הפך is “as close as the narrator comes to mentioning God directly as the author of deliverance.” David F. Firth, The Message of Esther, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 122.

[48] It is interesting to note that both Saul and Haman lose ten sons. In 1 Samuel, three of Saul’s sons die on Mount Gilboa; and in 2 Samuel, seven sons are hanged for the breach of the covenant with the Gibeonites. The aftermath of Saul’s and Haman’s demise has a very similar ending, though Saul’s line is not completely wiped out as Haman’s is.

[49] With his people exiled from their homeland and the temple destroyed, in ancient Near Eastern eyes, the God of Israel and his people had lost all important links between each other—thus, from an outsider’s perspective, Israel’s God has been rendered powerless. By carting off the temple articles, the Babylonians had seemingly declared the supremacy of their own gods over Yahweh. Dandamayev writes, “The images of deities of enemies were not smashed but only carried away in order to deprive the enemies of the support of their gods.” Muhammad Dandamayev, Religion and Politics in the Ancient Near East (Lanham: University Press of Maryland, 1996), 40. In short, without their temple, without their rituals, without their land, the people of Judah were seemingly without a Divine protector. The book of Esther counters that thought by showing God’s supremacy even in the land of Persia.

[50] Peter Y. Lee, “Esther,” A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised, ed. by Miles V. Van Pelt (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016): 489.

[51] Lee writes, “Thus Haman’s aim to annihilate the Jews witnesses once again the attempts made by the wicked seed to nullify the redemptive seed of life. God, however, preserves that seed, which climaxes in the true seed of the woman in the person of Jesus Christ.” Lee, “Esther,” 492.

[52] Levenson writes, “Mordecai, Haman’s advisers, and Zeresh have articulated the theology of the book of Esther rather completely: A hidden force arranges events in such a way that even against the most daunting odds the Jews are protected and delivered. The hiddenness of the force is an essential part of this theology.” Levenson, Esther, 21. Webb artistically adds that the hidden hand of God works to show that “God is present even when he is most absent.” Webb, Five Festal Garments, 124.

[53] Winitzer, “The Reversal of Fortune Theme in Esther,” 187.

[54] As Barry Webb notes, “[God’s] people are never simply at the mercy of blind fate or of malign powers, whether human or supernatural.” Webb, Five Festal Garments, 125. Baldwin adds, “Even when the die had fallen the Lord was powerful to reverse its good omen into bad, in order to deliver his people.” See Joyce G. Baldwin, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC 12 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 23.

[55] Webb, Five Festal Garments, 124.

Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson is lead teaching pastor at Grace Church in Ovilla, Texas.

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