The feast of Purim is upon us. As I reread the oft told tale of Esther in 2017, I begin to see it with new eyes. The story opens with a King, full of pride for his riches and accomplishments. First, he spends half a year parading his splendor before the nobles and rulers of the land. Then, he throws a big party for all who dwelt in the capital city, from the greatest to the least.
His queen, Vashti, throws a separate feast for the women of the palace. This is the first volley. At some point during the seven days, the king demands that his queen be brought before him in her golden crown. She refuses. The king gets mad. There seems to be a bit of a power struggle going on in this marriage. The king’s advisors get involved, and Vashti is banished, and a decree sent out that all women should honor their husbands.
Later, the king thinks about all this and starts missing Vashti. The king’s servants order beautiful young virgins to be gathered into the Citadel at Susa.
This is where a captive Israelite girl named Hadassah gets roped into the king’s relational woes. She is already a person without rights in the citadel of Susa, now she is one of many women who will undergo a year of beauty treatments and be paraded through the kings bed. One he will crown, the rest he will keep as concubines.
Hadassah, renamed Esther, wins the crown through a combination of beauty, discretion and wisdom. Make no mistake here though, she is a queen but no ruler. She comes and goes at the king’s pleasure, under penalty of death. She is a commoner who has been elevated, but not too high, and only at the benevolence of the King. When Mordecai makes his famous request of Esther, at the most crucial moment, she had not been called before the king for 30 days.
The rest of the story is a roller coaster of the king being swayed by bad advisors and God giving grace to and exalting the humble. The lives of the Jewish people are literally sold by the king to Haman, to be destroyed. In the end, through Providence, Mordecai’s wit, and Esther’s courage, the Jews are not annihilated and we have the feast of Purim.
This story brings to mind another tale of a king choosing a bride from among the commoners, but this tale is much different. It is found in the Song of Solomon.
Solomon, the wealthiest king of Israel, falls in love with a shepherd girl. She is known only as a Shulamite, a diminutive that is not her hometown, but a nickname identifying her with Solomon. She is lovely, but not because of years of captive beauty treatments. Solomon finds her roaming freely with her flocks in the countryside, tanned dark by the sun. Her calls her “my sister, my spouse”, elevating her to a place equal to his own.
They love freely and unashamedly, as the first lovers did before the fall. Each night they long for the break of day, when shadows will flee away and they can be together once more. He appears at her door, calling her to come away with him. Several refrains repeat throughout this song, one of which is; “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine”. This relationship differs from the one Esther shared with her “king”.
The thing that really blows my mind about Solomon’s Song is that it is taken as allegory about God’s love for Israel and the church. Christ’s love for His Bride. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that the great king of heaven and earth brings commoners to sit with him on his throne. That the Firstborn of Many would claim us as His own–as brothers and sisters and co-heirs of his kingdom.
By right, and under the law, we have no claim to this throne. No right to come. We, like that captive Israelite girl, serve at the King’s pleasure. It only makes sense that we should clean ourselves up first, spend years and tears making ourselves acceptable to him. Yet He loved us, called us lovely and His own, when we were a our worst. He sees us in our distraction and says “you have doves eyes”, eyes that see only Him.
This is the prophecy of marriage. This is the prophecy of the church. That we, wretched as we are, have been raised to thrones. What is this life that we have been called to? How much greater could this Cinderella story be than I have allowed? As I meditate on this today I am reminded of passages from Romans and Hebrews, of stories of slave women and free, of first and second Adams. Here lie thoughts and things too wonderful for me that elude me, looming at the fringes of my comprehension…to wife a King indeed!