A Case of Providence, Not Coincidence.

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said.. – Esther 4:1-9 ESV

Chapter three ended with the words, “And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.” As news of the king’s edict declaring an official day set aside for the slaughter of all Jews living in the kingdom of Persia, the reaction among the citizens of the kingdom was mixed. There was confusion among many. Others were probably excited about the prospect of being able to take the lives of the Jews and their property and possessions as well. But for the Jews, the news was shocking. They were in Persia because of the destruction of their own homeland, and now they were facing destruction once again. Where was their God? How could this be happening to them? And Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther, upon hearing the news, goes into a state of mourning. He tears his clothes, covers himself in sackcloth and ashes and proceeds to wander the streets of the capital city, offering a visible illustration to all who could see of just how devastating this news was to the Jews. And he was not alone. Jews all over the kingdom were reacting in the same way – “as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes” (Esther 4:3 NLT).

Mordecai’s trek through the city took him all the way to the gates of the palace, but he is refused entrance. The king’s sumptuous lifestyle and celebratory mood was not to be disrupted by some despondent and disheveled Hebrew. It is interesting to note the contrast between the opening of this book and the current state of Mordecai’s demeanor. The story began with a royal party, a festival that lasted more than 180 days and was marked by wine, food, fine linens and an overall mood of celebration. Now we have Mordecai and his fellow Jews fasting, mourning and covering themselves in soot and coarse garments. The original party was a result of the king’s command. His word produced a festive occasion and a non-stop celebration where the food and wine flowed non-stop for nearly six months. Now, by his decree, an entire population of people found themselves in deep and bitter mourning, because their lives had been declared worthless and their future, hopeless.

The news of Mordecai’s presence outside the city gates was taken to Esther. She seems to have had no idea as to what was going on. In her isolated and insulated world within the palace, she had not yet heard about the decree. She offered Mordecai a change of clothes, but he refused. She sent a trusted confidant to Mordecai in order to ascertain the cause of his distress. What she would learn would rock her world. Her fairy tale-like rise from obscurity to wealth, power and royal prestige was about to come to an abrupt halt. Mordecai told her everything. He withheld none of the sordid details. She may have been safe in her cocoon of comfort and ease within the palace, but Mordecai wanted her to know just how dangerous her position really was. But he also wanted her to realize how vital and obviously God-ordained her newfound role was going to be. He told her of Haman’s plan, even sending her a copy of the king’s edict.

But his real motive for appearing at the gates of the king’s palace was to get Esther to use her position as queen to appeal to the king on behalf of her people. It was time for her to reveal her true identity to the king. Mordecai had been the one to counsel her to keep her Hebrew heritage a secret. And to this point in the story, Esther had done just that. King Xerxes had no idea that his new queen was actually a Jew. But given the dire change in circumstances, Mordecai has changed his tune and begs his niece to drop the charade and use her access to the king to make an appeal. Mordecai believes that she is where she is for a reason. She has been put in this place of royal influence for a divine purpose that is far greater than either one of them could have ever imagined. All the pieces of the story are starting to come together. All the characters in the story have had their parts to play. From King Xerxes to his recalcitrant queen, Vashti; Mordecai and his adopted niece, Esther, and the two plotting assassins to the pride-filled, and revenge-obsessed Haman. Nothing has happened by chance. And while God has yet to be mentioned, He has been there all along. And Mordecai seems to sense that there is a divine agenda at work in this seemingly hopeless scenario. His niece is the queen of Persia. Who could have ever imagined something so far-fetched and unlikely? You see, we read this story and automatically wonder why God would allow someone like Haman to rise to power and have the power to demand the destruction of the people of God. But what we should be wondering is why God would allow Esther, an inconsequential, orphaned Hebrew girl to ascend to the queen’s throne. Mordecai didn’t waste his time worrying about Haman and his need for vengeance. He saw a God-given opportunity in Esther and wasted no time in begging her to see her role as a godsend.

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Our Silent Sovereign.

In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, they cast lots) before Haman day after day; and they cast it month after month till the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries.” So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.” – Esther 3:7-11 ESV

Having been snubbed by Mordecai, a Jew, Haman plots his revenge. He is not one to suffer a slight easily. So he comes up with a plan by which he can eliminate not only Mordecai, but every single Jew living in the lands of Persia. Because his strategy was going to require proper planning and resources, Haman determined to utilize the casting of lots (Pur) to come up the exact day on which to schedule his mass extinction of the Jews. It was customary in his day to make significant decisions with what was essentially the “roll of the dice.” We see this as nothing more than decision-making based on random chance. But in the ancient near east, they saw it as a means by which God revealed His will. Even the Jews practiced the casting of lots. In fact, when Judas killed himself, after having betrayed Jesus, the disciples chose his replacement by casting lots (Acts 1:26). Proverbs 16:33 reveals the Hebrew mindset behind the casting of lots: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

A better rendering of verse seven is found in the NET Bible. “In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerusreign, pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman in order to determine a day and a month. It turned out to be the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).” It was customary to cast lots in the first month of the year. That is why the month of Nisan is mentioned. And as a result of the casting of lots, Haman arrived at the twelfth month of Adar. So nearly a year would pass before Haman’s heinous plan could be enacted. But having determined a date, he wasted no time in laying the ground work for his pogrom of the Jews. He knew that a plan of this magnitude was going to require the approval and power of the king. But he also knew the Achilles’ heel of any king was a threat to his kingdom. So he came to King Xerxes with a cleverly crafted story about a “people” who lived throughout the kingdom who refused to keep the king’s laws. They were rebels. They were a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode and wreak havoc on something near and dear to the king’s heart: his sovereignty. Interestingly, like Esther, Haman hides from the king the identity of the people he is trying to eliminate. This could have been because the Jews were looked upon with favor by the king. Two of his predecessors, King Darius and King Cyrus, had issued favorable edicts on behalf of the Jews, allowing many of them to return to their land and even funding the rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. But while Haman hid the identity of the Jews, he was more than forthright in his recommendation for what to do about them: He was recommending their destruction. And he was willing to help fund the cost, offering the king an exorbitant gift of 10,000 talents of silver. It is estimated that this would have amounted to two-thirds of the entire kingdom’s annual income. How Haman was going to come up with that kind of money is not clear. Perhaps his plan included the confiscation of Jewish lands and property. He had obviously calculated the potential financial rewards of his plan and knew that he was going to benefit greatly from the elimination of the Jews.

But his request, greased with the offer of financial reward, was acceptable to the king. So unwittingly, the king “took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews” (Esther 3:10 ESV). The king gave Haman carte blanche to accomplish his plan. With the casting of lots, a little clever coercion and a great deal of unbridled hatred, Haman plotted his revenge on Mordecai and the people of God. Things were about to get ugly. And this unexpected twist in the story begs the question: Where is God in all of this? It is natural to want to know how God could allow something this devastating to happen. Why had he not stepped in and prevented any of this from taking place? And the truth is, God could have stopped it all. He could have brought a timely end to both Haman and his plot. But to assume that God was silent and inactive would be wrong. Just because God is not responding the way we think He should and according to the timing we have established, does not mean He is not at work. His ways are not our ways. His plans are beyond our capacity to know or understand. He does not have to explain Himself to us or defend His motives or methods. We will see soon enough that God was at work. Esther’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune was part of His plan. Mordecai’s fortuitous discovery of the plot on the king’s life was divinely ordained. Even Haman’s promotion was sovereignly ordained by God Himself. None of this was case of luck, fortune, fate, or a simple roll of the dice. God was in control of it all and for reasons He had not yet disclosed. Yes, the king could say to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you” (Esther 3:11 ESV), but Haman would only be able to do what God allowed him to do. We may not understand God’s methods, but we must never question His motives. We may not approve of how He accomplishes His will, but we must never doubt that His will is always holy, righteous and just.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

Listen to me, you who have understanding. Everyone knows that God doesn’t sin! The Almighty can do no wrong. – Job 34:10 NLT

 

Threads In God’s Tapestry.

Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. – Esther 2:19-23 ESV

Esther has been crowned the new queen. Her lot in life has changed dramatically. But she has a potentially dangerous secret she is hiding from the king. She is a Hebrew. She is part of the remnant of Jews taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when defeated Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. When the Persians overthrew the Babylonians, the Jews remained in their captive state, slowly acclimating to the foreign culture around them and being assimilated into the ethnically diverse society of Persia. As they had in Egypt during their captivity there, the Jews continued to marry and have children, and as a result, their numbers increased. But for some undisclosed reason, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, had counseled her to keep her Hebrew identity hidden from the king. We are not told the motivation behind Mordecai’s advice to his young ward, but he consistently warned her to keep her identity hidden, even after being crowned the new queen. Perhaps Mordecai was well-acquainted with the king’s reputation for fickleness and feared he might reject Esther as unfit for her role as queen. It almost seems that Mordecai had a sort of sixth-sense that led him to believe there was something greater going on here than met the eye. Throughout the story, Mordecai appears to know that this is not a case of good fortune, but the sovereign hand of God.

We are told in verse 19 that there was a second wave of virgins gathered into the king’s palace. The most logical explanation seems to be that the king so enjoyed the original beauty competition that had resulted in the discovery of Esther, that he decided to do it again. Keep in mind that the young women who didn’t win the queen’s crown were still permanent occupants of the king’s harem. And from all we have seen of King Xerxe’s behavior so far, he was used to have the best and the most of everything. So, just because he had a new queen didn’t mean he was going to stop adding more virgins to his collection. But the real reason this verse is included is to let us know that some time has passed. Some commentators believe that as much as five years may have transpired since Esther was crowned queen. We are also told that Mordecai was “sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 2:19 ESV). This is usually a reference to a position of authority. Since the time that Esther had become queen. Mordecai had evidently received a commission as a government official. He was on the government payroll, perhaps as a representative of the Hebrew population. At this point in the story, the Jews were no longer being treated as slaves, but had become a part of the multi-ethnic makeup of the culture of Susa. There would have been people from all of the various nations that were now under Persian rule, from Ethiopia all the way to Egypt. So Mordecai was most likely a representative of some kind, acting on behalf of the crown.

And it just so happens, that as a part of his official capacity, Mordecai was at the king’s gate, when he overheard a plot to assassinate the king. It seems that Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who had confidential access to the king, had become upset with him and were planning to do him in. But when Mordecai heard their plans, he relayed them to Esther, who then informed the king. This incredible case of good timing will prove to be fortuitous, not just for the king, but for Mordecai and the people of God. Bigthan and Teresh are executed and Mordecai’s role in exposing the plot is recorded in the official historical chronicles of the king. No reward is given. No recognition for a job well done is forthcoming. Mordecai just happened to be in the right place at the right time and heard what was being planned. His relationship with Esther, the queen, afforded him the opportunity to get this news to the king in a timely fashion. And the result was that the king’s life was spared. But all Mordecai got for his troubles was a line in chronicles of the king.

But God is not done. The story is far from over. This seemingly disparate events are all part of an intricate tapestry that God is weaving. Esther has become queen of Persia. Mordecai has become an official in the king’s government. These two obscure, seemingly insignificant individuals are being used by God to prepare for an even greater, untold story. What we are witnessing is the butterfly effect lived out in real life. Esther’s selection to join the king’s harem has had a far greater impact than anyone, herself included, could have ever imagined. We are not told how Mordecai came to his position in the king’s government, but the inference is that his relatively unimportant role was going to have a dramatic influence on future events. It is so easy for us to discount what is happening in our lives and dismiss our importance in the grand scheme of things. As Christians, we can convince ourselves that we are insignificant and lacking in the ability to influence the larger culture around us. And yet, the story of Esther is meant to remind us that no one is insignificant or unimportant when they are being used by God. The disciples of Jesus were all relative nobodies. They were not movers and shakers or members of the religious elite. They were simple, common men who had spent their lives as common laborers and fishermen. And when Jesus chose them, they each had to have wondered, “Why me?” They had no idea just how significant their lives were going to be in the history of the world. And we have no idea how God is going to use us to accomplish His divine will in the world. Esther was just a young, orphaned Jewish girl living in a pagan country with her uncle Mordecai. And Mordecai was just another Jewish man, trying to care for his family and make ends meet in a society that was opposed to his religious beliefs. But God was going to use these two individuals in ways they could have never imagined. The events of their lives were being directed by God Almighty. The thing we must always remember is that the story is not yet done. God is not yet finished. We cannot see the finished tapestry that God is weaving or how the particular colors of our life’s events fit into the overall results. But God knows. And we can trust Him.

 

 

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