The book of Esther is an astonishing account of how a Jewish exile named Mordecai and his orphaned young cousin, Esther, both living in Persia, became prime minister and queen of the Persian Empire and saved the Jewish people from extermination. This happened through an amazing sequence of events so unlikely to happen by chance that we are invited to see God’s invisible hand at work, even though God is not specifically mentioned in the book. In this verse Mordecai suspects he can see how God is working and challenges Esther to meet her date with destiny. She does, and 2500 years later the outcome is still celebrated in the Jewish feast of Purim. In the book of Esther we see God’s saving hand at work through fragile yet inspired individuals. From this we can learn and be encouraged.
The sequence of events begins with the king of Persia falling out with his wife and deciding to look for a replacement by holding a harem beauty contest. Esther finds herself part of this contest, wins against considerable odds, and so becomes queen of Persia! Then Mordecai conveniently overhears a plot to assassinate the king, tells Esther, and the plot is foiled. This fact is written in the king’s records but Mordecai not rewarded – a helpful oversight it later transpires. Next an anti-Semitic character called Haman becomes prime minister and manipulates the king into issuing a decree that all Jews be killed (Esther’s Jewish identity had been kept secret). Dice (Pur – hence Purim) are used to determine the date of the extermination, resulting in a day conveniently distant enough for the rest of the story to unfold. At this point Mordecai sees the God given opportunity of Esther’s position. He challenges her, ‘“Who knows if you haven’t come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”’ After initially appearing a bit reluctant to stick her neck out, Esther rises to the challenge. Breaking royal protocol and so risking her life she invites the king and Haman to two consecutive meals to broach the subject. In the night between these meals the king can’t sleep, asks to be read the chronicle of his reign, and happens to hear the bit about Mordecai saving his life. A dramatic reversal of fortunes then takes place, through further instances of perfect timing, in which Mordecai receives a reward Haman had planned for himself, Haman comes to grief on gallows he had prepared specifically for Mordecai, the Jews are saved, their enemies defeated, and Mordecai made prime minister in place of Haman!
We can learn from this that God often works through miracles of circumstance rather than dramatic supernatural events. There were no voices from heaven in all of this, but Mordecai realized that God was probably at work. ‘“Who knows”’ he speculates. He was right, as subsequent events proved. We should be on the lookout for such nods from God in the circumstances of our lives, ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them’(Ephesians 2:10). God’s leading can come as circumstantial prompts and confirmations through natural means.
Moreover, it’s encouraging that God’s plans can start with us in such dubious places – a Jewish girl in a pagan harem! Although not responsible for our past less than ideal lives, God’s providential plan can mysteriously overarch and incorporate these things in ‘the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will’(Ephesians 1:11).
The roles in life God carved out for Esther and Mordecai were certainly unusual. God is very creative, and rich in His expression of it – consider the Bible’s characters! His symphony is not monotonous and there are many parts in His score. We all need to consider ‘Why has God allowed me to reach this point, where I am, who I am, with my quirks, abilities, interests and opportunities?’ We’re all in unique positions engineered by God through a multitude of past events. We must respond, but needn’t worry that God’s plan could fail because of ourselves or others. His plans cannot be thwarted and somehow always work out, as Mordecai realised: ‘“if you remain silent now, then relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place”’(Esther 4:14). But at every point we have the responsibility to be obedient to our callings, like Esther, and play our part, great or small, famous or obscure. In doing so, by God’s grace and power we’ll celebrate the results not just 2500 years later, but in eternity.