Today’s reading: Esther 1-10, Psalm 64-65
Today we read the book of Esther, a story of how one young Jewish woman was chosen “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) to save her people from destruction. Biblical scholars disagree over the historicity of the account. The basis for the book is a period in history when there was a looming threat that all persons of Jewish descent would be exterminated. A review of the last century and the events that occurred during some of our own lifetimes is enough to remind us that such a despicable plot is plausible and has repeated itself more than once. Determining whether events in the book of Esther happened as described is far less important than seeing this episode as an example of how God can make a way out of no way.
What is unique in the book of Esther is that God’s work happens entirely in the background. This is the only book in the Bible that does not mention the name of God a single time. Yet, clearly both Jews and Christians have come to understand the real presence of God in this story; otherwise, it would not appear in our Scriptures. Strikingly, that presence is seen through the actions taken by ordinary people, who are placed in unlikely positions where they can make a difference.
This story serves as the basis for the Jewish holiday of Purim. Every year on that day, Jewish communities gather to hear the book of Esther read orally, to exchange gifts with one another, to offer gifts to the poor, and to celebrate a great feast. During the reading, whenever the name of the villain Haman is read, people make a great raucous with noisemakers in order to drown out the hearing of his name.
Not surprisingly, in 1941 Adolf Hitler banned Jews in Poland from celebrating Purim and barred entry into the synagogues. Yet, his reign of terror would not be the end of the story, a reality which one Jewish man boldly anticipated a few years earlier. After hearing Hitler give a speech early in his rise to power about his plans to destroy the Jews, the man approached him and said, “You should be aware that you are not the first anti-Semite who sought to destroy us. . .”
His statement, as well as today’s reading, remind us of a great truth: Those who perpetrate violence and seek the death of God’s people will not have the final word.