Dr. Bell on Esther
Just a quick note that when I first touted Dr. Bob Bell’s OT book, I made no claim to have read it, only that I appreciated the author. Now I’ve read more of it, and I just recently read the chapter on Esther. I’ll say just three targeted things about this chapter, two mildly negative and one very positive:
1. Far be it from me to disagree with a man who’s been teaching Hebrew since before I was born… but I’m just not sure of the value of the word-count tables. The book of Esther shows why: the king’s name (including both Ahasuerus and king) occurs far more often than anyone else’s, but he’s not the hero, Bell says (and I agree!). Bell concludes that a character who is not even named in the book is the hero: God, of course. This suggests that real human communication doesn’t submit very readily to word-counting techniques. (I haven’t evaluated any of the many other word-count tables in the book, but my training [in his program!] leads me to be more than a little suspicious. Don’t invest more in these stats than they can really pay back out.)
2. There’s no redemptive history here. No seed of the serpent, no seed of the woman. No contrast between God’s ways with Israel and God’s New Covenant promises. But neither was Bell a moralizer: Mordecai and Esther are not held up as perfect heroes. Bell is not unaware that redemptive history is important and yields valuable insights; he just didn’t choose to focus on that approach (see p. 7). Realize that, and you won’t be disappointed when Bell doesn’t sound like Dempster. I still feel a little bit antsy about this, however, especially when Dr. Bell’s conclusion takes us to application. Recognizing that the story of redemption has progressed is such a necessary safeguard in application. But Dr. Bell does recognize this implicitly—he leads the reader to Christ, and I profited from his applications. I think I’m in good hands with Bell despite this little uncertainty.
3. Dr. Bell’s comments on Esther were—and I know how hackneyed this sounds—just very, very helpful. They were straightforward, clearheaded, appropriately simple and yet insightful. I found myself in complete accord with his views after having done a good bit of study and thinking of my own. He was technical enough to prove he’d done his own homework but practical enough that a preacher of God’s word gets good assistance. He was also admirably brief! Perhaps the best praise I can give is that his words caused me to change some of my own—and add others—in the lesson I was writing. That’s what I look for in a book. I’m excited about using this resource as I continue to write a textbook on the Old Testament for eighth graders.
If you want another brief, provocative, insightful treatment of Esther, try this neat little book, Five Festal Garments.