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The Bible - Book by Book - Esther

When we read the Bible, it can sometimes feel like extraordinary events happen every day in the lives of Biblical men and women. Abraham regularly spoke with God; Israel witnessed miracles and signs regularly; the disciples of Jesus witnessed or performed miracles almost daily, it seems. When we look around at the world today, we can wonder why there seems to be such a difference between Biblical times and our time. In fact, some skeptics will use such an argument against the credibility of the Scriptures.

Enter the book of Esther. Here is a book that is about the ordinary. There is no extraordinary deliverance in the same way that God parted the Red Sea or caused the walls of Jericho to fall down. God does not speak, or reveal himself to a prophet. In fact, there is no mention of God at all in any of Esther’s ten chapters. That’s extraordinary, isn’t it?

The book of Esther is notable for a few other reasons. There is no mention of Jerusalem or the importance (or destruction) of the Temple. Nobody prays. God’s law does not seem to have any place in the events of the book of Esther. These characteristics have flummoxed some interpreters. How can a book about ordinary events without any reference to God or divine intervention be inspired Scripture?

But that question misses the point. Without ever mentioning God, the book of Esther speaks volumes about God’s sovereignty over the ordinary. The book of Esther is a divinely inspired corrective for anyone who thinks that God only acts in the extraordinary. This message is communicated through a series of “coincidences” and reversals of fortune woven throughout the narrative. Old Testament scholar Richard Belcher puts it this way: God fulfills his covenant promises through the hidden working of his providence in historical events and human actions. The most important fulfillment is the preservation of the Jewish people from which the savior of the world has come.

There are a number of ways that this theme plays out in the book of Esther. The easiest way to draw this out is by looking at a specific character. Esther herself is a prime example. In the beginning of this book, events happen to Esther. She was orphaned and was being raised by her uncle, Mordecai (2:7). She was taken into the Persian king’s harem (2:8). She was chosen by King Ahasuerus to be his new queen (2:16-17). Was it coincidence that a beautiful Jewish girl found herself to be queen? Or is it the hidden providence of God working through human actions to place the right woman in the right position of power in order to preserve his chosen people? I opt for the latter.

As the book continues, Esther takes an active role and begins to make events happen. Esther boldly stands in the presence of the king at the risk of her own life (5:1-2). Esther deftly exploits the pride of Haman to his ruin and the ruin of his plan to destroy the Jews (5:12). Esther intercedes for the Jewish people before the king, again at the risk of her own life (8:3-4). Does Ahasuerus react favorably to Esther’s boldness out of coincidence? Or is it the hidden providence of God working through the actions of a bold Jewish woman to preserve his chosen people? Again, I opt for the latter. In both the passive and active “coincidences” of this book, God is active in fulfilling his covenant promises to bring forth a seed from Abraham through whom the nations would be blessed.

One final point must be raised. This book is humorous, and that’s okay. If you read through the book of Esther and think that a particular event or situation is funny, it probably is. Paul Lee describes the humor of Esther when he points out that Ahasuerus “finds the solution to his insomnia in reading about his own reign (6:1). This is equivalent to the pastor who finds listening to his own sermons a quick-and-easy way to fall asleep!”[1]

Solemnity has its rightful place in the life of the Christian, but so does humor. Lee again offers penetrating insight when he says, “Readers miss the comedy in Esther largely because of misconceived notions about the inspired Word. We expect books in the holy Scriptures to be serious (i.e., somber) with a life-altering message. The message in Esther is indeed life-transforming, but it is not presented with the same tenor as found in other books.”[2] Moreover, we should note that this humor is coming during a time of great trial in the life of Israel. She is exiled and threatened by the nations around her. And yet, her great God offers to her some comic relief. This humor is a glimmer of hope and a reminder that behind a frowning providence God hides a smiling face, as William Cowper would say.

[1] Peter Y. Lee, “Esther,” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised, ed. Miles V. Van Pelt (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2016), 490.

[2] Lee, “Esther,” 490.

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