Esther and Legislating Morality

This post continues a series looking at various issues raised by the book of Esther. I’d love your feedback in the comments

Esther chapter 1 ends with Xerxes passing a law that men should be rulers in their own homes (Esther 1:22) with the intention that this would make wives respect their husbands (Esther 1:20). Of course, this is highly ironic, since if wives only respect their husbands because the law says so, then they don’t really respect them at all.

Xerxes heavy-handed approach of passing a law to deal with marital conflict raises the tricky issue of what things ought to be covered by the law of the land, and what things should just be left for people to sort out amongst themselves.

There are all sorts of things that the Bible calls out as sin, but are perfectly legal in our culture. Swearing, getting drunk, and committing adultery would be examples. And on the whole, most Christians agree that while we should do what we can to discourage and minimise such things, the passing of laws against them is probably not appropriate.

Of course, there are people pushing for tighter laws in all kinds of directions. Many Christians, myself included, long to see the right to life of unborn children upheld in the law. Whilst on the other end of the spectrum, some want laws to control what opinions may not be expressed in public which could leave Christians open to prosecution for holding to biblical points of view.

And then there are issues where a mediating line might need to be drawn. I support legislation that puts limits on the way that cigarettes and pornography are promoted, for example, without necessarily wanting to campaign for a total ban.

So how do we decide what should be illegal, and what should just be disapproved of? The trend amongst many evangelicals is towards a more libertarian view of law, observing that you cannot legislate morality, since it is a problem of the heart that only the gospel can truly address. Yet no one would suggest that theft, rape or murder shouldn’t be illegal. So we all acknowledge that there is some role for law to play in restraining evil.

This is actually a topic that I am not going to offer my own position on, since I feel that I need to read and think more deeply about it first. John Stott’s “Issues Facing Christians” is the best book I have read that deals with this type of issue. So let me throw it out to you in the comments. Which sinful behaviours that are not illegal would you like to see a law against? And which should be left unlegislated for? And what are the principles involved in making such distinctions? Would an ideal society’s laws be close to or completely different from, the laws of Israel as found in the Pentateuch?

5 thoughts on “Esther and Legislating Morality

  1. What about parents spanking their children? People who cite Proverbs for support ought to be consistent, for Deuteronomy mandates the stoning of disobedient teenagers.

  2. well I’m not a reconstructionist so I have no plans to reintroduce the entire OT law. I also don’t buy into the consistency argument that you have to take all OT laws as perpetually binding or none. This is obvious from the NT – some are explicitly abrogated and declared obsolete, others remain binding. I also happen to believe spanking is sometimes appropriate for young children. I don’t think Proverbs commands it, but it does view it as an acceptable form of discipline. In any case, this post was about the law of the land rather than Old Testament law per se. Maybe I shouldn’t have tagged that final sentence on the end 🙂

  3. It’s interesting to look at the breadth of the symbology of ‘rod’ in the OT, e.g. ‘Your rod and staff, they comfort me’ (Ps. 23). What is clear is that Proverbs commends godly discipline. And stoning rebellious teenagers isn’t explicitly abrogated and declared obsolete in the NT … !

  4. Did you read Mary Evans’ reflections on Esther in the May/June issue of Cover to Cover Every Day? Might still be available if you’re trying to read lots of different teachers’ views on it. She presented two possible approaches to the story, and let readers decide which was the case.

    P.S. The … was an angled bracket with the word smiley in it (above).

  5. thanks for the heads up. I’ve got Joyce Baldwin’s commentary too which I haven’t got round to consulting yet.

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