Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Esther: A Story of Gallows, Timely Courage, and the Unmistakable Work of God
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount the hope-filled, yet difficult struggle of God’s people as they return from exile and rebuild the nation. The Lord is clearly at work in fulfilling his promise and bringing his people back from the darkness of living as foreigners in a strange land. They rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, they reconstruct walls around the city, they seek to turn back to God’s Law, and God’s presence is undeniably in their midst as he provides for their needs. Judah is finally home. Jerusalem is being reestablished. God has not abandoned the family of Abraham.
Yet, even as all of this is going on for years in Jerusalem, not everyone in the Jewish nation gets to go home. Not all of God’s people get to see the glory of the temple as it rises from the rubble in Jerusalem. In fact, a great number remain in exile under the rule of a pagan empire, Persia. So what about those people? God is in Jerusalem in his holy temple, but is he still with his people in exile? Has God abandoned those left behind, those who didn’t go home?
These are some of the puzzling questions that might strike readers of the book of Esther. Set in the capital city of the Persian empire amidst evil kings and devious rulers, Esther tells the account of the plight of the Jews still living in exile. Famously, God is not mentioned once in the entire story. So where is God? Has he left his people to destruction? As the events of Esther unfold, the resounding answer is that God certainly has not forsaken his chosen family. Although seemingly silent and invisible, the Lord is at work on every page of the book of Esther.
Apparent coincidences and ironies abound throughout the narrative of Esther. A lowly Jewish orphan girl somehow catches the eye of the king of Persia and wins a beauty contest to become the next queen. Her relative and de facto father figure, Mordecai, happens to overhear an
assassination plot against the king and saves his life. And just as Esther rises to her royal position, wicked Haman convinces the king to order the extermination of all of the Jewish people. As Esther and Mordecai hear of the horrifying plot, they mourn greatly at the danger coming upon their people. Yet, Mordecai points out to Esther that what has been happening in their lives may be no coincidence after all:
“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
Although Mordecai does not mention God explicitly, it seems clear that he has a deep trust in the promises that God will be with and deliver his people. Not only that, but he wonders if perhaps the events of Esther’s life were all leading to this so that she would be in the right place at the right time in order to bring deliverance for God’s people. Even so, Esther is hesitant and afraid. What if Mordecai has it all wrong? What if she enters the king’s presence unsummoned and is killed on the spot? What if God really isn’t at work? But even in her fears, Esther chooses the difficult path of courage and sacrifice:
“Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:15-16)
Esther bravely decides to put her own life at risk for the chance of saving her people from the plot of Haman. Throughout the rest of the story, it becomes clearer and clearer that God truly is at work. In the very next chapter, Haman hatches a plan to have Mordecai killed, and he builds a gallows for that very end. And just as he is about to ask the king to execute Mordecai, the king is planning to honor Mordecai for saving his life. Just that night, the king just so happened to be restless and was read the account of Mordecai thwarting the assassination attempt against the king. In the very next chapter, Haman’s plot to kill the Jews is revealed by Esther, and the king responds by executing Haman on the gallows he built for Mordecai, and he then promotes Mordecai to take Haman’s place. In his new position of power, Mordecai is able to issue a decree that allows the Jews to protect themselves from their enemies, thus saving them from Haman’s original order.
As the book concludes, it becomes evident that truly all the details, coincidences, and events of the story were working together for this purpose. The beauty of Esther, her rise to power, Mordecai’s overhearing of the assassination plot, the sleeplessness of the king, the pride of Haman, and countless other details all perfectly collide to provide a redemption from sure destruction. It then becomes unmistakable that God has providentially orchestrated the salvation of his holy nation. Even when he appears absent, he is working behind the scenes in his own wondrous way. Not only is he in his temple in Jerusalem, he is in exile in Susa, moving and protecting and providing. When Haman sold the Jews for silver and cast the lot for their annihilation, God already had a plan in place to use unlikely heroes to provide rescue.
The book of Esther is a profound reminder of God’s abiding presence, his mysterious providence, and his utter faithfulness to his people. It prompts us to consider how God is
working in our day and in our lives and how we can have the timely courage of Esther and Mordecai so that we might be willing to take hold of the opportunities that God has set before us to be a part of his redemptive work. Even more powerful are the echoes of the gospel story in Esther. Just as the gallows built by Haman was the means of his own downfall, the cross used to execute Jesus was the means of destroying Satan’s power. Just as Mordecai was doomed for a gruesome death but exalted to power, Jesus was raised up and seated at the right hand of the throne of God. When Jesus was sold for silver and destined for destruction, God worked victory and salvation for his people. When God seemed most absent, he was totally involved and present. And just as Esther was, Jesus was willing to lay down his own life for the people. Make no mistake, God is at work in our world, and each day he gives us opportunities to participate in his redemptive plan. Perhaps we have come to this particular moment in our lives for such a time as this.