Summary: God doesn’t appear in the book of Esther, but he is present throughout as Esther and Mordecai work for the salvation of God’s people
What do you do when God seems to be absent? What do you think when things go wrong, even though you’re faithfully following Christ? Has God forgotten you? Were his promises unfounded? What about when you know you’ve disobeyed him or ignored him? Perhaps you’re the one who has moved away from God. Does that mean he has no part in your life, in your destiny any more?
They were the sorts of questions that exercised the minds of the Israelites in Exile in Babylon, then later in Persia. They knew they’d been sent into exile as a punishment for their rebellion against God. They knew they were no longer in the promised land, the place of God’s blessing. And so they feared that God’s care for them had ended, that they were on their own.
But that wasn’t the case. God was still their God. He was still interested in their welfare. He sent the prophet Jeremiah, a prophet who was mostly thought of as a prophet of doom, to reassure them that even in exile God was looking after them. One of the most quoted verses of the Old Testament is in Jer 29. God tells his people to settle in Babylon, build houses, plant gardens, find wives and husbands for their sons and daughters; to seek the welfare of the city in which they find themselves, because they’ll be there for some time. They mustn’t fear their exile because he will bring them back. Then he says: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." (Jer 29:11)
God says a similar thing to Ezekiel when he takes him in a vision to the valley of dry bones where Ezekiel sees a great army of skeletons come back to life as a sign of the life God is going to bring back to his people.
Of course this is nothing new. Elijah, if you remember, had an experience of God, speaking in a still small voice, reminding him that he wasn’t alone, that there were still 7000 prophets who hadn’t bowed their knees to Baal. (1Kings 19:18)
We too have the promise of Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." We have Jesus’ promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. (Heb 13:5)
Yet there are times when we wonder, when things seem to argue against God’s presence with us, God’s providence watching over us; when life seems too hard for someone who has God on their side.
Well those are the times when we need to go back to God’s word to see the record he’s left us to reassure us of his love and care. That’s where this book of Esther comes in.
It’s interesting that the entire book of Esther contains no mention of God. God appears to be absent from the mind of the writer. It’s a bit like the story of Joseph where God is hardly mentioned, though there God’s action is acknowledged at the end very clearly. But here God doesn’t appear at all. That may be because the Jews are still in exile. The story is set after the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem and this group have chosen to stay in Persia, so perhaps it’s indicative of their own decision to ignore God. Yet even then he’s still their God and he’s still Lord over history.
You see, although God isn’t mentioned his involvement is made apparent in the number of coincidences that shape the story - the King unable to sleep decides to read the Royal Chronicles where he’s reminded that Mordecai had saved him from assassination; Haman walks into the court just as Xerxes is wondering how to reward Mordecai; Xerxes returns to the banquet hall just as Haman falls at Esther’s feet to beg her to spare him.
When the first disaster happens to Haman, his wife and advisors tell him that because Mordecai is a Jew Haman will surely come to ruin. So the narrator has made the theological leap for us. Even though God isn’t mentioned by name, he’s very much present watching over his people.
In fact when the edict first goes out that the Jews should be killed, Mordecai suggests to Esther that perhaps she’s become Queen for just such an occasion.
And finally, Esther’s response to that suggestion is to tell Mordecai and the other Jews to fast for her, that is, as an accompaniment of prayer to God.
But let’s look at the story, remembering the underlying message, that when God seems most absent from human affairs, he may be most present and at work.