Summary: When you are trapped you must take risks, realizing your life has a divine destiny. You must trust in the providence of God.
The book of Esther contains one of the most intriguing stories in the Bible. The plot is full of twists and turns, and the ending is a surprise resulting in the reversal of fortunes. The story begins simply enough with a king holding a banquet. King Xerxes of Persia has just spent six months parading his wealth before the entire kingdom (it took that long), and now he is throwing a feast for all the men in the capital city for seven days. His queen, Vashti, was giving a banquet for the women at the same time. After seven days of drinking, the king orders the queen to come and parade herself before his drunken guests. Jewish tradition says that he ordered her to come and appear before the men wearing only her crown. For whatever reason, she refused, but that kind of behavior was not tolerated by a king who was used to always having his way, so he deposed the queen — and some say that she was executed. At this point, a young Jewish girl enters the story. The king is looking for a new queen, and a beauty contest is held all over the kingdom — sort of an ancient game of “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire.” Esther is selected, and her only surviving relative comes to the gate of the palace every day in order to find out how she is doing. Mordecai is her uncle who gives reverence only to God, but Haman, one of the king’s chief officers, is used to having people bow down to him. He is enraged that Mordecai will not bow. As a means of getting revenge, Haman decides to kill not only Mordecai, but everyone of his race as well — the Jews. The story becomes tense because Esther is also a Jew and her uncle Mordecai calls on her to save their people. She is reluctant to approach the king, because anyone who comes to the king without his prior invitation is killed on the spot — unless he holds out his golden scepter. No one crossed the king and got away with it. But she does approach the king, and he responds by holding out the golden scepter. She invites the king to a special dinner where she will present her real request. Meanwhile, Haman is busy erecting a large pole on which he plans to impale Mordecai. But he is interrupted from his work with an invitation from Queen Esther to attend a banquet where he will be the honored guest. At the dinner, Queen Esther reveals to the king Haman’s plan to annihilate her people. The king is furious, and Haman is impaled on the very pole that he had prepared for Mordecai. Haman had cast dice, called Pur, to decide what day to kill the Jews, and it was on that very day that the Jews were saved from their enemies. The Jewish people continue to celebrate the feast of Purim to this very day.
The book of Esther is peculiar in the Bible because it never mentions God. It never mentions prayer. There are no prophets. There are no references to worship or the temple. It is almost as if it was deliberate. In fact, I believe it is. We have to remember that the Jews are in exile. They are separated from Jerusalem, the temple and its sacraments of worship. It is a time of separation of all that is holy to them. It is almost as if it would be sacrilegious to even mention God in this pagan kingdom. And yet, everywhere in the book are the signs of God at work and the display of his power. The providence of the Almighty is given credit for the deliverance of the Jewish people even though he is never mentioned. Even though there is no recorded prayer, there is much fasting which implies prayer. It does not speak of Mordecai worshiping God, but his worship of the one true God is certainly evident in the fact that he will not bow down to anyone — except God. And, indeed, the whole point of the book is that the small and beleaguered people of God are set over against the most powerful dynasty of its time — and God’s people are victorious. It is God against the most powerful king on earth — and God wins. God takes the plans of evil and brings those plans crashing down on the heads of those who devised that evil. God takes the most hopeless situation and uses it to prove his power. The beauty of this book is that it never mentions God, but speaks about him more clearly and powerfully than if his name were in every verse.
We have the privilege of knowing the end of the story and how everything works out, but if you were living out that story it would not be nearly so appealing. The events would be terrifying and depressing. It would look like everything was lost and hopeless. For Esther it was particularly difficult. She is trapped. She realizes that she is morally obligated to help her people, but she also knows that if she attempts anything it might cost her life. She could keep quiet about her nationality and the plight of her people, and continue to live a life of privilege and ease, or she could do the right thing and lose everything. Her uncle was applying pressure on her to do the right thing, and her own conscience was applying equal pressure. But fear applied a special pressure of its own.