Jim asked me why I use typology to rule my theology rather than a “plain reading” of the texts. I generally do not believe that a plain reading of any texts exist, so we need to find a larger narrative that explains the biblical data in a coherent way. I think we worship a God who works in recognizable narratives and patterns, so recognizing and explaining these patterns are the key to unlocking some mysterious passages in the Scriptures. I’ll apply this to Esther’s two dinners with Ahasuerus, explaining the reason that Esther approached Ahasureus twice to ask for permission. I think that understanding the patterns laid out in the Bible help illuminate this potentially strange action.
A little background is necessary, first: Persia was a designated guardian kingdom, set to watch Israel while she waited for her full restoration under the Messiah. Babylon was the first guardian kingdom, Daniel’s lion with eagle’s wings. Though Nebuchadnezzar repented and followed the Jewish god and his precepts, his successors eventually stopped being faithful as the Jews did. The second beast, the bear with three ribs in his mouth, is the Persian empire, appointed to take control of God’s people due to the failure of Babylon. Persia is led by Messianic Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), who lets the dispersed Jews return to the land and rebuild the temple. James Jordan suggests that these ribs can be taken as the three Israelites in Persia’s court: Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah. It is not important to push this point too far. It is important to note that God appointed Persia as a means to protect Israel outside of the land as long as Israel is faithful to Yahweh in the midst of the foreign gods.
The problem is that the Jews in Persia are becoming idolatrous again. Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, is named after the Babylonian god Marduk. He suggests that Esther hide her Jewish identity, limiting her ability to witness to the nations. Remember, Esther does not mention God at all. Ahasuerus symbolically takes the place of God in the book. After his original marriage failed him, when Vashti stands against his decree, the king searches for another wife. Ahasuerus’s search leads him to look among the nations and settle on a Jew, Esther. This reminds us of El Elyon’s adoption of Israel instead of the nations of the world (Deuteronomy 32:8-9).
Mordecai’s refusal to bow before Haman causes a national crisis (whether this was right of him or not is not in question here). There is now a plan in place to destroy all of the Jews who remained behind: all Jews are now under the threat of death by a foreign empire. Mordecai now turns to Esther to risk her life by appearing to the king and asking him for mercy for her people. This is where it is important to note the symbolism and how it helps us understand the story: the Jews are under the threat of death under the rule of a foreign governor. They need a king sympathetic to their god, a prophet who can intercede for them, and a priest who can atone for the sins of Mordecai and the rebellious people.
Ahasureus’s palace is described in terms similar to the temple (Esther 1:4-7). In chapter 5, we find the king sitting on his throne in the throne room. This reminds us of God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Understanding the Day of Atonement is the key to understanding what’s going on in Esther. Esther is the Priest-Queen of the people, who suffers for three days of fasting and risks death by approaching the king without his permission. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies twice: once to purify himself and a second time to purify the people. He enters surrounded by an incense-glory-cloud so that the cloud blocks him from seeing God and dying. Revelation says that the prayers of the saints are a form of incense-glory-cloud that surrounds their priestly ministry as they operate under the altar before God. Esther asks her people to fast and pray for her for three days, and these prayers are the glory cloud that surround Esther as she approaches the king on his throne. She asks him for a meal, guaranteeing his favor toward her specifically. She approaches the throne a second time to ask for the salvation of her people. The decree of death is overturned and God’s people are given tools and permission to fight back and defend themselves and destroy the kingdom of evil. (I also think this is when Persia began its descent before Greece took over as the next beastly-protection kingdom.)
Understanding the symbolic pattern of the Bible is not about guessing at symbols in a way to decode some secret meaning. Understanding patterns in the Bible unlock meaning in a way that builds off the last event. Because they are patterns, they help us understand things along the way, too. The double ascent of the priest sheds light on Daniel 7 where the one like the Son of Man ascends twice. Jesus ascends twice: once on the cross and again in the ascension. The one like the Son of Man ascends twice: once in Jesus’ ascension and the second time when the people of God take the throne in Revelation 20. Ultimately, we don’t read the Old Testament looking for Messianic nuggets, some prophecies that “prove” that Jesus was the Messiah. Rather, we look through the Old Testament for patterns that Jesus came, filled and fulfilled.