Over this summer I have been teaching my way through the book of Esther as a part of a summer school that my church has been running. I’ve also been blogging my way through the subjects we touched on during that series. I wanted to finish my seminar series with a look at the question, “Is the Gospel to be found in Esther”?
At first glance, the answer might be no. Not only is God not mentioned in the book, but given the distinct lack of mercy to be found in Esther, we might despair of finding Jesus in there at all. Even the great Martin Luther apparently felt that there was a distinct lack of gospel to be found in the book of Esther. However, armed with the confidence we get from Luke 24:44-47 that Jesus, the mission of God and the gospel of forgiveness are to be found throughout the Old Testament, I want to briefly summarise various ways in which I, and others, have detected echoes of the gospel story in the book of Esther.
There is in fact no need to immediately resort to allegorical interpretations of the book. At a very basic level, the book of Esther is testimony to the unthwartable purposes of God. Satan has on many occasions attempted to destroy God’s salvation plan by killing off the Jews, and Jesus himself. Satan was behind Haman’s plot to annihilate the Jews in Esther’s time, just as much as he was behind Herod’s plan to destroy the baby boys in Bethlehem. But God is always one step ahead of Satan, and just as Haman’s plan to impale Mordecai on a giant spike backfired horribly, so Satan’s attempt to destroy Jesus at the cross turned out to be a comprehensive defeat. As Jared Wilson tweeted this earlier this week:
Seeing the cross in Esther 7:10. Blows me away. The gallows Satan meant for our defeat is his own defeat.
Some of the echoes of the gospel various people have detected require a somewhat vivid imagination, particularly when the unpleasant king Xerxes gets to represent God. For example, Dave Bish argues that we can see Christ and the church in the way that Esther 1 depicts a powerful, generous and wealthy king longing to gaze upon the beauty of his bride.
Others pick up on Esther 5:1, where Esther has to enter the presence of the king. She first puts on her “royal robes” before entering, and finds that her life is spared and the king is open to her request. This parallels the “robe of righteousness” that the believer has been given, enabling her to walk into the presence of God and be accepted, with no fear of death, and boldly present requests to him.
Sinclair Ferguson’s quote often cited by Tim Keller describes Jesus as “the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.” Jesus didn’t just say “if I perish, I perish”, but “when I perish, I perish for them”.
Let me add a few more ideas of my own (although I am sure they are not unique to me).
One thing that stood out for me is the fact that Esther is doubly chosen. She is chosen for adoption and chosen for royalty. These truth sum up our glorious change of status by virtue of our being chosen by God. We are now his dearly loved children, and we are also a royal priesthood, destined to reign with him (2 Tim 2:12).
Another echo of the gospel story is the way that Haman’s death marked a decisive victory without being the end of the story. The entire Jewish community needed to get involved in the fight against the remainder of their enemies. In some ways this reflects the way that the cross was a decisive and climactic victory against Satan, but now the church, God’s people, must see out the victory as we wage war in the spiritual battle that will be consummated at the return of Christ.
And finally, I think that Mordecai’s counter-edict is a picture of the gospel. Haman’s law which threatened the Jews with death could not be revoked, but Mordecai’s law was more powerful and provided an escape. God’s law that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ez 18:20), restated by Paul as “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), has effectively sentenced all of humanity to destruction. And God is not going to revoke that law, which is perfectly good and just. Instead, he issues the counter-edict of the gospel. This edict states that “everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). By bearing the penalty of our sin in his own body, Jesus took the full force of the first edict upon himself, in order that we may benefit from the provision of forgiveness and deliverance in the counter-edict.