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Esther Bible Companion
“God’s hand in the glove of human history” is how Dr. J. Vernon McGee describes God at work in the book of Esther—a book that never mentions God’s name, yet His fingerprints are everywhere. In five engaging summaries, follow the drama of God at work in the shadows, protecting His people even when they were far from Him. You’ll appreciate Dr. McGee’s engaging insights into how God works in our lives, too.
It is uncertain who wrote this book, but Mordecai could have been the writer (see Esth. 9:29).
“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth. 4:14).
The Book of Esther in one sense is the most remarkable in the Bible, and that is because the name of God is not mentioned in this book at all. There is not even a divine title or pronoun that refers to God. Yet the heathen king is mentioned 192 times. Prayer is not mentioned—it wouldn’t be, since God is omitted. The Book of Esther is never quoted in the New Testament. There’s not even a casual reference to it. But the superstition of the heathen is mentioned, and lucky days, and we’ll be introduced into a pagan, heathen court of a great world monarch who ruled over the then–known world. This is indeed an unusual book.
It is an unusual book for another reason: it is named for a woman. Actually, there are only two books in the Bible named for women. (Some want to include the Epistles of John. I disagree with that, so don’t submit that one to me.) Ruth and Esther are the two books named for women. I’ve written on both of these books: Ruth, the Romance of Redemption and Esther, the Romance of Providence. Redemption is a romance; it is a love story. We love Him because He first loved us, and He gave Himself for us because He loves us. The Book of Esther is the romance of providence. God directs this material universe in which we live today by His providence. in fact, it’s the way He directs all of His creation.
Back in Deuteronomy, before God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, He outlined their history for them. He told them about the Babylonian captivity, and He also told them that Rome would destroy the city of Jerusalem and the people would be taken into captivity. It actually happened that way. But in Deuteronomy 31:18 God says this: “And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.”
In the Book of Esther God has hidden His face from them. But we can say, “God standeth in the shadows keeping watch over His own.” So the Book of Esther gives us a record of a group of people out of the will of God.
Now, when Cyrus made the decree—after the seventy years of Babylonian captivity—that the people might return to the land, not all of them returned. Less than sixty thousand returned, and we had the record of that in Ezra, Nehemiah, and in the two prophetic books of Haggai and Zechariah. But what about the largest segment that did not return to the land? (We have a similar condition today. We speak of the nation Israel. Well, there are probably two million who have returned there, but there are about sixteen million who are scattered throughout the world today. So that, actually, the majority are not in the land at all. That is evident, and I use it merely as a parallel to illustrate what it was in that day.) Several million of these people did not return to the land after the decree of Cyrus. They should have. God had commanded them to. Now they’re out of the will of God. The question is, do we have any record of these people, this large number, that did not return to the land? Yes, and that record is in the Book of Esther. It is recorded here. In other words, we just have one page out of their history, one small item of their experience, and one scrap and shred of evidence in their voluminous record. And the little Book of Esther becomes all important for that reason.
In this we see God in a new way. Although they are not in His will, we see God directing them. How? By His providence.
What is providence? Well, all the great doctrines that we have today are taught in certain books of the Old Testament. You have redemption taught in the Book of Exodus, and the love side of redemption taught in the Book of Ruth. And the Book of Job teaches repentance. And resurrection is taught in the Book of Jonah. So the great doctrines of our Christian faith are taught in certain books of the Old Testament. Now, the Book of Esther illustrates providence. These people in a foreign land, out of the will of God, have not obeyed His orders because His orders were to return to the land of Israel. They remained. They disobeyed. They forgot God; they were far from Him. They did not call upon Him in time of trouble. When they first came into the land of their captivity, they could say, “How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?” They couldn’t sing; they sat down and wept when they remembered Zion. But now they’ve forgotten Zion. In fact, it’s in rubble and ruins, and they don’t want to go back there. They have made a covenant at the beginning, “… let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem …” (Ps. 137:6). They’re forgotten, and their tongue is silent in this book. They’re not praising God at all, nor are they praying to Him. That makes this, you see, a very remarkable book. But what about God? Well, He hasn’t forgotten them. How can God direct them if they’ve rejected Him? Well, God does it by His providence. And the Book of Esther teaches the providence of God. Now, what is providence? Will you forgive me if I’m theological for just a moment? If you want a definition, here’s a theological definition: Providence is the means by which God directs all things—both animate and inanimate; seen and unseen; good and evil—toward a worthy purpose, which means His will must finally prevail. Or as the psalmist said, “… his kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19). In Ephesians 1:11 Paul tells us that God “… worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Our God is running the universe today, friends, even though there are some who think that it has slipped out from under Him. Emerson was wrong when he said, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” Things are riding mankind all right, but they are not in the saddle. God is in the saddle.
There are three words we need to keep in mind before we can properly understand the providence of God in relationship to the material universe and to man in particular.
The first word is creation. We understand by “creation” that God, by His fiat word, spoke this universe into existence. Do you have a better explanation? If you do, I would like to hear it. Frankly, I become a little annoyed with some of the college teachers today who are not experts in the field of science but speak as though they were experts about how evolution formed man. Will you please tell me where all of the “goo” came from out of which the earth and man evolved? When did the earth begin? Did it begin out of nothing? Don’t tell me that it has always existed, because if you do, then you have an infinite universe. If you have an infinite universe, then you have to have somebody who is infinite to run things. We are on the horns of a dilemma. There are only two explanations for the universe: One is speculation—evolution comes under that heading, and prior to evolution there were other theories—all of them have been or will be exploded. They are speculation.
The second explanation is revelation. The only way that you and I, certainly as Christians, will ever understand how this universe began is by faith. We understand that God brought this universe into existence, and the only way that you and I know this is by revelation. “… Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Either you believe in creation or you believe in speculation. There’s no third explanation for the universe. That’s creation.
Then the second word is preservation. And that’s a tremendous word. It is by God’s preservation that the universe is held together. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ “upholds all things by the word of his power.” Colossians 1:17 says, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” What is the “stickum” that holds this universe together? What is it that makes it run just like clockwork today so that a man can be sent to the moon and it is possible to plot exactly where the moon will be? Scientists can send a little gadget out toward Mars and they know exactly where Mars will be. You think it is remarkable that man can do things like that, but I think it is remarkable that we have a universe that runs like clockwork today. Who runs it? The Lord Jesus Christ runs the universe. He upholds all things by the word of His power.
The third word is providence. This is the word we will consider in the Book of Esther. Providence is the way that God is directing the universe. He is moving it into tomorrow—He is moving it into the future by His providence. Providence means “to provide.” God will provide. Remember what Abraham said on top of Mount Moriah, when he and his son Isaac had gone to this mountain to sacrifice to God. They had everything they needed except a sacrifice. “And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together” (Gen. 22:7–8). Nineteen hundred years later, God provided a Lamb on that same mountain ridge that goes through Jerusalem. On Golgotha the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. He was the Lamb that God provided. He was “… the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). God provides.
Providence means that the hand of God is in the glove of human events. When God is not at the steering wheel, He is the backseat driver. He is the coach who calls the signals from the bench. Providence is the unseen rudder on the ship of state. God is the pilot at the wheel during the night watch. As someone has said, “He makes great doors swing on little hinges.” God brought together a little baby’s cry and a woman’s heart down by the River Nile when Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe. The Lord pinched little Moses and he let out a yell. The cry reached the heart of the princess, and God used it to change the destiny of a people. That was providence. That was the hand of God.
The Book of Esther provides us with the greatest illustrations of the providence of God. Although His name is never mentioned, we see His providence in each page of this wonderful little book.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 15: Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)