6

Here's the text in question:

Esther 4:15–16 (ESV)
15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

The commentators I have read on this passage are unanimous in praising Esther for being willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her people. However, they do not attempt to reconcile this praise with their statements on obedience to earthly authority. For example, the New Bible Commentary (1970) says regarding Romans 13:

[E]very Christian has the duty [...] to obey lawful authority so far as such obedience does not conflict with God's law or Christ's authority.

Classic examples of permissible disobedience include Acts 5:29 and Daniel 3, where followers of God are ordered to do something in direct opposition to God's law, so they disobey. That's not Esther's situation, apparently putting her action at odds with the common interpretation of Romans 13 and similar passages.

I am looking for any Christian commentator (regardless of background) who, while affirming the infallibility of the Bible, directly addresses this apparent conflict without resorting to a "the ends justifies the means" argument. That is, I want a commentator who either

  • argues that Esther sinned on the basis of Romans 13, and should not have done what she did
  • argues that Esther did not sin, because the king and/or the law in question are not the sort of things referred to in Romans 13
  • 3
    The writings of the Bible do not apply after the fact. Esther lived a considerable amount of time prior to Paul, and her actions are not judged by what Paul wrote in Romans. – brasshat Jul 7 '15 at 20:52
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    @brasshat I disagree with you, but if clarity is needed, I'm looking for commentators who view God's standard of morality as a unified, never-changing whole. – Nathaniel Jul 8 '15 at 1:55
  • 1
    For what it's worth, one could cite Ecclesiastes 8:2 as well, which predates Esther. – Nathaniel Jul 8 '15 at 16:05
  • My tradition (and I have sources but not handy so this isn't an answer yet) is that there is room for civil disobedience in matters where the state goes against God's word (and some add concience). The idea is that the state still has the right to punish you for thattdisobedience and you have to submit to that even if you cannot obey the law. See also Daniel, Peter and John in Acts 3, etc. In fact commentaries on Act 3 are probably the place to get your Easter answer. – Caleb Jul 16 '15 at 18:30
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    @brasshat Paul never wrote anything new - his writings should always be interpreted in line with the Old Testament through the lens of Salvation in Jesus Christ as an expression of God's Love. Your premise that what Paul wrote was new, I believe, is false. – Adam Heeg Dec 18 '15 at 16:49
5

A few verses earlier, Esther states the law as such,”…any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives.” Under these circumstances, it is no stretch to say that the king, who had ultimate authority, is the judge who determines whether or not the law has been broken and punishment is meted out. If the king had decided that she was guilty, she would have paid the penalty instantly. On the other hand, if he extends the scepter (as he did) he is saying, “I accept her presence, the law is not compromised.”
There have been many instances where man has taken measures into his own hands to accomplish God’s work. This was not at God’s prompting. Mordecai’s admonition to Esther can be construed as God’s prompting and God, in keeping with his character (which He always does), would never instruct someone to sin. I don’t know if this satisfies your question, but the way I see it we have a reasonable explanation backed up by an immutable fact. One might also posit that we are instructed to do right or, perhaps more appropriately, Right, as in right according to God, not the local Constabulary, “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.”) Rom 13:3, 4. A secular comparison might be federal law can trump local law.

  • 1
    The first paragraph of this answer sounds like a reasonable answer to the problem, but do you have a source? – Nathaniel Jul 7 '15 at 18:44
  • Yes, I did pause briefly to summarize and perhaps opine but tried to regain my composure (and references) to finish out the answer. – Michael Shaffer Aug 5 '15 at 14:21
  • He has the text and its analysis. – user191160 Aug 23 '16 at 21:20
  • @user191160 My hope for this question, as indicated by "I am looking for any Christian commentator," was that answerers would mention a published commentary that deals with this issue. Sadly, no one has done so; this answer, like the others, is presented as personal speculation. – Nathaniel Aug 23 '16 at 21:47
  • Romans 13:3 "Do that which is good". (Look at context) GILL: In a civil sense, between man and man, by complying with the laws of the land, which are not contrary to the laws of God; for of doing good in a spiritual and religious sense he is no judge: – user191160 Aug 23 '16 at 22:18
1

Esther 4:11 (ESV) (emphasis mine)

11 [Esther said to Mordecai through her servant] “All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.

12 And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. 13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

  1. The King's Visitation Law: no one can come to the kings inner court without invitation
  2. The king hasn't called Esther for thirty days to his inner court
  3. Mordecai reprimanded her for being silent of the issue of far greater importance - the impeding Jewish genocide.
  4. Mordecai made her realize that her position as the queen can serve as a leverage to influence the king, and in effect, avert the genocide

Now, you might say that they can wait for the time for the king to call her as to not break the king's visitation law. Yet, you may also think that by visiting the king, Esther trust God that she'll find favor.

Furthermore, If both conditions were to happen - Esther visiting the king AND the king reaching out his scepter - she does not technically violate the visitation law. Even if the king did not reach out his scepter, going to the king to plead for her people is better than remaining silent about it.

Esther decided by faith to visit the king, hoping that God will ensure that the she'll find favor in the king's sight.

BTW, you may reference Mark 2:23-28 and 1 Samuel 21 (ESV) for the background, interesting.

  • 1
    I'm still looking for sources for these types of arguments, particularly the "she does not technically violate the visitation law" point. Is the king here doing what US presidents do with the pardoning power? Or is the "law" actually so arbitrary that whether or not it is broken depends on one man's feelings? – Nathaniel Jul 8 '15 at 15:37
  • I think she might have potentially violated the visitation law but ultimately she didn't because the king held out the scepter. Well, I do not want to go further, munching through the nature of her violation of the king's visitation law, (potential, existent or not). I think you should check out Mark 2:23-28 and 1 Samuel 21 (linked). – OnesimusUnbound Jul 8 '15 at 15:47
  • Those are interesting passages, for sure, especially Jesus's response; I'm going to investigate how that is interpreted. – Nathaniel Jul 8 '15 at 16:18
0

The first question to address is this: What is the nature of Mordecai's ministry? He does not begin his words to Esther with a formula like, "The word of the Lord came to me..." But in his actions - refusing to abandon his sackcloth and pronouncing judgment on Esther's house if she refuses to act - he behaves like a prophet. If we take him to be prophesying, then Esther must visit the King as it is a direct command from God.

If Mordecai is not a prophet with a command from the Lord, we have Galatians 5:22-23 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+5&version=NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, 
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

The plot to commit genocide was a brutal evil, and there is no valid law to prevent a person from opposing evil and doing good.

A final point is that Esther asks Mordecai and her other friends to pray and fast for her. During that time the Lord has the opportunity to tell her what to do, whether to seek an audience with the King or follow another path. She eagerly seeks another way and only risks her life when no alternative is given to her. This demonstrates her faithfulness, patience, humility, self control, and courage. With so many tokens of the Holy Spirit at work in her, it is evident that her actions are approved by God.

  • 3
    Do any commentators actually claim that Mordecai is a prophet here? That'd be a decent explanation, but it needs to be based on more than "he spoke forcefully and rightly." – Nathaniel Jul 7 '15 at 18:37
  • It's easy to say that the Holy Spirit is showing "tokens" -- but if those "tokens" go against a plain reading of Scripture, their existence ought to be doubted. Which leaves us back at my original question. – Nathaniel Jul 7 '15 at 18:41
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia says that the Talmud considers Mordecai to be a prophet. See jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10983-mordecai They also state that some sources believe Mordecai and Malachi to be the same person, with Mordecai being renamed after he became viceroy. – Paul Chernoch Jul 7 '15 at 18:50
0

The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27

AKA desperate times call for desperate measures.

David ... when he and those who were with him were hungry ... entered the house of God, and they ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for him or for those with him to eat, but only for the priests Matthew 12:3

Worrying about breaking a law about entering the palace when the whole lot of them was about to perish seems like a moot point.

It wouldn't be sin because actions are sins depending on the context. If it had been any other time and she broke this law because of disregard for it, it might be sin. But in this context it is not.

Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgement. John 7:24

  • As indicated in the question, I'm specifically not looking for a mere "ends justifies the means" argument. In my view, if we can ignore plain commands of scripture (Romans 13) simply because it's convenient, then there is no standard of morality. So instead, I want to know, what about Esther's situation causes Romans 13 to not apply? – Nathaniel Aug 23 '16 at 20:54
  • "what about Esther's situation causes Romans 13 to not apply" Impeding death? I wouldn't call that simply a matter of "convenience". If she had broken it for convenience or pride (say I'm the queen I'll do what I want) it would indeed be a sin as that reveals a negative state of heart. I'd disagree with your point about that implying no standard of morality. The plain commands of scripture are always to be taken in context. – John Doe Aug 23 '16 at 21:18
  • Pursue that line of thinking logically – if it would have stopped the slaughter, would Esther have then been justified in assassinating the king? There are many Christian commentators who would say, "no," and that's the viewpoint I'm looking for here. Augustine thought that the midwives sinned when they lied to Pharaoh, even though they did it to save their own lives. Same thing for Rahab lying to protect the spies in Jericho. – Nathaniel Aug 23 '16 at 21:28
  • And to be clear, I have no issue with you disagreeing with me, and thinking that an "ends justifies the means" argument is most appropriate here. Who knows, you may be correct that that is the most appropriate solution to the issue. The only problem with expressing that viewpoint in this answer is that I specifically asked for answers that do not answer that way. – Nathaniel Aug 23 '16 at 21:30
-2

I don't think Esther was disobeying the law at all.

For instance, the law could be written like this:

"Anyone is allowed to come into the King's presence without his permission, but if the king doesn't approve of your coming you will be killed."

Esther took her chance with this law and survived. But even if she had not been approved of by the king, it still would not have been actually disobeying the king, (and certainly no sin). As such, I cannot see this in any way a violation of Romans 13.

  • Have you found any published commentators that make this argument? – Nathaniel Nov 13 '18 at 22:46
  • @Nathaniel - I haven't looked. I don't feel I need to look. If you really want to resolve the issue then I recommend the book "Evangelical Ethics- Issues facing the Church Today" by John Jefferson Davis and the chapter on "Civil Disobedience". It quotes "that individual who discovers on the basis of conscience that a law is unjust and is willing in a very peaceful sense to disobey that unjust law and willingly and voluntarily suffers the consequences.. is expressing the highest respect for law" - Martin Luther King. Romans 13:1-7 limits the civil powers by calling them "servants of God". – Andrew Shanks Nov 13 '18 at 23:05
  • For what its worth, Martin Luther King's point of view was shared by John Bunyan. We must obey God rather than men. Our consciences must be free to disobey unjust laws in obedience to God. – Andrew Shanks Nov 13 '18 at 23:09
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    The purpose of the question is much narrower – it isn't meant to "resolve the issue" of civil disobedience, but to uncover how published commentators deal with this particular text. That's why it's worded, "I am looking for any Christian commentator..." – Nathaniel Nov 14 '18 at 0:51
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    In the upvoted answer it states that a few verses earlier, Esther states the law as such, "…any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives.” How are you able to counteract that? – Chris Rogers Nov 14 '18 at 0:52

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