The book of Esther explains how we can see the invisible hand of God at work. The book of Esther never mentions God once but given the fact that the people of God were saved from being destroyed we know that God must have been at work in order for this not to happen, but how do we know?
Where to begin
If we were to explain Easter to someone, we would need to go further back than the resurrection of Christ and in order to explain why Christ died, we would need to go back further than the trial, we would have to go all the way back to God and His purposes. The book of Esther was written to explain why the annual feast of Purim is celebrated by the Jews, and in order to explain, the writer takes us back to a suitable point where the questions we might have could be answered. If the writer began with the plot to kill the Jews which in time did not materialise, one might ask why it didn’t. The book of Esther in explaining how the feast of Purim began also explains because of its relevance to the account, how Esther, a Jewish girl became queen and how her guardian, Mordecai was remembered by the king for revealing the plot to kill him which Mordecai overheard. This, however, is not an account of two Jewish people in a foreign land so that they could be used by God. God used them, there is no doubt, but the story is not quite as neat as this sounds.
Seeing the Invisible
In the first chapter of Esther, there is no mention of God and this will be the case for every chapter of Esther, so how is it that we can see the invisible hand of God at work when there is no mention of God doing anything. The first chapter of Esther doesn’t even mention Esther, but what the first chapter does explain is how Esther would soon become queen. How then do we understand that God is at work in a Chapter where He or His people are never mentioned? We are able to recognise the hand of God at work through the normal events of each day because of what those events lead to. This does not mean that we can notice them at the moment when they are happening, but we can by looking back over how one event led to the another and how it led to the purposes of God being fulfilled. This is how we can see the invisible hand of God at work, by understanding the promises and purposes of God and seeing in real-time how they are being fulfilled.
From the very beginning of the book of Esther, we see the hand of God at work and that God’s sovereign power and authority cannot be matched by any earthly king or government. As Proverbs teach “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will (Prov 21:1). What we are able to do in this first chapter of Esther once we understand where the account is going is that we can interpret the ordinary and see how it is under the sovereign control of God.
The book of Esther takes place within history somewhere between 460BC and 480BC. At this time some of God’s people have returned to Jerusalem, just as Jeremiah prophesied. We can read about the return of God people to Jerusalem after a time of exile in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, Esther begins in Susa, a city in Persia and this is the place where Esther, Mordecai and other Jews have remained. Why they remained is unknown but as we will see their presence in Susa become central to the purposes of God. Ahasuerus, the king of Persia at this time is better known by his Greek name, Xerxes. He reigned from India to Ethiopia from 486BC to 464BC.
Power and Authority on display
As we read Esther chapter one, we are meant to be impressed with the king’s power and authority which he displayed through a feast lasting for one hundred and eighty days and then he held another feast, this time in the citadel for a further seven days. We come to understand the wealth of the king, by the number of days it took to display this wealth. We can stop and ponder at this point how long it would take us to view the wealth of God, knowing that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Even if we spend a small amount of time, pondering the wealth of God it will not take us long to see how the power and authority the king we are being introduced to in Chapter one is nothing compared to God to whom the Jews belong.
When we look at such a display of earthly wealth, such people can come across as if they are untouchable, that they can have whatever they want, do whatever they want. For a king to display such power, it is a quick reminder to the people who he is and who they are. Therefore, when he commands his wife to appear at the feast with her royal crown (v11) in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. He is treating her as if she is just one of his possessions, therefore when she refuses to come, perhaps because the king was merry with wine. All this effort, to display power and authority is broken in an instant by a wife who will not fulfil the request of her husband, who is the king.
The King displays that he has no control over himself, he is a man who makes decisions whilst drunk and whose temper is felt by his wife. When Vashti disobeyed her husband it would lead to her being removed, meaning that her position would be given to another. The opening created by Vashti’s disobedience is the same opening through which Esther would become queen. The king, in order to deal with the situation, calls for his advisors, who advise him that he must deal with Vashti in order to protect his reputation. To do this, he should give a royal order, that she can never appear before the king again, which doesn’t seem like much of a punishment, given that she didn’t want to do this in the first place. This law is to be written amongst the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, “then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all the vast realm, all women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest”(1:16-20), there you have it, problem solved, no woman will ever disagree with her husband ever again. well, it’s not as simple as that, it will not be a law, this law of any other law which will change hearts, either that of a man or that of a woman, not even God’s law will do that, for it to happen it will require the grace of God.
Appearing before the King
Vashti is called to appear before the king in her crown. The Jewish Midrash holds that the queen was to appear before the King wearing nothing but her crown so that her beauty could be displayed to all. If this is the case, her refusal is understandable, but whether she was called to come fully clothed or just wearing her crown she still refused. This, however, will not be the case when we called to appear before the King of creation who already sees our nakedness, what is on our mind and what is in our hearts. However, when He calls us to come to Christ in faith and repentance, He will clothe us in righteousness, having worked all things together that we might be like Christ Jesus.
The hand of God
It’s not difficult to see the hand of God in the ten plagues of Egypt, or the crossing of the red sea, but it’s a little harder to see God at work in a drunk king and a disobedient wife. However, if we take into consideration the works of God it becomes much easier to see, as we see in the life of Pharoah “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16).
God’s decrees are witnessed and experienced within space and time, and this is the providence of God. As followers of Christ, we experience the providence of God in the same way, when someone who has no connection to you and leaves their job and as a result, you receive employment, this is the providence of God. God takes care of His people because He is sovereign meaning that the sovereignty of God provides great assurance for the people of God, and by working all things together for His own glory, we learn that nothing can separate us from His love.
As we think about the book of Esther as an explanation for the feast of Purim, which celebrated the fact that the Jews were not destroyed. We can understand God’s control of seemingly independent events is actually God working all things together to protect His people from their enemies. It is important then to recognise that we don’t see the hand of God at work in the life of a drunken king and a disobedient wife at the time it was happening but only in hindsight, because of what it leads to. Therefore, our assurance is in the reality that God takes care of his people and at times where everything seems to be going wrong, we know that God has control of all the independently moving parts, decisions and actions of people because no person or event is ever independent of His sovereign will.