God and Politics in Esther by Yoram Hazony is Cambridge University Press. Dr. Hazony’s website is found HERE.
The author is a Jewish scholar who researches and writes about philosophy and theology, political theory and intellectual history. Hazony’s previous books are The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul (Basic Books, 2000). His next book is and will be completed with My next book is The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books, 2018).
This book on Esther is one I fear will not get enough attention from many of the circles I am in. I am a Protestant Christian with Reformed and Evangelical ties. I have lots of close connections with Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, and Christians of other and non-denominational affiliations. Hazony fits into none of those categories, nor is he Catholic or Orthodox, but is a Jewish scholar living in Israel with his wife and nine children. He is highly recognized and respected in many circles, but, as indicated, overlooked in my world.
About the same time that I became aware of this book, a church in my town was having a Bible study for women on the Book of Esther. I did not attend that study for obvious reasons, but was curious as to how it would differ from this book. I think that Esther is capable of being taught from different angles to different audiences, so my point is not contentious.
Again, I would like to see Christians reading this book. Here are the drawbacks, however:
- It is published by Cambridge University Press. For me, that is a major plus. I am constantly amazed at the outpouring of books from university presses. Certainly, there are plenty of astoundingly obscure topics that grow into books interesting to very small circles. Such books will line the shelves mainly of university libraries. But there are also a multitude of books for less specialized readers, but such books rarely appear on the bookshelves of our local book stores.
- University Press publications tend to be highly priced. I am usually dependent on review copies or used copies or university press sales for such books.
- It is not a conventional commentary and is not a Christian-directed book. As noted, the author is Jewish.
- This book is not all that easy to classify. Does it go in the religion section? Perhaps, since it is about the Old Testament. Or does it belong in the political science area? The word Politics is not just in the title, but is a vital part of the content. The field of politics is itself an area of philosophy, so maybe the book should be wedged into the philosophy shelves.
Very rarely do Christian pastors preach from the Book of Esther. It is relatively easy to construct a topical sermon or two from the book. There are two key texts that “preach.”
One is Esther 4:14: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
And the other is a phrase from Esther 4:16, which is her response to the verse above. Esther says, “If I perish, I perish.”
But how would a pastor preach a series on this book which never directly mentions the name of God and that deals with so many intricate political problems? My answer: Read Hazony’s book.
Chapter 5, which is titled “Idolatry,” is worth the time and effort and cost of the book itself. This is a book about bad leadership, false beliefs, and survival of faith amidst evil people. Idolatry, while not overtly apparent as in the case of the Golden Calf, is nevertheless the great evil in this book.
Another key theme is that of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. This is a favorite Calvinist Sunday afternoon topic of thought or discussion. J. I. Packer’s book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is still a classic favorite. Hazony does not take a view that is totally compatible to my Reformed disposition. But he does offer some ideas–both acceptable and debatable–about the role that people must take without depending upon a Deus ex machina.
For years, Christians shied away from politics. It is easy to imagine a church full of people in 1960 who were evenly divided over whether to vote for Nixon or Kennedy. Some of the choices or races in recent years are harder for conservative Christians to grapple with. Conservative theology and liberal politics are difficult to reconcile. But so are conservative theology and conservative politics (at least in the popular sense of “conservative”). Since Hazony is not American, his perspective is not directly connected to Democrats and Republicans, the American left and right, or to the issues confronting us. That is a strength of the book. He is not one of “us,” nor is he one of “them.”
We Christians believe in both the presence of God and the intervention of God in human events. Yet, we too face a world and circumstances that causes us to question where God was when certain events happened or why God allowed (and/or purposed) such. The easy answers are not found in this book, but it is a help along the way.
I hope someone out there buys and reads this book. I hope some pastor preaches through Esther or someone teaches a Sunday school series through this. (And I hope it is not just a women’s study.)
Thanks to my friend Paul David Robinson, a philosopher in the making and a brilliant fellow, for recommending Hazony’s book The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture in a Facebook post. That discovery led to this book.