the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Gaebelein's Annotated Bible Gaebelein's Annotated
by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF ESTHER
The book of Esther is one of the five books which the Jews call Megilloth (Rolls). They appear in the Hebrew Bible in the following order:
1. Canticles, that is, Solomon’s Song, read in connection with Passover;
2. Ruth, read on the feast of weeks (Pentecost);
3. Lamentations, used on the ninth day of the month Ab, commemorating the destruction of the temple, which happened twice on the same day, first by Nebuchadnezzar and then afterwards by the Romans;
4. Ecclesiastes, which is read during the celebration of the feast of tabernacles;
5. The book of Esther, read on the feast of Purim.
The Jews hold this little book in the highest esteem; they call it “The Megillah” and thereby give it the place of pre-eminence among the other Megilloth. The ancient Rabbis give it a place next to the Torah, the law. Maimonides taught that when the Messiah comes every other book of the Jewish Scriptures will pass away, but the law and the book of Esther will remain forever.... Yet many objections have been made against this book. Its rightful place in the canon of the Old Testament has been hotly contested by Jews and Christians.
We mention the two leading objections. The first objection is that the name of God does not appear in this book. Some ancient teachers have tried to overcome this objection by the theory that the name of Jehovah is found a number of times in the initial letters of certain sentences, which letters spell the sacred name. Jehring, Bullinger and others have adopted this attempt to vindicate the book. But this is at best only a fanciful endeavour to do away with this objection. We believe the Holy Spirit is the author of the book of Esther and has given in it a correct report of this remarkable episode in Jewish history. He does not conceal things and to use initial letters of certain words to produce another word is an extremely unsafe method of Bible study. The Spirit of God had a valid reason why He omitted the name of God, which we state later.
Some have suggested that inasmuch as Esther was to be used in connection with the feast of Purim (a feast of merrymaking) the name of the Lord was omitted on purpose to avoid its irreverent use amid the scenes of feasting and drinking. Professor Cassel in his lengthy commentary on Esther states that the omission of the name of God was an act of prudence and caution from the side of the person who wrote this account. Others claim that the report was taken mostly from Persian records, which would explain the absence of the name.
It is true the name of God is absent, but God is nevertheless present in this little book. We find Him revealed on every page, in His providence, in His overruling power, in the preservation and deliverance of His covenant people. God cared for His people and Watched over them, though they were unfaithful to Him. He frustrated the plan of the enemy. It is true they did not call on Him, but nevertheless His sovereignty in grace is displayed towards them. God’s government is therefore revealed in this book though His name is unmentioned.
The second objection is that the canonicity of the book should be rejected because it is not quoted in the New Testament. But this objection also breaks down when we remember that seven other Old Testament books are unquoted in the New Testament Scriptures. Destructive criticism has made other objections of a minor character; we do not need to mention these. Amongst those who had no use for this book is found Martin Luther, who went so far as to say that he wished the book might not exist at all. The evidence that the book is true, with its remarkable story of the great deliverance of a part of God’s people, is found by the celebration of the feast of Purim by the Jews. If such a thing as the book of Esther records had not occurred then the Purim feast could not be explained.
The author of the book of Esther is unknown. Some think of Mordecai, others mention Ezra and Nehemiah as possible authors; but this is only guesswork. It is certain that one person wrote the entire account with the exception of chapter 9:20-32, which probably was added by another hand. The style is extremely simple; the Hebrew used is much like that of Ezra and Nehemiah. It contains some Persian words.
The purpose of the book of Esther has admirably been stated by Professor Cassel: “It is a memoir written by a Jew to all his people who are scattered in the extensive countries of Persia, in which are recorded the wonderful interpositions of Providence in their deliverance from destruction, which appeared to be certain. It has no other purpose but to narrate this; it is not called upon to give information about other matters; albeit it gives a picture of Persian court life, the like of which is found nowhere else.”
It brings out the great fact that the Jewish people out of their own land, and no longer in any outward relation to God, are nevertheless the objects of His gracious care. This broken relationship seems to be the reason why the name of God is avoided in the book. In spite of their unfaithfulness they are still His people, for God’s gifts and calling are without repentance. He covers them with His protecting hand and watches over them and in His own way and His own time acts in their behalf, delivering them from their enemies.
Significant it is that the history in the book of Esther concludes the historical books of the Old Testament. The conditions described therein continue during the times of the Gentiles till finally the great deliverance comes for the people Israel. Jewish expositors have compared Esther to the dawn of the morning, that it is like the dawn which announces the end of the night.
It is a prophetic forecast of their history and is especially typical of the coming days of Jacob’s trouble when they shall be delivered.
The typical-dispensational application is of much interest, for it illustrates some of the prophecies in a practical way. Vashti, the Gentile wife, may be looked upon as Christendom, to be set aside for her disobedience, and Esther, the Jewess, takes her place. This reminds us of the parable of the two olive trees in Romans 11:0 and the final execution of the divine threat that the grafted in branches, Gentile Christendom, are to be cut off and the broken off branches, Israel, put back upon their own olive tree.
Haman, the wicked enemy of the Jews, a descendant of Agag, the first enemy Israel met in the wilderness, is an illustration of the future enemy Israel will face. He is called “Haman the wicked” (Esther 7:6 ). The numerical value of the Hebrew letters composing the words “Haman the wicked” is exactly 666.
Mordecai is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ in His coming glorious exaltation. The complete triumph of the Jews over their enemies, the joy and peace, recorded at the close of this book, are typical of the time when Christ reigns on earth. We give at the close of each chapter hints on the typical and dispensational application which can be made of this history.