The Bible Speaks Today series is still missing a few Old Testament volumes, and it has been a while since a new one came out, but it looks as if they are rectifying this, with this volume on Esther being published recently and a couple more due to come out later in the year (Obadiah, Nahum & Zephaniah by Gordon Bridger and Ezra & Haggai by Robert Fyall).
The introduction fills us in on the historical background to Esther, and tells us about the three versions there are of the book. Firth describes the book of Esther as a ’dramatized history’. He introduces us to each of the main characters, and explains the significance of Haman being an ‘Agagite’.
Though the book of Esther is notable for its lack of explicit mention of God, Firth does think we can detect various allusions to other Biblical passages. He is cautious not to read more into the text than the author says, but on the whole interprets Mordecai and Esther’s decisions positively – e.g. “Esther neither sought entry to the harem, nor advancement within it, yet both came to her”. He does however think it likely that her failure to reveal her Jewish identity would inevitably mean that she could not retain a kosher lifestyle.
He draws out lessons of remaining faithful to God’s purposes, even in an antagonistic culture, and it is as we do this that we see his providence at work. He picks up on the foolishness of alcohol-fueled decision making. He also reflects on the need for God’s people to challenge evil when we see it, and to speak out from a biblical perspective, taking the risks of faith that God has led us to.
He sees Esther as embodying wisdom in contrast to Haman’s folly. As one would expect there is plenty of discussion of the providence of God, working in ways and with timing that are not what we would expect. He attempts to soften the rather bloodthirsty sounding edicts issued by Esther, by proposing that they were only to be fulfilled in self-defence against those who explicitly attacked the Jews.
I found this an interesting read and a good guide to the book of Esther. It fulfils the goals of the Bible Speaks Today series as it both illuminates the text and draws out principles for application. Sometimes I wondered whether he overlooked some of the moral ambiguities surrounding Mordecai and Esther’s behaviour. There was no real attempt to find echoes of the gospel story in the book. Arguably that may be a good thing, as those who do so often seem to need to put a lot of “spin” on various characters and events to make it fit, but I would have appreciated some discussion of where Jesus is to be found within the book. My favourite Esther commentary is Karen Jobes’ NIVAC commentary, but this one has a slightly different perspective so complements it well.