The other book of the bible that doesn’t refer directly to God, other than Song of Songs, is another love story of sorts and it is the book of Esther. The reason I say it‘s a love story, of sorts, because it isn’t about the love between a husband and wife, or even a man and a woman, but between a woman, Queen Esther, and her people. Most of us who have any familiarity with the Old Testament are familiar with the basic story line. Esther, a Jew by birth, raised by her uncle Mordecai, enters a beauty contest ordered by King Xerxes of Persia to replace Queen Vashti who he had deposed for her disobedience. Once Esther was selected to be Miss Persia of 478 BC, she married the King and would have a hand in exposing a plot to kill the King and an even more heinous plan, to murder all the Jews in Xerxes’ kingdom. She did so at great personal risk and because she did what was right in the eyes of God, she saved her people and uncle Mordecai, who became the second most powerful man in the Xerxes’ kingdom, empowered by the king to eliminate several of the historical enemies of Israel.
I would like to focus our attention, however on the first chapter of Esther and the circumstances that led to Queen Vashti being dumped as queen of Persia. For the sake of historical context, Queen Vashti was the daughter of King Belshazzar (Daniel 5) of Babylon and was kidnapped by King Darius (Daniel 6) of Persia and would become queen under the rule of King Xerxes. This is according to the bible and a collection Jewish writings known as the Midrash, a commentary on Jewish history and faith. The point is that not only was Vashti very beautiful, but had a long history in court politics and had a following of her own (Esther1:9). As the account of Esther was unfolding, Persia and King Xerxes was in political trouble, but not with the Jews who had remained in Babylon and not returned to Judah some 50 years earlier, instead with the ruling class and political leaders within his own court. The reason for the unrest was that only 15 years earlier, Xerxes’ father Darius had led a massive invasion against Greece, and was handed a stunning defeat by the Greeks at Marathon, losing 100’s of ships and tens of thousands of men. This created an atmosphere of doubt whether or not Darius’s son could succeed where his father had so miserably failed.
To bolster the morale and gain the favor of the leadership both within his own court and across the entire Persian empire, King Xerxes threw what was probably the most lavish and longest party in human history, lasting a full six months with thousands of guests from all 127 provinces, from Ethiopia to India and then finished it off with a 7 day bash for everyone in and around the capital city, the citadel of Susa. Chapter one goes into detail regarding the decorations, the furnishings and the wine, yes the wine. “Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other. Each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished (v. 7-8).” The king of course participated eagerly with his guests, I’m sure spending time drinking and politicking with those from whom he needed support. But on one occasion, having over imbibed, “he commanded his seven eunuchs who served him to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown (and nothing else), in order to display her beauty to the people and the nobles, for her beauty was lovely to look at (v.11).” This type of public display and humiliation was not something Vashti thought was appropriate and refused the king’s invitation. Whether or not the king intentionally sought to humiliate his queen, perhaps for political purposes is unclear from the text, but even if it was just the insensitive and outrageous request of a drunken monarch, it would create a chain of events that would impact his kingdom more radically than anyone could have predicted. It opened the door for Esther to become queen over the Persian Empire and her uncle Mordecai, Prime Minister.
Although the Book of Esther does not mention God by name, yet it is obvious that the hand of God is at work in the lives of all involved. They may not have been aware of God working in advance of His desired outcome and making it come to pass, but He was at work then, just as He is today in our daily lives. Providence is one of the ways God displays His sovereignty over His creation, and no matter how hard or how long we might resist His plan and desired outcome, we are powerless to stop it or change it. For some this seems fatalistic, and perhaps it is for those who reject His grace and selfless love. But for those who embrace the power and sovereignty of God it is both liberating and provides a peace that is beyond our human experience and understanding.
Everyday we make decisions that affect outcomes for ourselves and others, both large and small, but in the end it is God who is in ultimate control of the final outcome. We may have what we consider short term successes or failures but in the end it is God, the creator of everything in the universe, who planned, before the beginning of time all that will come to pass, according to His will and not ours.
This is the final solution to man’s dilemma. Paul states it this way, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:28, 31)?” What exactly is this human dilemma? Simply stated, how can I be reconciled with God? How can I, stained by own my sin, come into the presence of a perfect God and enjoy Him for eternity? It’s not about our brief stay here on earth which is not even a blink of an eye when compared to eternity. It’s about living today in anticipation of tomorrow. It is the providence of God that will be the final arbiter of what tomorrow will be.
Does this mean that all that is left for us to do is passively wait to see whether we have won or lost, like it was nothing more than a game of chance? No, God the Father wants us to be full participants in His plan and has provided for us a clear path to Him and His goodness. The bible calls it the “way” and in the early church, before they were called Christians, the followers of Christ were called people of the way, in response to the words of Christ, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one come to the Father except through me (John 14:6).” The life that Jesus is referring to here is eternal life with Him, His father and the Holy Spirit. It is through Christ that the Father’s plan, through and according to His providence, will come to pass, and all that is required of us is to simply say yes to His invitation and His guiding hand. There is no humiliation, no payment demanded, because Christ paid for our sin on that tree by His crucifixion and rose from the grave to conquer death on our behalf. This is the solution to the human dilemma and how we can be reconciled and come into the presence of a perfect God.
We’ll move ahead, beyond the subject of God’s providence tomorrow as we explore the other truths that are revealed to us in the opening chapter of Esther.
Tool #344 Do you trust God and His providence, do you really? If you trust in Christ for your salvation, then the answer is an unqualified, yes!