Thursday, May 19, 2005

Introducing Queen Esther

One of the comments we received as part of the lament study was that after so much lamenting, one also feels the need to praise--to notice the divine, the glorious, and celebrate it. Weeping and rejoicing need each other.

For this reason we plan to launch a new study soon that focuses on the Book of Esther. Her story helps us look for God's invisible hand which, we discover with a little bit of black dusting powder, leaves lots of fingerprints.

Frankly, Esther has a few things in common with "Miss Congeniality." (Go with me on this.) I admit to loving that movie--as do most of the girls in my extended family. Call us shallow, but we love to get together to watch Sandra Bullock morph from a clumsy FBI agent with scary eyebrows and nasty hair into an undercover (and believable!) beauty pageant contestant. Subplot: Bullock's character starts out thinking pageants reduce females to their various parts (bad) but ends up believing pageants are positive exercises that emphasize the whole woman—including brains and talent (good).

What do you think of beauty pageants? Do you lean toward the agent’s “before” or the “after” assessment? What you think of beauty pageants might have some bearing on how you interpret Esther chapter one. Esther is the heroine of the pro-pageant group; Vashti is the heroine of the anti-pageant group.

The “Esther group” tends to see in the text of Esther 1 a great example of the need for wifely submission. The “Vashti group” tends to champion women’s rights. They see Vashti’s actions as good in refusing to allow her husband to degrade her.

Frankly, both approaches miss the mark. Esther 1 about marriage? Come on! Making a case for feminism? Naw. The story isn't even about beauty pageants. Such topics are bunny trails. The text doesn’t focus there, nor should we. If we take such approaches to “applying” Esther, we miss the point.

Here’s why I think it happens. The inductive Bible Study method (observe, interpret, apply) is quite good and a popular approach to studying God’s word. It's a particularly fine approach to studying New Testament epistles. Our method must change a bit, however, when we approach Esther and other narratives (stories): we must consider larger blocks of text at one time to find the application the author intended.

Think about what would happen if we drew conclusions about Goldilocks before we knew that the family came home. Drawing application after reading that she fell asleep might leave us with strange principles drawn from the story (e.g., Eating something hot, cold, and just right can make you drowsy). Hmmm. Chances are slim that the application we’d take away would be the one actually intended by the author.

The danger with Esther, then, is to look at a king giving orders to his wife and at her refusal to comply, and then to make any sort of application from that information. The author doesn’t tell us whether the king was wrong or whether his wife was wrong. And it’s probably for good reason: that’s not the point. Such information is merely background info that lays the groundwork for telling us how Esther got where she did.

And therein lies the comparison with "Miss Congeniality." Bushy-browed undercover agent becomes believable pageant contestant; little no-name orphan girl becomes the Queen of Persia. It's all about the big reversal of events. And in the case of Esther, you-know-Who was the one working undercover.

After we read the entire biblical story, we get the point the author is making: The God of Israel shows loyal love time and again to His covenant people; the Almighty Lord is sovereign in all His dealings; and the Lord of providence kindly cares for His people despite their disobedience.

All of this is still true of Him today.

He loves us.
He is in control.
He cares about us, no matter what we've done.

If it's been a while since you created anything artistic in response to Truth, consider making a card that focuses on the unseen hand at work, on providence, on God's protection despite how things appear. Maybe you are the star of a pageant that focuses on spiritual beauty--not because of your own merit, but because of a transformation that has happened to you on the INSIDE.

Why rejoice when life is so hard? We were once lost, but now we are are found! Our names are written in the Book of Life. We were once lonely orphans, but we have been adopted by the King!


Dena said...

Any idea when this study will begin?

rhon said...

Dena - I can't say exactly. I have several projects going on right now that I have to get finished. I know everyone is anxious to get started and I hate that SPS has been so sporatic. Let's just say that I'm going to try to get it up by October 1 and I will just have to deal with the disappointment if I don't make it. Thanks for being so loyal. You don't know how much it means to us.