The Biblical book of Esther makes a rip roaring read. It’s a fantastic story. I want to draw your attention to some aspects of the way the story is told, because I believe the entire book is also telling us a greater story. Not a story within a story, but a story outside the story.
The secretly Jewish orphan girl bravely offers up her life in order to save her people, thus saving the line of the Messiah who later saved the entire world. Though Esther’s story is amazing in and of itself, it whispers echoes of the greater story of the Messiah to come.
A true story pointing to the greater story
First of all, consider the exquisite storytelling technique in chapter one, which describes the lavish feasts of the king:
“He displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty for many days, 180 days. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the garden court of the king’s palace for all the people who were present in the palace at Shushan, for both the greatest to the least. There were white and blue linen curtains hung by cords of fine linen and purple on silver rings and marble columns, gold and silver couches on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, marble, mother-of-pearl and minerals. Wine was served in golden goblets, each of which was different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant according to the king’s wealth.”
It really does read a bit like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?! A glorious king, a garden, great abundance and joy, freedom for all and diversity instead of uniformity, along with specifically named precious stones. All of these aspects are reminiscent of Eden.
You may also be detecting the distinct aroma of the temple: opulent colored linens hanging by rings of precious metal, golden vessels… but the tabernacle was also designed to hark back to Eden. So the scene is set.
There are echoes all throughout the book of Esther of the salvation story
The most obvious parallel is the moment at which the heroic Queen Esther seeks to approach the throne of the king in his glory, but to do so would mean certain death… that is, unless he extends his scepter to her. And the association of a scepter with the Messiah from the line of Judah crops up several times in Scripture. It is a picture of Yeshua’s authority and grace towards us who should rightly perish in the presence of God, the King of kings.
But despite the king Artaxerxes’ desire to grant Esther her request (even up to half his kingdom!) he cannot revoke the law decreeing the death of her people.
The king can, however, decree another law, which changes everything. The accuser was defeated, and death was put to death.
The old law stays in place, but the new law effectively cancels it. This reminds me of the New Covenant in Yeshua’s blood – God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai is not revoked exactly, but overwritten. We now have a “better covenant”. The New Covenant changed everything, and caused a global revolution.
It also reminds me of the glorious moment in a fictional story (albeit an allegorical one) written by C.S. Lewis. Aslan, the Messiah-figure in his Narnia series, explains to the bewildered children how he came back to life after he had been slaughtered. There was one law that led to death, but another law, a higher law, overruled it, and brought the most unexpected turnaround:
“Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter 15, paragraph 38)
Upside down, or the right way up?
The book of Esther tells a story of complete turnaround in a deeply satisfying way. It shows poetic justice at its finest.
- The exiled Jewish orphan becomes queen of an empire
- The unbendingly righteous Mordecai is raised up from death row to high esteem – second only to the king himself
- The evil Haman is hung on his own enormous gallows that he prepared for Mordecai
- And the Jewish people go from being almost exterminated to great victory and joy.
Everything is turned on its head. “Ve-nahafoch hu” (ונהפוך הוא) as it says in the book of Esther, and as Israelis still say today when everything is upside down. Perhaps everything was wrong before, and is put wonderfully right. The inner story is often messed up, but the greater story is the restoration of all things.
In the story of Esther, everything turns around from disaster to great jubilation, but this is not the only place in the Bible we see a happy ending. Consider God’s servant Job. He went through hell and back, but in the end, all was restored to him several times over. I don’t think it’s coincidental that one of his fabulous daughters was called Keren Hapuch (קֶרֶן הַפּוּךְ) which uses the same letters as the total turnaround (הַפוּךְ).
I love the outrage expressed by the Jewish leaders in Thessalonica in Acts 17:6-7:
“These men who have turned the world upside down… they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
To them it seemed catastrophic, but from God’s point of view, it was a revolution of righteousness. Things were being put the right way up at last.
You’ve also got Joseph, Abraham, and many others whose stories turned right around from prison to palace, from barrenness to father of many nations… the list of total turnarounds goes on. Of course, you and I do not believe in fairy tales, but a good true story is another matter entirely. Cinderella may be made up, but the truth of the matter is that God does indeed lift people out of the ashes and sits them with kings and princes. It says so in the Bible. Hannah rejoiced after receiving her miracle son Samuel, saying,
Adonai causes death and makes alive,
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Adonai makes poor and makes rich,
He brings low and also lifts up.
He raises the helpless from the dust.
He lifts the needy from the dunghill,
to make them sit with nobles,
granting them a seat of honor. (1 Samuel 2:6-8)
And yes, we can look forward to a happy ending. As Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the book, and it’s going to turn out alright”.