Twice Hidden

In 1946—just on seventy years ago—three Bedouin teenagers went exploring some cliffs near the Dead Sea. There, in a cave in the wilderness, they made a discovery that would change Biblical studies forever.

Muhammed Ahmed el-Hamed, Jum’a Muhammed Khalib and Khalil Musa returned from their exploration with three scrolls covered with strange writing—the first of the literary treasures that became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The boys had found the long-lost library of the Essenes—a first-century treasure trove of testaments, visions, laws, rules, translations and apocalyptic works. There were books mentioned in the Bible but whose contents were previously unknown and lost texts such as the Hebrew version of Psalm 151. This short psalm by David, which rejoices in his victory over Goliath, was known from Greek translations but the Hebrew version had disappeared.

At least one fragment from every Old Testament book, except Esther, has been found. In some cases, far more than simple fragments have been recovered—the entire Book of Isaiah, for instance, has been retrieved.

Esther, of course, is the book in which the name of God is not mentioned. Perhaps that’s why the Essenes did not include it in their library.

Yet Esther is the book that is, in many ways, the one that corresponds to most people’s experience of God. His hand is hidden in daily life, just as it is hidden in the book of Esther.

Every name list I’ve ever consulted (dozens in all) has an entry explaining that ‘Esther’ means star and is Persian in origin. It allegedly derives from Ishtar, the name of the goddess who personifies the planet Venus.

Until this week, I never thought to question that theory. But on delving into some Hebrew, I discovered many rabbis consider that Esther is a Hebrew name, meaning ‘astir’, hidden.  This describes so many aspects of the book of Esther: her hidden Jewish background, her hidden name (her real name is ‘Hadassah’ meaning myrtle but it’s hidden behind an allusion to Ishtar), her hidden relationship to Morcedai, her hidden agenda in inviting the king and Haman to dine with her, the hidden machinations of Haman, the hidden hand of God.

Perhaps it’s not surprising the book is missing from the library of the Essenes.

One of the most interesting comments on Esther by the rabbinic sages relates to the phrase, ‘haster astir’, from Deuteronomy 31:18 ESV, ‘And I will surely hide My face [‘haster astir panai’] in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.’

But ‘haster astir’ is not simple concealment. It means hide the hiding. In other words, God not only hides Himself, He goes much further. He wipes out all trace of the fact He’s hidden Himself.

So often we wonder why the wonders of creation don’t point to a Creator for many people. We should not be surprised when we realise God has hidden His own hiding.


7 Comments

  1. When I first read (ages ago) that God’s name wasn’t mentioned in Esther, I didn’t believe it, even though I’d read Esther quite a few times. Then I read it with the sole purpose of finding out if that was true…it was. And yet to me, it screams God’s name. How could it not with all that happened in those nine chapters.

    • I agree – the first time I heard it I was startled. It’s never really stopped disturbing me until I read the book this was in. Haim Shore’s (https://haimshore.wordpress.com/) “Coincidences in the Bible and in Biblical Hebrew”. After which, I googled the information he gave and found it referred to a lot by rabbis. Which only goes to confirm what I’ve felt for a long time about Google: you need to know the answer before you can find the answer.

  2. Wow! That really would make a lot of sense for Esther to mean hidden. The ways in which it fits with her story and the book itself are so many. Thank you for sharing, it’s very interesting. God weaves mysterious, fascinating stories.

  3. Hi Carolyn and welcome!
    So right! He weaves mysterious and fascinating stories. Names do reflect who we are – but often the meaning of names is hidden. This was a particularly interesting example of ‘hiddenness’.

  4. Anne, I like the way you related the book of Esther as being the one that most corresponds to our experience of God. Interesting about the hidden aspect too.

    • Thanks, Dale. I think it’s hard for most of us to “see” or “feel” or “hear” God in everyday life. Busyness simply intrudes. When we become more intentional about seeking Him, we find He comes out of hiding.

  5. Cathie Sercombe

    Oh my! Oh my! This morning I was wrestling in prayer over this very thing – how ‘hidden’ God seems to be at times, and why he should choose to be so … then I come looking at your website (to ask you about editing my novel manuscript by the way) and here is the word itself from Deuteronomy. I’ve just read from verse 14 onward … to the song of chapter 32. Oh my!

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