5 Reasons You Should Preach through Esther

Article
09.06.2018

Esther may seem like a strange book to preach through, particularly for those who are keen to preach Christ from the Old Testament.

Not only are there no Messianic promises in the book, but God himself is famously left unmentioned. None of his promises are explicit; no character in the book explicitly prays, reads the Scriptures, or gives to the poor. The only spiritual discipline mentioned is fasting, and we all know that Christian preachers tend to avoid that topic.

What’s more, the Old Testament Law is mentioned only once, and then only as the cynical basis for Haman’s genocidal plot; “Their laws are different from everyone else’s and they do not obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them” (3:8). By contrast, secular laws are mentioned fourteen times, and are seemingly all-powerful, as the laws of Media and Persia “cannot be revoked” (1:19, but also more happily in 8:8).

But the book of Esther isn’t without divine influence. Instead, for those who pay attention, the unseen and unspoken makes the narrative subtly powerful—both dramatically and pastorally.

Here are five reasons to preach through the book of Esther.

1. Esther teaches us how to read all of God’s Word.

On the surface, Esther is a beautiful story full of coincidence and overly optimistic characters. One could read it casually and not even understand why it’s in the Bible at all. But when we read Esther in the context of the whole Bible, Mordecai’s challenge to Esther takes on richer meaning: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” This isn’t positive thinking, but biblical trust. Here, Mordecai demonstrates that he believes God’s promise to redeem his people.

It’s obvious to the Christian reader that Esther only makes sense in the light of God’s promises. But isn’t this also the case for the whole unfolding narrative of the Old Testament? If we’re forced to learn this lesson in Esther, then Lord willing our church members will learn to read other Old Testament narratives looking for God’s promises as invisible and unspoken characters.

2. Esther teaches us to trust in God’s promises.

Humanly speaking, the book of Esther makes it seem highly unlikely that God’s promises will be kept. And yet, as the book unfolds, those who hear a series of sermons through Esther will be encouraged to trust God’s promises in their own lives, despite the circumstances.

Sadly, for some, Esther’s plight will have particular resonance. Sadly, our churches are full of many image bearers who’ve been objectified like commodities, and polished up for their owners use. Our churches are full of those who’ve been persecuted by the powerful—those for whom faithfulness is so costly that they don’t know if they’ll live or die.

For these saints, Esther provides a worthy example of faith. She trusted God. She knew that perishing for faithfulness is far better than surviving due to faithlessness. And so, as Esther prepares to act, she (implicitly) entreats God’s people to pray to the sovereign God for both her deliverance and the deliverance of God’s people. Recall her own words: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (4:16).

3. Esther encourages confidence in our salvation.

In the story of Esther, we feel the fear and oppression of a young woman who seems utterly powerless in the face of her egotistical husband Xerxes and her murderous adversary Haman.

At the same time, Esther is the story of a great Savior who orchestrates his saving will even through the evil decisions of his enemies. For those tempted to cower at our great enemy who prowls around seeking to destroy us (1 Pet. 5:8), we’re reminded that God is absolutely sovereign and just.

As just one example: The gallows Haman prepares for God’s people became (Esther 7). What Christian can read about this without seeing how the cross Satan prepared for Christ became the instrument of his own defeat?

4. Esther motivates our faithfulness to God.

It’s possible to miss the central lessons of Esther by over-focusing on the contrasting morality of the main characters:

  • Xerxes the womanizing, despotic, yet ultimately powerless emperor
  • Haman the murderous, egotistical, yet ultimately outwitted antagonist
  • Mordecai the faithful, persecuted, yet ultimately vindicated believer
  • And Esther the powerless, objectified queen who ultimately saves her people

To preach morality but miss the promise-keeping God behind the scenes would be to miss the central point of the book.

And yet, it would also be a mistake to ignore the timely lessons for twenty-first century believers in an egotistical, womanising world. The path of self-serving hedonism seems intoxicating and empowering, but one day it will prove to be worthless and condemned. Furthermore, the path of godly faithfulness seems powerless, but one day all will wish they had sided with our omnipotent God.

Our own faithfulness can’t ultimately be provoked via moralistic comparisons: “Esther and Mordecai are good, Xerxes is compromised, and Hamaan is evil.” Instead, it will be provoked when we lift our eyes to see the faithfulness of our promise-keeping God and the self-defeating foolishness of godlessness.

As Christians, we have utter confidence that our faithfulness will be rewarded by our faithful God. Sometimes, just like for Esther and Mordecai, we’ll receive rewards that startle us in their immediacy. But often as Christians, we learn to wait on our reward, knowing that it’s kept in heaven for us by the power of God.

5. Esther provokes laughter at hubris.

Finally, if it would be wrong to miss the promise-trusting morality of Esther, then it would be a crying shame to miss the book’s side-splitting humor.

Perhaps one of the funniest moments in the Bible is the ironic conversation between Haman and King Xerxes. Xerxes asks Haman “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” (6:6). In his arrogance, “Haman thought to himself, ‘Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?’”—and so he thinks up the most extravagant honor one could receive.

Well, in the providence of God, Haman ends up being required by Xerxes to honor Mordecai in all these ways. And in just a few paragraphs, Haman is dead, hanging from the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. This book wants us notice such ironic and sad reversals of fortune.

In a world where many cower in fear because of powerful and self-centered rulers, the Christian is right to laugh. The book of Esther expertly depicts the laughable stupidity of those who think that they can live for their own glory. Too often, Christians make careless jokes about the Lord, and thus take his name in vain. The Bible would encourage us instead to join the divine laughter at the hubris of those who think themselves able to undo our sovereign God’s plans to save, protect, and bless his people.

Perhaps Luther was right: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”

COMMENTARIES

I preached through Esther in only four sermons (1–2, 3–4, 5–7, 8–10) so I cannot give a fair review of any of the longer commentaries. I used Frederic Bush’s Word Bible Commentary on Esther for places where I wanted detailed commentary on the text and generally found it helpful. For the bird’s eye view, I’d recommend Christopher Ash’s Teaching Ruth and Esther, though this wasn’t available when I preached through the book. I also found J. G. McConville’s commentary readable and thoughtful, and Joyce Baldwin’s Tyndale commentary clear and reasonably thorough.

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You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.