Book Plunge: Hidden in Plain Sight: Esther and a Marginalized Hermeneutic

What do I think of Robert P. Debelak Jr.’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Nearly everyone who is a Christian has a favorite Bible book. Many point to John or to Romans. I recently had someone surprise me who told me they really like Leviticus. If you ask me, the book that I seem to get very excited about whenever it comes up in my daily Bible reading is Esther.

I still remember sitting at a personal table I had in the living room as a young child going through my Bible and going straight through and coming to this book. Naturally, I had no idea what this ten chapter book was about, but I decided to go through it. That’s exactly what I did. I read all of the book in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down.

The book read like a modern adventure novel and has comedy in the irony that takes place in it. Something I found fascinating that I read about in the intro to the book the first time I read it was that God was not mentioned. In an odd way, this adds to the appeal of the book because you know God is present in the narrative, but here He is behind the scenes. (The king just happens to have insomnia and just happens to read about Mordecai saving him and then Haman just happens to be in the king’s court at the time wanting to ask about hanging Mordecai?) I could go on and on like that, but you get the idea.

In this book, Debelak takes us through and just encourages us to read it through the lens of margnizalization. What is especially noteworthy is the contrast of the women to him in the book and to those deemed less otherwise. Vashti is mentioned briefly in the first chapter and yet disappears as Esther takes her place and Esther has even more control over the narrative. At the start, Vashti is deposed for not following the orders of the king and in the end, it is Esther that is giving out the orders. Vashti is called to come into the king’s presence and refuses. Esther is not asked to come and risks her life and is accepted.

Mordecai is also such a figure. We know nothing of him other than he is Esther’s uncle of the tribe of Benjamin. He is seen as a loner figure who just sits outside the king’s gate and checks on Esther, but he is the one who has the gall to stand up to Haman (In every way as he refuses to bow down to Haman and give him honor) which brings about the events of the book. If Mordecai had just been like everyone else, nothing would have happened and Esther would just have enjoyed a nice royal life and Haman would not have had a plot to kill all the Jews.

Also, Debelak does not make any references such as “And here is how we see Jesus in this passage” or at least none that I remember. This is important because we too often do jump to that instead of just seeing what the passage means. Questions of historicity do matter, but Debelak doesn’t focus on those either but rather just looks at what the text means in the setting that it claims to take place in.

I found this an interesting perspective on Esther and I am interested in reading anything I can on the book. It is one I wish we talked about more in the church as I cannot recall one time I have ever heard a sermon on it. Sadly, most people don’t know about this book in the Old Testament. If you don’t, maybe you should dust off that Bible and go through it and see if you read it as I did as a youth back in the day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Esther, An Honor-Shame Paraphrase

What do I think of Jayson Georges’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Esther is actually my favorite book of the Bible. As a child, when I was going through the Bible for the first time, I got to Esther not having a clue what was in it and I just could not stop. It read like a modern adventure novel. When I saw that my friend Jayson Georges had a paraphrase of this book from an honor-shame perspective, I asked for a copy which he supplied.

I was not disappointed. I get to see my favorite book of Scripture through new eyes and eyes I have wanted to see the Bible through more and more, those of honor and shame in Jewish Mediterranean culture. Georges has read the best material he can on this and gone through Esther showing how honor and shame play a great part in it.

In our Western context, we only see things from that perspective for the most part. The great tragedy of being in our culture is that we think everyone thinks just like us and when there are missing pieces, as there always are, we fill them in with information from our own culture. After all, why should we think the rest of the world is different?

Looking at Esther shows a whole new world. The feast at the start is not just a feast. It is a way for the king of Susa to show how much honor he has and to receive honor from his associates. Men today might laugh at the idea that Vashti going against the wishes of the king would cause women all across the empire to disrespect their husbands and thus lead to chaos, but it was no joke. It’s not a sitcom being written. It’s maintaining the order of hierarchy that the society thrives on.

The constant back and forth between Mordecai and Haman fit into this as well. In this, you have the reversals of honor and shame. Haman is to be the most honored of all because he’s practically as close to the king as you can get without sitting on the throne yourself. Mordecai meanwhile is a nobody resident in the empire. That’s one more reason Haman is not content with just killing Mordecai. After all, he is the great Haman. He should go for something grander than that, so why not go and kill all of Mordecai’s people which would also fit in with Haman’s own heritage as an enemy of the Jews?

If there was something I didn’t like about the paraphrase, it’s that it talks about God. That sounds odd for a book of the Bible, but the wonder of Esther is that you know God is working behind the scenes, but He is never explicitly mentioned in the text. I was troubled then to see God mentioned in the text as that took away from me one of my favorite aspects of the book in that the reader is the one who has to work to see the hand of God at work and then we ask, could He be at work in our own lives in ways that we don’t know about?

Despite that, this is a wonderful idea Georges has had. So far, two books have been done from an honor-shame perspective. I look forward to the rest of them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters