Where is God when his people suffer oppression? Why does he seem hidden as ISIS and Boko Haram murder Christians? Does God ever approve of war?
God and Politics in Esther, a new book by Jewish political philosopher Yoram Hazony, addresses questions no less urgent today than in biblical times. Hazony, president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem, might be called the Jewish version of Reinhold Niebuhr or Richard John Neuhaus, two 20th-century thinkers who wrote extensively about how Christians can participate in the cities of this world while belonging ultimately to the City of God.
Hazony zeroes in on the Book of Esther, where God is never mentioned by name. In fact, he seems hidden. His people lived in an alien society (ancient Persia, today’s Iran) under despotic rulers. They often felt social and political pressure to betray their faith.
Yet God is present, if only in the shadows. Esther is the Jewish queen (formerly Hadassah) of the Persian king Ahashverosh, traditionally identified as Xerxes I. Her cousin, Mordecai, “had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives” of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (Esther 2:6). He had adopted and helped raise Esther after she was orphaned. When Esther learned from Mordecai that Haman, the prime minister to the Persian king, was planning to annihilate all the Jews in the land, she urged the Jews in the capital to begin fasting, so as to strengthen her prayers for help. Mordecai wanted her to see God’s challenge: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (4:14)?
The challenge was formidable. Both Mordecai and Esther had to break the laws of the empire, and the penalty was death. Mordechai had refused to bow down to ...1