Sunday, July 24, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 8: The Facts about Hebrew Narrative

Our easily stunned commentator, Deffinbaugh, quoted in Part 6, asked the following second question:
(2) "Why is prayer never specifically mentioned in the book?"   
This also sounds like a damning flaw in the literary work.  But it also sounds a little like the first thing the Serpent said in Genesis, designed to instill doubt and a kind of excited panic.

But lets look around a little before declaring the sky might be falling:
"But, for many readers [of Esther], the story's canonical context - the way it invites comparison between Esther and Moses or Daniel, for example, - invites also the possibility that we should think of an unseen God of Israel at work 'behind the scenes' in the narrative.  Textual support is often claimed in Mordecai's cryptic words to Esther that if she stays quiet 'deliverance will stand up for the Jews from another place' (Esther 4:14).  
This mode of reasoning is similar to a 'providential' reading of Ruth - so that Ruth's 'chancing to chance' upon the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:3) is viewed not, indeed, as 'chance' but as the doing of YHWH. 
Yet the only action of YHWH explicitly recounted by the narrator in the whole story is YHWH's gift of conception to Ruth at the very end (Ruth 4:13)." 
 - Gunn & Fewell, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford, 1993)

Again we have confirmed that Esther is hardly unique in its oblique and indirect reference to YHWH.   But even more interesting is the second claim about the book of Ruth:   We get the impression that like Esther, Ruth is lacking appropriate references to God, presumably including prayers.  
But as is typical in scholarly commentary, the description and impression left by the commentary is actually miles away from the text itself!  Every argument sounds clinching and 100% true of course, until we hear the other side! 

Turning to Ruth, we are confronted with an immediate prayer from Naomi for her daughters in law:
"May the LORD [YHWH] deal kindly with you,
as ye have dealt with the dead, and also with me.
The LORD grant that ye may find rest,
each in the house of her husband." (Ruth 1:8-9)
Ruth suddenly doesn't seem like the 'Godless and secular narrative' we expected!  At least one character prays openly for her kin, before we even get out the door.   Even when enduring deep grief and hardship, our Naomi stoically attributes her misfortune to YHWH:
"the hand of the LORD has gone out against me." (Ruth 1:13)
Nor has the topic of the God of Israel even gotten started before we are treated to the most moving and profound statement about the LORD in the entire Bible, from the youngest character in the story:
"Do not plead with me to leave you,
or turn back from following you!
For wherever you go, I will go:
and where you stay I will stay.
Your people shall be my people,
and your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried:
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
if anything but death parts me and you!" (Ruth 1:16-18)
There is probably nothing more dramatic and heart-gripping than this in the whole OT, other than the overwhelming revealing of Joseph to his brothers, and the shock of Jacob in Genesis 45, "Joseph is yet alive! (Gen. 45:26)

What we learn from these stunning discoveries is that nothing can be more misleading than a scholarly commentary, or more eye-opening than the text itself.  We must constantly be on guard not to let others do our thinking, and our checking for us.

It is likewise in the book of Esther regarding prayer:  Nothing could be absolutely more clinching and slap-in-the-face obvious than these two critically important portions:
'When Mordecai perceived all that had been done, he tore his clothes, and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the middle of the city, and wailed with a loud and bitter cry.' ...
'And in every province, wherever the King's commandment and decree came, there was a great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.' (Esther 4:1-3)
One has to wonder just how stupid, or how maliciously misdirecting a commentator has to be, to suggest that 'prayer is not specifically mentioned' in the book of Esther.  And really, just consider the ludicrousness of the assertion:
What uneducated fool, what unknowing island native, would not, upon seeing a large gathering of Jews anywhere in the world, fasting, weeping, wearing sackcloth and wailing, - would not interpret the scene as heart-rending prayer?

Deffinbaugh and his ilk need to be publicly ridiculed for such nonsense as this, as a deterrent to future historical revisionists.

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