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As you may know, God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, either by name (Yahweh), title (Adonai), or being (El). Neither is prayer.

Why not? I realize this is rather open ended, so I'll try to give some objective criteria:

  1. If it never mentions God, why is it in the canon?
  2. What is the theological application to be gained from Esther given the lack of any reference to God.
  3. waves hands

I have a few thoughts on this myself, but i'll try to hold them until I can get a good sampling of answers.

(also, why hasn't this been asked yet? Have I missed an obvious duplicate? Or stumbled into the Area51 of ✝.SE?)

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FYI, the additions to Esther, recognized by the RCC but not Protestants do mention God, if my memory is correct. –  Affable Geek May 4 '12 at 2:48
    
@AffableGeek man, I've learned a lot about the RCC on here! Thanks! –  Thomas Shields May 4 '12 at 2:54
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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted
  1. The Book of Esther's legitimacy as part of the canon of Christian scripture has been the subject of debate because there is no direct reference to God. The compilation of the original Bible is largely obscured in history (e.g. the Song of Solomon has been likewise disputed because of its romantic content), but Esther may have been included because of its rich demonstration of Christian values such as loyalty, courage, faith, and fasting (and by implication, prayer).

  2. Even though God is never directly mentioned in the book, His Providence is distinctly evidenced in the deliverance of the Jews in the face of great opposition and terrible odds. It is a witness of God's mindfulness of His people, His recognition of their faith, and His direct intervention in their lives despite His indirect presence among them. In fact, the refrain of mention of His name emphasizes this contrast: that even though God isn't directly with us (as it would seem), His hand is still mighty on behalf of His faithful, and thus, is actually with us.

  3. Clearly, it is obviously self-evident that I'm not waving my hands right now. :)

This answer by Warren suggests that Esther prefigures Mary, a significant example of faith and virtue.

Embedded in Esther 4:13-16 is the confidence in a sure deliverance by Providence: whether by Esther's house or by some other means, the Jews would be delivered. So while the historical accuracy of Esther is debated here or there, I for one personally love the book because of the inspiring display of virtues, and the profound example of faith by fasting, courage/loyalty, and patriotism.

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#2 is exactly what I was thinking. +1. –  Thomas Shields Mar 31 '12 at 17:27
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elaborating on my previous comment - it seems that God is intentionally not mentioned in order to, as you said, emphasize his very real presence. Considering the fact that the characters never mention God either, maybe the author is showing how God works even when his people forget him. (though that's not necessarily the take away, just a guess) –  Thomas Shields Mar 31 '12 at 18:06
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To expand on the answer to 2 and your elaboration, @ThomasShields, one could reason that if the book just said 'God did it,' then people would say 'Oh, well, fine then,' but if the book says 'Mordecai and Esther fasted and prayed fervently, and what they hoped for came about,' then people will say, "Perhaps this God of theirs really listens to prayer." Leading a conclusion but letting people make it themselves is a powerful persuasive tool. –  asfallows Apr 6 '12 at 12:51
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Now, I'm a little naive because I'm way way way more familiar with the Golden Books version of Esther that I've read to my kids a zillion times. But didn't Esther proclaim a 3 day fast with the intention of saving her people. There's a picture of her praying with her attendants so it just sort of confused me that prayer wasn't obviously an important part of who Esther was (as a person and a book).

Esther 4:15-16 (NIV)

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “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.”

Fasting for three days is not to make Esther appear haggard when she approaches the king. Apparently she's even more radiant than ever. She desires something only God can give her, the means at hand are fasting. It's only God who is moved by the fasting.

Maybe I'm echoing the previous, very good answer, but I just thought a few more things could be said about this.

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there was something I disagreed with about this but I can't remember it; and either way it's a good point, so +1. I'll let you know if I remember. –  Thomas Shields Apr 2 '12 at 14:47
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I think the primary reason Esther is there is to show the hand of God in preserving the line of His Messiah. Without Esther's intervention the Jews would have been destroyed and the line of the Messiah crushed. So whether God is ever mentioned or not, this book contains a pivotal story in the march toward the coming of Jesus.

In our family we actually don't think too highly of Esther's character. She was willing to disobey God's law by sleeping with the King. Perhaps you could argue that she was forced to come to the King's palace, but that isn't a necessary conclusion from the text. Unlike her predecessors, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, who abstained from the King of Babylon's delicacies and were rewarded, Esther fully partakes of all the preparations of the Persian harem in preparation for her night with the King.

Despite all that, however, Esther shows God's work in preparing for the coming of the Messiah. Interestingly, it appears John is telling us in John 5 that Jesus celebrated Purim so that is possibly another link between Esther and Christ.

Hopefully some helpful thoughts.

EDIT:

I remembered reading once that God's name appears in Esther in acrostic form. Today I foudn the link explaining how it works:

http://www.therain.org/appendixes/app60.html

I'll leave it to you all to decide if this is just clever hunting on the part of a zealous reader or inspiration within the text.

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Excellent points here! I am curious what if any sources could be referenced to defend this position since it is so often glossed over our given a different emphasis in so many traditions today. –  Caleb Apr 6 '12 at 12:37
    
@Caleb, here is one primary source touching both the lack of piety on Esther's part and the pivotal place in salvation history: ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/queen-esther –  davidethell Apr 6 '12 at 18:28
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Jesus tells a few parables that don't mention God. A story does not need to explicitly mention God - even a true story - to be inspired by God and worthy of inclusion into the scriptures, especially given Esther's historical content vis a vis the line of the Christ.

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good point, but I think it's easily arguable that Jesus's parables are obvious metaphors for God or his kingdom, as Jesus himself explains. Besides, these parables are told by Jesus in a book of the bible that mentions God plenty of times. Esther stands alone, but still doesn't mention God. –  Thomas Shields Apr 6 '12 at 14:13
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the author left God out on purpose. It is not a mystery. Just read a bit about the meaning of the story and the literary style. It is pretty evident that it is a literary technique.

The RCC version of Esther has been shown to be invalid, as we all now know that God was added into the book hundreds of years later. Not to mention that doing so totally destroys the author literary genius and artistry. If the RCC truly believes that the book was inspired by God, why did they feel it was necessary to fix it? By fixing it they have broken what makes the book an amazing work of literary art.

People like Martin Luther misunderstood that not mentioning God or any of the Jewish spiritual rituals (except fasting) was used by the author to focus on the meaning of the story. That is why Luther said it should not be in the canon. By the way, as I understand it Luther did not say it was not an inspired book, but just that it should not be included in the canon because it did not mention God but also because it does not point to Jesus and the cross. Maybe elsewhere, where I am not familiar with his writings, he did mention it was not inspired. But from what I have read he is just saying it should not be there because it doesn't mention God and doesn't point to Jesus. He said the same thing for Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, James, and Revelation. His definition of canon was a bit different than how we'd define it today.

The meaning of Esther is multi-fold as a historical document of the origin of the Feast of Purim and the life of Esther. Most scholars believe that it was written for Jews that did not or could not return to Jerusalem during the rebuilding (about 30 to 50 years before Ezra and Nehemiah). But the message of the story is along the lines of God's providence for the people of God.... even if you do not see God working in your lives or acknowledge him, he is there and working.

Literary critics find the literary artistry in Esther pretty amazing and more so when you consider the book is some 2500 years old +/- a few years. Other contemporary literature were basically contracts, government decrees, laws, and a couple of not so well written cuneiform stories that in no way compares to the depth and skill of the author of Esther. Just consider that even today people are drawn to the story and message of Esther. That says a lot of the author and the technique used in the story. I for one find that absence of God in the story on one hand, and then at the same time the providence of God on every page, to be an amazingly beautiful literary technique. It worked to capture my attention and bring the message home to my own reality and life.

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This is certainly an interesting take, but we'd like to see some sources cited here. In particular, you need to identify WHO holds this view. This site isn't for soap boxing personal views, but representing various Christian traditions. We care less about ultimate truth than we do accurate reflections of Christian viewpoints. You seem to have both some knowledge and opinions on this issue, but what we'd really like to see is how this view fits into the big picture of Christian doctrine. –  Caleb Dec 6 '12 at 7:32
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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

I would say that the Book of Esther does mention God's name, a few times, but they are hidden in acrostics.

Here are the instances:

enter image description here

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This seems a bit tenuous to me –  Affable Geek May 20 '13 at 17:16
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You have to remember that the Old Testament canon was not set by Christians. but Jews. The RCC Old Testament canon is that of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Jewish Holy Scriptures done by Jews in the third century before Christ, and by extension, before the church was even thought of. Back then, the Jewish canon obviously included these extra books we today call the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon. The Protestant canon follows the modern Jewish canon (the one that was established at the caouncil of Yavneh by the rabbis around the end of the first century after Christ). They dropped the deuterocanon, but kept the books that make up the protestant Old Testament.

Anyway, Esther is in the Christian Bible because it is in the Jewish Bible. Why would the Jews include it in their Bible? Chiefly because it tells the story for one of their feasts, that of Purim. Purim is a joyous festival in which they act out the story of Esther by reading through the book of Esther.

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+1 for separating out canonicity from content. Welcome to C.SE, btw! –  Affable Geek May 20 '13 at 17:13
    
Thank you for the welcome. :-) I love reading about the history of the Bible, its canon, and various denominations. I find it all so fascinating! –  ByronArn May 20 '13 at 17:50
    
Yes, a good answer. FYI: we have a faq page and an about page that should help you get a full grasp on how the site works. Also, @AffableGeek would have been notified of your message to him if you wrote it like I did @AffableGeek. But now I just notified him for you. –  fredsbend May 20 '13 at 19:08
    
@fredsbend Thank you for the information. :-) –  ByronArn May 20 '13 at 19:13
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