Preparing To Be A Help Meet: Creative Interpretation of the Book of Esther – Part 1

Preparing To Be A Help Meet: Creative Interpretation of the Book of Esther – Part 1 June 24, 2014

by Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide

The end of chapter 2 of  “Preparing to Be a Help Meet” disturbed me the first time I read it, but I couldn’t exactly figure out why.  I mean, yeah, Debi twists the stories of Esther and Ruth, but she does that all the time.  I realized that I resented that Debi messed around with the stories to make both Esther and Ruth seem like passive women who did what men told them rather than active participants in their own lives.

Let’s delve into the spin Debi puts on Esther first.

“Two books of the Bible are named after the women the books are about – Esther and Ruth.  Both women had marriages that were either arranged or planned by others.”

I was confused because I knew three books of the Bible that were named after women – Esther, Ruth and Judith.  Five minutes on Google reminded me that the Book of Judith is in the Apocrypha and so would be left out of the KJV.  That’s too bad; Judith was a woman who does not fit the mold that Debi tries to cram all women into.

“Esther was a young Jewish orphan who lived with her uncle and had the misfortune of being exceedingly beautiful:”

That’s a (mostly) reasonable paraphrase of Esther 2:7 .

“Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter.”

Debi twists the verse, though, by adding that Esther’s beauty was a misfortune. After all, if she had been exceedingly ugly, she would have never become queen and the Jewish people under King Ahasuerus would have been destroyed.

“One day government officials came and took her away from her home.  She was taken to the castle and was told she was being considered, along with countless other girls, as a possible wife to the heathen king.”

That’s a fair paraphrase of Esther 2:3-4,8.  

“He had discarded his first wife because she had not obeyed him.”

Scholars have long debated if Queen Vashti was justified in not obeying the King Ahasuerus’s order.  The disputed verses are Esther 1:8-12

” 7 Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. 8 Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. 9 Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.
10 On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold.”

People who feel Queen Vashti was justified in disobeying the king point out that the Queen was completing state duties by entertaining the wives and/or concubines of the visiting officials.  They also point out that verse 11 could be read as a command for the Queen to appear before the men who had been partying for 7 days wearing ONLY her crown.  (This is the interpretation I heard as a teenager and adult in my church.)  In this interpretation, Vashti is a minor heroine along with Esther.

The other interpretation is that Queen Vashti refused to obey a simple command: put on your royal jewels and come to the party so the king can show off your beauty.  I’m confident Debi believes this version since it supports her overarching theme of “Obey your husband or BAD things will happen.”

“After a night with Ester (sic), the king chose her to be his queen.  Can you imagine how traumatic this must have been for this young virgin?”
The way Debi tells the story of Esther sounds like the night with the king was traumatic.  The Bible, though, doesn’t support that view.  Between when Esther arrived at the castle and had sex with the king, she did some shrewd prep work.

 

  • Esther got the support of Hegai – the eunuch in charge of the women of the castle – and used his favor to get beauty treatments, extra food, seven maid servants and preferential treatment within the harem.  (Esther 2:9)
  • Esther kept a line of communication open to her uncle Mordecai (Esther 2:11)
  • Esther spent 12 months inside the harem before having sex with the king getting beauty treatments. (Esther 2:12)
  • Esther got advice from Hegai about what items to bring with her when she went to have sex with the king.  (Esther 2:15)
Plus, Esther received something from King Ahasuerus that was absent from Debi and Lydia’s stories: love.  (Esther 2:17)
“But her ordeal was just getting started.  Through political intrigue, laws were changed that threatened the lives of all Jews. “
A concise and accurate paraphrase of Esther 3.
” No one knew that Esther was a Jew.  She could have stayed safe and silent, but Esther knew that God had put her in this place for a reason.”
Debi, you are lying through your teeth.
First, Mordecai and anyone who knew Esther before she was collected for the king’s harem knew Esther was a Jew.
Second, when Mordecai found out about the plot to destroy the Jews, he dressed in mourning and planted himself in front of the king’s castle. (Esther 4:1-2)  Since Esther was now part of the harem, she communicated with Mordecai through a eunuch. Mordecai gives her lots of evidence of the plot to destroy the Jews.  (Esther 4:5-8)  Esther balks at showing the evidence to King Ahasuerus because if she approaches him without his permission, the law states she will be killed – and he hasn’t called for her in 30 days. (Esther 4: 10-11).  Mordecai tells the eunuch to tell Esther that she’s no safer in the palace than any other Jew and that if she doesn’t save her people, her family will be destroyed. (Esther 4: 12-14)  Once Mordecai sent that message back through the eunuch, Esther’s safety was compromised; someone inside the palace knew she was a Jew.
“She had to find a way to break the bond of a strong, evil, political leader.  It took courage, wisdom and a great deal shrewdness.  In the end she won the king’s favor and saved the Israelite people.  Because one young girl was wise and sober-minded, and because she was willing to lay down her life, a whole nation was spared.”
So how did Esther save the Israelite people?  She disobeyed the king.  She went to see him before he called for her (Esther 5:1-2).  She gets rid of Haman – the official who wanted to destroy the Jews (Esther 7), is awarded Haman’s house (Esther 8:1-8), and writes a decree that allows Jews to take up arms to defend themselves from attackers and plunder anyone who attacks them (Esther 8:9-14).
I’d add the adjectives ‘strong’ and ‘persistent’ to Debi’s description of Esther’s traits.
“Think about her life.  Her marriage was arraigned.  She had no choice.  Her husband was a divorced heathen.  Yet she never woke up at night and thought to herself. “God, why did you put me here?”
Debi, drop the pity party. Esther was not a shrinking violet.  She looked at her situation, sized up her options and did what was in her best interest.  Esther was a mature woman controlling her life and the people around her.  No matter how much you try and twist her story, her strength stands out in the Bible.
“Her story is one of courage.”
Amen to that.
AntiPearl: “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” ~Roseanne Barr

 

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Read everything by Mel!

Mel is a science teacher who works with at-risk teens and lives on a dairy farm with her husband. She blogs at When Cows and Kids Collide

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M Dolon Hickmon


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!