I just have notes, & handwritten ones at that - though with
ballpoint, not quill! Here they are, expanded enough to make them (I
hope) comprehensible. For background, this is for one of 5 midweek
Lenten services with the general theme "The cross in the Bible". I'm
focussing on 5 major parts of Scripture - torah, prophets, writings,
gospels, and epistles. The readings for this particular service were
Esther 4 and Mark 15:22-39.
The writings - third part of Hebrew Scriptures. Varied content
- Job, Psalms, history, &c.
Esther in a sense on boundary of Scripture - no mention of God,
relisious practices &c. (Additions in Apocrypha "correct" this.)
Sketch of contents: Persian empire after some Jews returned
from exile. King Ahasuerus probably Xerxes. Queen Esther is Jewish
(unknown to king), her cousin & guardian Morrdecai, evil Haman who gets
kings approval to exterminate the Jews. Comments on historicity.
_Providence_ a major theme. Things "work out" right, in part
through "coincidences". Esther is in right place at right time - 4:14.
BUT - no divine intervention, prayer, miracle, conversion of pagans &c.
Entertaining story - but what does it have to do with Christ &
the message of the cross?
"If I perish, I perish." Esther a type of Christ, willing to
sacrifice self for Jewish people. But it goes deeper.
What does the cross mean?
How God saves & reconciles the world. But not just "Plan B",
and emergency fix. _The cross reveals who God is & how God acts_.
Paradox - God revealed where everything we _expect_ of God is
missing. Glory, power, majesty of God are hidden at the cross.
Mk.15 - cross is darkness, abandonment by God. Mockers deny
that God has anything to do with the crucified - "Let the Christ, the
King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see &
Christian faith is that God is most present where most hidden to
normal ways of seeing God. (So we need to look for the NON-normal God
revealed by the cross.)
Now look around the world, at historical events, people's lives,
your life. Doctrine of providence says God at work in all things -
among Jews of Persia ~2500 years ago, Christians & non-Christians of
America today. In the natural world & affairs of nations.
_But we don't see God directly_! See natural elements & forces,
economic and political motives, individual desires - for money & fame,
motives of sympathy & love - & account for things in terms of them.
Why is the Dow-Jones up? Answer in terms of economic news,
jobs, productivity, &c - not "God did it." But Christian faith is that
God does do it through those observable things. God is real "invisible
hand" of economics.
Is.45:15 - "Surely you are a God who hides himself." 17th
century scientist & theologian Pascal: "What meets our eyes denotes
neither a total absence nor a manifest presence of the divine, but the
presence of a God who hides himself. Everything bears this stamp."
Because God works this way, we can understand the world.
Esther, in its "practical atheism" & non-religious character
implies God is active in the secular realm. God saves the Jews - & by
bloody, unsavory means.
Natural question - if God saved Persian Jews, why not stop
Holocaust? Why no supernatural fire from heaven to destroy Auschwitz?
God doesn't work that way. But Holocaust was stopped - by Russian, US,
British &c armies. Those were means used - & if not stopped earlier,
because humans are imperfect tools.
Esther is background for _purim_, a basically secular festival
with revelry &c.
In 4:14 - help will come from "another place". Hebrew _ha
maqom_, "the place", later became term for God, way of avoiding divine
name. Looking back at Esther, looking with eyes of faith, we see the
hidden God at work. We see the crucified God at work.
George L. Murphy