Lessons from Esther

  • Steve Hatter
Dark forest

The Old Testament book of Esther recorded a fascinating story about God’s sovereign and providential care for Israel when they faced an existential threat. The dire scenario 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, who against all odds had come to sit on the Persian throne as Queen, and therefore to act as God’s providential agent of salvation. Not only were the Jewish people rescued through Esther’s royal interventions, but an improbable total reversal also occurred wherein the potential destroyers were all destroyed themselves (9:1–19). Moreover, God’s salvific covenant promises to Abraham and David were preserved through the miraculous deliverance.

What are we to make of a story like this? How can Esther speak to our day? My blog will consider what Esther taught concerning the providence of God by first showing you from King Xerxes. God’s multi-century dealings with His sin-cursed, disobedient people are crucial to understanding providence in the story. Next, I’d like you to see the story’s amazing elements of improbability, irony, and reversal as evidence of divine providence at work through the agency of seemingly ordinary people, even though God is I hope you’ll see that the story’s resolution stands as a towering testimony to God’s faithfulness to His Abrahamic and Davidic Covenant promises found in (Genesis 12:3 and 2 Sam 7:8–16). 

Historical Context

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. The dynamic in Esther 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 great 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

and providential direction seen in the utter improbability of storyline action and timing. The downfall of 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

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 vindictively (6:6–11). 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.

Finally, the unthinkable reversal could only come from God. The Jews were not only rescued from genocide, but they were if fact empowered through Esther’s petitions to turn the tables completely. 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. His will in Esther was to thwart any threat to His unconditional covenant promises to Abraham and David. However, God’s love for Israel, manifest in His commitment to His salvation plans, was nowhere more apparent than in this dramatic rescue of His people in Ruth.  We should take heart in our current times of trouble and uncertainty.

The lesson for today? See that God in utterly sovereign God will protect and bless His church. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will march on, until He, in His perfect timing brings the redemption plan for humanity to its culmination as prophesied in Revelation.

God is in Control!