What do you think we get wrong about the book of Esther?
For most of my life, I heard two themes around the book of Esther that I now believe to be totally off-base. The first is that Esther is a story about a virtuous Jewish girl who won the heart of a King and saved God’s people. The second is that it’s primarily a book for women.
On the first point, I think this comes from a desire to whitewash a story that is actually very dark. God is mostly hidden in the book of Esther, and he’s certainly hidden in Esther’s life up until Chapter 4. Esther and Mordecai are profoundly compromised characters, fully assimilated into Persian culture in a way that other exiles (like Daniel) are not. But that’s what makes her story compelling: God awakens her and uses her to redeem his people. No matter how compromised we might feel, we’re not written out of God’s story.
On the second point, if Esther is treated as a “girls book” (as it so often is), we rob the church of the powerful testimony it contains. In truth Esther is a fascinating tale driven by sex, violence, conspiracy to murder, and twists of fate. It’s more Game of Thrones than Veggie Tales, and it’s a story can engage our church’s imaginations while also pointing them to God’s providence and grace.
How can someone preach Christ while preaching the book of Esther?
Esther embodies what Paul talks about in Philippians 2:1-11. Jesus didn’t cling to his glory and power, but laid it down, made himself a servant even to the point of death. For this, he was given a name above all names.
Esther’s story foreshadows this. She could have stayed hidden in the palace, safe in the comforts of luxury while destruction fell upon the Jews, but she didn’t. She risked her life and entered the King’s throne room, potentially evoking his wrath. Because of this, God’s people were saved and we remember her story to this day. She’s both a signpost to Jesus and an example to follow.
In what ways is Esther’s world like our own?
Esther grew up without the benefit of a Jewish culture. She was immersed in a world that surely had a formative impact on her; it’s just that this impact would have inclined her towards a godless life. And that’s evident from her name (Esther is a Persian name, likely after the goddess Ishtar) and the counsel she receives from her cousin just as she’s about to enter the King’s palace. He tells her to eat the food and do all that the King’s servants instruct her to do – a stark contrast to the story of Daniel.
Many of us – even some who grew up in Christian homes – have experienced something similar. Our primary, life-shaping influences don’t come from the church. They come from entertainment, from social media, from celebrities and rock stars and politicians.
And in a way that’s similar to the polytheistic world of ancient Persia, one of the greatest sins of our culture is to be religious in such a way that you claim any kind of exclusivity for your religion. In other words, it’s fine to be religious up to a certain point… but once you make the claim that Jesus is the way, truth, and life, and that no one can come to the Father except by him, you run into tremendous cultural conflict. That was what made Esther and Mordecai’s Jewish identity so dangerous. They were a despised minority because of their religious background. We should take comfort from their courage.
—Mike Cosper, author of Faith Among the Faithless, Learning from Esther How to Live in a World Gone Mad
How to Use This Book
I’m certainly hopeful that pastors find it helpful as a resource for thinking about Esther and applying in their sermons, but most of all I hope that this book could be a great conversation starter for Christians who are trying to make sense of our cultural moment. It challenges readers to think through our cultural backdrop that’s driven by sex and power, and it hopefully points them to God’s faithfulness in the midst of a hostile world. I think small groups who want to do a deep-dive into both Esther and conversations about the broader culture would find this book a helpful tool.
Can Christianity survive a secular age? Can Christians live without compromise in an increasingly hostile society? And what if they’ve already given in to that society’s vision and values?
In this revelatory and provocative new book, Mike Cosper answers these questions by pointing out the parallels between our world and the story of Esther. A tale of sex, ego, and revenge, the book of Esther reveals a world where God seems absent from everyday life—a world not unlike our own. Far from the gentle cartoon we often hear in Sunday school, the story of Esther is a brutal saga of people assimilated into a pluralistic, pagan society, embracing its standards. Yet when threatened with annihilation, they find the courage to turn to God in humility.
A call to spiritual awakening and to faith in an age of malaise and apathy, Faith Among the Faithless is an invitation to remember the faithfulness of God, knowing that in dark times—as in the days of Esther or our own—God may be hidden, but he is never absent.