Tiffany Dupont as Queen Esther

Divine Providence

Esther 1, 2

The book of Esther is named for it’s main character, a Jewess by the name of Hadassah, who was later renamed Esther, probably because of her beauty. Hadassah means “myrtle” but Esther means the much more impressive “a star.” Chronologically, the events of Esther take place some time during the days of Ezra and the restoration of Jerusalem. While many of the exiled Jews took advantage of Darius’ decree to return home, many remained living and working within the extensive Persian Empire. Esther was part of the ex-patriot Jews who chose not to go back to Jerusalem.

The book of Esther is as remarkable as its main character. While a pagan king is named almost 200 times, the name of God is completely absent. Nobody ever seems to pray in the book of Esther and not a single verse of this book is quoted either directly or indirectly anywhere else in the Bible.

Yet none of these are what makes the book of Esther so remarkable. What makes Esther such a remarkable book is how clearly divine providence can be seen. “Providence” is the way that God is the works within the universe—His creation. “Providence” simply means “to provide.” So God provides everything His creation needs, but He does so in all kinds of ways. “Providence,” as others have noted, means that the hand of God is 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. “Providence” describes how God make huge doors swing on tiny hinges.

Let’s look at “providence” in the book of Esther.

1. The King’s decree, Esther 1:19—2:4

a) Ditching a queen, 1:19—22

The story begins with the mention of a king, Xerxes, and a very brief description of the extent of his kingdom: it was massive. Xerxes was royalty to the nth degree. As an aside, the description of the feasts tallies closely with information we glean from other, extra Biblical sources.

Xerxes, a great king in his own right, was a pig. Greek scholars note that he was “proud, self-centered and self-willed, impulsive, undisciplined, a drunkard, but not cruel.” We might think of Xerxes as a narcissist who went to great lengths to please himself no matter what the cost.

Here is God’s providence on display. Remember our definitions. Thanks to Xerxes’ wanton drunkenness, his wife, Queen Vashti, decided she’d had enough of his boorish behavior and refused to party with him at his feasts. This was a great insult:

Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. (verse 19)

God is nowhere to be seen, but He was working in the background, laying the foundation that would lead to getting His person into the palace of the King. In order for that to happen, Queen Vashti had to go.

b) Searching for a new queen, 2:1—4

It didn’t happen over night. In fact, some three or four years had passed since the deposition of Vashtin, and a kingdom-wide search began for a queen to replace the beautiful Vashti. It was during the intervening years that Xerxes had been busy fighting the Greeks.

It was a long and careful search:

Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” (verses 2—4)

2. Esther finds favor, 2:5—14

Here is where the story really begins. Everything up this point just sets the stage for Esther’s entrance. God was getting things ready for her; He was opening the doors for her to walk through. That is God’s providence in action; you can’t see Him, and you often don’t know He’s done anything until after the fact, but without the events of the first chapter-and-a-half, Esther would have never entered the palace of the king.

a) Esther’s identity, verses 5—7

Among the many beautiful young women rounded up and brought to the palace, was a certain Jewess named Hadassah. Hadassah, Esther, was undoubtedly beautiful. Jewish historians write that she was one of the three most beautiful women who ever lived.

She had been raised in the household of her older cousin, Mordecai, of the tribe of Benjamin, whose great-grandfather, Kish, was one those who were taken into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.

Here is another example of providence in action:

Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai …(2:5)

By chance, Mordecai happened to work in the exact place Xerxes lived, so he was able to learn about the king’s search early on and was able to get young Hadassah into the running.

b) Esther’s advantage, verses 8—11

Hadassah, or Esther, must have really been something for she impressed Hagai, the one in charge of these women, that we read this:

Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem. (verse 9)

Nobody knew that Esther was a Jewess for she kept her heritage under wraps. She didn’t lie about it, she just didn’t talk about it. Mordecai, the master-mind behind this, was concerned for her safety. Antisemitism is not new to the our time.

Here, again, is God’s unseen hand, looking after His person. He not only cleared the way for Esther to get into the palace, but He made sure she was well-looked after, probably away from the other women, in her own room or segregated space.

When a believer is in God’s will, things just work out. Look at Mordecai and look at Esther. Mordecai is worried about Esther because he’s trusting in his own plans.

Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her. (verse 11)

But Esther, trusting in God, is being pampered and cared for like never before.

c) Esther’s treatment, verses 12—14

Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments… (verse 12)

And you think it takes your wife a long time to get ready! If Esther was beautiful before these beauty treatments, we can only imagine how stunning she must have been afterward. All of these women came from various walks of life, and so the Persians, heathens and pagans all, would have insisted that they be completely cleaned up and made over so as to look like a Persian, smell like a Persian, walk like a Persian, and in all ways resemble a Persian woman.

It is often asked why God would allow Esther to participate in what amounted to beauty contest; basically using her body and good looks to win the king’s favor. God permitted all this by His providence. Her entrance into the contest, her acceptance by the man in charge, all of these things were ordered by God for His purpose.  Yes, Esther was beautiful, but more importantly she was chosen by God for the task at hand.  She would have become Queen no matter how she looked.

3. Providential position, 2:15—23

a) Esther’s turn, verses 15, 17

Esther’s introduction to the king resulted in her being chosen as queen.

Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.

She was already a winner in the harem; she out-shone all the other women in her beauty inside and out. When the king saw her, God’s plans for Esther and His people were underway and Xerxes didn’t know it!

Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. (verse 17)

How did Esther become such a winner? Certainly was she beautiful, but then so where all the other women in waiting. Why Esther? We must never forget that God was working in the background. It was not all left up to chance. Success or failure did not rest on Esther’s shoulders or Mordecai’s plans. Her selection by Xerxes was by the providence of God. Esther didn’t know this, but God needed to get her into a place of influence so that her people living in the Persian Empire could survive what was to come.

b) Esther’s loyalty, verses 19—23

Inexplicably, when Esther became queen, Mordecai was given a position in the government! He became a judge. We don’t know how that happened, but we can be sure Esther had something to do with it. Esther looked after her cousin just as he had looked after her. Not only that, even though Esther was now Queen of the land, she never forgotten where she came from:

she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up. (verse 20b)

What a remarkable, courageous woman. She maintained a respectful and close relationship with her cousin.

But loyalty takes many forms. We have seen the providence of God in Esther’s life, but we have a very brief example of both loyalty in Mordecai’s case and providence in Xerxes case.

But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. (verses 22, 23)

Providence is an amazing thing. It often looks like a series of coincidences. But providence is not “good fortune.” God will need Xerxes later on to act on behalf of Esther, who will act on behalf of her people. And Mordecai, the man with a plan, will be providentially blessed and exalted to heights unheard of for a Jew in the Persian Empire.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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