7.42 Esther -- the God Problem
It is indeed a strange Exodus in which God makes no appearance, but that is the case in Esther. There is no mention of His Name, His covenant, the Law, the patriarchs. The closest we get to worship is Mordecai weeping, fasting and praying. And at the end of the book, the Jews celebrated Purim annually not by solemn assembly, but
as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other (Est 9:19).
Yet even in this, Esther became a prototype of cultural Judaism, a forerunner of the 20th Century movement that recognized Jewishness as an ethnicity even as it abandoned it as a religion. All the trappings remain -- language, holy days, synagogue memberships, dietary rules -- but something is absent, something essential. What was missing in Esther that was there in Daniel, in Ezekiel, and in Jeremiah? It was the Presence of God, which is the inheritance of Abraham, and was passed on through all the generations that followed even into the Exile. The Jewish community existed in Babylon as a sociological entity, even a political one that could act in unison to attack their enemies -- but so far as Esther records, it lacked the vertical dimension. One does not act "for God" but on behalf of the community, and that is not the same thing at all. This is the great transition that has been made in the modern world as well. The Jews have produced great leaders in politics, academics and culture -- but no prophets. Esau has supplanted Jacob, the birthright is missing.
Let us be clear, though. This secularization is not true of all the Jews in the modern world, any more than it was of all Jews in Persia: obviously Ezra, Nehemiah, and their coworkers were devout. But Esther was a type of the Jew who would later become numerous in Western Europe and the US: the Jew who hides her religion until it is forced out of her, who seeks to blend in with the Gentile culture as long as possible. When faced with a crisis, when forced to take a stand or renounce her identity, she acted courageously on behalf of her family and ethnicity. But she acted primarily for Them, not for Him. Esther was not Ruth, nor was she Deborah.