Esther 1-2, Hebrews 13
The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me. – Hebrews 13:6 ESV
Meanwhile, back in Babylon. While Nehemiah and the Jews had returned to Judah and were busy rebuilding the walls of the city and recommitting themselves to remain faithful to God, there were still Jews who had chosen to remain in exile in Babylon. The story of Esther takes place during the reign of King Ahasuerus and covers the same period of time. The King Xerxes of Nehemiah is the same person as King Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. Xerxes was his Greek name. So in the book of Esther we get a glimpse of what was taking place back in Babylon to the Jews who were still living as exiles in a foreign land. While it is obvious from reading the book of Nehemiah that God had been with the Jews who returned to the Promised Land, He had not forgotten or forsaken those who remained. And while God is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, His presence can be felt throughout the book. It is the story of a young Jewish girl who found herself surprisingly and suddenly thrust into a very unexpected role. She went from the obscurity of life as a poor peasant girl to the throne room of the king of Persia. Through a series of seemingly random events, she became the next queen. Her rapid and unexpected rise to prominence reminds me of the story of Joseph. Like Joseph, Esther would experience some very unwanted trouble early in life. She lost both her parents at a young age and ended up being raised by her cousin, Mordecai. She later found herself included in a special "beauty pageant" that had been designed to find the next queen of Persia. Again, like Joseph, Esther found favor with the man who was placed in charge of caring for these young women. Out of all the girls brought in to compete for the king's favor, Esther stood out. We read that, “he [Hegai] advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem” (Esther 2:9 ESV). Later we read that “Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And finally, we're told, “the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
While the name of God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, He is inferred all throughout the story. The original audience for this book would have been the people of God living long after the events recorded in the book had taken place. It was intended as a reminder of God's sovereignty and providence. The Jewish readers of this book would have clearly seen the hand of God in the circumstances recorded on its pages. They would have recognized that Esther's rapid rise to fame was totally the work of God. He had been behind the scenes, orchestrating every single circumstance – from Queen Vashti's refusal to obey the king and Esther's unparalleled beauty to the favor she found all along the way. You also see God's sovereign hand in the seeming good luck of Mordecai to be in the right place at just the right time so he could help foil a plot on the king's life. Every single aspect of this story speaks of God's involvement in the lives of men and the history of mankind.
What does this passage reveal about man?
But the story of Esther is also the story of human responsibility. While God could prepare the path and order the events surrounding this young woman, the day came when she had to step out in faith and do her part. She was going to have to recognize that God had placed her right where she was for a reason. She had a part to play in God's divine plan for the people of Israel. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16 ESV). He even asked for prayer from his readers, saying, “for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18 ESV). Esther was going to have to do good and share what she had – her influence over the king. She was going to have to take full advantage of the role in which God had placed her and act honorably in all things. The temptation would have been to protect herself by playing it safe. She would find it easy to justify self-preservation and ignore the difficulties of those around her. But the story of Esther is the story of human responsibility in light of God's overwhelming sovereignty. This young girl had been crowned queen for a reason. And the ramifications of her seeming good luck went far beyond her solitary life. God had placed her in that unique spot for a very specific reason. But would she obey? And what would have happened had she not obeyed?
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
The story of Esther is also the story of the ongoing reality of both human and spiritual opposition. While God is not mentioned in the story, neither is Satan, but his handiwork will be evident throughout. There is far more going on in this story than the life of a single young Jewish girl who finds herself the recipient of some remarkable good karma. What we have here is a vivid glimpse into the spiritual warfare that Paul so aptly describes: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). There is an epic battle recorded in this little book that pits the ruler of this world against the God of the universe. And what we learn is that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV). Every day, God is raising up an Esther. He is putting in place a particular person to accomplish His divine plan by living in submission to His revealed will. Which is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV). God places us right where He wants us. Then He equips us with all that we need to do what He has called us to do. We may find the role intimidating and overwhelming. We may feel that we are not up to the task. But we must always remember that God doesn't place us without empowering us. Esther would find the inner resolve to do what God had called her to do. She would find the strength to face her fears, stand up to the enemy and watch God use her life for the good of man and His own glory.
Father, there is no such thing as luck for us as believers. You are at work in and around our lives each and every day. You are orchestrating events and placing us in situations and circumstances so that You might reveal Your power in us and through us. May we truly approach life with the mindset of Esther. Help us to see You at work and recognize Your sovereign will placing us where we need to be and equipping us with what we need to succeed. Amen