Chapter F

Esther F

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—


COMMENTARY:  So 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.


COMMENTARY:  And 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 outcasts!

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 community.



4) The two dragons are myself and Haman.


COMMENTARY:  We 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.

“The Lord saved his people and delivered us from all these evils. God worked signs and great wonders, such as have not occurred among the nations.


COMMENTARY:  Here 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.


COMMENTARY:  A 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 multitask.



10) “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.”


COMMENTARY:  And 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 it.

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 Alexandria.)

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