The Book of Esther is one of the most intriguing books in the Bible. It has all the makings of a Father Brown mystery on PBS. The story takes place in Persia during the 5th century BC and gives a picture of the Israelites who were still in Captivity and did not choose to return to Jerusalem under Ezra or Nehemiah. Esther, a Jew, became queen of the empire and her cousin Mordecai the prime minister, and together they saved their people from the terrible Haman, a Persian official who wanted to eradicate the Jewish minority.
The book shows the Providence of God; his sovereign and faithful care over his covenant people. It is readily acknowledged that although the name of God is never mentioned, his fingerprints are all over this mystery, using human instruments to accomplish his purpose. My new look at the book still holds to the main theme of God’s Providence, but it reveals a different take on why the name of God is never mentioned. I arrived at this because I am reading the Bible through again and just finished Ezra and Nehemiah.
The events in Esther occur roughly between those of Ezra and Nehemiah. If you compare them, you will soon notice that the Jews back in Jerusalem under the godly leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah were always being led to pray, repent, and strive to make God’s Law the center of their lives. This God-centeredness was also demonstrated in the lives of Daniel and his three friends, who were Jewish captives under the Babylonians and who rose to prominence under pagan leadership. Yet, they remained faithful to God’s Law and never gave up the privilege of prayer.
In Esther, however, you see a Jewish people who were holding onto their Jewish cultural identity, but who no longer had God at the center of their lives. There was no apparent interest in God’s Law, no concern about the condition of Jerusalem or of the Temple, no response of repentance or prayer in the face of persecution. Mordecai’s counsel, Esther’s appearance before the king, and the plan that Esther and Mordecai hatched to do away with Haaman were all accomplished without any conscious reference to God or dependence upon his power or strength.
Esther certainly demonstrated courage, but her “If I perish, I perish “differs greatly from Nehemiah’s “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Thus could it be that the name of God was never mentioned in the book because the people of God had forgotten God; lost sight of living for his glory, obeying him, and seeking his guidance and direction? They had hunkered down in a pagan culture and instead of influencing the culture for God’s glory, they were more concerned with their own self-preservation and power.
I apply this in two ways: 1) God’s covenant faithfulness for his people, using political circumstances to work out his purposes for them, continues even though his people forget him and move him to the periphery of their lives; 2) Is God mentioned in my life? This last application is a convicting one to me. Do I make it through the day in my own wisdom or do I pray for God’s guidance and direction?
It came to me the other day that while I prayed for wisdom in the process of selecting a new car, I never asked the Lord whether I should have one in the first place. I know that it is not in a man (or woman) to determine the course of his life, so why do I live as if it is? It may surprise you how God led me in this.
I have a dear friend (Richard Burr) who has a ministry of prayer called PRAY THINK ACT. When he started the ministry I always mixed up the title and said THINK PRAY ACT. It was funny but unfortunately it said a lot about me. I have a tendency to think first, pray later, and then act, hoping that God would bless what I have done. I see growth in my life in this area, but more is needed. I would like not only to demonstrate the courage of Esther, but also the God-centered prayer life of Daniel. I want to be a man who prays as a first response and not as a last resort.