How should Esther 4:14 be translated and understood?

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?” (ESV)

REMINDER: Answers should primarily be about the translation of the passage and its meaning, not about the application of this text.


You can access and view 43 different translations of this verse in English here. Most of these translations are very similar, and all seem to indicate that "relief and deliverance" will come to the Jews from somewhere. Esther had opportunity to act at that time, but even if she did not act (and subsequently perished), "relief and deliverance" would still come to the Jews from somewhere. This certitude is the only fact in the book of Esther that is not subject to chance or vicissitude.

An accurate English translation for "Purim" would be "craps." Thus "Purim" is akin to "craps" which is a gambling game of dice. So chance and vicissitude are the underlying theme of the book. From the perspective of man the circumstances appear to be pure chance and casual serendipity. Thus neither God nor prayer are ever mentioned in the book. So the story is about evil (antisemitism), and then good, exploiting what appear to be casual random happenstance and rambling circumstances throughout the narrative.

Now let us return to the one certitude of the book. That single certitude of the narrative was the Abrahamic Covenant, which indicated that God would bless those who blessed Abraham, and curse those who cursed him (Genesis 12:3). Isaac passed this same blessing to Jacob and his descendants (Genesis 27:29), and of course the apostate prophet Balaam subsequently recognized that the Israelites who left Egypt carried this direct blessing from God (Numbers 22:12 and Numbers 24:9). Thus Mordecai told Esther that even if he and she died, the Jewish people as a whole would still be delivered by someone somewhere somehow, because the Abrahamic Covenant was inviolate and therefore an actual certitude (unlike everything else). So Mordecai urged Esther to act in faith in concert with this promise, and thus become the instrument to deliver the Jewish people. Again, the story goes on and continues along the lines of pure chance and happenstance, and of course the glorious end is the triumph of the Jews over their enemies.

The key to the book of Esther is therefore the "inviolate and certain" Abrahamic Covenant. Faith and trust in this covenant was the means of the "relief and deliverance" of the Jewish people by both Esther and Mordecai.

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    Good stuff, Joseph. – Mike Bull Mar 5 '13 at 5:49
  • I'll second that. @Joseph, you went right to the core! – user2027 Mar 6 '13 at 14:39
  • It seems the only thing left to consider is the second half of the verse pertaining to what would happen to Esther and her father's house if she remained silent and that she may have been born/come into royalty for this moment. Is there an interplay between chance and providence here "Who knows" (chance) "but what you have come into royalty for such a time as this" (providence). – user2027 Mar 6 '13 at 14:55
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    Thanks for the edits - what I did not elaborate was that the Book of Esther was about faith in the word of God. This faith was the same faith that Abraham had in the word of God - and thus the covenant with Abraham. – Joseph Mar 6 '13 at 16:33

The other issue here is that of witness. The people of God go through a number of corporate death-and-resurrections right up until the first century (and beyond, of course). Israel was resurrected from the "grave" of Babylon (Ezek. 37) in order to be a witness to the nations, a priesthood working within the Gentile construct set up by God in Daniel.

Israel at this point was not witnessing, epitomized in Mordecai's unfaithful instruction to Esther to hide her faith and her race.

So Esther, like Israel, would be forced to become a bold witness, in order to become not just a wife but a co-regent, a bride who joins her king in calling down the Covenant curses upon their common enemy.

This process is seen in the book of Revelation, but it goes right back to the Garden of Eden. At least, that is what should have happened. The serpent is crushed and the bride sings a song of victory. The bride represents the burial spices on the fragrant resurrection body (Esther's Hebrew name was myrtle, and the beauty treatment she enjoyed was amazing!).

Just so, Jesus, resurrected in the Garden, tells the women to go and witness.

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The New American Bible accurately describes the Book of Esther as a free composition, not a historical document, and says that the purpose of the book is didactic: the glorification of the Jewish people and the explanation of the origin, significance and date of the feast of Purim. The words in Esther 4:14 are no more and no less than the words attributed to Mordecai, uncle of Esther and one of the principal characters in the book. Even were the book historical, it is beyond belief to find eternal truths in the words attributed to an ordinary man. In Esther 4:14, Mordacai has simply given Esther his opinion on how she should act.

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