Text: Esther | Listen to Message
God, Are You There?
The name of the LORD is nowhere to be found in the book of Esther. The situation – namely, a king’s decree to annihilate all the Jews – seems to indicate that God himself is absent altogether. Sometimes life feels like that.
The early chapters of this book introduce us to a woman called Esther and her adoptive father called Mordecai. I say “called” because these were not their real names. In Persian exile, “Hadassah” had been renamed “Esther,” derived from the goddess “Ishtar/Astarte.” “Mordecai” was a derivation of “Marduk,” the Babylonian city-god. Esther and Mordecai had changed their names because Esther and Mordecai had changed their identities. In order to blend into the pagan culture that surrounded them, Esther and Mordecai intentionally hid their Jewishness (see 2:10, 20).
It gets worse. Esther participated in a sordid, high stakes beauty pageant wherein each contestant had one night to sleep with the king. The winner – whoever pleased him most – would become his new queen. Make of this what you will, but Esther won the contest and was named as Xerxes’ queen.
For the next 5 or 6 years, we know virtually nothing except that Esther lived a lavishly comfortable life in the palace of the Persian king. It’d be easy to think God was missing from Esther’s story because God was missing from Esther’s heart.
That brings us back to this decree. Suddenly, Esther’s comfort and safety came screeching to a halt. Haman, the king’s right hand man, had bribed the king to exterminate her people on a single day. Esther was the only person in a position to change the mind of the most powerful man on earth. But to even ask might cost her everything. She had not been summoned to appear before the king, and to do so uninvited could mean certain death.
Esther has a choice: Identify with her people and risk execution or seek her own self-interest at the expense of her people and hope for the best. Mordecai pleads with her: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14) Esther courageously concludes she will approach the king uninvited, “And if I perish, I perish” (4:16).
Long story short . . .
Somehow Esther receives the favor of the king.
Somehow the king decides to honor Mordecai and make him second in command.
Somehow Haman gets executed on the very gallows he’d built for Mordecai.
Somehow the king agrees to issue a counter-decree sparing the Jews.
And somehow Esther is forever memorialized for her selfless courage.
Of course all these “somehows” have a name: Yahweh. The LORD ultimately did this. He is the unseen Actor behind the scenes of the Esther story. Karen Jobes puts it like this:
Any deity worth his salt can do a miracle now and then. Our God is so great, so powerful, that he can work without miracles through the ordinary events of billions of human lives through millennia of time to accomplish his eternal purposes and ancient promises. God delivered an entire race of people in Persia because the king had a sleepless night, because a man would not bow to his superior, because a woman found herself taken to the bedroom of a ruthless man for a night of pleasure. How inscrutable are the ways of the Lord! (Esther: The NIV Application Commentary, pp. 159-160).
It is God who put a young Hebrew woman in the palace (and the heart) of the king. It is God who transformed her heart from compromising to courageous, from selfish to selfless, from fearing man to fearing the Lord. It is God who worked in the ordinary and the mundane to do the extraordinary. And it is God who wishes to do the same for you.