Standing before the mirror, she transformed into a true beauty queen. Her maidens knew how to work magic and accentuate all her best features. They selected the King’s favorite dress, carefully applied her makeup, and tied a royal robe around her shoulders. Her long dark hair was pinned away from her face, and the finishing touch was a golden crown placed on her head. She was an effortless beauty on a typical day, but on this day, she was a vision. She took a deep breath, hugged her servants goodbye, and wondered if she’d live to see the end of the day.
If you’ve ever wondered where God was in the midst of your suffering, or why he seems silent and maybe even absent, the story of Esther reminds us that God’s invisible hand of providence is always at work behind the seen and unseen parts of our lives.
“If I perish, I perish.”
The Book of Esther reads like a Hollywood movie that chronicles the life of an orphan Jewish girl who became queen of Persia and saved her people from annihilation. It’s a heroine’s tale in which Esther is used to overthrow a satanic plot to destroy the Jewish people and stamp out the lineage of the promised Messiah.
The king’s top advisor Haman, fueled by his deep-seated hatred of the Jews, and specifically Esther’s uncle Mordecai, got the king to sign a decree that on a specific day, all the Jews were to be killed. After the king signed the order, Mordecai encouraged Esther to use her position to intercede for her people. Perhaps it was for such a time as this that she had been made queen (Esther 4:14).
But to go before the King without being called was a crime punishable by death, even for the queen. After calling for a three-day fast, Esther said, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
What is your request? Up to half the kingdom
Esther, dressed in royal regalia, gathered her courage and stood in the courtyard outside the king’s throne room. When the king saw her, he called her in and extended to her his golden scepter. Not only did Esther not perish for approaching him, but he told her that he would give her anything she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. Her unusual request was for the king and Haman to join her for a feast that evening.
But at the dinner, the king realized there was more on Esther’s mind, and he asked her again what it was she wanted. Surprisingly, she requested another feast for the following night. But in the time span between the two dinners, Haman’s plans were foiled; he was humiliated and executed, Mordecai was exalted, and the Jews were saved and flourished in the land.
Where is God in the Book of Esther?
One of the most mysterious and controversial aspects of the Book of Esther is that there isn’t any mention of God in the story. It’s a miraculous story, without any explicit miracles, and there are just too many “coincidences” for it to be a story of happenstance. The absence of God’s name in its pages actually causes the reader to recognize the very presence of God at work in every detail.
How else can you explain the book of Esther?
How could it be that it was Esther, a Jewess, who was chosen to be queen out of 25 million women? Try to explain how Esther’s uncle Mordecai happened to be in the right place at the right time in order to overhear a plot to assassinate the king, report it, and have it entered into the royal record. What are the odds that on the night between the two dinners the king couldn’t sleep and he had the royal record read to him and learned of Mordecai’s heroic yet unrecognized deed? Or that the next day Haman’s true identity as the architect behind the plan to destroy Esther’s people was revealed, and that he was hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai.
The only satisfying explanation for such a turn of events is that it was all part of the providence of God.
What is God’s providence?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives a succinct answer: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (WSC 7). More simply, whatever happens in your life is according to the infinite wisdom of God. As the psalmist states, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24).
The world can’t understand or appreciate this glorious truth. When confronted with the obvious hand of God at work in the affairs of mankind, the best answers it can offer are, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It was karma.” But for centuries the church has pushed back on that kind of thinking. One of the oldest sayings of the early church was Deus pro nobis—“God for us.” What shall we say to these glorious truths? Paul reminds us:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:31b–37)
No matter what trials or tribulations come our way, God assures us that he is for us and providentially at work in us. Nothing—not peril, decrees, king’s commands, or unexpected life turns—can stand in the way of God accomplishing his purposes for our good and his glory.
God is for us
This year, my family and I have been challenged to trust in God’s providence in new ways. It hasn’t been in life or death scenarios like it was for Esther and Mordecai, but in much smaller ways as we’ve clung to the truth that God is for us. After a year of job upheaval and major life shifts, we also received unexpected news that we would have to move.
After months of looking and our deadline approaching, we found a house that piqued our interest. Within 25 minutes of it going online, we had arranged to see it and, a few days later, it was ours. We didn’t know that during all those months of fruitless searching, our future home was undergoing a head-to-toe remodel. By the time they finished the remodel, the family that planned to stay there had to move out of state. The delays we didn’t understand were providentially taking place so that our future home would be prepared in God’s perfect timing, just for us.
Oh for grace to trust him more!
He is not silent or absent
Isn’t it interesting that in the middle of our trials, we too might mistake God’s silence for his absence? Just as it was for Esther, his invisible hand of providence is always working behind the scenes, and behind what’s seen, to do good for those who belong to him. Just because you don’t see it or understand it doesn’t mean he’s not providentially working for you.
John MacArthur said, “While you’re going through life and trying to fix all the pieces of your life, understand this: there is over and above and below your life a divine architect ordering every detail. If you belong to him and are in the covenant of his love, he is accomplishing his perfect will, and you can rest in it.”
One day you may see what lay behind what is now unseen, and know that God providentially worked to orchestrate every detail of your life for your good and his glory all along. Oh, for grace to trust him more.
For such a time as this,