Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Queen for a night

At times the story of Esther is told with a sense of humor. The antics of the King and his officials in chapter 1 is a bit keystone kopish. But the humor is merely a way to express the author's concern about some issues that matter deeply to him. The King's opulent lifestyle is financed through the high taxes and slave labor of his kingdom. Many of his subjects are Jews. As the story progresses we see how vulnerable the Jews are in Persia. In chapter 2, the King's men hold a national beauty contest to find the next Queen. Esther (Hadassah) is very beautiful and is chosen as one of the contestants. Each of the teenage girls underwent a year long course of beauty treatments so she could be fit for the King. The King had his pick; he tried each of them out. Each beauty had her night with the King. The rejects were sent to the second harem to live out their lives as second class wives of the King. Esther was chosen to be the next Queen. John Goldingay points out that Persian women had no choice about who they would marry. They hoped the wedding night might lead to a life of love. No doubt, it did sometimes. Often, it did not. That was life. Hebrew marriages were arranged too, but according to the stories in the Bible Hebrew women had more say in the arrangement. So, what the King and his men were doing was the custom of the times. From our point of view today it was a repugnant practice; we would call it sexual abuse. A man today would be put in jail for what the King did. Of course, Kings are Kings. And this King will do and plan to do much worse. Much is made of the Esther story by Christians who tell how God used her to save her people, and that is right. But, Esther sacrificed her virginity and her hope to marry the one she loved in order to be the right person in the right spot - to save her people. This is one of those times in the Bible when we want to ask God, why allow her to go through what she did? That question is not answered. We have the story. Esther lived this life in this culture. She was beautiful and she was used in ways she would not have chosen. Yet, her God was with her. She would have other more important choices to make, risks to take. God was with her. There are many unpleasant realities in the world in which we live. The Bible does not just deal in the spiritual side of life, but all of life. God does not shield us from real life in the world nor does he protect us from it but God is with us, and we have choices to make, risks to take.