2 December 2020

Book: Esther

A Hidden God

Bible Passage: Esther 4:1-16

If there were a slam against the book of Esther it might be that it doesn’t seem very spiritual. The characters in the book, of which there are four main characters, they seem morally questionable at best. The book is filled with intrigue—partying and drunkenness, libertinism, and murder. The Jewish characters, of which there are two main characters, do not seem to be concerned with keeping the law of God—they eat unclean foods and are ok with marrying foreigners. But maybe the biggest “problem” is that there is no mention of God. Not just in the section which we read, which you might expect, but in the entire book. Upon first reading, the book seems like a series of coincidences and strange turns more than anything else.

It begins with King Xerxes. You might remember him from history from the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. He’s having a banquet with his friends and he gets drunk and calls on his queen, Vashti, to demonstrate her beauty to him and his friends. She refuses, so in a rage he deposes his queen and eventually begins a search for a new queen.

So a national beauty competition is held, women from all over the empire were brought in. And one of these women was a jewish woman named Esther. Esther won the favor of Xerxes and Xerxes was completely smitten by her. He eventually welcomed her into the royal residence and made her his queen. Throughout all of this Mordecai, Esther’s cousin who adopted her because she had been orphaned, had told her not to reveal ethnicity so she didn’t.

One day Mordecai had overhead two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate Xerxes, so he warned Esther, who in turn reported it to the King and gave credit to her cousin Mordecai. The plot was uncovered and the king’s life was saved.

After this, Xerxes named a man by the name of Haman as second in command over the empire. Haman was not Persian, he was an Agagite, a descendent of the Amelekites. The Amalekites were age old enemies of Israel going all the way back to the Exodus. They were the nation that consistently attacked the Israelites as they were traveling through the desert. So Haman was presented to the royal officials, but Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow down and give Haman honor.

Haman saw that Mordecai refitted to bow down and was completely enraged. He learned that Mordecai was a Jew and having Mordecai killed wasn’t enough, he wanted to exterminate the Jewish people living in the kingdom. A day was decided by lot, Xerxes gave his approval, and Haman and Xerxes had a drinking party.

Mordecai found out the plan and put on sackcloth and ashes to mourn. He brought word of what was going to happen to Esther. And Esther and Mordecai developed a plan to save the Jewish people.

Esther invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet she had planned. And they were drinking wine and the King asked why she invited them to a banquet to which Esther responded, “Come back to a special banquet just for you and Haman and I will tell you my request.” So they planned to come back, but as Haman left the banquet he came across Mordecai who refused to bow down to him again. So Haman planned to set up a giant pike and have Mordecai impaled on it.

That night Xerxes couldn’t sleep so for his favorite bedtime story he listened to the chronicles of his reign and by listening to them he’s reminded of what Mordecai had done for them. HE had forgotten and was reminded to Honor him in some way. And this is were the story begins to pivot. At that moment Haman came in to see Xerxes to get permission to impale Mordecai. As he entered to see the King, Xerxes asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”

Of course Haman thought Xerxes was talking about him, so he said, “Put him in a royal robe, with the royal crest placed on his head, and lead him through the city on a horse proclaiming this is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.” And Xerxes said, “Yes, yes, get the robe and the horse and lead Mordecai throughout the city and proclaim it.”

Haman and Xerxes go to Esther’s second banquet. And finally Esther reveals that she is Jewish and that she would be killed by Haman’s plan. And the king is not happy. Xerxes has Haman killed on the pike he had planned for Mordecai. 

In Persia a king’s edict cannot be revoked, but the King allowed Esther and Mordecai to issue a new edict which would allow the Jews to be saved. So they issued a decree that the Jews could defend themselves against anyone who would dare to harm them and the Jews prevailed and they were slaved.

Do you see all the coincidences? If Xerxes hadn’t gotten drunk and invited Vashti in to show herself, there would have been no new queen. If there had been no beauty competition there would have been no Esther as Queen. If Mordecai hadn’t heard the plot for Xerxes life he wouldn’t have gained honor in the sight of the King. Every step along the way was necessary for the saving of the Jewish people.

As much as chapter six when Haman comes before Xerxes after Xerxes was reminded of what Mordecai did for him is the pivot of the story, so also is chapter four when Mordecai told Esther Haman’s plan is the key to understanding this story. Because that is when everything comes into focus for Esther.

Mordecai wanted Esther to do something. But Esther told Mordecai, “I can’t. You don’t understand, you don’t just present yourself to the king. If you do, he can kill you. He has to call on you, and I haven’t been called on for months.”

But Mordecai said to her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” Literally he says you have been brought to your royal position for such a time as this. Esther had nothing to do with it. Mordecai had nothing to do with it. Even Xerxes, had nothing to do with it.

If you go to Perth, Australia you can find a statue there called the impossible triangle. You can see it in page six in your worship folder. Its located in the center of a round about. And from most angles it looks like a mangle football goalpost. But from one particular position it comes into focus and it forms a triangle. 

I wonder if that is kind of how we view God’s activity in the world. As we view our own lives or the lives of those around us we might just see a jumbled mess of coincidences. But when we read the Bible then his activity is clear to us. It is easy to see his activity in the story of Joseph when he said to his brother, “You intended to harm me but God intended it for the saving of many.” It’s easy to see God’s activity in the story of Hezekaih and Sennecherib when the angel of the Lord fights for the people of Israel and defeat Sennecherib’s men. It’s easy to see God’s activity in the account of Naomi and Ruth that we saw last week. 

But when we see our own lives it is difficult to see the working of God. And if that is the case then no wonder much like Esther we make all sorts of excuses to serve God and his work among us. Because it very well might cost me something. It might be the death of the capital I have exerted to get to where I am at in my job. It might be the death of what I want to do and how I want to enjoy life. It might be the death of my own comfort. There is just too much to risk personally.

But what if God has brought you here for such a time as this? What Esther begins to show us is that God is at work in spite of moral failures and evil, using all of those things for his blessed end. Using all those things for the saving of many.

What Esther beings to show us that when God seems hidden he has not abandoned us. When he seems silent, he has not forsaken us. Rather he is putting us into positions and working though us so that his work may be furthered.

The hiddenness of God is nothing new. It was true of the time of Esther, but it was true at the time of Jesus as well. There many more who could not on their own see him as God among their midst. Pilate himself struggled to see it.

But his Father had brought him to that moment for such a time as that, so that many, including you, would be saved. Surely we see him as our Lord and God in that moment, but we do so with eyes of faith. We know he is there before Pilate for us, but he is also there for the times when we fail to dedicate ourselves to the working of God. He is there when we make excuses.

And so in our place he risked it all. Esther said, ‘If I perish, I perish.” But Jesus said, “When I perish, I will perish for the salvation of my people.” That is nothing less than the working of God for your salvation and mine. His death. His resurrection. It brings us life, not because we have found ourselves in such a place or position of honor, but because God was gracious enough to bestow us this honor. That is no coincidence.

Maybe then you will see coincidences of God in your life not so much as coincidences but as the working of his grace in your life. And when you see that maybe you will see how he has brought you right here, right now, for this time out of his grace to draw you into his work. Amen.