Many Christians suffer from what I have come to call a “pious bias.” Simply put, “pious bias” is the presumption that all the people we find in the Bible were “pious”. We are therefore reluctant to see Jonah as the scoundrel he is: willful, arrogant, rebellious, and (worse yet) self-righteous. Here is a man who stations himself outside the city of Nineveh so that he can watch the entire city (including innocent children and cattle) go up in flames, even when he knows that God has purposed to save it. We are reluctant to see that Jonah is a prophet in ways other than his short speech to the Ninevites. Jonah, the man, exemplifies Israel, the nation. His self-righteousness, lack of compassion, and disdain for grace is precisely that of the nation he represents.
Many people try to “pietize” Esther, to make her into a great woman of faith and piety. I marvel at what they have to do in order to look upon her in this manner. Here is a woman who is willing to stay in Persia and to sleep with a heathen king, rather than to return to Israel and become the wife of a godly Israelite. Esther never prays, and the name of God is never mentioned throughout the book. Yet some still wish to make her a model saint. Theirs is a monumental task indeed.
I shall not go to such heroic efforts to make this woman look good. She is Jewish, like Jonah, and like her uncle Mordecai. She is a schemer and a manipulator. She has learned well from her uncle Mordecai. Mordecai refuses to show honor and respect to those in authority. His belligerence is not rooted in piety, but in pride and stubbornness. The Book of Esther is a wonderful compliment to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The latter depict the return of godly Jews to the Promised Land, under divinely appointed leaders. The Book of Esther makes a unique contribution to our understanding of this period in Israel’s history. It depicts the lives of those Jews who stayed on in Persia during this same period of time. The focus of this book is upon those Jews who knew that God had instructed them to return to the Promised Land, but did not. This book is about unfaithful Jews. The deliverance of the Jews in the Book of Esther is not due to man’s piety, but solely to God’s grace, in spite of Israel’s sins.
I pray that God will give us open minds and hearts to look at this book in a different light, to understand it better, and to see its application to our own lives.