The Wonder of Divine Providence
As the books of Ezra and Nehemiah display the salvation of our souls in the re-building of the temple and its walls at Jerusalem, the Book of Esther shows us a picture of the secret workings of divine providence to accomplish his purpose of grace for his elect. The Book is intended to assure us that our God sovereignly manipulates all things for the salvation of his people, to assure us that no matter how things appear all is well because our God is still on his throne (Ps. 115:3; 135:6).
The Book of Esther is a beautifully simple, historic narrative of the events that took place in the king’s palace at Shushan in Persia during the days of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther when Ahasuerus was king.
Some have suggested that this could not be an inspired Book, because there is no mention of God’s name in it. Going on that premise, we would have to say the same thing about the Song of Solomon, because there is no mention of God’s name in that Book either. It is true, God’s name is not to be found in this Book; but God’s finger is everywhere, ruling and over-ruling all things for his chosen.
Though God’s name is not spelled out in the Book of Esther, it is hidden in the Book. It is hidden away in the Hebrew text in the form of acrostics five times. Be that as it may, it is certainly hidden in our English Bible. There is a reason why God’s name was hidden in this Book. The Lord told Israel that if they forsook him, he would hide his face from them (Deut. 31:16-18). The Lord hid his face from his people, because they had deliberately chosen to stay in the land of their captivity, dwelling among the heathen, instead of returning to Jerusalem (instead of returning to him) with Zerubbabel. The events of this Book took place during the 60 years between the first remnant’s returned under Zerubbabel and the second, smaller remnant’s return under Ezra.
There are four principle characters in this Book: Ahasuerus (whose name means “Venerable Father”), Mordecai (whose name means “Little Man”), Esther (whose name means “Star”), and Haman (whose name means “Magnificent”).
Ahasuerus had a big party to show off his greatness, “according to the state of the king”. It lasted for many days. One day, when he had had a little too much to drink, he called for his wife, Vashti (“Beautiful”), to come show herself to his guests, “for she was fair to look on.” Vashti refused the king’s request. She may have been the first feminist in history; but this was not a good idea. The king’s request was no mere request! All the king’s men were enraged. If the king’s wife could get by with such arrogant defiance, all their wives would try to imitate her. After some discussion of the matter, King Ahasuerus divorced Vashti. In time, he sought a wife to replace Vashti.
In chapter two, they held a great beauty pageant—A Miss Persia contest. Esther won the prize, hands down. Ahasuerus could not have been happier. The old king was about to marry the most beautiful woman in the land. "The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther's feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king” (2:17-18)
Then, in chapter 3 the king promoted a man named Haman to be prime minister of his great empire. Everybody bowed and scraped before Haman, everybody except one man—Mordecai. "When Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath" (3:5).
There was some backbone in that old Jew. He was made of stern stuff. He was not about to prostrate himself before one so haughty and so depraved as Haman, even if he was the king's favorite.
So Haman hatched a plan to destroy all the Jews, Mordecai included, and conivingly got Ahasuerus to go along with it. A letter was written, sealed with the king’s ring and sent throughout the land, declaring that at a set time all the Jews, men, women, and children, were to be slaughtered and their spoils taken.
When Haman was exalted even more greatly, he built a huge, high gallows upon which to hang Mordecai. Everything was set. The hated Jews were about to be eliminated. That meant that God’s promise could not be fulfilled. His purposes would be foiled. Christ could not come into the world from the seed of Abraham, as he had said. None of his chosen could be redeemed. All God’s elect would forever perish. —Not a chance!
All that had transpired, though it appeared to everyone to be against the God of Israel and his purpose of grace to his people, was but the secret working of divine providence to accomplish his purpose (Ps. 76:10). Behold the wondrous mystery of God’s providence (Rom. 8:28-30) and rejoice.
Divine providence is God’s absolute rule over and disposition of all things animate and inanimate, good and evil according to his unalterable purpose of grace for the salvation of his people and the glory of his own great name. It is the sovereign rule of God in the determination of history. It is the hand of God in the glove of history. Our God is at the steering wheel of the universe. Providence means that God is behind the scenes, shifting, directing, controlling, and manipulating everything to accomplish his own agenda (Rom. 11:33-36). Providence is the way God secretly and sovereignly forces all things to do his will. As recorded in the book of Esther, it appeared that the entire Jewish nation was about to be slain. But that was not about to happen. God was in the shadows, keeping watch over his own. Let me show you something of the wonder of God’s providence in this Book.
God always puts the right person in the right place at the right time to accomplish his purpose. He has his servants exactly where he wants them (4:14). He restrains evil and governs his enemies to perform his good pleasure. He arranges the smallest, most minute things to accomplish his great purpose (Matt. 10:30). When Esther decided to go into the king’s court uninvited, the king just happened to pass by (5:1). One night the king just could not sleep, so he had his servant to bring out the chronicles of the kingdom and read them. These chronicles contained the records of 127 provinces. The servant just happened to read the chronicle of Shushan.
"On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus. And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him" (Esther 6:1-3).
About that time Haman walked in, and the king asked him, “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor?” And Haman gave the counsel that would destroy him, exalt Mordecai, and save the Jews (6:4-11).
When the Lord God is about to do a great work for us and with us, he moves his people to seek him (4:16). But he always accomplishes his purpose. The wonders of his providence are, for the most part, unseen. But “we walk by faith, not by sight.” We are perfectly safe at all times. Our Father holds the reins of the universe. We have an omnipotent, wise, and good Guardian in the King’s Palace.
Pictures of Grace
I am fully aware that typology can be strained, and often is, making passages of Scriptures say what they do not say. Yet, we are assured that everything written in the Book of God speaks distinctly of our Lord Jesus Christ and the things he has accomplished for us as our Substitute (Luke 24:27, 44-45). Christ crucified is “all the counsel of God” (1 Cor. 2:2; Acts 20:27). There are many, instructive pictures of our Savior in the Book of Esther.
Esther’s intercession for Israel (4:16) vividly portrays our Savior’s intercession for us. Here is one willing to lay down her life for her people, interceding before the king as one pure and lovely and delightful in his sight. Our great Mediator was not only willing to lay down his life for his people, he did it; and that which he accomplished in laying down his life for us is the basis of his intercession (1 John 2:1-2).
"And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre" (5:2). Here is a picture that should give great encouragement to us in approaching the throne of grace, the throne of Christ our King, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
We urge sinners to venture all at the throne of grace, suing for mercy, with Esther’s attitude, "I will go into the king's presence, and if I perish, I perish." But it is impossible for a sinner to perish at the throne of grace. None ever perished confessing his sin and seeking God’s forgiveness at the footstool of mercy. God is faithful to his promises, and just to his Son “to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He “delighteth in mercy” (Mic. 7:17). As we bow before his throne, confessing our sins, trusting his Son, the holy Lord God graciously forgives us, receives us, and accepts us because of the God-Man who sits at his right hand, and ever lives to intercede for sinners. In his name we may come boldly and obtain mercy. Do you have some great need in your soul, a need that only Christ can fill? The King's court stands open; enter and lodge your petition. He will hear the voice of your supplication. The golden scepter is extended. He will answer with the whole resources of his omnipotence, wisdom, goodness, and grace.
The decree sealed with the king’s ring (8:8) reminds us of the unalterable purpose, and decree of our God (Ps. 89:34; Isa. 46:9-10; Dan. 4:34-35). The Jews ruling their enemies (9:1) is symbolic of the fact that God’s saints rule over their enemies by his grace (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:16-23) and shall ultimately rule over all their foes (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 20:6). Mordecai seeking the good of his people (10:3) exemplifies that which every believer ought to practice. May God ever give us grace to live for the good of his people, seeking their peace and prosperity. But there is One greater than Mordedai at the right hand of the Majesty on high, great and “accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed.”