Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Bachelor and Esther

Chapter 2 of the Old Testament book of Esther starts off in a way that might remind us of ABC’s “Reality” TV Show, The Bachelor. I’m not a fan of The Bachelor, but since the narrative in Esther 2 is so similar to the set up of The Bachelor, I watched a few commercial/sneak peaks of The Bachelor online this past week. Jason, this season’s bachelor, is shown there bungee jumping, hot tubbing and smooching a number of women. Then in true “reality” TV style, all of the women who have agreed to subject themselves to this demeaning spectacle are assembled before Jason (and a nationwide TV audience) for a selection ceremony. Each Monday at 8/7c, Jason chooses who he doesn’t like and sends them home. As we read Esther chapter 2 in just a moment, ask yourself if our society is really more civilized and advanced than the patriarchal society of ancient Persia. Oh, and by the way, do you find it very surprising that 11 of the 13 engagements/relationships begun on The Bachelor are now over? True, according to

The bachelor is a non-traditional way for a man in our culture to find a wife. And so was the method of finding a new queen that the Persian King adopted in Eshter 2:1-4. Typically, Persian queens were chosen from one of seven noble Persian families. But that’s now how Ahasuerus “rolls”...

If we’ve adopted the cultural values reflected in TV shows like The Bachelor, then we may be tempted to say that what we just read is “no big deal”. I mean, they’re all consenting adults, right? But that would be unfair: imposing our own opinions onto the story and completely ignoring the historical Hebrew context.

Oh, what’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like this, Esther? Look at vv12-14 and remember how Esther is being lavishly prepared for a night with a gentile to whom she is not married.

Now, if we interpret the OT as primarily a bunch of stories of examples for us to follow, here we face big problems. Would you use this episode from Esther’s life to teach the virtue of purity to your teenage daughter as she grows into womanhood? What example does this passage set? Make yourself as attractive as you can to powerful men? Use your body to advance God’s kingdom? The ends justify the means?

The example-approach to interpreting the OT fails here because the author does not intend to hold up Esther as a moral example to be followed. Esther may well have been a virtuous woman, obedient to God’s law in many ways. But even so, the author records how she was put into a morally questionable and complex situation! There are no simple answers when it comes to examining Esther’s life in the light of the rest of Scripture, especially the OT scriptures that taught Israelites specifically what to eat, what not to eat, what to wear, what not to wear, how to worship, how not to worship, who to marry, etc.

So what did Esther think about being in this situation? This divinely-inspired author either chooses not to reveal Esther’s reaction to being taken into the harem, or Mordecai’s motives for commanding Esther to conceal her identity (v.10), or the author didn’t know. It can be tempting for us to want to pass judgment on these two, whether positive or negative, but in doing so we miss an important point. This deliberate silence is part of the message: Regardless of their character, their motives, or their faithfulness to God’s law, the decisions Esther and Mordecai make set events in motion to fulfill the covenant promises God made to his people long ago.

This is a good lesson for us: Sometimes, it may seem easy to look at someone else’s decisions and think that we know clearly what is right and what is wrong, and that if we were in their shoes, we would have both known and done the right thing. God can give us the wisdom to know what to do and the moral strength to do it. But ethical choices are so often easier in the abstract, theoretical cases we think up in our minds. Real life isn’t always so neat and tidy. Esther’s situation offers us great encouragement and comfort when we find ourselves in situations where every possible choice contains both right and wrong: Even if we make the “wrong” decision, whether through an ignorant blunder or deliberate disobedience, through Jesus Christ, our God is so gracious and omnipotent that he is able to use even that to accomplish his purposes in and through us. Regardless of whether we always know what the right choice is or whether we have the best of motives, God is working through even our imperfect decisions and actions to fulfill His perfect purposes!

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