Order a bride the Esther way (@Clairemaxim1)

http://www.truechristianity.info/img/films/the_bible_collection_esther_01.jpg

http://www.truechristianity.info/img/films/the_bible_collection_esther_01.jpg

If you were a King back in the day, and your Queen displeased you, you could dispose of her. And then every father and uncle in the kingdom (so it would seem according to the book of Esther) would happily send off a daughter to the harem of the King, to be made beautiful. She then had one night in which to please the King. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like a bloke managing to organise sex with a different woman every single night. Of course, he may have wanted to find a great chess player, or someone to admire his beer mat collection, but I don’t believe it.

So Esther struts her stuff (or plays a game of chess, or admires the beer mats) to the satisfaction of the King and wins the prize – she is made queen. And as the story evolves, Uncle Mordecai continues to take a leading role, thwarting a plot against the King being plotted against in his turn, and (with Esther’s intervention) coming out on top, retaining the favour of the King.

And there’s the cue for a rant about paternalistic culture and the way women were treated like commodities.

But instead, let’s take a different path. What does God tell us through this book? God isn’t mentioned…but there is another shadowy figure to my mind, and that is the King. King Ahasuerus. His court is opulent, he is a man whose every whim appears to be indulged but I wonder to what extent he is in control, and how much of his vast Persian empire is actually run by civil servants who do their best to keep him uninformed. Is he the Jim Hacker of his day, and so seeking to show his power over women because he can’t appear weak?  Is God pointing out that every earthly ruler is limited, that however much power they appear to have, they remain human? That misuse of power is often condoned by others (back to those fathers and uncles, and let’s be fair, we have no idea what the mothers or the aunts thought)? That once within a structure, it takes huge courage to challenge the accepted norms of society?

It still happens. Photos in a showcase on the internet….define what you want and the right person will pop up. There are even ‘Christian’ dating sites if you are so minded, although I suspect most women (or men) on those site wouldn’t relish getting the Esther treatment, however ‘Biblical’ it is. But there is more to people than their internet presence. There are always things we learn through interaction with people, and one part of that is being face to face. Throughout the book of Esther, facets of her life, background and personality remain hidden from King Ahasuerus. He doesn’t know she is Jewish, he doesn’t seem to know of her relationship to Uncle Mordecai, in fact, he seems to know very little about her at all. And if he thought his new Queen would be more compliant that his previous Queen was, then he was sorely mistaken.

I find the book of Esther difficult. I rail against her apparent acceptance of her fate, against her obedience to the decrees of Uncle Mordecai, the court officials and the King. But she used the structures to protect her people, used them to gain a protected place in society for Jews. I dislike the methods intensely. And yet, despite all the abuse of power, the systematic commoditisation of women, the plotting and the counter plotting, God’s chosen people were, in the end, protected. God’s will was done. Perhaps there’s the lesson from Esther. But it makes uncomfortable reading.

As digidisciples we do our best to be humans of integrity, to be recognisable face to face when we meet friends made online. We make mistakes, we mess up, we sin – online and face to face, because we are human. Maybe the book of Esther also tells us that no matter how bad the mess, there is always redemption.

About Claire Maxim