Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days.– Esther 1:1-4 ESV
The book of Esther opens with a scene from a throne room. The author sets the stage by giving us a glimpse into the world of one of history’s most powerful rulers: King Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus, the monarch who ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 B.C.
King Xerxes is powerful. He is wealthy beyond belief. He oversees an empire that stretches from India to Ethiopia. He had inherited this vast domain from his father, Darius, who had conquered much of the known world and established himself as its supreme ruler. His kingdom and wealth were passed down to Ahasuerus, who also inherited the task of maintaining the power his father had worked so hard to establish. There were constant threats from the Greeks and Egyptians. World dominance was not easy. There was always someone ready to expose a weakness or take advantage of a flaw in your defenses. Others dreamed of controlling the world and enjoying the perks that come with power. King Xerxes could not rest on his laurels. He was incredibly wealthy, but he could not afford to let his guard down. There were constant threats to his reign, from without as well as within.
But the king was not above flaunting his power and possessions. After all, what was the good of being king if you weren’t able to flex your muscles or display your wealth for all to see? So the author provides us with an inside-look into the realm of royalty. We are given an all-access pass into the palace that provides us with exclusive, behind-the-scenes views into a world that few ever get to see. It is a world of unbelievable extravagance and seemingly limitless excess. We are told that the king decides to throw a banquet, but not just any banquet. This one will last 180 consecutive days. It is intended to be “a tremendous display of the opulent wealth of his empire and the pomp and splendor of his majesty” (Esther 1:4 NLT). No expense will be spared. The food and wine will flow. The surroundings will be sumptuous. The meals will be decadent and delicious. The guests will be made up of the powerful and influential – the nobles, officials and military leaders from all over his vast domain. Xerxes will impress them with his generosity and amaze them with his seemingly limitless prosperity. He is wealthy beyond belief. He is powerful beyond measure. And they will celebrate alongside him for 180 consecutive days.
Before we get very far into the story of Esther, we find ourselves confronted with a character of epic proportions. He is bigger than life. His wealth is unbelievable. His power is unimaginable. His extravagance is legendary. His ego is enormous. But there is something missing, or better yet, there is someone missing. Just four verses into the narrative and we can’t help but notice that God is nowhere to be found. And amazingly, we will find that His name is never mentioned in the book. He is the God who is not there. Hundreds of miles from the land of Canaan and the city of Jerusalem, a remnant of the people of Israel find themselves in captivity, the unwilling citizens of a foreign power. They are suffering the consequences of their rebellion against God. He had warned them that their disobedience would bring discipline. And eventually, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had conquered the Israelites, destroying their capital city and taking thousands of them captive to Babylon. The Babylonians would eventually be conquered by the Persians and the Israelites would find themselves the slaves of yet another world power. Their taskmasters would change, but not their lot in life. And it would be easy for them to determine that their God had abandoned them, that He had left them for dead and destined them to a life of hopeless servitude and enslavement at the hands of their enemies.
But the book of Esther is all about God. While Xerxes seems to get top billing, he is not the main character. Neither is Esther, the young woman for whom the book in named. The God of Israel is the unseen, unnamed protagonist in the story, operating behind the scenes, orchestrating events and dictating outcomes as only He can. While King Xerxes is busy displaying his power and flaunting his vast wealth, God is busy setting the stage for a divine display of His own power. He doesn’t have to have His name mentioned or His presence felt. Men can assume His absence or try to negate His existence, but God is always there. He may go unrecognized and unseen, but He is never non-existent. We may fail to sense His presence and may even question His existence, but the book of Esther is a reminder that God is an ever-present reality. What appears to be coincidence is, more often than not, the hand of God. What comes across as luck or good fortune is really the providence of God. He is always in control. He is never up in heaven ringing His hands or fretting over the state of affairs back on earth. He is never impressed with the power and pomp of kings and presidents. He is never intimidated by the wealth or military might of nations. The book of Esther is the story of God. It is a timely reminder of the sovereignty and power of God Almighty.
Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light.– Daniel 2:20-22 NLT