There was a sculptor by the name of Tobias McFlipper. His sculptures sold for millions and were displayed in every penguin city in Antarctica. No one ever said anything bad about his art. McFlipper began to wonder if his sculptures were really that good or if his name was carrying them. To find out, McFlipper spread the rumor that he had a new protoge, a young skua girl named Becky Dustfeather. Working under the false name, Tobias made what he thought was a mediocre statue. He displayed it under the name Becky Dustfeather, but everyone commented on how wonderful the new McFlipper was. Mcflipper's work was so well known that everyone recognized it, even without his name.
God is not mentioned in the book of Esther. This is the only book of the bible where this is true. Yet this is also the one book of the bible where God's providence shines most clearly. It is almost as if God has deliberately hidden himself to help us develop our skill at finding Him when He is not visible.
Let's take a quick rundown of the book. First of all, while some people believe that this book is fiction, it is not. Extrabiblical documents from other countries document the events in Esther. It's just difficult to see because the names are pretty much always changed between languages. While the jews were still in captivity, Babylon had been conquored by Media and Persia. King Artaxerxes divorced queen Vashti and was looking for a new wife. He had the pretty young maidens of the kingdom paraded before him, and chose Esther. Her cousin Mordecai advised her to just go with it, but not to tell anyone that she was a jew.
Meanwhile, the evil vizier, Haman, was demanding that everyone bow to him as some sort of divine figure. Mordecai, being a devout jew, refused. Haman was insensed and tricked the king into ordering the elimination of not only Mordecai, but all jews. Artaxerxes, unable to sleep one night, had a servant read his diary to him. Being reminded that Mordecai saved his life, the king ordered Haman to publicly honor Mordecai. Shortly thereafter, Esther informed the king of Haman's plot and informed him that both she and her cousin were jews. Foiled and publicly humiliated, Haman hanged himself on gallows he built for Mordecai. The king was sorry for ordering the eradication of the jews, but as a meado-persian king, the one thing he could not do was rescind an order. So instead, he ordered the jews to gather together and slay anyone who came at them. In the end, Haman was dead and Mordecai was vizier. The jews not only survived, but had many medes and persians added to their number.
Where is God in this picture? He's never mentioned, but we can see Him working if we know where to look. He picked just the right person for King Artaxerxes to fall in love with- a jewess and the ward of Mordecai, the jew who saved the king. He also picked Mordecai, whose loyalty to Him would force a confrontation. He withheld sleep from the king, causing him to be reminded of Mordecai's good deed at just the right moment. He softened the king's heart and caused justice to fall on Haman and all who sympathized with him. He orchestrated all these events to add to His people those who would believe in Him. And after the third generation, the children of these eastern peoples would be legitimate Israelites.
From this, we can readily see God's providence even when it isn't spelled out. By studying the events of Esther, we can look around and see God's providence elsewhere throughout the world and throughout history. Take Pearl Harbor, for example. What was to be gained by allowing the Japanese to kill innocent Americans? For one thing, the defeat of Japan opened the nation up to the west and provided imense opportunities for the spread of the gospel in the orient. From Japan, it spread into China, where a massive underground church now prepares to take the Gospel west across the 10-40 window. I could go on, but I'd like to save the world wars for later in the series.
This is the first instance we see of the jews being persecuted for no reason. In the past, the nations around them lived in fear of them. The cananites knew that the Israelites were there as their executioners. The Philistines and others wanted what Israel had. Now here were the jews- Benjamin, Judah, Levi, South Mannaseh and a smattering of the rest of the tribes, living in exile in the east. They had no land, they weren't rich, nor were they a threat to anybody. They had given no offense to anyone except Mordecai to Haman, and that only in doing what was right. Haman was offended by one man, and because of that, sought to destroy all jews.
If we can see God hidden in this picture, we can see someone else here as well. Just as God was working behind the scenes to accomplish His goals, so Satan was working to accomplish his. Let's think about this for a moment. It had not been long before that Isaiah the prophet had written his book. In it were some of the clearest prophecies of the messiah ever. Every old Christian knows that if you want to prove Jesus is the Messiah, you go to Isaiah 53. (That's why most rabbis won't let their congregations read it.) Satan now had a much clearer picture of what God was planning. He knew that salvation and the Messiah would come through the jews. He still did not understand it fully, but he knew that he had to destroy them. Satan therefore inspired Haman to set himself up as a god and set about to destroy the jews. The devil would never stop with this plan, although his schemes became more and more elaborate. He would use such contemptible people as Mohamed, Hans Schickelgrueber and Yassir Arafat to make attempt after attempt to wipe out the jews. None of them would succeed, but in fact made them stronger. But that, too, is another sermon.
In Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar, the nation had adopted the worship of Jehovah because the King told them to. Now, God's providence had been publicly demonstrated in defense of the jews. If watching Nebuchadnezzar live as a ferral beast or seeing the handwriting on the wall hadn't done anything to encourage belief in God, seeing a poor, captive people destroying anone who came against them had. In our river of history, this era was a region of tributaries. Waters, that is people, who were being drawn to the river now joined into it, strengthening God's people and providing the impetus the river would need to overcome the dams and jams of the future.
But what personal lessons does this have for us? Well, there's a lot we can take away from this. I have often said that there are four levels to all world events. public, conspiracy, demonic and divine. We have the actions of the king as the public percieves them. We have Haman manipulating the king. We have Satan manipulating Haman, but ultimately, we have God manipulating the entire ball of wax, using the evil that Satan plots against itself, causing justice to come upon the wicked and reward upon the good, furthering His own good and right agenda in the process. We can trust God to make things work out for the best for his people, even if it should happen that we must suffer, or even die in the process. As our faithsome foursome (Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah and Daniel) said, "God will protect us, and even if He choses not to, it is better to die than to serve false Gods. Paul reinforces this centuries later when he says "To live is Christ, but to die is gain." While we live, we serve. When we die, we enter into our reward.
So lesson one is trust God. Lesson two: Stand in the place where you live. Esther didn't know why she had been chosen by Artaxerxes. She must have been confused and alarmed to suddenly and inexplicably be chosen out of hundereds if not thousands of women to be the King's bride. Yet she had been put in the perfect place to save her people from destruction. It may be that you have also felt this kind of confusion, looking around and saying "why am I here? What is God's purpose for me?" It may be that God has placed you where you are so that you may fulfill an essential role in his plans later in time.
So what was next? The captivity had fulfilled its purpose. Israel was cleansed of idolatry. They had been reformed, were maturing in faith and now had grown in number. This moment would be forever marked by the observance of Purim. The next step would be to return and rebuild what was broken.
Next week: Nehemiah.
Today's reading: Esther 6:1-13
6:1 That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.
2 It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.
3 "What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?" the king asked. "Nothing has been done for him," his attendants answered.
4 The king said, "Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him.
5 His attendants answered, "Haman is standing in the court." "Bring him in," the king ordered.
6 When Haman entered, the king asked him, "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?" Now Haman thought to himself, "Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?"
7 So he answered the king, "For the man the king delights to honor,
8 have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head.
9 Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king's most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!'"
10 "Go at once," the king commanded Haman. "Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended."
11 So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, "This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!"
12 Afterward Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief,
13 and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, "Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him--you will surely come to ruin!"