Esther’s Story

Still a little too old, but closer than any other picture representing Esther I could find.
Still a little too old, but closer than any other picture representing Esther I could find. FYI, she was probably somewhere around 14.

So, yesterday’s sermon at College Park Baptist Church was based on the story of Esther. I hear a lot of people who say this is their favorite one in the bible. And, really, who can blame them? The tale of Esther is great storytelling and has everything you could ever want: intrigue, revenge, misogyny, sex, violence. Oh yeah, there’s some courage, a little love and a smattering of devotion in there, too. You may be scratching your head and wondering “What the hell is he going on about, now?” So, let’s unpack this not-so-vaguely disturbing story, shall we?

Early on, a drunken King Ahasuerus orders his queen to dance naked in front of his guests. When Vashti (obviously one of those damn feminists) refuses, he gets pissed. One of his counselors says this affront must be punished because if the word got out that Vashti had refused an order from the king, all the other women would get uppity and there would be “no end of put-downs and arguments.” God knows, we can’t have women thinking for themselves, so the king had Vashti banished (and possibly executed), sending a message to the women in the kingdom to know their place and stay the hell in it.

Of course, that meant there was an opening in Ahasuerus’ harem and he began looking for a replacement. That’s where Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, come into the picture. Every time I hear the name “Mordecai”, I can’t help but think of a character on the totally surreal cartoon “Regular Show”. That Mordecai, a blue jay who works as a groundskeeper at a park with his best friend Rigby (a racoon), is a slacker whose attempts to goof off invariably lead to crazy, weird misadventures. But, he stands head and shoulders over the Mordecai of the Bible. I mean, seriously, we’re talking about a dude who forced a young girl he had adopted after her parents died (who may have been only 14 years old) into prostitution. Why? It doesn’t really say, but later events show he may have done so for political advantage. What a sterling fellow. Whatever the reason,  the king takes Esther into his harem and she quickly becomes his favorite. Well, of course, she did. What dirty old man worth his salt wouldn’t favor a pretty, unspoiled teen age girl?

Later on, Mordecai pisses off the king’s chief advisor, Haman, by not bowing to him because, as a Jew, he only bowed to God. Haman, being a text-book villain, decides to get back at Mordecai for his disrespect by getting the king to authorize wiping out all the Jews in the kingdom. When Morty found out about this, he decides to use his strategically placed asset in the king’s household (i.e. Esther) to stop the plot.  When she balks, he throws a guilt trip on her, saying “Don’t think for one minute that, unlike all the other Jews, you’ll come out of this alive simply because you are in the palace. In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” Seriously? “Perhaps you became queen for such a time as this”??? Hell, a situation is probably what he had in mind when he gave her to the king in the first place. I hear people talk about how courageous Mordecai was, but I think he was one manipulative mother-fucker.

 But, his guilt trip works and Esther gives him one condition for going to the king: for all the Jews in Susa (the city where this story takes place) to fast for three days in order to help her be brave enough to carry out this crazy-ass plan. Really, Esther? You’re  going to risk your life and all you want is for Morty and his people to fast? I believe I’d have asked for a little  more than that.And, finally, there’s the payoff. Eventually, Haman’s schemes come to light and he is impaled on the very pole he had planned to use for Mordecai’s execution (a very gruesome way to die, I assure you) and Esther begs the king to rescind his genocidal decree. The king, however, is too much of a chicken shit to do that and passes the buck, allowing Mordecai to issue a decree that allowed the Jews to defend themselves. And, it works: Mordecai and Esther’s people are prepared for the attack and successfully defend themselves. Of course, that isn’t where the story ends, because the Jews take this opportunity to exact revenge on everyone who had ever wronged them; even sweet little Esther gets in on this orgy of violence, asking the king to impale Haman’s sons. When the dust settles, 75,000 of their enemies lay dead. The Bible says this occurred on the 13th day of Adar and, on the 14th day, they rested and had a day of feasting and rejoicing. And, that boys and girls, is the origin of the Feast of Purim.
 So, what’s the point of me pissing on a story that many people find inspiring? Well, for one thing, I’m tired of stories from the Bible being white-washed because the truth is unpalatable. Second, these white-washed versions often miss a valuable aspects of the stories. Like this one; maybe one of the things Esther’s story was meant to show is that there’s nothing good that humans can’t fuck up. Because that point comes out clearer than any of the other ones I’ve heard.