Christ in All the Scriptures: Esther – The Providence of God

When I was a child I was encouraged to read the newspaper every day. The most memorable page had the Snoopy cartoon. One of my favourites has Lucy asking Charlie Brown as they walk along: “Why do you think we’re put here on earth?” Charlie Brown answers: “To make others happy.” Lucy stops and reflects: “I don’t think I’m making anyone very happy. Of course nobody’s making me very happy either. Somebody’s not doing his job!” At home she asks her brother Linus, who is busy sucking his thumb and holding his blanket, for his opinion: “Charlie Brown says that we’re put here on earth to make others happy.” The surprised Linus said, “Is that why we’re here? I guess I’d better start doing a better job. I’d hate to be shipped back!’ The exasperated Lucy goes back to Charlie Brown to check if things have changed.  “Charlie Brown. You say we’re put here on earth to make others happy?” Charlie Brown affirms, “That’s right.” Sensing something is wrong, Lucy finally puts the question that is still bothering her: “so, what are others put here for then?”

One life. What’s it all about? In a world of six billion people, it is easy to underestimate the significance of one. It is easy to feel powerless given the overwhelming needs in our world. But the truth is, you are you, and the only you in the world. The power of one.

God has placed you here for a purpose. Edward Everett Hale put it like this:

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

There is only one you. You are unique. God has wired you differently from every other person on this planet. Your upbringing, your appearance, your voice, your skills, your values and convictions, your personality, your sphere of influence – you are the only one who can fulfil God’s purposes for you. Behind every movement, every political party, every battle, every discovery, every treaty, every declaration and every accomplishment are …. Individuals like you and I.

History is the story of individuals who have made a difference. Scientists, inventors, explorers, musicians, politicians, statesman, teachers, missionaries, theologians. Think of Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, Spurgeon, Moody, Graham, Stott.  Isn’t that what we find in the Bible as well? It is the story of individual men and women used by God to make a difference, to set the pace, to intercede, to be a lone voice, to stand in the gap and as a result, change the course of history. One life – that’s all we get, because that’s all we need. The power of one.

In our series – Christ in all the Scriptures, we come to Esther. The story of Esther belongs to that dark period in Jewish history when God’s people were enslaved and dispersed across the Babylonian empire. Behind the personal enmity of Haman we see the deeper and darker malignity of Satan, seeking to make void the promises of God through the destruction of the entire Jewish race. Satan knew that a great Deliverer was promised from the House of David. We can trace his hand behind Saul throwing his javelin at the youthful David [1 Samuel 18:9-11; 19:9,10], and Queen Athaliah’s attempt to destroy all the royal children [2 Kings 11:1-3]. But God protected David just as he nurtured the infant Joash in the Temple courts. That is why Esther has the fairy tale atmosphere of a 1001 nights, tinged with the deadly smell of Hitler’s gas chambers. It is no coincidence that the Book of Esther is still the number one favourite story in Jewish families. The event is retold every year during the Feast of Purim in late February or early March. The Feast of Purim commemorates that first horrifying attempt at the extermination of the Jewish people, and how God providentially rescued his people. There are clearly strong parallels in the dramatic reversal of what seemed the disastrous fate of the Jews in the 5th Century BC and the 20th Century. During the Feast of Purim, in some Jewish families, children draw an H on the soles of their shoes – one for Haman and one for Hitler.

The one dictator boasted that his empire stretched a thousand miles, the other boasted that his empire would last a thousand years. But the sovereign Lord God enabled the Jewish people not only to survive but walk over both. History has a habit of repeating itself. Human nature is as unchanged as is the providential purposes of the God of heaven and earth. And that is what the Book of Esther is all about. One life, lived knowingly in the unseen but providential hands of God. The power of one life.  So where is Jesus in Esther? The name of God does not actually appear in the Book of Esther, yet the hand of God is everywhere. He may be invisible but he is not absent. The story of Esther is the story of the unseen providence of God. What do we mean by ‘providence’? The word providence comes from the Latin word ‘provideo’. The prefix pro means ‘before’ and the root video means ‘I see’. As Sovereign Lord of the Universe, God sees events before they happen. He sees the future with precise clarity because it happens and works everything according to his perfect plan (Romans 8:28-39). So even when things appear to be out of control, or God seems far away, He is there, working invisibly to accomplish his will. Charles Swindoll writes, “Even though the seasons change dramatically, even though nations rise and fall on the world landscape, and even though economies tower to prosperity or topple to ruin, God never changes. From everlasting to everlasting, He is God and his kingdom remains unshakable. Make no mistake, God will have his way.”  Swindoll concludes, “It’s easy to see God in the miraculous. It’s not so easy to see him in the mundane. But that’s where most of us live… This is all the more reason why we need to be sensitive to his voice – so we can be attentive to the subtle ways in which he works. Though God is invisible, He is invincible. That is the message of the Book of Esther. The invisible God who may appear to be absent is the invincible God who is working out his best plan.”

Esther could not complain about her life so far. When her parents passed away, her older cousin Mordecai took care of her, provided for her and kept her from trouble. Now she found herself as the First Lady and Queen of the Empire. While Xerxes takes centre stage in chapter 1, Mordecai in chapter 2 and Haman in chapter 3. Chapter 4 is where we see the parallels between Esther and Jesus most clearly. And in the words of Mordechai to Esther, we hear afresh, the challenge God has for each one of us, just as he did Esther so long ago.

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Esther’s finest hour was not winning the crown, or ascending the throne, or living in luxury, or keeping herself youthful and beautiful, but rather by risking her life for her people.

Three things we can observe from Esther as we seek to know Jesus and his purpose for our lives: Remember where you are from. Reflect on what you know. Realise why you are here.

1.     Your Past: Remember where you are from

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes. Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.” (Esther 4:1-4)

To her credit, Esther stayed close and true to her roots. Becoming the most influential woman in the Empire did not go to her head. The orphan queen did not forget where she was from; she kept up with what was happening at home. The news did not escape her. Putting on sackcloth was associated with death and dying. To emphasize Mordechai’s grief the word “bitter” is associated with his crying. Esther was greatly distressed by what she saw and heard concerning the persecution of her people. Esther never lost touch with her roots. What are your family roots? Are they important to you? Do they shape you? What about our Christian roots?

The church in Bethlehem where Jesus was born? In Egypt where Jesus escaped as a refugee? In Galilee where Jesus made his home? In Palestine where he revealed his glory? In Jerusalem where Jesus died and rose for us? Near Damascus where Paul was converted?  In Iraq and Iran and Jordan and Syria and Lebanon where the early church first flourished. Does it matter to you that they are persecuted and close to extinction? They are our spiritual family. We are their children.

Your Past: Remember where you are from.

2. Your Present: Reflect on what you know

“So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate.  Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.” (Esther 4:5-8)

When Esther heard of Mordecai’s deep sorrow she was in great “distress” (v 4). The word describes a woman in labour and giving birth. It means “to be seized with painful grief.” So Esther sent clothes to Mordecai, but he rejected them until Esther got more involved, took a position and did her part. Mordecai provoked Esther to investigate and act. Esther could not remain passive. Mordechai instructed Esther to go to the King and plead for her people.” (Esther 4:8). Only she could do it. One life. With the facts before her, she had a choice. You do. We do. That is why I will be flying to Egypt this afternoon.
The plight of the Church in Egypt is critical. Will Egypt descend into anarchy like Iraq, or civil war like Syria? The church in Egypt has a strategic role to play in bringing peace and stability. Please pray for our sisters and brothers there.

Your Past: Remember where you are from.
Your Present: Reflect on what you know.

3. Your Future: Realise Why You Are Here

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:13-16)

In a sense, Esther was a trophy wife; she did not need to know much, say much, or do much. Until the close of chapter 4 she has spoken only one sentence (v 16). But now Esther’s safety in the palace is threatened. Enemies would dig into her background and find out about her sooner or later. A lot was at stake for her. Everyone associated with her was at risk, including her children, if she had any. Mordecai did not ask Esther to do what she could not. He did not manipulate her to act. At first, it still seemed that Esther was a puppet. In chapter 2, Mordecai instructed Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity. (Esther 2:10, 2:20. Next, we see her instructing people to pass messages to Mordecai (Esther 4:5,10). But now she is telling her older and wiser cousin what to do. She has come of age. She has discovered her destiny. Esther could have ended up like Vashti, who disappeared without a word. Her purpose in life was not to be queen; that was merely her status. Her purpose was to glorify God, to be God’s servant, and make her life count. Colin Jones adds “Throughout the book of Esther we are encouraged to see the providential dealings of God through their gracious outcomes. The foolishness of a king, the reaction of a queen, the fear of self-seeking officials, are all revealed to be part of the great divine plan. God is putting into place his deliverance. He begins before anyone knows that there is even a problem to be solved.” And this is not the first time God has done this. Indeed, we are assured

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:4).

So God’s providential redemptive plan of God revealed in Jesus Christ preceded not only the Fall, but even the creation of the world. And a tyrant like Xerxes, any more than his 21st Century doubles isn’t going to get in his way.

God did not bring us into this world to live in luxury, or solely for ourselves. He wants us to speak for him, to do his will, to care for others, and make a difference.

Your Past: Remember where you are from.
Your Present: Reflect on what you know.
Your Future: Realise why you are here.

Esther said “And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16).

She was willing to lay down her life for her people. Jesus said

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).

And it was done when he willingly died in our place. What will you say to God today? Can you make the Lord’s Prayer your personal prayer of commitment?

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… in my life, today, please Lord.” (Matthew 6:10).

One life. That is all you have. One life. That is all you need.
The great practical lesson in this book, is the all-importance of using God-given opportunities. The power of life and death lies in these opportunities. We may be tempted to think that our opportunities are so insignificant, our circle of influence so small, that we are of little importance; if we were a great queen, like Esther, it would be a different matter. But, “who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). When you think of Esther, Remember where you are from. Reflect on what you know. And realise why you are here. Augustine once advised. “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love and the future to God’s providence.” Lets pray.

For other sermons in the Book of Esther see:

Esther: How the Sovereign Lord saves His people

The arrogance of power (Esther 1: 1-11)
Sleepless in Susa (Esther 6)
Ultimate poetic justice (Esther 7: 1-10)
An empire in turmoil: proportionate retaliation (Esther 9)