Theologians discussing the book of Esther often summarize its purpose like this:
All people can benefit from reading Esther, as it reminds us that even when it appears that God is absent, he is still at work in our lives and will not abandon his promises while we are living in a confusing and broken world (source).
The idea that God is intentionally absent, at work but invisibly behind the scenes in the book of Esther recommends to us a way of reading that neglects the book’s rich typology. It can lead to depictions of King Ahasuerus, for instance, as little more than a drunken, sexist despot, fairly inconsequential in comparison to Esther and Mordecai, models of bravery.
This approach to Esther overlooks a significant point in the story. We mustn’t miss this point as it holds the key to the book. And here it is: Just as God moved the heart of King Cyrus to grant political salvation to His people (2 Chron. 36:22), so in the story of Esther, God presents the story of King Ahasuerus’s decrees of political salvation to point the people of God to a deeper spiritual reality, the story of a coming Saviour.
God is here calling His people’s eye forward to His Mighty Acts, His sovereignty in sending a Saviour who in His death and resurrection would bring salvation. Just as in Esther’s day, this salvation would not be political, not yet. Rather, God would send a Saviour to liberate His people from a much greater foe. Their sins. And in so doing, He would grant them entry forever to the Kingdom of Heaven. And grant them the sure hope that the Saviour one day come again, as Conquering King.
So, then, God is solidly on the throne in the book of Esther. Not in some abstract or distant sense but embedded and even embodied fully, substantively, typologically in the text. King Ahasuerus is not intended as a model of morality nor of immorality, then. No, we are to see how God is using Him to present to His people the story of their salvation through Jesus Christ in union with God the Father.
All this means that presenting characters like King Ahasuerus primarily in terms of the morality of their behaviour is deeply problematic because it focuses our eye on the wrong thing. It gets in the way.
I have already begun tracing in other posts the detailed glimpses God gives us of His eschatological plan of salvation for His people in the very person of King Ahasuerus. This begins straightaway in the first verses of chapter 1! And I have explored the ways that God’s people are represented in Esther (See here and here). In coming posts, I’ll examine the ways in which the rivalry between Mordecai and Haman models the victory of Jesus Christ over His enemies.