Esther’s Banquet

I am so hostile to this book [2 Maccabees] and Esther that I could wish that they did not exist at all, for they judaize too greatly and have much pagan impropriety.

Martin Luther

Poor Luther.

The book of Esther is indeed peculiar and perplexing, particularly to us Gentiles. But part of the genius of Esther is its mingling of the comprehensible and incomprehensible. What a gift, to be filled and still be left needing more! Each reading of Esther prompts wondering at the magnificent mystery of the Divine Will of God. It reminds us of our limitations and invites us to press on.

But though aspects of this book may continue to baffle us, each reading of Esther also brings into greater focus things which are already clear:

The Triune God’s providential love for His people and God’s unity of mission, One in rejoicing together in covenantal action (John 10:30).

Indeed, though the book is named for Esther, we must make no mistake. This is a book about Jesus Christ.

How does God impress this on us? One of the more obvious ways is the book’s chiastic structure*, which begins and ends with a display of the riches and majesty of a powerful ruler. The opening verses of chapter 1 introduce King Ahasuerus, who represents God the Father typologically in this retelling of the story of redemption. The symbolic richness of these first verses focus our vision on the perfect holiness, majesty and power only God possesses. And look how the book ends!

For Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus,
and great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, 
one who sought the good of his people
and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.
Esther 10:3

Lest we were in any doubt as we read along, then, the closing of Esther fixes Mordecai (“little man”) as a type of Christ and in so doing, takes us straight to the person and work of our own Perfect Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5).

Indeed, Mordecai was great in the king’s house,
and his fame spread throughout all the provinces;
for the man Mordecai became greater and greater.
Esther 9:4

And so with these bookends firmly in place, our eyes rightly fixed, we can consider in more detail the particulars of the story’s unfolding.

The Triumph of Mordecai by Pieter Lastman, 1624.

For though we are to reach forward to what lies ahead, towards Jesus, there is no mistaking the involvement of Esther, Mother of Israel, People of God, in the Divine plan. We see this in dramatic ways, of course. But as the book progresses, we also witness a transformation in Esther, from an orphaned and then adopted child, submissive to Mordecai and Hegai the king’s eunuch, to a favoured Queen, fully involved and active in Mordecai’s plan of the salvation of the Jews (see 1 Cor. 6:17). As the man Mordecai becomes greater and greater, so does Queen Esther.

This is why the book of Esther is not just about the Triune God, though He is central, though in Him the book finds its beginning and end. More than that, it is about those who are priests of God and of Christ, reigning with Him in this time of waiting, until He comes again (Rev. 20:6). As Esther “wrote with full authority,” as her command “established these customs”, so we too are called by Jesus Christ, our Mordecai, to full participation in the work of the kingdom.

So when we read of Esther’s courageous choice in 4:13-17, perhaps your thoughts like mine move to the account in Hebrews of another Esther-like character, Moses, who,

when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

Hebrews 11:24-26

And what a reward it is, for those who behave as the Queen of Heaven we already are, by grace through faith. In Esther, feasting is mentioned 19 times, out of a total of 46 in the entire Hebrew Bible. And not just at the end of Esther but right at the beginning! In Chapter 2, God gives us this glorious glimpse,

The king loved Esther more than all the women,
and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins,
so that he set the royal crown on her head
and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his princes and his servants; he also made a holiday for the provinces and gave gifts according to the king’s bounty.

So Esther offers us a window into heaven, our own wedding banquet, what we celebrate now in part and again in full when He comes again. The sacramental feast in our weekly worship commemorates both our salvation and its consummation, already ours and not yet. Just as did the Jews in Esther’s day, in the month of Adar, and since then at Purim,

because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies, and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
Esther 9:22

Jan van EyckAdoration of the Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece

*For those interested in exploring chiasm more fully in the book of Esther, I recommend the recent work of Anthony Tomasino.

Anthony J. Tomasino, 2019, p. 111

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