1) Then Mordecai said: “This is the work of God. 2) I recall the dream I had about these
very things, and not a single detail has been left unfulfilled—
the evidence, for Mordecai, that all of this was God’s work was that a dream
predicted it, as he’s about to explain.
Notice that this does not negate the immediate nature of his dream at
the beginning of the story—that it warned him of a plot against the king, which
raised his value in the king’s eyes. The
people of Israel knew then what people still have trouble grasping today: that
dreams multitask: the same symbols can mean different things simultaneously,
enhancing the richness of the overall meaning with layers in time and context.
Here’s a reprisal of the dream, from Chapter A:
4) This was his dream. There was noise
and tumult, thunder and earthquake—confusion upon the earth. 5) Two great dragons advanced, both poised for combat. They
uttered a mighty cry, 6) and at
their cry every nation prepared for war, to fight against the nation of the
just. 7) It was a dark and gloomy
day. Tribulation and distress, evil and great confusion, lay upon the earth. 8) The whole nation of the just was shaken
with fear at the evils to come upon them, and they expected to perish. 9) Then they
cried out to God, and from their crying there arose, as though from a tiny
spring, a mighty river, a flood of water. 10) The light
of the sun broke forth; the lowly were exalted and they devoured the boastful.
3) the tiny spring that grew into a
river, and there was light, and sun, and many waters. The river is Esther, whom
the king married and made queen.
the storyteller leaves it to the audience to see the further meaning in the
details which he implies. The tininess
of the spring reflects Esther’s initial immaturity and docility; she hadn’t yet
grown into the powerful woman that she became, represented by growing into a
river. Consider how important rivers
were to the ancients, both for transport and irrigation, before the Romans
built their network of roads and aqueducts.
To compare someone to a river means to compare them to an
ever-replenishing source of life and prosperity.
The comparison also emphasizes flowing thought over static thought. A tiny spring is not merely and forever a
tiny spring, but changes over time into a great river. This reminds us to not underestimate people
and their potential—an important thought in a story about welcoming back the
The sunlight bursting forth would be the warmth and favor of God, hidden at
first but then revealed, and also the Jewishness of Mordecai and Esther, again
hidden until revealed. This is why many
Jews celebrate Purim with masks and costume, revealing their faces at the end.
The many waters would be the Jewish people, for which Esther is their river,
their rallying point. Her ancestors are
her tributaries. She has acted for the
4) The two dragons are myself and Haman.
have come to see dragons and snakes negatively in the west, but in the Middle
East (and Eastern Europe) they are ambiguous symbols of power, for good or
ill. (It often surprises Westerners that
the eastern Orthodox Churches sometimes use snakes in sacred symbolism in a way
other than having Mary crush the snake underfoot.) Two powerful men, then, have come into
conflict, causing great upheaval in the kingdom.
5) The nations are those who assembled to
destroy the name of the Jews,
COMMENTARY: This part was mostly literal. However dreams often exaggerate to get our
attention. It wasn’t literally “all” but
more than enough to get the job done!
Here’s where a lot of Bible interpreters get in trouble. Dreams and visions are intended, on the
whole, to be read symbolically, not literally except in brief glimpses
sometimes to give us context. Yet some
insist that Creation had to take place in seven literal days, even though no
human being was there to witness most of it, and therefore the information had
to derive from a vision or a dream.
I don’t dispute that the occasional literal dream does happen—I’ve had a few,
myself. But even then the material
offered is also symbolic, and the
symbolic content usually has greater value for transforming the life of the
dreamer for the better. (And
dreamworkers get used to using “occasional”, “usually” and other qualifiers
like that, because the minute you say dreams are “always” or “never” anything,
you will run into exceptions.)
6) but my people is Israel, who cried to God and was
saved his people and delivered us from all these evils. God worked signs and
great wonders, such as have not occurred among the nations.
we establish an important concept: That
not all signs and great wonders have to be miracles. No scientifically inexplicable anomaly
happens in Esther, and yet Mordecai has faith that God still saved his
people. The fact that a beaten-down
slave, trapped unwillingly in a marriage-by-abduction, found the courage to
take on the greatest temporal power in her world, pushing on even after
fainting for fear, is also a miracle.
Miracles can happen in our hearts.
7) For this purpose he arranged two lots: one for the people of God, the second for all the
other nations. 8) These two lots were
fulfilled in the hour, the time, and the day of judgment before God and among
all the nations. 9) God remembered his people and
rendered justice to his inheritance.
second explanation for the name “Purim”, which means “lots”. Names often have multiple reasons in the
Bible, but people waste too much time debating which is the “correct”
meaning. Like dreams, the Bible can
“Gathering together with joy and happiness before God, they shall celebrate
these days on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the month Adar throughout all
future generations of his people Israel.”
to this day the Jewish people do celebrate.
Evidence of the fictional nature of Esther notwithstanding, something
happened worth celebrating. The best
fiction often has a grain of truth in it, and our heroes usually put one face
on many who have found their courage under adverse circumstances. We don’t know who the originals for Esther
and Mordecai might have been, or what real event evolved into the story of the
Book of Esther, but real human beings have lived this story, and continue to
live this story in various ways.
11) In the fourth year of the reign of
Ptolemy and Cleopatra, Dositheus, who said he was a priest and Levite, and his
son Ptolemy brought the present letter of Purim, saying that it was genuine and
that Lysimachus, son of Ptolemy, of the community of Jerusalem, had translated
COMMENTARY: Interesting that the storyteller remarks that
Dositheus “said that he was a priest and Levite”. Many Jews had lost their family histories by
then, so one couldn’t always prove whether or not one was of a priestly family,
but some passed down the tradition by word of mouth.
Specifying that he was a Levite priest also indicated that he stuck to the more
conservative rules in Jerusalem, which among other things taught that only a
Levite could be priest. That this should
come from a conservative source gives credibility to the message of accepting
previously outcast Jews into the rebuilt temple, when they had no choice as to
the circumstances that originally disqualified them.
Greek kings of Egypt often took the name of
Ptolemy, being descendants of Ptolemy the half-brother of Alexander the Great,
who seized/inherited Egypt after the shattering of Alexander’s empire with his
death. Cleopatra was also a popular name
in that dynasty—the name of Alexander’s sister. As you can see, the names also spread among
the conquered as well. Ptolemy son of
Dositheus is not the same as Ptolemy the Pharaoh.
The Ptolemaic Egyptians had control of Judea and other nations in the region at
the time this story came out. I don’t
know why the footnotes put this as being somewhere between 116 and 48 BC,
because the Ptolemaic empire lost Judea to the Seleucids in 175 BC, and as you
know the western BC reckoning works backwards, the smaller dates being later. Anyway, you’ll learn more about the Seleucids
in the Maccabee books, starting next week.
They made some unpopular decisions, and if one must be ruled by Greeks,
the Jews preferred the Egyptian Greeks, who esteemed their scholarship and
encouraged them to flourish in Alexandria.
(Jesus spent his early childhood in Egypt, almost certainly in