Esther: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Hardcover – 31 Aug 2002
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About the Author
Carol M. Bechtel is Professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. She is the author of Life After Grace, Glimpses of Glory, and Esther in the Interpretation commentary series, all published by WJK.
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The commentary is directed primarily to Christians, and to Protestants specifically. She raises an interesting point that Christians who "get their Scripture" solely from the lessons that are read aloud as part of Sunday services, are only exposed to a reading from Esther once every three years: Esther 7:1-6,9-10; 9:20-22. This clearly is not the best way to experience a book of the Bible that is a cleverly constructed "novella" with exciting characters, court intrigues, and dizzying plot reversals. She encourages Christians to imitate Jews by reading the book repeatedly, aloud, and in its entirety. As Bechtel points out, "It is a book, after all, about the struggle to be faithful in the midst of an increasingly unfaithful culture. It is a story of courage, faith, and deliverance. It is the story of men and women working together with a God who is not always obvious, but who is always gracious."
To use this commentary most effectively, you need to have a copy of the New Revised Standard Version Bible (preferrably with the Apocrypal/Deuterocanonical books) since the biblical text is not printed in the commentary. You do not need any knowledge of Hebrew (or Greek), however. Where an understanding of the Hebrew is essential, Bechtel provides clear explanations. One example, her explanation of how the Hebrew words for "enslavement" and "destruction" are homophones, serves as a very plausible explanation of why the King could have been so easily duped into signing a death warrant for the Jewish people.
Although Bechtel presents the shorter, Hebrew version of Esther as the "best text," she does examine the Additions to Esther (those passages that are found only in the Greek and Latin versions of the text) in a brief Appendix.
The result is that you step away from this commentary with a better understanding of the book of Esther, but that knowledge is not necessarily preachable on Sunday morning. I finished this commentary still asking myself, “So what does this all mean—what’s the big picture?” Many of points made in this volume do not go further than what one may find in footnotes if a typical study Bible (e.g., the Zondervan NASB).
Furthermore, after the Introduction, Esther Interpretation repeatedly re-describes events as opposed to extracting meaning from the text itself. Resultantly the “interpretation” is lacking. As a general example, there is a lack of cross-reference to larger Biblical themes and stories (e.g., the many similarities in Ester’s story with that of Joseph). As a specific example, in the discussion of Esther’s three-day total fast (5:1-8; pg. 51-54), there is a complete absence of discussion on the significance of fasting, Jewish identity and communal obedience in pursuit of a common cause, and the literary omission of God in execution of these activities as rhetorical device that points directly to Yahweh.
What this book does do well is construct a map (literally and figuratively: pg. 6) that highlights the great reversals and symmetry in the narrative. Also, the main commentary is based upon the Masoretic text (MT) that is found in standard Protestant Bibles. The Appendix contains a commentary on the Apocryphal additions to Esther. The linguistic analysis of the words for “destruction” and “kill” is also quite helpful.
I have read over 15 books in the Interpretation Series and while the series in general is very solid, in my opinion, this volume falls a bit short where others have excelled. As with the other books in the series, this is not a word-for-word technical commentary. Esther Interpretation is short (<100 pages), easy to get through and written on a very accessible level.
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