With the unnamed author of Esther, we laugh in line with heaven at the pretensions of human princes. There is beyond the facade and the farce another kind of kingdom. For that, we look not to the country between the Tigris and Euphrates, or even the land ensconced between the Atlantic and Pacific, but to the heir born to Esther’s people: “salvation is of the Jews.”
A few years ago, I preached a sermon from Esther 1. In this text, King Ahasuerus of Persia throws a lavish feast for his royal officials and servants. This party lasts upwards of six months, and during the course of the festivities, the King displays “the riches of his royal glory and splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days.” Ahasuerus (Greek name: Xerxes) is certainly a royal figure who is out to make a splash. There is very little mystery to the man: what he has, he puts out for all to see. The account of this months-long celebratory gala reads like the filming of an extended episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
After my message, a parishioner approached me to shake my hand (when such a ritual was still practiced). He commented, “Thank you for showing us about the character of President Trump!”—and quickly exited the building. I must say that though his statement took me aback, the sentiment had crossed my mind.
As we come to the end of Mr. Trump’s term of office (some would substitute ‘reign’), it is worth observing the parallels between him and King Ahasuerus.
Among these is the drive of both leaders to go big or go home, summed up in one of Mr. Trump’s favorite words: “huge!” (and from his thesaurus, “bigly”). The author of Esther records the contents of the royal palace: “curtains, hangings, linen, rods, pillars, couches, pavement of porphyry” as if we are given a glimpse into Ahasuerus’ own mental inventory, with a touch of a sense of the need to catalogue and perhaps exaggerate his wealth before the watching world. President Trump too is not shy of overstatement regarding his success: he had “built the strongest economy in the history of the world.”
The flip side of this tendency to ‘huge-ness’ is to inflate trifling matters to the level of a crisis. Following the refusal of Queen Vashti to make an appearance before ogling partygoers, the counselors convince the king to send what is effectively an empire-wide memo broadcasting the domestic spat between Ahasuerus and his wife to the four corners of Persia. What could have been dealt with as a minor quibble to be settled behind closed doors ends up being publicized and escalated to a national red-alert emergency. In Mr. Trump’s case, slights become occasions for no-holds barred combat, with the WWE-esque melees played out in real time. Some in his party fear not so much being on the wrong side of history as being on the wrong side of the President’s 280 characters.
Like Ahasuerus, President Trump played according to the rules of keeping up appearances. Whether it was taking steps to ensure the footage of his rallies showed capacity crowds, or using the White House as a backdrop for his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, or posing for a photo-op at St. John’s church with a Bible in hand, Mr. Trump clearly had optics near the front of his mind throughout his presidential tenure.
Prior to his election, Mr. Trump also was an enthusiastic supporter of pageants through one-time ownership of Miss USA and Miss Universe. Before him, King Ahasuerus had sponsored a beauty contest to find his next bride, following the ouster of Queen Vashti. This spectacle could well be presented as an early edition of “The Bachelor.” A young Jewish woman named Hadassah (Persian name: Esther) after a night in the ‘fantasy suite’ ends up winning the ‘final rose’ – namely, the crown.
Ahasuerus had his couriers who delivered his emotions translated into edicts to “every province in its own script.” Mr. Trump likewise wore his feelings on his sleeve, and the public via his Twitter feed rode the waves from crest to crash as we followed his delectations and flare-ups. Though looming large in terms of the citizens’ imagination, both leaders seemed to have little concern for personal dealings that left them rather isolated.
There is a kingdom of show with little stability at its core, like the Wizard of Oz pleading, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” With the unnamed author of Esther, we laugh in line with heaven at the pretensions of human princes. There is beyond the facade and the farce another kind of kingdom. For that, we look not to the country between the Tigris and Euphrates, or even the land ensconced between the Atlantic and Pacific, but to the heir born to Esther’s people: “salvation is of the Jews.”
Ken Montgomery is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as Pastor of Christ OPC in Marietta, Ga.