Focal Passage: Esther 2:1-18
How can there be a book in the Bible that never mentions the name of God?
In seminary, Esther was the book we started with in introductory Hebrew. One of our first words was “hamelek” — “the king” — occurring 26 times in the first chapter. You can bet I memorized that word!
How about Yahweh (the Lord)? It doesn’t appear once. Elohim (God)? Nope. Maybe El Shaddai (God Almighty)? Not there, and neither is any other divine name, not anywhere in the book. Esther is the only Bible book with that distinction. What’s going on?
Some commentators see Esther as a nationalistic folktale celebrating two bold and clever Jews who outfox their more powerful enemies — a popular storyline for any oppressed people. Esther and Mordecai are the heroes, and everything that happens can be explained by their ingenuity and bravery. There’s nothing left for God to do.
Others notice that Purim, the festival instituted in Chapter 9, is not found in the law of Moses. That, plus the Babylonian-sounding names of the feast itself (from “pur,” the lot Haman cast in 3:7) and Esther and Mordecai (Ishtar and Marduk were Babylonian gods), suggests that the festival may have had Persian, not Israelite, origins. This is not one of God’s own stories.
And Purim is a boisterous feast. It lasts into the wee hours. Revelers drink until they can’t distinguish between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai,” which they shout whenever the men’s names are read aloud. This is not God’s kind of party.
For these and other reasons, Esther had a hard time getting into the Hebrew Bible. It was one of the last books selected. Still, Esther made it — and again, without even mentioning God! What’s going on?
The first chapter is almost comic. Persian King Xerxes “ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia” (1:1), but he can’t make his own wife come to his celebration (1:12). Nervous men all over the empire fear that their wives will now treat them with similar contempt (1:17). So King Xerxes banishes Queen Vashti and decrees “that every man should be master in his own house” (1:22).
Chapter 2 introduces Mordecai, the resourceful Jew, and Esther, his cousin and adopted daughter, who is equally resourceful and courageous, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. Esther enters the royal beauty pageant and lands Vashti’s old job. She wins the king’s heart, of course; but she also has his ear, which will come in handy when her people face a threat to their very existence.
Is all this merely a happy coincidence? Or can God still be present, even if His name is not?