February 1, 2023
Even when I don't see it, You're working,
Even when I don't feel it, You're working,
You never stop, You never stop working.
Jewish culture values the book of Esther as an important piece of literature. Esther tells the story of those who chose not to return to the land of Israel but instead decided to stay in Persia. Most suggest that they didn’t want to leave their comfortable life to go back to the ruin and destitution of their homeland. We are not told definitively.
What is surprising about the book is that God is with His people, clearly fighting for them and doing marvelous miracles among them, but there is not one single reference to His name in the whole book.
The following words of the poet James Russell Lowell apply to the book of Esther and also to our lives.
Careless seems the great avenger:
History's pages but record
One death grapple in the darkness,
'Twixt old systems and the Word.
Truth forever on the scaffold;
Wrong for ever on the throne:
But that scaffold sways the future;
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God, within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.*
Sometimes God is in the forefront leading with a clear manifestation of power. This was the experience of His people as they traveled through the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan. Other times, He is in the background, in the shadows, seemingly absent, but ever present. Such is the case with the book of Esther.
Let’s consider a few places in the book where God is working behind the scenes as the One who is sovereign and in control.
The removal of Queen Vashti, the wife of Ahasuerus, monarch in Persia, was an early development that opened the door for Esther to become the new queen and in doing so preserve the people of God in that land. The story of how this came about is found in Chapter 1.
Without judging the rightness or wrongness of either the king or the queen, God allowed it to happen. Sometimes things happen on a high level that affect God’s people that are totally out of our control, but we recognize that God is in the shadows.
The death of Esther’s parents must have been heartbreaking to her. In Chapter 2 we read that “when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter” (Esther 2:7).
Mordecai was a man of God, a key figure in the development of God’s plan in this story and also very influential in the decisions of Esther. He directed her in a way that (quite likely) her parents would have been reluctant to do. He also instructed her to be silent regarding her Jewish heritage.
Sometimes the sorrows and tragedies of life are difficult to understand in light of what God is doing. Sometimes, it is easier to see the plan when looking back, while it is obscured in the moment. God allowed the death of Esther’s parents, allowed Mordecai to raise her, and allowed circumstances to be such that Esther was taken into the court of the king’s palace to be his prospective wife.
Then, the rise of Esther to become the new wife of Ahasuerus was another act of God. Out of all the beautiful women of the land, it was not coincidental that Esther was chosen. She found favor in the eyes of the Hegai (Esther 2:8), who was responsible for presenting her before the king.
It was during all these proceedings that Haman, a wicked man, was plotting to exterminate the Jews. The king had promoted him above all the officials and everyone bowed to Haman. Everyone except Mordecai, that is. This infuriated him. Haman hated him so much that he made gallows on which to hang him (Esther 5:9-14).
Haman went before the king and enticed him to sign an edict to kill all the Jews from his land. Chapter 3 records the story.
It was Haman’s actions that precipitated Mordecai to urge Esther to go before the king to seek help. The fact is, no one went into the presence of the king without invitation. Not even the queen.
Esther made her decision. She was going to stand before the king. Her words resonate down through the ages as words of great courage and resolve that have encouraged many. She said, “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). The approval of Esther seeking an audience with the king was another God-thing. He was there in the shadows, protecting and keeping watch above His own precious daughter.
Esther asked the king if he would attend a banquet the next day with Haman and he agreed. That night, since the king could not sleep, he ordered the book of memorable deeds to be brought in and read to him; it was the story of Mordecai saving the king's life that was read. Who kept the king awake that night? Again, God was at work. Incidentally, as a result of this, Haman was required to honor Mordecai (Esther 6:1-11).
At the banquet, Haman’s evil plan was exposed and the king had him hanged on his own gallows. The principle reinforced by Paul to the Galatians applies. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). God’s Word in action!
The end of the story is that instead of the Jews being killed, they were enabled and equipped to defend themselves and take the offensive on the day of battle. Haman’s plan was overturned, and God’s people were preserved. As a result, the feast of Purim was inaugurated, which is still held sacred by Jews to this very day.
Take courage and remember — “Even when you don’t see it, God is working!”
Love in Christ,
Bryan and Rachel
* Taken from William McDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary.