“I Didn’t See That Coming!”

  • Steve Hatter
Young boy holding a Bible with a surprised look

When was the last time you said to yourself, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” Whether a well-scripted surprise ending in a movie plotline, or an improbable sports comeback, or the complete turning of the tables in some high stakes human conflict scenario, we can all point to unusual times when we marvel at how things are never quite what they seem. Irony emerges when we least expect it.

Why is life sometimes like this? Well, the Bible tells us that nothing is random when viewed in terms of the great big and powerful God of Holy Scripture. In fact, the God of the Bible is in complete control of everything. So, His purposes can never be frustrated, no matter what powerful people in the unfolding drama of human history may think. The Old Testament Book of Esther teaches this principle in spades! Let me try and show you how.

Esther recorded a testament to God’s sovereign and providential care for Israel when they faced an existential threat. The dire scenario—and it was genuinely desperate—emerged during Israel’s exile under the Persian empire when mighty King Xerxes issued a decree to annihilate the Jews (3:9–11). However, God effected a miraculous deliverance through Esther, a common Jewish maiden. Against all the odds, Esther had come to sit on the Persian throne as Queen, and therefore act as God’s providential agent of salvation (2:1–18; 3:1–3). The Jewish people were rescued through Esther’s royal interventions, even as an improbable total reversal also occurred wherein the potential destroyers were all destroyed themselves (9:1–19).

Moreover, God’s covenant promises to Abraham and David—promises of salvation and restoration and blessing that permeate all of Scripture and culminate in Christ—were preserved through the miraculous deliverance. Obscure Old Testament Esther is a book where God’s name is never explicitly mentioned. Yet, it teaches us with total relevance today concerning the purposes, character, sovereignty, and providence of God in human affairs.

Historical Context

God’s multi-century dealings with His sin-cursed, disobedient, but chosen people are crucial to understanding providence in Esther. Adam’s sin and God’s response recorded in Genesis 3 set in motion enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent that was the root of conflict in Esther (Gen 3:15). The spiritual realm battle between good and evil positioned the main characters in the story— Haman, Mordecai, Esther, and Xerxes—such that their actions in the chain of events would produce consequences of eternal significance. Esther’s plotline has been likened to a high stakes chess match between God and Satan, with God moving His pawns, Mordecai and Esther, and Satan playing Haman, and at points in the story, Xerxes.

Within this fundamental good-versus-evil context, the multi-century consequences of Israel’s corporate sin had landed them politically powerless, in exile, under Persian domination. Moreover, the conflict between Haman, an Agagite, and Jewish Mordecai, could be traced back 1000 years to Saul’s failure to eliminate king Agag, to God’s displeasure (1 Sam 15:7–9).

Enmity was historic and extreme. Such context begged the question, how would God resolve matters? How would He remain faithful to His covenant promises within the dire nature of the moment?

Improbability, Irony, and Reversal

While God was never mentioned, there were many indicators of His presence and providential direction in the improbability of storyline action and timing. The downfall of Xerxes’ Queen Vashti (1:10-22), the decision to hold an elaborate “beauty contest” as the means to replace her (2:1–18), and Mordecai’s happenstance overhearing of a plot against Xerxes all conspired to move Esther and Mordecai into positions of power before the threat posed by Haman emerged (3:1–3). Once it did, the progressive perfect timing of fortuitous events consistently tipped the balance in favor of the Jews and against their enemies. The king’s insomnia on the night before Mordecai’s execution (6:1–3), Haman’s entry at the precise moment Xerxes was wondering how to reward Mordecai (6:6), and the king’s return timed to coincide with Haman’s falling on Esther’s couch (7:8), all significantly affected the eventual outcome. However, the human characters did not knowingly orchestrate anything.

Irony pointed to divine providence as well. Xerxes ruled over many provinces but could not control Queen Vashti (1:10–22). Haman’s vanity trapped him into having to publicly honor the man he intended to kill (6:6–11) vindictively. Haman was hung on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai to satisfy his prideful vengeance (7:8–10). These were all prominent examples of irony that should make any professional fiction writer whistle in awe!

Finally, the unthinkable reversal could only come from God. The Jews were rescued from genocide, but they were also empowered through Esther’s petitions to completely turn the tables. The complete destruction of their tormentors—75,000 dead—stands as a signature of God working providentially (9:1–19).

Sovereign Covenant Keeper

As sovereign over His creation, God ultimately prevails. In Esther, his will was to thwart any threat to His unconditional covenant promises to Abraham (Gen 17:1–8) and David (2 Sam 7:8–16). However, God’s love for Israel, manifest in His commitment to His overarching salvation plans, was nowhere more apparent than in this dramatic rescue of His people in Esther.

We Christians should take comfort in Esther’s story–perhaps especially now as pandemic and politics continue to threaten–because by faith we are on the right side of history.  We can see that coming!