It has been said that Martin Luther hated the Book of Esther, "a document which permits no Christological interpretation because it is a purely Jewish historical narrative."1
For those with ears to hear, the Book of Esther does have what could be called a "Christological interpretation," though it is an interpretation with which many Christians will not be happy. Martin Luther would certainly not like it, because it is an interpretation that speaks of the Church's shameful treatment of the Jewish people throughout history.
THE PLAYERS & TYPES
There are four main characters in the Book of Esther. First, there is King Ahasuerus, a king in search of a bride. Second, there is Esther the Jewess, chosen to be queen from among all the hopeful brides-to-be. Third, there is Mordecai, a proud Jew who works in the king's palace. Unknown to the king's court, Mordecai is Esther's elder cousin, who raised Esther during her childhood. Last, there is Haman, the king's chief servant. Though Haman faithfully carries out his duties, he is a wicked man, and eventually becomes obsessed with a desire to see Mordecai bow down to him, something that proud Mordecai refuses to do.
The events that transpire in the lives of these four people present a prophetic picture of the nineteen-hundred-year-old relationship between Jews and Christians. The king, of course, represents King Messiah, God's authority on earth (Mat. 28:18). Queen Esther represents the faithful remnant of believers, separated from the nations and chosen to be the King's bride. She abides under the King's authority and remains in His care. Haman is a picture of corrupted, paganized, anti-Jewish Christianity that was conceived and developed in the womb of the Gentile Church and eventually gave birth to the Holocaust. Mordecai typifies all the Jews throughout history who refused to bow down to corrupted, paganized, Gentile Christianity.
This is a Christological interpretation that many Christians will find hard to swallow. It is bitter medicine to see that the Church has often been the villain in Jewish-Christian relations, but it must be swallowed if the Church is to be cured of its chronic anti-Semitism and the spiritual blindness this disease causes. It is true that the Jewish people need to be healed of their spiritual blindness regarding the Messiah Yeshua. But until the Church is healed of its spiritual blindness, it cannot hope to lead Jews to their Messiah. At best, it will be the blind leading the blind.
THE CHURCH AND THE JEWS
Let us look at Haman and Mordecai and see how their actions reflect the action of the Church and the Jews over the past nineteen centuries.
Haman was originally beloved and chosen by the king and, for a season, faithfully served his king. But when Mordecai refused to honor Haman's authority (and the king had, indeed, commanded everyone to bow to Haman), his pride was wounded. "And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath" (Est. 3:5). Though Haman continued to do the king's will in other areas, his hatred of Mordecai blinded him to the knowledge of the king's will concerning Mordecai and the people of Mordecai.
Such has been the history of the Gentile Church. The Church has produced many wonderful, godly saints throughout history, but when it comes to dealing with Jewish people, most Christians know little of God's will and plan for Israel.
Ignoring Paul's warning to "boast not against the [natural] branches" (Rom. 11:18), Christians have not only boasted against the branches, but often trampled them underfoot. All too often Christians have acted in blind rage, like Haman did. It is little wonder that Jews have refused to recognize the Church's God-given authority.
Even when Haman was experiencing honor and favor in the king's court, he was unable to enjoy it:
Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai (Est. 5:9).
When Haman boasted to his friends about his wealth, power, and prestige in the king's palace, he added "yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate" (Est. 5:13).
Haman's frustration with Mordecai's refusal to bow down is still echoed by some Christians today. In 1990 a Jewish reporter in Israel interviewed John Strugnell, a Catholic who was at that time the chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the interview Strugnell called Judaism "a horrible religion" and described himself as "an anti-Judaist." When asked what annoyed him about Judaism, Strugnell replied, "The fact that it has survived when it should have disappeared. ... You [Jews] are a phenomenon that we haven't managed to convert—and we should have managed."2 Strugnell should not be labeled a Twentieth-Century Haman, but his remarks are ominously similar to Haman's complaint.
When Haman complained about Mordecai, Haman's wife and friends offered a suggestion:
Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and tomorrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon. ... And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made (Est. 5:14).
Following Haman's example, the Gentile Church constructed a "theological gallows," i.e., a religious system to justify torturing, burning, and hanging Jews on literal gallows. The Church constructed a gallows that not only accepted and accommodated anti-Semitism, but actually encouraged it. Volumes have been written on the Christian roots of anti-Semitism and all the atrocities that the Church inflicted on the Jewish people for their refusal to convert to Gentile Christianity.
The ironic thing in the story of Haman's madness is this: while Haman's plan to eliminate Mordecai was progressing, he was compelled by the king to publicly honor Mordecai! The strange turn of events that brought this episode about can be read in the sixth chapter of Esther. Haman, a man filled with murderous hatred for Mordecai the Jew, was ordered to dress Mordecai in the king's finest apparel, crown him with the king's crown, mount him on the king's best steed, and lead him through the streets while proclaiming, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honor!"
This is a perfect picture of how the anti-Semitic Church has been forced, by divine circumstances, to publicly acknowledge that a special blessing of God rests upon the Jewish people. Even Martin Luther, one of the most notorious anti-Semitic Church leaders in history, was forced to admit this:
Though we boast of rank, we must admit that we are but of pagan stock while the Jews are of the blood of Christ. ... The Glory came from them, not us.3
Unfortunately, most of what Luther said about the Jews vilified them. Even though they are "of the blood of Christ," Luther considered Jews "just devils and nothing more."4 He once said that if a Jew came to him for baptism, he would "tie a millstone about his neck and cast him into the river in the name of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."5 Statements such as these were used by Nazis to justify the extermination of the Jews. The Nazi Striecher actually quoted from Luther's writings to defend himself at the Nuremberg War Crime trials.6
Luther should not receive all the credit for Christian anti-Semitism, however. He was merely building on the foundation that had been laid by Christian leaders centuries before him—Christian leaders, such as Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and many others. These men were probably just repeating what they had been taught, and it would be unfair to vilify them as Luther vilified the Jews. But the Christian roots of anti-Semitism must be exposed if the Church and the Jews are to be reconciled.
One of the saddest forms of anti-Semitism has been the anti-Semitism that the Church has directed at Jews who have come to believe in Yeshua. This form of anti-Semitism does not seek to harm or destroy the Jew's physical life—he is, after all, a "Christian Jew." Therefore anti-Semitism must take a more subtle form, that of destroying his so-called "Jewish identity." This consists of pressuring the Jewish believer to completely abandon anything that might outwardly identify him as a Jew. This rules out the practice of such things as Sabbath-keeping, holy days, and dietary laws.
During medieval times the Church required Jewish converts to take oaths before baptism. In these pre-baptismal oaths, the Jew had to renounce the Sabbath, the holy days, and promise not to shun swine's flesh.7 History tells of an earlier event, in 333 AD, in which Jewish believers, "while they were leaving the church on Easter day, were forced to eat pork under pain of death."8 The writer adds, "We know how the Judaeo-Christians refused this in order not to transgress the Mosaic law to which they held they were bound."9
Like Haman, the Church mistakenly thought that it had the King's approval and blessing to destroy all the Jews and anything considered "Jewish." What Haman did not realize was that Mordecai was "the man whom the king delighted to honor," and that Esther, the king's chosen bride, was Jewish. What the paganized Gentile Church has not realized is that the Jews, even in their unbelief, are still God's chosen people.
Why did the king delight to honor Mordecai? Before Haman's promotion to the position of chief servant, Mordecai had overheard a plot to kill the king. Mordecai exposed this plot and saved the king's life, thereby preserving the king's reign, rule, and authority on earth. Throughout history, it was the Jews who preserved God's reign, rule, and authority on earth. Even though most Jews, like Mordecai, have ignored the authority bestowed on the Church, they are still "beloved for the fathers' sake" (Rom. 11:28).
Ironically, the gallows Haman had built for Mordecai became the instrument of Haman's death:
And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, 'Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai. ...' Then the king said, 'Hang him thereon.' So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai (Est. 7:9f).
What is the key to ending Christian anti-Semitism? The gallows Haman built for Mordecai became the instrument of Haman's death, but only after Harbonah pointed it out. The anti-Jewish, anti-Torah theology that the Church has developed over the centuries needs to be exposed for just what it is: a devil-inspired instrument to justify the destruction of the Jewish people.
When the Holy Spirit, like Harbonah, speaks and points out this fact, those Gentile believers who truly love God will experience a glorious release from the bewitching influence of centuries-old anti-Jewish, anti-Torah, paganized Christianity, and will have a clearer understanding of what true Christianity is supposed to be. Just as the people standing around King Ahasuerus heard him say, "Hang Haman up there," so Christians with ears to hear will hear their King say, "Take that anti-Jewish, anti-Torah theology and hang it up!"
According to one lexicon, the name Harbonah means "ass driver" in Persian.10 Sometimes we who are subjects of God's Kingdom make asses of ourselves. At such times, the Holy Spirit must be an "ass driver" and goad us and break us of our stubbornness and independence. Those who refuse to hang up this defective theology may find themselves "kicking against the goads" (See Acts 9:15).
After Haman's death, it is written that "many people of the land became Jews" (Est. 8:17). This is not to suggest that Christians convert to rabbinical Judaism, and reject Yeshua, God's Messiah. Christians should, however, abandon paganized Christianity, which rejects those elements of the Torah which the Church has conveniently labeled "Jewish," and, by implication, obsolete.
When Christians hang up their anti-Jewish, anti-Torah theology, and realize they are grafted into the same olive tree, they will figuratively speaking, "become Jews." This does not mean they replace those who are Jews in the flesh; it simply means that by their faith in Yeshua, they are no longer "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" (Eph. 2:12). Thus there can be "one faith" (Eph. 4:5) practiced by both Jewish and non-Jewish believers. Then the Scripture will be fulfilled: "For he [Yeshua] is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us" (Eph. 2:14).
Jewish and non-Jewish believers must become one faith in practice, not just in theory. Christian anti-Semitism will be crucified on its own gallows as Jewish and non-Jewish believers together rediscover "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Then there will be, as on that first Purim celebration, "days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor" (Est. 9:22).
1 Arnold Ages, rev. of The Jewish Bible After the Holocaust: A Rereading, Emil Fackenheim, The Jerusalem Post International Edition, 10 August 1991, p. 16, col. 5. For some of Luther's remarks about Esther, see Emil Fackenheim, The Jewish Bible After the Holocaust, (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1990), 60, 90f, 117-8n.
2 Avi Katzman, "Strugnell Denounces Judaism," Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 1991, 64f.
3 "The Jewish Mystique," The Chosen People, 1990, 3.
4 Shlomo Hizak, Building or Breaking (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center For Biblical Studies and Research, 1985), 31.
5 Ibid., 30.
6 Ibid., 31.
7 David A. Rausch, Messianic Judaism (LewisTown, NY: The Edwin Mellin Press, 1982), 16f.
8 Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1971). 13f.
10 William Gesenius, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Edward Robinson (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1844), 347.
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