I question our practice of painting biblical heroes more heroically than the Bible does. Hiding the faults of our heroes robs us of grace. That’s why the Bible doesn’t hide them.
I once suggested we tell true stories of our heroes, stories that show God’s pursuit of them despite their failings. I pointed out:
- Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;
- Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;
- David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;
- Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.
I was surprised by the many readers who were upset at my negative description of “good” Abraham, Joseph, and David. I wondered, “Have they even read those stories?”
But I was astonished at the hail-storm of hundreds of angry emails that hated my history of Esther. Esther is beloved. Many think she was forced into sexual slavery.
I wonder if she was a complicit adulterer.
Why won’t we admit any shortcomings in our heroes?
Let’s put aside (for a moment) Esther’s willing compliance or innocence. Why do we begin reading the Bible with a built-in bias for these heroes to have an innate goodness?
Nowadays we want think Esther was pure as the driven snow, but readers for over two thousand years thought otherwise. When early readers read Esther, they saw moral ambiguity at best. And like us today, they did not like it:
- The first translations into Greek added words to “improve” Esther’s character, saying she never violated kosher law and she abhorred the bed of the gentile.*
- For the first seven hundred years of the Christian church no one—not one person—wrote a commentary on Esther.
- Luther wrote, “I am such a great enemy of the book of Esther that I wish it hadn’t come to us, for it has too many heathen unnaturalities” (slightly edited).
We are biased. We want Esther (and other heroes) to be naturally good because we misunderstand the evil within ourselves, and we fail to grasp grace. Instead we grasp for high self-esteem, and believe God primarily works with inherently good people. Like us.
How would a person who feels broken receive Esther?
A woman called me shortly after my villainous questioning of Esther’s purity. She had been raped as a sixteen year-old by an uncle. She spent the next ten years using her body to gain men’s affection, even occasionally for money. She said,
“When my uncle raped me, it was mostly the force of his personality, but there was a tiny bit of me that was complicit. I didn’t resist, partly because I wanted the attention of any man who at least wanted something I had. In subsequent encounters [with the uncle] I even took the initiative.
“Now [over twenty years later] I understand the brokenness of that little girl who was abandoned by her father; I understand the innocent longing for affirmation; I feel for that little me that was confused and without tools to cope.
“But I still felt guilty for the little part of me that participated. I thought, ‘God could never use me.’ Then I read Esther and understood that God can make even the smallest into something great. The story of Esther brings me hope.”
Her uncle was monstrous. He is guilty of abominable exploitation of a young woman’s personal confusion. But I sympathize with her confusion, and I love the comfort she receives from Esther.
It is her brokenness that allows her to see (and draw hope from) Esther’s brokenness. The person who feels an innate goodness refuses to see God’s heart-changing grace.
(Note: It is common for abused children—and later in life, their adult selves—to feel guilty, as if the abuse was their fault. Guilt feelings do not necessarily equate to real guilt. Those who have experienced such childhood trauma were abused by monsters. I do not want to imply, even in the tiniest way, that the fault was somehow that of the children. The guilt rests with the perpetrator.)
Does God use us because we are born good? Or does God take the most broken—even the most brutalized—and turn us into “possible gods and goddesses that if others saw now, they would be strongly tempted to worship”? (C. S. Lewis, slightly edited)
Where will God receive the most glory; in the natural strength of our intrinsic goodness, or through the majesty of God’s supernatural, transforming grace?
So what about Esther?
Esther lived in an age of brutality beyond my imagining. Hundreds of girls were taken for the king’s harem. Perhaps some saw it as an opportunity, but many must have hated it.
The age was also brutal to men. Every year five hundred boys were taken captive and castrated to serve as eunuchs in the Persian court (Herodotus 3.92).
Scripture never mentions Esther’s inner life. It only describes her behavior. It neither says “She wanted to be queen,” nor says “She loathed the idea.” It only describes her behavior. And what is that behavior?
- Scripture commends Daniel for identifying as a Jew and not defiling himself with unclean food. Esther assimilates and eats all the food provided.
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego resist their king’s command under threat of a fiery death. Esther pleases her king more than all the other virgins of the harem.
- Ezra condemns any Jew who marries a Gentile. Esther loses her virginity in the bed of an uncircumcised Gentile she marries only later, and is crowned queen.
Some say that Esther had no choice; others say she should have resisted to the point of death. Some even say suicide was preferable to allowing that defilement.
How would I have done?
Far, far worse. As a kid I used to wish I had been one of the disciples so I could have been the lone friend who didn’t abandon Jesus. As an adult, I know myself better.
I admire the bravery of the disciples—not of course their “bravery” during the crucifixion—but their bravery in detailing their faults in the Gospels. The Gospels overflow with their ambition, stupidity, and cowardice.
That took guts. Why do you think they wrote the gospels that way?
And something changed in Esther
Esther’s predecessor, Queen Vashti, was banished for defying the king. Esther won the king’s favor by not defying him. Yet the book climaxes when she finally does defy him.
In making her decision she exclaims, “If I perish, I perish.” It reminds me of the men before the fiery furnace who say, “Our God can save us, but even if he doesn’t….”
Why do we want our heroes to have been so good?
Karen Jobes wrote a terrific Commentary on Esther. She says,
“Other than Jesus, even the godliest people of the Bible were flawed, often confused, and sometime outright disobedient. We are no different.”
Let’s not falsely disparage biblical characters, but let’s not ignore their failures either. Because we are no different: flawed, confused, outright disobedient, and proud.
Why do we want our heroes to be better than they really are? Because we think we are better than we really are. We would see more of God’s transforming grace if we spent more time acknowledging our own failures, just like the Bible does of its heroes.
After all, God can raise up inanimate stones to be his righteous ones.
Isn’t it more hopeful (and truer to the gospel) that God’s miraculous, transforming power is wonderfully displayed for all the world when he takes the broken stones we are, dips us into the furnace of his love, and out we come as nuggets of pure gold?
God can make the littlest great; but he can’t use the greatest until we become little.
* Greek translations of Esther add six long “chapters” which scholars identify by letters A through F (to distinguish them from the Hebrew chapters that we number). Section C:26 adds, “[God,] you know I abhor the bed of the uncircumcised,” and C:28 adds, “[I] have not eaten with them at their table.” See this translation of the Greek additions.
To read more about grace and moralism ,see my new book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids. Chapters include:
- Why Do Our Children Leave the Church?
- Graceless Goodness: The Problem with Moralism
- The False Gospel of “Just Do It”
- The Temptations of Christian Publishing
- The Ugliness of Religious Righteousness
- The Insidious Danger of “I’d Never Do That”
- We Read the Bible the Wrong Way
See also: I Wonder If Sunday School Is Destroying Our Kids
Hey Sam we still like to make heroes of deeply flawed individuals them scream when their flaws come out. This is why we scream when we hear of abuses like the SGM scandal or other scandals that are popular today.
It is the ignorance of which you speak of in this post that leads to those deeply honored and help up high heroes that enable some to struggle with passages like James 2 and 1 Corinthians 6. I once had someone ask me “how can you say Paul was a wretched man” to which I replied “I didn’t say it, Paul did”
It is our failure to recognize the weakness, fallibility of our so called heroes that help to create sayings like “Be careful of teaching grace without repentance because some may think it is OK to go on sinning. When someone recently accused me of this my wife replied “So that’s it, I always wondered if you lay awake at night wondering how to be devious.”
Our failures to grasp your main point of this message is what often leads to the faulty thinking that “our faithfulness effects our identity.” When I hear this I am often left with the question if after Abraham pimped out his wife twice did God go “Well I wonder if that Abraham will ever get his act together so that I can carry out the plans I have for him.”
Great points Sam, thanks!
Thanks for your comments. I love your wife’s comment, ” I always wondered if you lay awake at night wondering how to be devious.”
You are absolutely right on. This is an issue of identity. Where do we get it? We are so tempted to get our identity from our natural selves. For some of us, that leads to deep depression; and for some of us that leads to the heights of pride.
We need to learn to get our identity from the cross–and this is both harder and easier than it seems.
The cross says we are so broken that the only sure was the death of the perfect Son of God. That says much about our “natural goodness” and brings humility.
But the cross always says he was glad to do it, that a restored relationship with was brought him joy; that He will look on the fruit of his labor and be satisfied. That brings us unbounded confidence.
But our identity has to be in HIM; not in what we’ve done (good or bad) or haven’t done.
You raise some great points. the more I read the stories of the ancient heros, the more I see the greatness of God’s redemptive power–these people are not as outwardly righteous as I remember (from my Sunday school lessons), yet God uses them anyway–and they trust God, but even when they don’t, God pursues them.
Frankly, I have so much more hope when I see God pursuing people (me) who often run from Him, and often openly rebel.
Is my hope in how good I am or in how good He is?
God help me.
I HAVE tended to believe that Esther was an unwilling, coerced victim of the culture, but I think you’re right: she was surviving, and at some point, her motivation became bigger than herself. At some point, she recognized that she could be a tool in the hand of God.
I have to watch it again, but the Esther of the Veggie Tales always annoyed me with her wimpiness and lack of conviction, but perhaps that’s a more accurate picture than I had previously. Perhaps she WAS just going with the flow. The group Bible studies I have participated in as a young woman tended to gloss over Esther’s personality before her commitment to do what her uncle heavily implied that she should do. At best, we view Esther as “eye candy who took the chance to be more than a Barbie doll.”
I know God deals with us as individuals. As we mature, He calls each of us to commitments and disciplines that he does not require of younger, tenderer believers. And when we let him, he uses our placement in The World to leverage the furthering of His Kingdom.
The most difficult things to teach in Christian circles are about grace versus works. I was teaching about progressive sanctification one time and used Paul as an example of a man who had a problem with bitterness and rage. A former missionary accused me of hating Paul. No, I love God and am convinced that healing and growth are not possible without the Holy Spirit.
And frankly, who cares if you hate Paul or not? 🙂 I think the tendency to focus on works comes from fallen nature and culture, and that grace is so difficult because it doesn’t come from us and it isn’t ours to control. Obedience to the law can be measured. We want the gratification of measurable progress. The process of sanctification isn’t appreciated in our culture–world or church–because we judge based on a moment. It’s an enormously difficult thing to teach to a Body who, by and large, is only skin-deep in maturity. We only appreciate that there IS a progression and a process when we start to go deeper and experience how shallow we ourselves are.
You are so right, grace is hard because we can’t control it.
Someone once said, there are two ways to avoid God: be really bad or be really, really good.
Both are ways of trying to control God, or at least get out of His control.
Your story is hilarious, if not so sad.
It was the disciples themselves who revealed their own weakness. As Paul (that infamous man) says, “His strength is made perfect in our weakness.”
I’m amazed at God’s love for us. I have nowhere near the patience.
If I had been God (thank God I’m not!), after the fall, I would have said, “That’s enough!” and started over again.
But all that does is show my own brokenness.
Thanks for your comment.
And then there is this more ancient, historical view: http://orthodoxyandheterodoxy.org/2013/06/10/should-christians-read-the-book-of-esther/
Thanks for sharing that. The problem is that the Greek versions were written two to three hundred years after the Hebrew versions. Maybe later.
I think they were struggling to make Esther seem better, because we all want our heroes to be better, instead of having to rely on grace (and admitting our own faults).
There is incredible artistic beauty in the Hebrew writing of Esther. It is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God. That was a rhetorical device. I cannot believe the author wrote the entire book and afterward said, “Oops, I forgot to mention God. Oh well. Too late. It’s gone to press.”
No, the beauty of the book is that God’s provision is revealed on every single page–EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO MENTION OF HIM.
As someone once said, “His silence is not absence, and his hiddenness is not impotence.”
i receive great comfort seeing God act so powerfully but also so hiddenly. Sometimes my life feels the same way.
I know I’m about four months late on this discussion, but I wanted to thank you for what God just said through you about the book of Esther, that it wasn’t a mistake, that God can act powerfully behind the scenes. Thank God for that fact, otherwise this life is hopeless! God bless you!
“It’s never too late.” That applies to the gospel, to God’s great work in our lives (look at the thief on the cross, an inspiration to millions in his last breaths on earth).
And it’s true for participating in these discussions!
It’s not just that God “can” act powerfully behind the scenes; that is the way God most often does work.
God’s people needed help; God secretly was training Moses to come at the right moment.
God’s family needed help; God secretly sent Joseph to Egypt to prepare the way to save them from starvation.
God’s nation needed a true, real king; God secretly was training David out with the shepherds.
And God is working in our lives in ways we cannot now imagine.
I agree. The Bible is filled with imperfect folks who God chose anyway. Remember how Moses was a reluctant tool who had killed a man. Jonah tried to hide from God, but God kept after him so he could use him for his purpose. It is a lesson for Christians to understand that God knows we are not perfect, but HE LOVES US ANYWAY.
Great comment. Thanks.
Yes, I had forgotten about murdering and reluctant Moses. Yet one more example of God pursuing us because he loves us, not because we’ve done anything to deserve it.
Laura K. Cowan
It’s the end here that I like the best: the reference to Esther and other Biblical heroes saying “If I perish, I perish,” and “Our God can save us, but even if He doesn’t….” There are so many times I have thought my right choices were meaningful to God because he values obedience, but the only time I really feel and know their meaningfulness is when I manage to decide, “I believe God can save me from this, but if he doesn’t, I still have seen enough to believe he is good.” That is meaningful, because my faith, my heart in relationship, is worth the world to him. That’s what I see in Esther. Not adherence to certain rules and obedience to an authority vs. to God to prove a woman’s character, but a woman who finds her bravery in knowing God can help her and use her, but if that involves her dying so be it.
Thanks, Laura. My daughter and I are in the midst of conversation about legalism vs. relationship, as she moves into adulthood. This is a good summary of my point to her, and also of what she has been coming to understand over the last few months about herself.
What I love most is your line, “I believe God can save me from this, but if he doesn’t, I still have seen enough to believe he is good.”
Exactly! We simply don’t know all that God knows. There are times when it seems like he is blowing it, but … we’ve seen time and again that he comes through in bigger ways than we ever expect.
It gives us hope in all situations.
This is a great article. It really resonates with me because my husband was arrested 16 months ago. It was his rock-bottom and it led him back to Jesus Christ. One of his best friends hired him to do part-time work (my husband had lost his job), but said my husband would have to use an alias and couldn’t tell anyone he was working for this friend, because “If the folks at my church knew I had hired you, they would cut me off and not use my business anymore.”
A church that will not accept a prodigal’s return home–won’t even accept one of their members welcoming a prodigal.
The message of the church today seems to be “clean yourself up and then come and join our fellowship.” It’s appalling.
Oh My Gosh!
I’m happy for you and your husband, that God used rock bottom to bring him to himself.
I’m sorry for how we believers are treating him. It’s not the gospel, and the gospel is not “clean up your act so I [God] can use you.”
The gospel turns worldly wisdom inside out and upside down.
And for that I’m glad, for your sake as well as for mine.
I’m not the one who will throw stones at you for this teaching.
In my experience with Christian leaders, the ones who were the most transparent
about their failings/sin were the ones I admired and learned from the
most. For me it was that I saw myself for the ugly, sinful man that I am
and could identify with another who admitted to the same condition.
I think those who are angry that the Biblical heroes aren’t the paragons of
virtue that they thought they were (by selective neglect in reading the
scriptures about them) protest on one level but really know (or should know) at
some deeper level that they are deeply flawed in similar ways. It’s the
old axiom, “Me thinks he protests too much”. We at least have
to hope these folk see somewhere deep inside who they really are. The
ones who don’t are seriously un-self-examined.
Thanks for putting the unpopular out in the open.
I’m with you. The Christian leaders I respect (and follow) most are also the most transparent. In fact, even though Jesus never sinned (unlike even the best of our leaders) he also was the High Priest who could sympathize with us. He experienced pain, hardships, no place to lay his head, and deep betrayal.
This had to have been written by a man.
Yup. I’m a man.
The point – that people are flawed and God works in spite of that fact is admirable and Scriptural of course. However the Biblical exegesis here leaves a lot to be desired and the article itself shows an overwhelming lack of understanding about ancient (NEA) civilization in general. You get it way wrong on this one buddy. Sorry.
Thanks for entering into this conversation, and thanks for disagreeing. Iron sharpens iron.
I admit I don’t have a PhD in history (or even a Masters), but I did research this before writing.
Please give me some examples of my overwhelming lack of understanding.
I really like your point here that we need to know deeply that we are flawed, that our heroes are flawed, and yet we have been accepted and received by grace. So important and so needed for us to grasp deeply.
However, one comment, or a word on balance for the whole subject. One of the biggest problems I often have with movie adaptations of great books these days is that many of the good, noble characters get dumbed down, their moral strength of character undermined to appear more accessible or “relatable” to the general public. (Think Faramir in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings–case in point.) The “hero” of an average sitcom is generally nothing more than a nincompoop, a coward, a moral slug of a being who is good for nothing more than generating laughter at his own stupidity. As a culture, and particularly my generation, we tend to be very ok with flaunting certain flaws–or at least of flaunting the fact that we don’t strive to be anything more than a selfish moral coward. If my generation has a besetting sin, I would argue that it is sloth, apathy, a general lack of moral strength and courage, and without even a care to have or show anything like moral strength or courage.
I say all this to say, in the balance of your point that we need to realize the failures of biblical heroes in order to see the workings of God’s grace, I think we need to be careful to at the same time not lose a value for heroes of the faith–for holding up what is good and true and excellent. I have a one year old son, not quite into Sunday School yet, but he’ll be there before we know it. And I hope and pray that he knows deeply and firmly that he is saved by grace before all else. However, I also hope that he is inspired by the courage and conviction of Daniel, of Esther, of Moses, because I want him to grow to be a man of strong character, of moral conviction, of courage, ready to make hard decisions and to suffer for what is right. He needs to know that heroes aren’t perfect, but I think he needs to have heroes too, people to be inspired by and to aspire to be like.
I tend to think that our culture is lacking not from an over-awe of heroes–we’ve seen too much corruption up top for that–but from a lack of desire for greatness, for excellence, for selfless courage. So I wonder if there’s not also a place to challenge the commonly held “belief of the heart” that it’s ok to be a selfish coward living an apathetic life with no desire for greatness, to be a “hero of the faith.”
Just a thought.
Terrific, thought provoking response. I don’t have time to do it justice here, but I think you just gave me an idea for a whole series of articles. Thanks.
First, I agree that our culture today lacks admiration for heroes. In fact, the TV stars seem silly, maybe stupid; certainly not heroic. One of C. S. Lewis’s greatest lines is when he criticizes society for belittling courage and then wondering why we have no heroes. It is when he used his famous line, “We castrate the stallion and bid the gelding be fruitful.”
(One of the greatest lines of all time.)
But I also have a concern when we push to hard for the heroic. Because we are appealing to the natural man to be heroic. And what we need is supernatural change, not just natural heroism.
God’s main work is through the supernatural changes he works in us, but most of us (including most believers) simply put their trust in their “natural” character strengths. Some are more naturally “good, ” some more disciplined, some more wise, etc.
God want’s supernatural heart change.
Your blog is a breath of fresh air.
I can see now that Esther’s uncle request for her to intervene was really a reminder that she was in sin and that she would not escape just because she had seduced the King and was part of his Harem. And I think she came face to face with her sinfulness and God’s Grace and chose faith in Him, instead of her own way. The book is really not about her sacrifice for her people, but of her choosing God or her carnal lifestyle, maybe? Thought provoking post.
the more I see the ugliness of each Biblical hero, the more I see how God’s Grace is amazing and I am so not worthy of Him. But Blessed be the Lord, He loves me anyway. 🙂
You got it. It’s the story of God’s Grace; we aren’t worthy of him; but blessed be the Lord; he loves us anyway.
I used to subtitle the Bible: The Book of Condemnation. It took a long time to reach the place to call it: The Book of Redemption. For decades I was under the delusion that we are to be like those heroes. Instead, I have learned that we are to seek after the One who made them heroes…and be transformed in our own brokeness, in our own story. Admitting we are broken, at least for me, is the starting point. The crazy part is that I have come to realize that my life is full of starting points–like every time I try to become a hero…and fail. Virginity can be highly overrated.
Great reclassification of the Bible: The Book of Redemption.
Exactly. That’s why we have to look at the real characters (not our Disney-fication of them) and then see how God redeems.
There is hope for all of us.
There are so many thoughts about this challenging subject you wrote about.
If I understand, being a Christ follower was that we are forgiven of our sins. The word Grace is often used. Where I get loss at is we keep sinning, we keep getting forgiven – I think.
But, like so much in the Bible to me – contradiction is in play. There a scriptures written by Paul that talk about those who do wrong and won’t see the glory of God.
Then he also writes how he still does things that he knows is wrong to do.
So my question is how do you walk in Christ and feel comfortable about it knowing that we are going to sin daily?
If he wanted, God could snap his fingers and make us perfect robots. But God chooses to let his Spirit work in us to change our hearts, little by little, as we come to know his love.
Paul talks about grace so strongly in the beginning of Romans that he finally has to ask, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Of course we aren’t supposed to, intentionally, but if we continue to go to grace, little by little our hearts change–SIMPLY BECAUSE OF KNOWING HIS LOVE.
His love is what changes us.
I really appreciate your website Sam… in reference to Irene and her husband who was arrested, someone said, “as Christians, we are the only army who shoot their wounded”
OUCH! “We are the only army who shoot their wounded.”
It’s a wonder any are left.
I agree, Sam, on the flawed-ness of Bible characters, and the lack of comment on it–the simple portrayal of it AS-IS. Four women are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus–Tamar, who seduces Judah by portraying a prostitute (and committing adultery in the act) to get pregnant with twins; Rahab, whom THE MESSAGE calls “the Jericho harlot” (in the book of James), who uses her reputation as a harlot to entertain the 2 spies and help them escape; Ruth, a foreigner who becomes part of the chosen people by possibly questionably use of her charm to capture the attentions of Boaz (her sleeping at his feet); and Bathsheba, “who had the wife of Uriah the Hittite,” not even mentioned by name, clearly to shine light on the absolute integrity of another foreigner as juxtaposed against the treachery of both his wife and his king.
Consider also two other women (not to cast aspersion on women–God knows the men were often far worse!) mentioned in the Bible with less-than-perfect actions: 1) Rachel, who steals her father’s idols, chooses not to tell Jacob (who jeopardizes his precious wife’s life by vowing that anyone caught with them will die), and hides them in saddlebags she sits on, claiming her period (a huge irony here–“gods” who can only be protected by a woman’s uncleanness!); and 2) Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, who kills the commander Sisera by granting him sanctuary in their tent and then driving a tent-peg through his temple as he sleeps–questionable at best, considering the Middle Eastern position on hospitality.
The moral: God uses what we give Him, as we are. And ultimately, He gets the glory for using weak and broken vessels.
Good observations on your part, Sam! Keep it up!
I love your closing line: “He gets the glory for using weak and broken vessels.” Yes.
And he turns us into valuable treasures.
suzannah | the smitten word
Abusers groom their victims into that exact kind of confusion, and a child of sixteen *cannot* consent to sex with an adult. The woman whose story you share (with her permission, I hope!) was NOT complicit in her own rape and abuse by a family member who should have been her protector. Not at all. Not ever.
Thanks for your comments. I appreciate what you say. I used the same arguments when I spoke with her. But she caught me off guard.
She said that she has gone through deep therapy and deep personal examination of her heart. She asked me to respect and honor her own thoughtfulness and not to project onto her all the things I’ve heard from other victims.
And she found great comfort in the true story of Esther; that God loves her and can use her despite any way she might have been complicit.
I find in that the story of grace.
suzannah | the smitten word
it sounds like the story of shame, deception, patriarchy, and a blatant disregard for laws which prohibit a child of sixteen from consenting to sex with any adult, least of all a relative. what happened to her wasn’t sex at all but rape, incest, and child sexual abuse. i feel sick.
I don’t think you are allowing this woman to be healed. She has said that she recognizes a small part of her that was complicit. She recognizes everything you ahve said. all true, but are you saying she is lying about being inspired by Ruth’s story? Who are you to say? God’s saving grace is the ultimate healer. She claimed it, and he heard her. Thanks be to God.
Thank you for your comments. I agree with you.
I spoke with the woman for over an hour. At first I told her it was wrong that she felt complicit. And then she put me in my place!
She asked me to consider this: she had spent over ten years in counseling, she had spent thousands of hours praying and talking and sharing, she was in small groups of abused women, and now she helps other abused women.
She asked me to honor her in that she has considered her life far more in depth than I have. And if she says there is a tiny bit that is complicit, I should listen to her much more than she should listen to me.
She was right. I shut up. And I listened.
And then she shared how Esther’s story gives her hope, and I too grew in hope.
As you say, thanks be to God!
suzannah | the smitten word
don’t put words in my mouth.
suzannah | the smitten word
don’t put words in my mouth. i accused a child sexual abuse survivor of nothing. it’s this post, alleging victim complicity in rape and tying it to “biblical” teaching that i find to be unconscionable, abuse enabling, and wholly dishonoring to God and those created in his image.
I just found your blog site and read this article in conjunction with the article on bad Sunday school teaching. What a breath of fresh air! Thank you for honesty in your approach to the Bible and for your obviously deep appreciation for the Old Testament.
About four years ago I had a small group of middle school-aged young men in our church who had no background whatsoever in the Bible. I started them in Genesis, and for about two years led them in a slow walk through the Bible–with all the moral ambiguities–showing the redemptive theme. No question was out of bounds. When something came up, we would discuss it in biblical context.
Because they lacked any upbringing in the Sunday school culture, they had lacked any concept of any sacred/profane distinction. They asked the most penetrating questions anyone has presented in all my years as a teacher. By the time we reached Genesis 29-30, where Jacob’s polygamous marriages shredded his already damaged family (I called the section “The Baby Wars”), the guys loved it. Their comments and questions show their understanding of the passage.
“If Jacob didn’t like Leah, should he have to love her?”
“If they showed everything, this would have an X-rating.”
“A lot of people criticize the truth of the Bible, but this is too realistic not to be true.”
They got the picture.
Tragically, one of the mothers yanked her two sons from the class because she wanted them to have interaction with a larger youth group. The class dissolved after that. None of my young men was saved, but they received Bible teaching the way the Bible intended. They witnessed redemptive history every Sunday. This was the beginning of their discipleship, and God willing, he will complete their journey to the faith.
Your class sounds like a model of how Sunday school classes should be. I love your “no question was out of bounds” approach.
I wish more classes were run with that approach.
People don’t get it. The Bible IS real; and approaching it realistically–as it itself is real–is the only way we’ll understand God and get his understanding of (and grace for) us.
Thanks for sharing and I hope you comment more.
Sam, are you still there? You didn’t let the trolls eat you, did you? I miss hearing from your heart. I can’t possibly be the only one. Come back, soon.
If you’re going to judge Esther as wanting ‘it’, then you need to do the same to Daniel, Joseph, Ezekiel, Isaiah and anyone else taken captive. They wanted what the pagans offered. Well first of all, you can’t take today’s cultural standards to judge historical events. You haven’t brought in any cultural or historical facts, just the claim that Esther was a woman who wanted the sex and the power. Really??? Did you know that in 480BC a woman had absolutely no choice at all to say no to any man who was over her? Esther did what she did b/c she had no choice. A woman especially a slave had no rights at all. for Esther, the second woman to say no, might have led to the death of many women in Persia as well as the death of her uncle. You can’t just say why didn’t Esther say no when you have no clue as to the cultural demands of women in 480BC. You’re basically saying Esther should have been a 2014 woman and say NO! Well, look what happened to Vashti. She was exiled. A slave would have been executed along with the other female slaves. That’s a lot of blood. ARe you sure you really want that for a history lesson?
Also in Esther 2 it says that Mordecia had been giving her instructions along the way. How do you know the uncle didn’t say to her, now just do whatever they say and do whatever the king asks of you, as a means of protecting her and him?
Also what the king did in selecting another wife was basically normal life. You never say to the king, never. She grew up with this and knew the consequences of saying No. The king’s law was law, period, and Esther’s uncle would have suffered the consequences as well as all the women in the kingdom.
I think you need to go back and do your homework and at least do a study on the cultural society of slaves in Persia 480BC and women’s none-rights before standing in judgment of Esther and claiming she wanted ‘it’. Very irresponsible writing.
My point is to say that God doesn’t choose us because of innate goodness; he chooses us because he chooses us.
As Romans 9:10-12 says, “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad —in order that God ‘s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
Too many people teach the moralism of, “Be good so God will love you.” Meanwhile scripture is filled with examples of people who aren’t good, but God loves and chooses them anyway…and THEN they become good.
If you don’t like my example of Esther, I don’t wish to push it more on you. But look at Abraham (an idolater), David (Adulterer and murderer), Rahab (prostitute), and all the disciples (who bravely show their mistakes on every page of the gospels).
Thanks for sharing,
holy crap…my jaw literally dropped open upon reading this. i cannot believe anyone would believe that a young girl who was forcefully taken/stolen/kidnapped from her home and family, imprisoned and prepared for a year to be raped by a lust-filled, power monger king is guilty of adultery! are you kidding me?! i’m absolutely dumbfounded by this. yes, God uses and redeems broken people but Esther did not choose for any of that to happen to her and in the midst of an awful living situation God used her to save His people. complicit in her own rape? oh.my.word.
We see to what absurd practices those came, who were destitute of Divine revelation, and what need there was of the gospel of Christ, to purify men from the lusts of the flesh, and to bring them back to the original institution of marriage. Esther was preferred as queen. Those who suggest that Esther committed sin to come at this dignity, do not consider the custom of those times and countries. Every one that the king took was married to him, and was his wife, though of a lower rank.
Hi “My name is Rods,”
I really love Matthew Henry. I’m glad you do too.
Henry’s comment says that people often live within their cultural age (although sometimes it’s wrong). I agree.
Matthew Henry too lived in his cultural age. He lived in an age of moralism, believing God choose to work with good people like Esther. Or you or me. It’s just not biblical.
Scripture continually points to God’s working in people who do not deserve it. This is our HOPE not our condemnation. If God works in people who do not deserve it (like the disciples, Paul, King David), then, perhaps, God will work in us too.
Is the message of the gospel, “God works with the good” or is the message of the gospel, “God works with broken humans and breaks into their hearts”?
Which bring humility and which bring pride?
“For you do not delight in sacrifice, and you are not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you do not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)
You don’t even know what adultery is. And where does it say that Esther was not married to this man, who called her his queen? The definition of adultery in Deuteronomy is clearly a married woman sleeping with a man. Not a married man sleeping with a woman that is fornication or whoring. If adultery was just sleeping around and why did they use the word fornicating or whoring? He could not put a law in our instructions that says a man cannot sleep with more than one woman because he allowed polygamy. Everything was planned out by the father. Esther was only being humble wife to this man. Do you suggest that because they did not have a marriage ceremony they were not married. First of all just because we don’t see the marriage ceremony doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. Second of all show me along in the book where a ceremony has to take place. There is never a command ceremony. There are certain laws that have to be followed but you have to read the instructions to figure that one out. Have to ask the father from us as well we give away the bri there is never a command of a ceremony. There are certain laws that have to be followed but you have to read the instructions to figure that one out. You have to ask the father’s permission that’s why we give away the bride. It is supposed to be the father’s duty to give away his daughter to her husband. You also have to pay a dowery for a virgin. There also has to be a covenant between the two, the husband-and-wife, and then the consummation finalizes the marriage. You can see these examples with Isaac and Rebekah.
Excellent excellent truth and insight! I was sooo blessed by this article!
Wow, Sam you certainly became the “damnable object” of several other’s self doubts and fears. I know you are O.K. with anyone criticizing your works, and condemning you at the same time. This I why I so appreciate both you and Donald Trump You remain faithful to your calling as a writer. Because Donald Trump, in the face of criticism, both deserved and undeserved, remains faithful to his calling as President of The United States.
I really liked you comment near the end of your article on Bible Heroes:’Isn’t it more hopeful (and truer to the gospel) that God’s miraculous, transforming power is wonderfully displayed for all the world when he takes the broken stones we are, dips us into the furnace of his love, and out we come as nuggets of pure gold?
God can make the littlest great; but he can’t use the greatest until we become little.”
So true. I think it makes a much better story (and a more realistic story – truth, NOT fiction) when we recognize the failings of the hero’s or heroines and particularly even take a position which is Politically Incorrect (all women are sinless and are never complicent in any scurrulous activity). Tell that to Mata Hari. She was certainly used and abused by the Dutch, the French and the Germans. She certainly had connections in all camps. She also made an excellent living by exploiting her good looks and became famous. Then she was executed as a spy with little proof. Was she complicent in any of it? That would be another story for another time. Wouldn’t it Sam?
Thank you for sharing this. I’m up early reading Esther and had some questions. This gives me hope–God uses imperfect people. But then, which one of us truly is perfect? (except Jesus:)
I completely agree with you: Esther’s story gives me hope.