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Though the name of God does not appear overtly in the book of Esther, the Almighty manifested His sovereignty and providence in the narrative’s background. The account makes evident Israel’s providential God. Jehovah, the covenantal name God showed to His people meaning He who will be (Exod 3:13-15; Heb 10:37; Rev 1:8), ordered all that concerned the Jews as a pledge to fulfill their final salvation. He acted in His silence—visible while invisible. How can the reader find the Invisible One’s evidence of providential actions? A close look at His providence reveals He manifested it in numerous manners from event reversals to the fulfillment of pledges.

Queen Esther and Queen Vashti
(Jan Paron, 2019)

Book of Esther: Deliverance of the Jewish People

At the forefront, the book of Esther revolves around the hidden hand of God working through ordinary people to accomplish His will and purpose for His chosen people. Most critically, He used the young Jewish woman Esther in the book bearing her name to shape governmental policy securing the safety of Jews in all 127 Persian provinces, which included the Yehud. God working through her delivered the Jews from Haman’s death edict (Esth 9:20-22) sparing thousands.

Esther narrates the story of God delivering the Jews from Haman’s “edict of death” (9: 20–22). God’s presence need not be overt to be effective. At times, the book feels worldly; however, opulence, kingly power, internal politics nonetheless advance the program of God! God also works from within.

The events in Esther took place 50 years after King Cyrus issued a decree in 538 BC allowing the Judeans’ return to Jerusalem after the fall of Babylon to Persia.[1] Not all exiles went back due to various reasons; rather, many Jewish Diasporas remained in exile as foreigners in the Persian Empire’s capital and its 127 provinces.

Esther did not make known its author. Theologians and historians hold different theories as to its writer ranging from multiple people to the exile Mordecai.[2] Perhaps, the book did not reveal its author since the story kept God hidden within the text. Of the books in the Bible, only Esther does not explicitly mention God by name or title. Instead, God’s hiding invites the reader to find Him in the passages. The name Esther itself may echo the notion of God hiding. The ‘ester (Esther) in the book’s central character seems similar to ‘astir (“I will hide;” Deut 31:18; cf. Ezek 39:23-24); while the Hebrew consonants ‘str appears identical. Jointly, they further reflect God’s hidden nature in the book.[3] Still, God maintains a strong presence in the narrative carrying out His will and purpose for His chosen people.

A canonized book of historical type[4] and post-exilic literature,[5] the writer had a close-up knowledge of Persian customs and culture together with palatial plots and subplots in addition to the Jewish nationalism distinctive. Upon reading the narrative, detailed descriptions emerge throughout Esther portraying a vivid image of the ruling king’s riches, authority, and court politics surrounding the Diaspora Jews’ living conditions. The dating, content, and tone each point to the post-exilic community as the primary audience. No prophets spoke, nor miracles occurred during this period. Thus, the victorious event of deliverance lent hope to the Jewish population and led to the celebration of the Feast of Purim in its commemoration.

The book emphasized several themes. Its focuses include God’s (1) sovereignty in the lives of His people to carry out His will (Ps 115:3; Isa 46:9-11; Dan 4:35; Rom 9:20); (2) providence behind the scenes to order redemptive history; and (3)  faithfulness in keeping His covenantal promises to raise up a deliverer (Moses: Exod 3:10; Joshua: Josh 4:14; Joseph: Gen 50:20, and Jesus: Isa 53:5).

Among these themes, the deliverance of the Jews resides centrally to the narrative. As God interacted with human will, His sovereignty and providence maintained His unchanging faithfulness for salvation. Esther, as one of the Old Testament mediators of deliverance, foreshadowed the Messiah of the New Testament as the ultimate Deliverer in His fulfilled First Coming and future Second Coming.

In reinforcing deliverance’s importance to God’s salvation plan for the Jewish people, Esther parallels other Old Testament exilic accounts. For example, Moses (Exod 3:10, 16-17) and Esther (Esth 5:2) both served as deliverance mediators. Other similarities between the two characters existed, also. Additionally, close family members assisted them: Aaron with Moses (Exod 4:14-15) and Mordecai to Esther (Esth 4:14). Further, both Moses (Exod 3:11) and Esther (Esth 4:11) hesitated to mediate deliverance. They both enjoyed favor as well, Moses from God (Exod 3:21; 11:3; 12:36) and Esther the king or other benefactors (Esth 2:9, 15, 17; 5:2; 8:5).[6]

God’s Providence

Resting on God’s sovereignty as the King over all, divine providence refers to the provisions for His creation He made beforehand. Killen explained providence preserves and purposefully directs what God created in that it excludes fate and chance.[7] While the Jews could not conceive deliverance while in captivity, the Lord had an end and expectation in mind to fulfill for Israel’s future. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV). His thoughts concern our present and future conditions.

Now released by captivity in Assyria and Babylonia, the hand of God displayed itself numerous times in Esther absent of coincidence to complete His foreshadowed end and expectation. He placed His fingerprints in each chapter of the book. For every event, God had a ready provision. While the book does not mention God’s present directly, He promised peace and prosperity restored with a hope and future. He did not forget the Diaspora.

Overview of God’s Providence

Deposing Vashti and Replacing with Esther

          Ahasuerus deposed Vashti as queen because she refused to appear before him wearing her royal crown to show her beauty to the people at the royal banquet (1:11). Esther 1:19c goes on to say, “Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she” (NKJV). So, then arrived Esther on the scene. She was among the beautiful young virgins gathered from the empire (2:3, 8). Esther gained favor initially from Hegai the custodian of the women and all who saw her (vv. 8, 15) and finally, from Ahasuerus over the other virgins in the women’s quarters. He made Esther the queen to replace Vashti (v 17)—Esther, a concealed Jew from the house of Kish and tribe of Benjamin, the daughter of Abihail and niece of Mordecai.

Watching at the Gate and Overhearing the Assassination Plot 

Watching over his charge whom he raised as his daughter, Mordecai paced in front of the women’s quarter to keep an eye on Esther (v. 11). He continued to place himself strategically at the Gate a short distance from the main palace and court structures to monitor her safety even after crowned queen (vv. 19-23). The book referred to him as one of “those of the Gate” (2:2; 3:2). While there, Mordecai overheard assassins discuss plans to kill the king. He reported it to Esther, who in turn notified Ahasuerus. The scribes noted Mordecai’s deed in the book of chronicles in the king’s presence. Did his position at the gate constitute coincidence or fate? God placed him there. God had planted Esther inside the palace and Mordecai outside it.

  וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מָרְדֳּכַ֖י לְהָשִׁ֣יב אֶל־אֶסְתֵּ֑ר אַל־תְּדַמִּ֣י בְנַפְשֵׁ֔ךְ לְהִמָּלֵ֥ט בֵּית־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ מִכָּל־הַיְּהוּדִֽי׃ כִּ֣י אִם־הַחֲרֵ֣שׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי֮ בָּעֵ֣ת הַזֹּאת֒ רֶ֣וַח וְהַצָּלָ֞ה יַעֲמ֤וֹד לַיְּהוּדִים֙ מִמָּק֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר וְאַ֥תְּ וּבֵית־אָבִ֖יךְ תֹּאבֵ֑דוּ וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת׃

“Mordecai had this message delivered to Esther: ‘Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis’” (Esth 4:13-14 Tanakh).  

Coming to the Kingdom for Such a Time as This

Meanwhile, the events leading to the decree for Jewish destruction continued to unfold. Entwined in these affairs, Mordecai became more involved with court matters while keeping his daily watch over Esther at the gate. Now, it came to pass that Ahasuerus promoted Haman over the princes. The king then commanded those within the gate to bow to Haman as he passed through the gates (3:1). However, Mordecai would not bow (vv. 2-3). Being a Jew (and announcing it), the text implies that Mordecai only would worship Jehovah (v. 4). Bowing constituted idolatry. Mordecai’s refusal angered Haman, prompting him to seek the destruction of all Jews in Persia (vv. 5-6). Haman, from a lineage of enemies to the Jews, talked the king into approving a decree that threatened the Diaspora’s destruction (v. 10). Ahasuerus gave Haman his signet ring, and thus, broad power in governmental affairs. But, God! God who knows the end from the beginning already had intervention providentially prepared to counter Haman’s action.

In a pivotal moment, Queen Esther unaware of the decree entered the picture as Mordecai stands in front of the Gate clothed in sackcloth and ashes, mourning over the issuance. She learned of the reason through Hathach, her servant whom she sent to inquire of Mordecai. Esther also learned of her elder cousin’s request to mediate the dire affairs with a plea to Ahasuerus. Through a series of exchanges between Hathach, she hesitated since one only can enter the king’s inner court upon his calling (4:11). Finally, she heeded the request and acknowledged, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). She played an essential role in God’s plan for Israel. Take note that Mordecai highlights God’s sovereign and providential natures with his urging, “relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place“ (v. 14a). With or without Esther, victory over the enemy would arise from elsewhere. The Queen once again found favor with Ahasuerus within the inner court, but would not reveal her full request to the king.

Turning the Table

God’s intervention ensued, bringing insomnia upon the king. Ahasuerus could not sleep and had someone read the royal chronicles to him. (6:1). The portion reviewed highlighted Mordecai’s report that thwarted an assassination of the king. Ahasuerus learned that Mordecai’s deed went unrewarded (v. 3). About that same time, Haman visited Ahasuerus early to secure hanging Mordecai on gallows the Agagite constructed (6: 1–6). Calling Haman into the inner court, the king asked what he should do to honor a man. Haman responded, thinking Ahasuerus meant himself. In a reversal surely Haman did not anticipate, Ahasuerus had Haman carry out his very suggestions to honor Mordecai. Haman lead Mordecai in one of the king’s robes on a royal crested horse as he proclaimed, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!” (6:10). So much for executing Mordecai! Little did Haman know the fate awaiting him—God’s underplot to squash Haman’s scheme to kill the Jews.

Thwarting the Adversary

When Queen Esther finally appealed to Ahasuerus for her life and the lives of her people at a banquet, the king indignantly asked who devised the horrible plot. She had found favor with the king once again. She revealed the adversary as Haman (7:6). Meanwhile, the king left the banquet in anger. A terrified Haman stood before Esther pleading for his life. However, Haman fell on the couch where Esther sat. Rabbinical commentary[8] surmised an angel pushed Haman. Nevertheless, Ahasuerus thought Haman was about to assault his queen in addition to his egregious acts against her people. The king hung Haman on the very gallows he earlier built for Mordecai.

Evidence of God’s Providence

Evidence 1: God Directs Reversals

The title God of Reversals well describes the attributes of the divine Unnamed One in the book of Esther. It serves to illustrate the revealed providential God hidden but active throughout the story. Each event that impeded God’s restoration for the Jews at the gathering of the Jews in Yehuda preceded with a reversal. Consider the following table that uncovers 15 reversed events, each turning the outcome towards God’s intended will and purpose for Israel (Table 1: Reversal Events in the book of Esther):

Table 1. Reversal events in the book of Esther

Event Event Reversed
Vashti refused to appear before the king (1:12)Esther appeared before the king (2:15)
Vashti angered the king (1:12; 2:4)Esther delighted the king (2:17-18; 5:2; 6; 7:2; 8:4; 9:14)
Vashti removed as queen (1:19; 2:4)Esther crowned queen (2:17); made policy (8:7; 9:13)
Vashti wronged the king, princes, and all those in the empire (1:16)Ahasuerus made a great feast for Esther called it the Feast of Esther (2:18)
Vashti lost the king’s favor (1:19)Esther gained the king and others’ favor (2:9, 15, 17)
Esther did not reveal her ethnicity (2:10)Esther revealed her nationality (7:3-4)
Mordecai placed himself in front of the courts of the women’s quarters within the king’s gate (2:11; 19)Mordecai because great among the Jews and received by the multitude of his brethren (10:3)
Esther waited to see the king until called by name (2:14)Esther went to see the king without his request and gained
favor (5:20)
Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite above the other princes (3:1)Ahasuerus promoted Mordecai,
the son of Jair of Kish to second to
the king (10:3)
Haman felt Mordecai disrespected him because he would not bowMordecai became the most
respected among Jews (3:10)
Haman sought to destroy all the
Jews in Ahasuerus’ kingdom (3:6)
Esther mediated deliverance of the Jews in Ahasuerus’ kingdom (5:2, 8; 7:3-4; 8:3, 5)
Haman cast pur (a lot) to destroy
the Jews on the 13 Adar (3:7,12)
Jews great warred against their
enemies on 13 Adar (9:1)
Ahasuerus gave his signet ring to Haman (3:10)Ahasuerus gave his signet ring to Mordecai (8:2a)
Haman thought the king would honor him (6:6-9),The king honored Mordecai (6:11-12)
Mordecai tore his clothes and wore sackcloth and ashes (8:15)Ahasuerus dressed Mordecai in his royal robe (6:10)
Haman built gallows to hang Mordecai (5:14)Ahasuerus hung Haman on his own gallows (7:9-10)

God providentially reversed several situations for other biblical figures as it relates to upholding His plan of redemption. He replaced King Saul with King David; changed misfortune to fortune for Ruth and Naomi; scattered and gathered the people of Israel (Jer 29:14); and brought death to life from the first Adam to the final Adam (Rom 5:14) to name a few.

Evidence 2: God Sees the End From the Beginning

God took on the dual roles of the main character and director of the story. Though not overtly mentioned in the story, the essence of His sovereignty played out in each chapter. The reader cannot help but anticipate what God will do next scene by scene. Isaiah 46:10 says “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: He sees the end from the beginning and controls every move towards that end.” God manifested as Jesus Himself has the nature of the beginning and end: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:14). He holds the Big Story in His hand.

Evidence 3: God Providentially Uses Various People for His Purposes

The narrative of Esther contained characters with continues moving parts within and outside the palace. God did not favor one class, gender, or ethnicity to accomplish His providence. Gate watchers, maids, eunuchs, princes, the queen, king, and more play a role in the deliverance of the Diaspora Jews in Persia.

Evidence 4: God Honors Defiant Faith

Esther stood in the face of uncertainty over God’s providence with defiant faith. While the text hides God’s presence in the story, the reader senses it when Esther asked Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Shushan to fast for her for three days as well as she and her maids also would fast. Though going to the king without his approval went contrary to the kingdom’s law and thus warranted execution, Esther displayed an essential act of faith by fasting individually and corporately united in a cry for salvation to their heavenly King. She met the task with spiritual force. In Jer 19:13, the Lord said, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (NKJV). God honored the actions of Esther’s heart when she appeared before the earthly king Ahasuerus.

Evidence 5: God Brings His Will to the Seemingly Impossible

The hand of God demonstrates His will in the face of challenging situations. In the passage for “such a time as this,” the Tanakh uses the word crisis instead of time. A crisis does not disturb God’s plan since He operates in the supernatural with an expected outcome to accomplish His plan.

Evidence 6: God Remembers His Enemies

In Deut 25:19, God said He would blot out the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:17-18). God commanded King Saul to wipe out the Amalek. He took the plunder of the Amalek but kept King Agag alive. Samuel later killed the Amalek king. Haman descended from the house of Agag (1 Chron 4:43), and Esther the house of Kish from Saul (Esth 2:5). Mordecai answered Esther, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth 4:14). He quite possibly referred Esther back to King Saul and Samuel. Esther had the duty to kill off the enemy of Israel (Exod 17:16) that Saul did not complete. Otherwise, God providentially had another agency available to complete His deliverance for the Jewish Diaspora community.

Conclusion

The turn of events God authoritatively controlled confirms a divine testimony of the covenant-keeping Yahweh with the Jewish people. Through inspired text, Esther demonstrates His preserving redemption for Israel and directing events to deliver His people from annihilation during the reign of Ahasuerus. Regardless of humanity’s actions, He remained faithful to His promises as a providential God.

Jan Paron, PhD,

June 16, 2019

References

Bible Gateway. “Cambyses.” Encyclopedia of the Bible. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Cambyses

Goitein, S. D. Bible Studies. Tel Aviv: Yavneh Publishing,1957.

Killen, Allen R. “Providence.” Page 1421 in Wycliffe Bible Dictionary. Edited by C. F. Pfeiffer, H. F. Vos, and J. Rea. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.

Martin, James, C., Beck, John A., and Hansen, David G. A Visual Guide to Bible Events. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.

Rydelnik, Michael and Vanlaningham, Michael eds. “Esther.” Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 682.

Struse, William. “Queen of 127 Provinces.” The 13th Numeration.  http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/03/19/queen-of-127-provinces/

White Crawford, Sidnie, “Esther,” Society for Biblical Literature, 680.


[1] Sidnie White Crawford, “Esther,” Society for Biblical Literature, 680. The events took place in the early Hellenistic period dated approximately the fourth century BC.

[2] S.D. Goitein, Bible Studies, (Tel Aviv: Yavneh Publishing,1957), 62. Goitein believed an exile wrote Esther while in exile with the intended audience of exiles. Mordecai, as a possible author generates from Jewish tradition based on Esther 9:20.

[3] Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds., “Esther,” in Moody Bible Commentary (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2014), 682.

[4] In the Hebrew canon the Tanakh, the Writings or Ketûbîm contain Esther.

[5] Post-exilic literature comprises pieces written after the fall of Babylon.

[6] Esther. Moody Bible Commentary, 683.

[7] Allan R. Killen, “Providence,” Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, (eds. Charles F. Pfeiffer, Howard  F. Vos, and John Rea; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 1421.

[8] Rashi, “Commentary on Esther,” Sefaria. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) wrote his commentary on the Tanakh in Troyes, France approximately 1075-1105 CE. He quoted numerous Midrashim and Talmudic passages.