In the May edition of RTC Focus we interviewed Stephen Lewis—RTC’s Lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew—on his new Esther unit. Read on for an extended interview as part of our RTC Conversations series.
Briefly tell us about your interest in the book of Esther.
When I was eleven years old, I tagged along with my dad as he preached an Esther sermon to several churches, and I’ve been captivated with the story ever since. I’m sure you’ve heard of dissertations that explore some obscure issue that no normal person cares about, so you can imagine how happy I was to write my dissertation on the theology of the book of Esther.
What about the book of Esther captivated you so much?
What has always captivated me about Esther is how the author makes us stand in wonder at God’s presence though God seems to be so absent. God shows up in all these reversals: Esther goes from being an adopted orphan to being a queen, Haman goes from holding signet ring power to being hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai, Esther goes from being self-protective to going all in for the sake of her people, Mordecai goes from sackcloth and ashes to second in command, and God’s people go from living under the threat of genocide to seeing Gentiles suddenly want to become Jews. As I’ve studied the book I’ve been impressed with the storytelling, and with the theological message that sneaks up on you.
What does it means to interpret Esther theologically?
To interpret Esther theologically is to see that even a book that doesn’t explicitly mention God is quite interested in divine providence. Could the author be implying an analogy between King Ahasuerus and God? Just as the king is the Jews’ number one problem (he signed their death warrant) and their number one hope (going to the king to petition for their lives is Esther and Mordecai’s only real plan), so is God’s wrath our number one problem and His mercy in Christ our only hope. Just as the king is both Esther’s husband and her sovereign, so is God both the bridegroom of His people and their Lord. If petitioning a self-centred, half-drunk king in Persia is worthwhile, how much more worthwhile is approaching your gracious and wise God in prayer?
How does it benefit students to reflect on the message of Esther this way?
If RTC students can discern a theological message from a text that doesn’t mention God, they will be well-equipped to handle texts where the theology is more obvious. Sometimes were grow so cautious that we under-read the Bible, reducing its message to surface-level information. But ultimately the Scriptures all speak of Christ. How to discern author-intended theology without forcing an allegory take practice, but it’s worth it.