The Forgotten God Who Never Forgets.

King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people. – Esther 10:1-3 ESV

Some things never change. And King Ahasuerus is a case in point. All through this struggle he remained committed to his own kingdom and his own personal pleasure. The book of Esther opened with an opulent feast that lasted for six solid months. This affair was meant to be a calculated display of the king’s wealth and power. The wine flowed. The decorations were sumptuous and the food was of the highest quality and served in great quantity. No expense was spared. Part of the reason behind the opening scene of the book was to establish King Ahasuerus as the sovereign ruler of the kingdom of Persia. He was powerful, influential and in total control of his domain. He could do as he wished, whether with his money or his queen. He could elevate a person to the second highest office in the land, as he did with Haman, or he could decree the elimination of an entire people group with nothing more than his signature. He is set up as no less than a god.

So it should be no surprise to read at the end of all the events recorded in the book of Esther that the king chose to levy a tax on the land of Persia. This was probably motivated by a number of factors, none more obvious than the king’s greed. But it is important to recall that Haman had promised to pay 10,000 talents of silver into the king’s treasury in exchange for an edict to wipe out the Jews. That would have been roughly 375 tons of silver, an exorbitant amount that represented two-thirds of the entire empire’s income. Obviously, with Haman’s death, this financial boon was never realized. So the king resorted to a tax. He was going to fill his royal coffers one way or another.

But what about Mordecai and Esther. How does the story leave them? Esther remains queen. She has been given all the lands and the wealth of Haman. Mordecai has been elevated to the second-highest position in the land. He has a great reputation among the Jews and is even extremely popular among the Persians. In essence, his ship has come in. He, like Esther, is set for life.

But there is a subtle silence in these closing verses, and it is in keeping with the rest of the story. There is no mention of God. The people have been rescued from destruction, but there is not a single word said about God’s role in their miraculous salvation. One of the things we must refrain from doing when reading the book of Esther is making either Mordecai or Esther the heroes of the story. While the book bears her name, Esther is not intended to be the focal point of the story. It is important to remember that Esther and Mordecai were part of the Jewish population in Persia that had determined to remain rather than return to their homeland under the leadership of Zerubbabel.

Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1:2-4 ESV

Cyrus had given the Jews the opportunity to return to their land and play a part in the reestablishment of their kingdom and the restoration of their capital and its temple. While tens of thousands returned, some obviously chose to stay in Persia. Mordecai and Esther were part of that group. The Jews who remained in Persia had been unwilling to make the long trek back to Jerusalem and preferred to stay behind. They took the path of least resistance. To a certain degree, they compromised their convictions and chose to remain exiles in a land that was not their home, but that had become quite comfortable and familiar to them. In fact, you see throughout this story a spirit of compromise and convenience. It is only natural to compare what is taking place in the lives of Esther and Mordecai with the stories of Daniel and Joseph. These two men also found themselves living as exiles in unfamiliar lands. Joseph was in Egypt, sold into slavery by his own brothers. Daniel was in Babylon, taken captive by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar when he destroyed Jerusalem. But these two men refused to compromise. They remained committed to their God and determined to live according to His laws. And it was their obedience to Him that resulted in His blessings on their lives. But in the cases of Mordecai and Esther, it seems as if any convictions they may have had took a backseat to their attitudes of compromise and convenience. Unlike Daniel, Esther willingly ate the king’s food and submitted to the beauty treatments designed to prepare her for the king’s bed. At no point in the story do we hear her refuse to eat certain foods that would improper for a Jew to consume. While Daniel refused to obey the king’s edict that banned prayer to any deity but the king, Esther was willing to subjugate herself to King Ahasuerus through sexual intercourse. Daniel’s actions got him thrown into the lions’ den, while Esther was made queen.

It would seem that Mordecai and Esther were more concerned about the people of Judah than the God of Judah. Ultimately, they used their positions of influence and authority to come up with a plan to protect their people from destruction. But their objective seems to have had little to do with the holiness of God’s name. And yet, throughout the story, God is actively moving behind the scenes to orchestrate affairs in such a way that his unfaithful people are the unlikely and undeserving recipients of His faithful mercy and grace. Mordecai and Esther are not icons of virtue. But they are instruments in the Redeemer‘s hands. Oftentimes, God uses us in spite of us. He has used pagan kings, egocentric Amalakites, young Hebrew virgins, common fishermen, misguided zealots, reluctant prophets, adolescent shepherds, and a wide assortment of other unqualified, unlikely individuals to accomplish His divine will. The story of Esther is the story of God working through the lives of the unfaithful in order to display His faithfulness. God didn’t need Mordecai or Esther to accomplish His will, but He used them anyway. He didn’t choose them because of their qualifications or potential contributions to His plan.

I am reminded of the words of Paul, written to the believers in Corinth. He wanted them to remember that their salvation by God had not been a result of their merit. They had not been deserving of salvation. They were not chosen by God because of their wealth, wisdom, power, or positions. It was their lack of merit that resulted in God’s mercy. It was their absence of greatness that resulted in God’s grace.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

The story of Esther is the story of God’s faithful love and unmerited favor. It is the story of God’s might overcoming the power of kings and the plans of the enemy. While His name is never mentioned in the book, His presence is felt on every page of the story. He is the immortal, invisible, God.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise. – Walter C. Smith

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It Just So Happened…

On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.

Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times (for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and judgment, the men next to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king’s face, and sat first in the kingdom): “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” – Esther 1:10-15 ESV

A mere 187 days into his non-stop partying, we are told the not-so-surprising news that the “heart of the king was merry with wine.” By this time, he had to have been virtually toxic from all the alcohol he had consumed over the last six months. As a result, his ability to think clearly was virtually non-existent. He allowed his vanity and pride to get the best of him and, in an attempt to further flaunt his wealth and power, he demanded that his queen in all her royal finery in order to show her off. And rather than make the request personally, he sent his seven eunuchs. This was not to be seen as a request, but a royal dictate, a command from the king himself. He wanted to put her on display so that everyone could get a glimpse of her great beauty.

But the queen was far from flattered when the seven eunuchs showed up in her royal chambers. She knew exactly what the king was up to and why he was demanding her presence. She was to be nothing more than another example of his greatness. She was simply a trophy to be displayed to boost his royal ego and solidify his reputation as the luckiest man in the world. But Queen Vashti flat-out refused the king’s command. She was not going to allow herself to be put on public display and paraded around like a nothing more than one of the king’s possessions.

But Xerxes was not used to being refused. After all, he was the king. He tended to get what he wanted. His word was law. His commands were non-optional. And so, when Vashti refused to show up, he blew up. He lost it. He “became enraged, and his anger burned within him” (Esther 1:12b ESV). But rather than take up this matter with his wife, he called in his wise men. He sought the advice of his counselors. What should have been nothing more than a domestic dispute quickly escalated into a national affair. King Xerxes would have never dreamed his 187-day feast would end this way. Queen Vashti could have never anticipated the reaction her refusal was going to create. This whole thing should have never happened, but it did. Why?

This is another point at which the author is attempting to reveal the hidden hand of God, working behind the scenes in ways that no one could have anticipated or planned. Everything in the story has a purpose and a place. Nothing happens by happenstance or chance. The 180-plus days of feasting, the over-the-top opulence, the vain displays of wealth and power – all of it has a divine influence about it. The foundation is being laid for the rest of the story’s unfolding. A variety of people are going to become actors in God’s sovereign plan. Xerxes, the all-powerful, pride-filled king will be have a major role to play. Queen Vashti, though somewhat a bit player who enjoys little in the way of real stage-time, will prove a key character in the plot. Her refusal to appear before the king sets up all that is to come. Had she simply showed up as commanded, this story wouldn’t be a story at all. Had the king personally requested her presence, this might have all been avoidable. If the king had not sought out legal counsel, this whole affair could have ended much differently. But all that happens in this story happens for a reason. There is a reason behind the madness.

This story almost begs to be read with a sense of incredulity. It is as if we need to add in the phrase, “It just so happened…” before every event.

“It just so happened that the king decided to throw a great feast.”

“It just so happened that the king commanded the queen to appear.”

“It just so happened that the queen was in no mood to be put on display.”

“It just so happened that the king got angry and blew it all out of proportion.”

“It just so happened that the king called in his royal counselors.”

All these seemingly disparate decisions were inseparably linked together, creating an unbroken chain of events that would result in an unforeseen outcome that no one could have ever imagined. God was at work. He was behind the scenes orchestrating events and individuals in such a way that they were oblivious, like passive pawns in a divine game of chess. Each was free to act according to their will, but only according to the greater will of God. What might appear as luck or fate is actually the sovereign hand of God. This will become increasingly clear as the story unfolds. Though the name of God is never mentioned, His presence will be repeatedly sensed. He is invisible, but not absent. He remains unseen, but not uninvolved. The chapter opens up with King Xerxes’ sovereignty on display. He is powerful and influential. His realm extends over 127 provinces on several continents, from India to Ethiopia. And yet God, the one true King, is not even mentioned by name. He chooses to display His power in more subtle, yet significant ways. Throughout the story, He will remain in the background, operating incognito and invisible to the naked eye. But He is there. He is always there.

I look up to the mountains—

does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;

the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel

never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!

The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm

and watches over your life.

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,

both now and forever. – Psalm 124