Is there a theology in a book that never mentions God

(Jimmy Sellers) #1

The book of Esther is such a book. The linked article is a very good read. I think that it is relevant to several current discussions that are currently beginning kick around connect.

Genocide as it pertains to Haman the Agagite (Amalekite).

…the Agagite, cast dice or lots (Hebrew: purim) to determine the day on which all Jews would be destroyed. But the destiny of God’s people would never be determined by a roll of the dice.

The unreached, as it pertains to those who were not sure of their standing before God. Remember the diaspora Jew had no temple, no prophet no ritual no miracles and no prayer yet God was at work both in and through the diaspora as well as the pagan Cyrus.

I thought that this quote summed up some of the frustration that modern day Chrisians face.

Like the Jews of Persia, we have no earthly king, no earthly prophet, and no earthly kingdom. We cannot depend on miracles. Like Esther and Mordecai we face difficult ethical and religious questions in a highly political world that is hostile to our most fundamental Christian convictions. And like Esther and Mordecai, we Christians are a morally ambiguous people at our best. Our motives are mixed; our hearts are not always devoted to covenant obedience. Because of our sin, we are not living in the Lord’s presence in the garden of Eden, but in the exile of history, in a world where God is unseen.

I think the last line in the article encourages my heart and should remind all who believe that God was God even before the Bible.

The theological message of the book of Esther is that God is all-powerfully present even when he seems to be the most conspicuously absent.

Would be interested in your comments.

(Matt Western) #2

Hi @Jimmy_Sellers, great discussion starter, and certainly sparked my interest.

I know you know your Hebrew scholarship inside out, and your quote interested me; is there a difference in the between the purim (lots or dice) cast by Haman, and the purim/thummim used by the Israelite high priest?

Also on your main point - which seems to link our current existence as Christians to Esther, I can see the connection

  • Esther / Mordecai had faith in God, but surely would have had some of the Hebrew scriptures at their point in time, and looked back in their history where God had worked, and had the ‘faith of their ancestors’. Imagine Abraham’s faith - the times between when he heard from God speaking to him and then nothing for something like 40 years (i can’t remember the exact time frames), talk about faith!
  • We as Christians look back today to the resurrection of Christ, and forward to his promised return / our own promised resurrection and new perfect bodies.

The main difference I can think of is, we have the Holy Spirit (the Comforter) as New Testament Christians, ‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Romans 8:16 and the rest of the chapter for context), as compared to the Old Testament ‘saints’ (people of faith, some who are mentioned in Hebrews 11 the great faith chapter) who did not have the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit (as King David said in his Psalm 51 prayer of repentance ‘Cast me not away from your presence, but renew a right spirit within me’). The Spirit moved upon individuals to do great things, but it was possible for this knowledge of God’s personal presence to be lost?

I’m just thinking of the difference between King Saul and King David here. Saul after overstepping his bounds and taking the place of the prophet Samuel started to spiral downwards, whereas when David fell into deep sin with Bathsheba he repented and had the right attitude.

As Andy Stanley said in a message I remember; David didn’t confuse himself with God (many of the ancient near east kings like the Pharaohs, or Nebuchadnezzar, or even the Caesars etc were worshiped as gods and demanded it and nobody had a right to question them)

I’m reminded of the promise/conversation between Jesus and doubting Thomas (can’t we all identify with skeptical Thomas many times in our lives when everything goes wrong!) in John 20 “Thomas , because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed .”

I"m not sure I agree entirely with this train of thought. It seems to mix the clear salvation Gospel message (Ephesians 2:8-9), with so called ‘covenant obedience’ which to me seems to get a bit muddy towards salvation by obedience? Is this mixing up Christianity with Judaism a bit? Maybe I’m not understanding what the author is saying??.

Yes, because of humanity’s sin as a whole (and our individual sin personally), we are separated from God, but that’s the point of the Gospel: ‘While we were dead in sins, Christ died for us’.

As John Lennox put it so nicely in the recent debate I watched; because of Jesus finished work on the cross, we are accepted (by God) at the start of the journey. (under the conversation thread here
Being 100% Sure Of Salvation I don’t want to quote myself because that seems a bit weird, but it’s too hard to retype in the quote I liked from Lennox :smile:)

great conversation topic - really makes you think and want to discuss, and to learn more and grow in the faith which is good. :slight_smile:

(Jimmy Sellers) #3

Thanks for your reply and kind remarks.
To your first question. As you pointed out not much is known about the Urim and Thummim but the idea of casting lots was fairly common then as it is today. We might call it a coin flip. Here is an except from John Walton’s book :Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible that might shed some light on the “why” of casting lots as it pertained to Yahweh’s actions.

Whims of Yahweh
Unlike the view of the gods in the ancient Near Eastern literature, the Old Testament does not recognize that Yahweh has whims. Nevertheless, sometimes Yahweh’s actions are considered troublesome, seem incomprehensible, or seem inconsistent. The complaint of the Israelites of the Babylonian period that “the fathers eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” is only one example. At other times drought or famine occurs without ready explanation. The prophets and biblical authors, however, are never content to let stand the conclusion that the events in question simply represent divine whim. The prophets identify causes for the treatment of the nation. The Chronicler builds his whole theology on the consistency of retribution. The psalmist, though often confused about Yahweh’s apparent unresponsiveness, has no room for the idea that Yahweh is anything less than consistent. The wrath of Yahweh against Nadab and Abihu, Korah, Achan, Hophni and Phinehas, Uzzah, and others like them always comes with justification. It is true that Babylonians likewise sought reasons, but only so that appeasement could proceed rather than being driven by any need to reconcile the divine behavior with the divine nature. The point is that there is no indication that the Israelite state religion viewed appeasement as related to divine whims.

As to your last point how much difference is there between obedience in the OT versus obedience in the NT? In both cases faith is required, the faithfulness of God to the faithfulness of Christ, from faith to faith.
For the 2nd Temple Jew he was “in” by virtue of his birth . His problem was what what must he do to stay in? Likewise the modern Christian is “in” by virtue of the new birth but he still worries what must I do to stay in. From the book of Believe this verse punctuates this for me.

28 So they said to him, “What shall we do that we can accomplish the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom that one sent.” (Jn 6:28–29LEB).