Home Articles Festivals Book of Esther - Purim
     
 
Book of Esther - Purim Print E-mail
Written by Victoria Radin   

Concealment of the L-rd's Countenance

The Hebrew sages employ four different modes of scripture interpretation which they call Pardes, meaning garden, (Garden of the Torah). Pardes is an acronym (PRDS) for:

Peshat ­meaning "simple, plain, or literal"
Remez ­meaning, "hint, allusion, or allegory"
Derash ­meaning "homily or sermon"
Sod­meaning "secret or mystical"

Both the derash (sermon) and sod (secret) interpretations of scripture reflect the expositor's own understanding of a narrative to which he has applied his knowledge of events and prophecy. It does not purpose to negate other interpretations, but seeks, instead, to offer new insight about a Bible story.

The Book of Esther, written before the New Testament of course, has often been described as an allegory about the future Gentile Church. However, because Esther was clearly a Jewess, and Vashti obviously a Gentile, this common allegorical interpretation would have to contain elements of replacement theology [that is, Esther the Jew being replaced by the Gentile Church] or the interpretation is faulty. Yet, by taking a closer look at the legend through the Pardes it is possible that Esther can be both Jewish and the Church.

This historic narrative recounts how the supernatural force of G-d protects Israel even when she is not in G-d's favor. The story takes place while the Jews were in galut or exile from Israel for their rebellion, during the period known to Christendom as the intertestmental period: the 400 years between Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, and John the Baptist, the first prophet of the New Testament. The victorious outcome of this popular legend resulted in the establishment of a new feast, the Feast of Purim, which the rabbis declare will survive all other feasts because it encompasses them all.

The Legend of Esther and Mordecai

(Peshat)

The story begins with the king of Persia, Ahasuerus, holding a great feast during the third year of his reign. On the seventh day, he orders his queen Vashti to come out wearing the royal crown to show off her beauty, but she refuses to come. Ahasuerus, in his fury, asks his advisors what to do. Memuchan suggests that he depose Vashti and then hold a kingdom-wide search for another queen, selected from all the maidens in his vast empire.

Mordecai, a Jew that was exiled to Babylon during King Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Judah, had raised his orphaned cousin Hadassah whom he called Esther. Esther, a very beautiful maiden, is chosen to be among those presented to King Ahasuerus in his search for a queen. Mordecai warns Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity to anyone during the year she is being prepared for royalty. Not surprisingly, when she is finally taken to the king, he chooses her as his queen.

Some years later, the king elevates Haman the Agagite to Prime Minister. A decree is issued that everyone would have to bow down and prostrate themselves before Haman. But Mordecai the Jew refuses to bow. Haman slanders the Jews to the King and advises extermination. The King agrees, giving Haman his signet ring to seal the decree. Haman then casts lots for the best day to slaughter all the Jews and steal their property. Soon afterward, Haman sends the decree throughout Ahasuerus' kingdom with the chosen date of Adar 13. Haman, in anticipation of his victory over Mordecai, builds a gallows on which to hang his enemy.

Mordecai and the rest of the Jews don sackcloth and ashes to mourn and weep over the decree. He sends word to Esther that it is time for her to reveal her Jewish identity and plead with the king for her life and the lives of her people. Esther worries that she could be executed for going to the king unbidden, so she calls for a three-day fast amongst the Jews, after which she goes to the king.

Ahasuerus receives Esther with joy and promises to fulfill any request she makes. She asks only that the king appear with Haman at a banquet she has prepared. At the banquet, the king restates his desire to grant any request she makes, but she asks only that he come to a second banquet with Haman the next day at which time she would make her request known.

Ahasuerus, unable to sleep that night, orders a servant to bring and read his book of remembrances to him. He discovers that Mordecai the Jew had uncovered a plot to overthrow his throne and was never rewarded. The following morning, the king asks Haman what he should do for someone he wants to honor. Haman, thinking himself to be the man, suggests that the king put his robe and crown on the man and parade him through the city on the king's horse led by one of his highest officials. Then, have the official announce to everyone that this is what the king does for one so honored. Ahasuerus orders Haman to do so for Mordecai the Jew. Thoroughly humiliated after being forced to honor the man he despised, Haman rushes home only to be quickly whisked away to the second banquet prepared by Esther.

At the second feast, Ahasuerus again asks Esther what he can give her. She requests that her life be spared and those of her people because they had been condemned to die. When asked who would dare to do such a thing, she points her finger at the evil Haman. The king stomps out of the room to ponder the situation and returns to find Haman laying on his queen, begging for his life. The king becomes enraged and orders that he be hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

Ahasuerus bequeaths Haman's property to Esther and promotes Mordecai to the position of Prime Minister. He gives his signet ring to Mordecai and allows him to issue another decree giving the Jews permission to defend themselves on the 13th of Adar. Mordecai and Esther declare that a holiday be perpetually observed on the 14th of Adar to commemorate the day when the evil planned by Israel's enemies fell upon themselves.

The obvious interpretation (peshat and derash) would be that those who plot evil against others will be rewarded thusly. On a slightly deeper level (remez), the story hints at the idea that all those who purpose to come against Israel will be frustrated in their attempts to do so. Key scriptures that reveal this theme are 4:14 and 6:13. The interpretation of this popular legend that is most intriguing, though, falls into the Sod category.

Coincidence or Grand Design?

(Sod)

The Jewish populace generally celebrates Purim with the flair of Mardi Gras; that is, with costumes and drinking. Masking one's appearance is a feature of this holiday that reveals the underlying theme of the Book of Esther, hester panim, concealment of the L-rd's countenance. G-d declared (Deuteronomy 31:16-18) that if His people Israel forsook Him, He would hide His face from them. This period of exile known as the intertestmental period was such a time. Yet, G-d appears throughout the story in the form of apparent coincidences.

G-d's name is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, but His name (Jehovah/Yahweh) formed by the four Hebrew letters: yod, hey, vav, hey appears four times in the form of an acrostic. In fact, three ancient manuscripts are known in which the acrostic letters are written larger than the others so that they stand out boldly. Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger points out that each sentence containing an acrostic for Jehovah, is uttered by a different speaker: the first by Ahasuerus' advisor Memuchan (1:20); the second by Esther (5:4); the third by Haman (5:13); the fourth by the inspired writer (7:7). In the case of the first and third that were spoken by Gentiles, Jehovah's name is written backwards, showing that Jehovah was turning back or overriding the counsel of the Gentiles. In the second and fourth instances, spoken by Israelites, Jehovah's name is written forward because He is ruling in favor of His people.

Esther's Hebrew name was Hadassah (myrtle); but her cousin Mordecai called her Esther (star) which comes from the Hebrew root, 'seter', meaning hidden or concealed. This name served a twofold purpose in the story­­first, to indicate that her Jewish identity was hidden from the Persians. And second, the name Esther sounded like the Persian goddess Ist'har (Venus), thus making a mockery of the ancient Persian belief that the stars of the Zodiac affected man's destiny. The narrative is filled with this kind of hidden humor and irony.

For instance, the Persian word Purim means lots. The festival is called Purim because the evil Haman cast lots in order to pick a day for the Jews to be slaughtered. It is believed that the lot did not fall on the month of Adar by chance, but that G-d caused it to intentionally fall on Adar 13 because an important festival of the pagan goddess Anahita was celebrated in the middle of that month. Haman thought that the lot falling on that date was a providential sign because the people would slaughter the Jews and steal their possessions during the days of rejoicing and revelry for Anahita. He believed that 'the stars' favored this day for victory. Instead, the day became a yearly day of rejoicing and revelry for the Jews commemorating their victory over their enemies through their star, Esther.

Amalek: The Eternal Enemy

Another important (sod) feature of the story is the hidden agenda of the two protagonists: Haman and Mordecai.

Haman is an Agagite (Esther 3:1), a descendant of king Agag of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:32). G-d said that the Israelites would have war with the Amalekites from generation to generation (Exodus 17:16). The Amalekites brutally attacked women, children, the aged, and the sick as they wandered through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Thereafter, the name, Amalek, became synonymous with evil. Amalek was the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12) on whom the L-rd pronounced harsh judgement: Esau and all his descendants, He said, would be completely destroyed (Obadiah 18).

Mordecai was a Benjaminite (Esther 2:5). King Saul, also a Benjaminite was ordered to attack the Amalekites and destroy everyone and everything that belonged to them because of what they did to Israel when they entered the Promised Land (1 Samuel 15:2 & Exodus 17:8). Saul failed to do as the L-rd commanded when he took spoils from the battle and spared Agag their king. Mordecai, on the other hand, would not bow to the Amalekite Haman and succeeded in destroying him and his whole family as the L-rd instructed should and would be done.

The New Testament Church

Another Sod interpretation of this story relates to the New Testament Church:

Before his death, Jacob pronounced a blessing on his sons and his two grandsons that were fathered by Joseph (Genesis 48:5). Firstborn privileges were split between his son Judah and his grandson Ephraim. Judah was given the right of leadership and Ephraim the double portion (Genesis 48:22, Joshua 14:4). Judah, Jacob said, would rule "until Shiloh comes" (Genesis 49:10). Shiloh became a term used for the Messiah because it is thought that Jacob's blessing meant, "until He [Shiloh] comes to whom the scepter belongs".

Shiloh, a city north of Jerusalem in the territory allotted to Ephraim, was the location where Joshua first set up the Tabernacle of G-d in the land of Canaan. Shiloh, G-d said, was the place where "I set My name at the first" (Jeremiah 7:12). Joshua was an Ephraimite and the first ruler of Israel in the Promised Land. Caleb was a Judahite and one of the two 'good spies' (Numbers 14:6-9). Samuel, the last ruler of Israel before the period of kings, was also an Ephraimite (1 Samuel 1:1). Samuel ruled Israel in the capacity of priest, prophet, and king, in the same way G-d's Messiah would rule. But before Samuel died, he anointed David of the tribe of Judah as G-d's chosen king and a type of the Messiah. David's purpose, as the representative of the Nation of Israel, was to bring forth the Anointed One through his descendants, the One who would rule and reign for eternity.

 

It is interesting to note that Saul, the first king of Israel, was a 'false' king. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin and was unfaithful to G-d. Zedekiah, the last king of Israel before Israel's exile to Babylon, was also a 'false' king. Zedekiah was Jehoiakim's brother (2 Chronicles 36:10) and therefore not a legal heir to the throne of Israel. Zedekiah was also unfaithful to the L-rd.

 

Ephraim, G-d's firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9), was not only one of Israel's tribes, but also the name of the entire Northern Kingdom of Israel (e.g. Isaiah 7:2). After King Solomon's death, the nation of Israel split into two 'houses', Judah and Ephraim (also called Israel). The Southern Kingdom (comprised of the tribes of Judah, and Benjamin) was called Judah after the tribe of its leader Rehoboam. The Northern Kingdom (comprised of the other ten tribes) was called Ephraim after the tribe of its leader Jeroboam. It can be seen in this turn of events, that Jacob's split blessing between Judah and Ephraim became a reality in the split nation and their respective leaders.

 

It is worth noting that when Jeroboam (Ephraim) tore away from Judah (1 Kings 12), he set up false places of worship (1 Kings 12:28-29), established a false priesthood (1 Kings 12:31), and created false festivals (1 Kings 12:32-33). This is also what the Church did in the 4th century under the leadership of Emperor Constantine when he separated the Church from her Jewish roots.

 

The writer of Hebrews calls the New Testament Church "the Church of the Firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23), hinting at a connection to Ephraim who is identified as G-d's firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9). The New Testament Church was designed by G-d to be comprised of the ten lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom that were scattered throughout the world and who mixed with the Gentiles wherever they settled, along with the grafted-in Gentiles of the world (Romans 11:17). Its leadership, though, was always meant to be Jewish. It was the Jews that were to bring the knowledge of the one true G-d to the world. Hosea says (7:8) that Ephraim mixed himself with the nations (Gentiles) which agrees with Jacob's prophecy that Ephraim's descendants would become a fullness of Gentiles (Genesis 48:19).

The Hidden Church

The scriptures record that the time will come when G-d will rejoin the 'stick' of Judah with the 'stick' of Joseph which is in Ephraim's hand (Ezekiel 37:16-22). And, "they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again" (verse 22). Esther is the Church with a leadership having a Jewish identity, comprised of people from every tribe and nation. She is the One New Man described by the apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:14-16), Jew and Gentile working together to defeat the enemy of all mankind (Zechariah 9:13-17). Esther's identity has been kept secret and has indeed even been masked to such a degree that her Jewishness is unrecognizable. In fact, Esther still appears very Gentile. It is time for Esther to reveal her true identity so that she and her people can be rescued from the fate decreed by her enemy, the devil.

The Drama
(Remez)

The main players in this prophetic drama form the basis of an allegory of the Church with Jewish roots coming together with their Jewish brethren forming a strong bond that will hasten the L-rd's return as they pray and fast.

King Ahasuerus A type of G-d the Father
Vashti A type of the Gentile churches without a Jewish identity and without the Spirit of G-d
Mordecai A type of Jesus, the Living Word
Esther A type of the New Testament Church having leadership with a Jewish identity
Hegai

A type of the Holy Spirit in His role as man's silent instructor

Hegai was the custodian of the women who prepared Esther for the king and gave her seven servants, the sevenfold Spirit of G-d (Isaiah 11:2), the presence of which must accompany one who is to become the wife of the king.

Hathach

A type of the Holy Spirit in His role as communicator

Hathach brought messages to and from Mordecai (Jesus) and Esther (the Church)

Haman A type of the Antichrist, the devil

The Plot

Vashti is exposed as being unworthy for her position when she refuses to don her crown (symbolic of the visible presence of the Holy Spirit in her life) and royal apparel (symbolic of her Jewish identity). She is deposed and never sees the king again.

Mordecai raises his beautiful relative Esther to maturity before turning her over to Hegai who prepares her for the king. After the period of preparation, Esther is found worthy to wear the crown and royal attire.

Hathach communicates to Esther the message from Mordecai that Haman has planned a day for the annihilation of the Jews and lets Esther know the details of Haman's plot. He advises Esther that it is time to reveal her identity to the king. Esther fasts and prays, finally devising a plan that will bring victory over Haman's evil plot.

The King loves Esther and vows to give her whatever she wants. She asks only for her life and that of her people.

Haman falls upon Esther, but the King appears and orders Haman to be destroyed.

Esther is bequeathed Haman's property and Mordecai is promoted to the highest position in the land, second only to the King himself. Mordecai proclaims that all who oppose Esther and her people be put to death. Her enemies are destroyed and a holiday is established to celebrate the reversal of the decree calling for the destruction of the Jews.


The message of the Book of Esther for the Church:

It is time for the hidden Church to put on her royal apparel in preparation for the king, time to be identified with her Jewish mentor Jesus:

"For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

 
 
 
 
©2018 HaDerek Ministries - All rights reserved.   Website Design by Further Design Group