God Is Not Done Yet.

The word that the Lord spoke concerning Babylon, concerning the land of the Chaldeans, by Jeremiah the prophet:

“Declare among the nations and proclaim,
    set up a banner and proclaim,
    conceal it not, and say:
‘Babylon is taken,
    Bel is put to shame,
    Merodach is dismayed.
Her images are put to shame,
    her idols are dismayed.’

“For out of the north a nation has come up against her, which shall make her land a desolation, and none shall dwell in it; both man and beast shall flee away.

“In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’

“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, ‘We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the Lord, their habitation of righteousness, the Lord, the hope of their fathers.’

“Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as male goats before the flock. For behold, I am stirring up and bringing against Babylon a gathering of great nations, from the north country. And they shall array themselves against her. From there she shall be taken. Their arrows are like a skilled warrior who does not return empty-handed. Chaldea shall be plundered; all who plunder her shall be sated, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 50:1-10 ESV

For the next two chapters of the book of Jeremiah, God is going to speak an oracle of judgment against Babylon that far exceeds, in terms of length, what He has said about all the other nations combined. This displays the significance that the Babylonians played in the world affairs of that day and the degree to which God would hold them accountable for their part in Judah’s destruction. While they had been a tool in His hands, accomplishing His divine will regarding the people of Judah, the Babylonians did what they did willingly and gladly. He had not forced them to attack Judah. He simply used their natural propensity to conquer and enslave to accomplish His will to bring judgment upon the people of God. And, as a result, God would hold them responsible and repay them for their devastatingly successful defeat of the nation of Judah.

In these first ten verses of the chapter, God provides a graphic portrayal of Babylon’s fall and Judah’s restoration. The once great Babylonians would suffer defeat at the hands of the Persians, while the once lowly people of Judah would be miraculously restored to their land. The captors would be come become captives. And the captives would be set free. The fall of Babylon would come about due to the rise to prominence of the Persian nation. While the Babylonians had long held the position as the playground bully, they were about to be displaced by a relatively new nation whose rapid rise to power would catch everyone by surprise. It is interesting to note that, for the majority of the book of Jeremiah, the Babylonians had been referred to as the nation from the north. Now, there would be yet another northern invader who would do to them what they had done to others. Babylon the great would get a taste of their own medicine. God would turn the tables on them.

“Tell the whole world,
    and keep nothing back.
Raise a signal flag
    to tell everyone that Babylon will fall!
Her images and idols will be shattered.
    Her gods Bel and Marduk will be utterly disgraced.” – Jeremiah 50:2 NLT

Bel and Marduk were two of the many Babylonians deities. God uses a very derogatory word to refer to these false gods. It is the Hebrew word גִּלּוּלִים, gillulim and it literally means, “dung pellets” and was also used to refer to human excrement. These gods would be defeated and taken as plunder. The Babylonian gods would suffer the same fate as that of the gods of the nations whom Babylon had conquered. Their power, or lack of it, would be exposed. The nation of Babylon would fall.

But the people of Judah would be returned to the land. In God’s grand plan, the Babylonians would be displaced by the Persians, and it would be a Persian king who would issue a decree officially sanctioning the return of the people of Judah to their homeland. This amazing event is recorded in the book of Ezra.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:

“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT

This was all part of God’s plan. He had ordained it and now He was bringing it about. These world events and the major redistribution of global power were all part of His strategy. What may have appeared chaotic and confusing from an earthly perspective, was actually the result of God’s carefully laid out plan.

But there is an aspect of this oracle that is yet unfulfilled. There are predictions outlines in these verses that have yet to take place. While the Persians did eventually defeat Babylon, the destruction was not complete. The city of Babylon was not destroyed, but absorbed into the Persian Empire. And the picture of Israel returning to the land with weeping and worshiping God as they entered is another incomplete fulfillment. It actually speaks of as-yet-to-be-fulfilled event that is outlined in the book of Zechariah.

“I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn. On that day the lamentation in Jerusalem will be as great as the lamentation at Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, clan by clan—the clan of the royal household of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the clan of the family of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; the clan of the descendants of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; and the clan of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves— all the clans that remain, each separately with their wives.” – Zechariah 123:10-14 NLT

This will be a time of Israel’s restoration not only to the land, but to their rightful Messiah, Jesus Christ. That has not happened yet. So, there is a second and even greater destruction coming to Babylon. And there is an even more significant and important return of Israel to the land than that which took place under the leadership of Ezra, after the 70 years of captivity was over.

“They will ask the way to Jerusalem
    and will start back home again.
They will bind themselves to the Lord
    with an eternal covenant that will never be forgotten.” – Jeremiah 50:5 NLT

Jews will return to Israel from all over the world. And they will be given a new covenant by God. The prophet Ezekiel wrote of this special day.

“‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:24-27 NLT

God goes on to promise even more blessings upon Israel in those days.

“This is what the sovereign Lord says: In the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will populate the cities and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be plowed, instead of being desolate in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; the ruined, desolate, and destroyed cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations which remain around you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted what was desolate. I, the Lord, have spoken—and I will do it!” – Ezekiel 36:33-36 NLT

Verses 8-10 make it clear that Babylon will fall. And while they would eventually fall to the Persians, there ultimate destruction lies in the future. The book of Revelation carries a vivid description of this future event. It can be found in chapter 18.

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:2-3 NLT

God’s plans for this world are extensive and encompass all of time. They are not restricted to events that have happened, but include yet future events that are described in such vivid terms in the Word of God, it is as if they have already occurred. God is in control. He is unhindered by time and space. His will covers the past and includes the future. Nothing escapes His divine will. The Bible, while full of historical events, is also a book that reveals God’s future activities. And because He is all-powerful and completely sovereign, even His future will is as good as done. It will happen just as He has said.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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The Almighty Is Never AWOL.

That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. And the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder. – Esther 9:11-15 ESV

In reading this particular passage, it would be easy to conclude that Esther was a cruel and vindictive individual. After all, the second edict had been a success and the ten sons of Haman had been executed. But now, when the king asks her if there is anything else she wants, she requests that the edict be extended for a second day in the capital of Susa and for permission to hang the bodies of the tens sons of Haman on spikes for all to see. In other words, she wants to put them on public display. Were the 500 men killed that day not enough? Was the elimination of Haman’s sons as viable threats against the Jews not sufficient payback? Did she really need to publicly humiliate them? Was Esther simply bloodthirsty and out for revenge?

Obviously, there are things going on in the story to which we are not made aware. Esther knows something we don’t know. The first day of the edict it seems that the 500 individuals who died were all in the royal section of the city, known as the citadel (9:6). The majority of the threats the Jews were coming from the powerful and influential. They were the ones who felt the most threatened by Esther, Mordecai and the Jews. But Esther knew that there were still others who had either fled the citadel into other parts of the capital or there were pockets of resistance that needed to be eradicated. So she asked for a second day. The king gave his permission and the second day resulted in an additional 300 individuals losing their lives. But once again, the Jews refused to take their land and goods as plunder. They were not doing this for material reward. This was solely an attempt to prevent Haman’s original intention to eradicate the Jews from taking place. For Esther and the rest of the Jews, it was about self-preservation, not financial remuneration.

The public display of the bodies of Haman’s sons was intended to send a message. The very means by which he had planned to murder Mordecai was used to reveal to the citizens of Susa that his efforts had failed miserably. His hatred for the Jews had resulted in his own death and that of his ten sons. All the way back in chapter five of this story, Haman had returned from the first banquet thrown by Esther, and had been beside himself with joy. He arrived at home, bragging about his unprecedented good fortune.  “And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king” (Esther 5:11 ESV). But now, Haman was dead. His ten sons were as well. His riches belonged to Esther. His former position and the king’s signet ring, symbol of his power, had been given to Mordecai. Haman, the prideful, arrogant, conniving, ruthless, power-hungry enemy of God’s people was gone. His decree had been an abject failure. And all traces of his ever having existed had been eliminated.

Esther’s actions, while somewhat mysterious to us, were not based on a whim. She knew what she was doing. She recognized that the threat to the Jews was not yet over. Susa was still harboring dangerous individuals who were on a mission to destroy Jews and take their possessions and property. The very fact that an additional 300 individuals were killed the next day reveals that this was true. For Esther, this was a matter of eliminating any threat against the Jews once and for all. She wisely used her position as queen and her influence over the king to arrange for a more-than-satisfactory end to this story. But none of this would have been possible without the sovereign, providential hand of God. This story is not about the cunning of Esther or the wisdom of Mordecai. It is not about the bravery of a young girl facing insurmountable odds and an all-powerful enemy. It is a story of the unseen, imperceptible, yet invincible power of God. It is a reminder to all who read it that God may not always be observable, but that doesn’t mean He’s AWOL. He is always there, whether we see Him or not. He is always in control, whether we believe it or not. He is always working His plan, whether we sense it or not.

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.

Just Lucky, I Guess.

Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women—when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.

When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity. – Esther 2:12-18 ESV

A year has passed. During that time, Esther, along with all the other young women who had been gather, has been receiving “beauty treatments.” This regimen of highly regulated dietary and cosmetic treatments was designed to make the young ladies as beautiful as possible. These women were the most beautiful in the land, but they were not yet “good enough” for King Xerxes. So they were being prepared to appear as what they were auditioning to be: The Queen of Persia.

After 12-months of preparation, which more than likely included classes in etiquette and royal protocol, each young lady was given her opportunity to appear before the king. The passage presents this encounter in a rather pedestrian fashion: “In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines” (Esther 2:14 ESV). It would be easy to read right through this and not notice that this “audition” lasted from sunset to sunrise. This was far more than a beauty pageant. Each woman was expected to be pleasing to the king, and would be judged by her beauty and, more than likely, for her ability to please the king sexually. Esther and her companions were part of the royal harem, not the serving staff. They were there to please and bring pleasure to the king. It is easy to gloss over this somewhat obvious point when reading the story of Esther. Yet, when the time came for Esther to go before the king, she would have been expected to do far more than look pretty and answer a few questions.

There is a palpable and intended tension in this story. We are introduced to Esther in the opening verses of this chapter. Her Hebrew name is Hadassah. Her pagan or Persian name is Esther. She is an orphaned Hebrew living with her older uncle, who has adopted her as his own. They are part of a community of Jews living in the capital of Susa, who were originally taken captive when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Judah. The Babylonians were later defeated by the Persians and the Jews simply found themselves slaves with new taskmasters. Esther’s Hebrew heritage is a vital part of the story. When she was taken into the king’s custody as part of his edict to search for a new queen, her uncle instructed her to hide her true identity. She was to go by her Persian name. She was not to disclose the fact that she was a Jew. And it seems that Mordecai instructed Esther to go along with the flow, to submit herself to the king’s plans. At no point does she appear to have resisted the king’s command or attempt to escape her obvious fate. She knew she was part of the king’s harem. She knew what she was being prepared to do. And her uncle Mordecai knew as well.

In all of this, there appears to be a subtle hint at Mordecai’s belief in the sovereignty of God. He does not know exactly what is going on, but he seems to have a confidence that God is at work in some form or fashion. He believes that there is a reason behind Esther being chosen. Yes, he could have counseled Esther to resist the king’s command and she would have likely been put to death. Instead, he instructed her to submit to the king’s authority. There seems to be a silent submission to the will of God in all of this as well. Perhaps it is just a simple case of Mordecai hoping that Esther never gets chosen, that she somehow fails the test and is allowed to return home. But most likely, Mordecai knew that Esther would remain a permanent part of the king’s harem, whether she became queen or not. She was not returning. Her fate was sealed. And because of the rest of the story, it seems that Mordecai had a sort of sixth sense that there was something divine going on in all of this.

We read, “Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). There is a striking similarity between the life of Esther and that of Joseph, when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Both were Hebrew young people who found themselves living in a pagan land and thrust into unexpected and unwanted circumstances that were out of their control. And yet, both seemed to thrive. We read repeatedly that Joseph found favor with those for whom he worked. And Moses makes it clear that the reason behind Joseph’s favor was God. God was blessing Joseph in all that he did, and that divine favor was felt by Joseph’s superiors. The same thing seems to be happening with Esther. She found favor with “Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And then we are told that “when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17-18 ESV).

She was chosen queen. The contest was over. The tryouts were called off. Somehow Esther, the young Jewish girl, had caught the eye of the king and found herself wearing the royal crown. It would be so easy to read this part of the story and simply write it off to luck. Or to simply conclude that Esther must have been gorgeous. But there is that subtle thread of God’s sovereignty flowing throughout the story, from beginning to end. This is not a case of fate or kismet. This is the hand of God. And Mordecai seems to be aware that his God is doing something with the life of Esther, to prepare her for a purpose far greater than anything she could have ever imagined. Again, like Joseph, she finds herself in a place where questions outnumber the answers. Her head was swirling. Her mind was having a hard time grasping the significance of what had just happened. She had gone from obscurity to a life of wealth and royalty. She was the queen of Persia. But why? What was the purpose behind her favor with the king? What was it that God was doing? Why had she been chosen over all the other women in the king’s harem? In time, God would answer all those questions and more. He would reveal His will. He would divulge His plan and show her the part she was destined to play.

Will The Real King Stand Up?

And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired. Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus. – Esther 1:5-9 ESV

After a non-stop, no-holds-barred feast that lasted 180 days, King Xerxes was far from finished. He threw another feast lasting seven days for all the people living in Susa, the capital. It was held in the court of the garden outside the king’s palace. By this time, everyone would heard about the king’s 180-day soiree. The rumors about his opulent, invitation-only party would have become legendary. Now he was opening up the gates of the palace to invite anyone and everyone to join in the celebration. And it was another, no-expense-spared spectacle. Rather than showing signs of exhaustion from his 180-day long binge of drinking, eating and over-indulging in all kinds of ways, the king upped his game. The description provided for the decorations alone reveal that this was not a scaled-down, low-budget party for the common people. This was a setting designed to create awe in the eyes of the beholder. It was intended to drop jaws, catch the breath, widen the eyes, and elicit emotional responses of amazement, awe, and even envy.

There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. – Esther 1:6 ESV

Imagine the impact this all had on the common people of Susa. They would have never experienced anything like this before. And as amazing as the surroundings were, they were allowed to drink the king’s finest wine from golden goblets. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it was all a show. We are not told why the king was celebrating or what prompted him to throw these extravagant and expensive parties. The reason for the parties is not the important point of the story. We are being given a glimpse into the power, pride and wealth of a king who knows no bounds, answers to no one and enjoy unprecedented authority and has access to seemingly limitless resources. He is a man at the top of his game who rules over a nation that is at the top of the food chain. Xerxes is a force to be reckoned with. He is all-powerful. He knows no limits. He has no equal.

We are being set up. The author wants us to read the opening lines of his story and see King Xerxes as the central figure in the narrative. His power and possessions are proof of his importance. He is the king after all. He is in control. But all of that is about to change. A series of events is about to take place. Unbeknownst to the king, things are about to get really interesting. His sovereignty is about to get challenged and in ways he never could have imagined or foreseen. This is a man used to getting his own way. He is addicted to power and control. He has the wealth to do whatever he wants. He has an army that allows him to conquer whoever he wills. And while his power and possessions may amaze and astound his people, there is someone who is not in awe of Xerxes: God Almighty

God was not blown away by King Xerxes’ party. He didn’t look down from heaven with slack-jawed amazement at the wealth of this king or the staggering breadth of his kingdom. Xerxes might sit on a throne in his palace in Susa, but God ruled from His throne in heaven. God didn’t need to throw a party to prove his worth. He didn’t need to put on a show to prove His power. In fact, God will operate behind the scenes throughout this story, without recognition and seemingly invisible to the eye. His name will not be mentioned, but His presence will be felt. He will not appear, but His hand will be seen orchestrating events in such a way that His power will be indisputable.

This is a story about sovereignty – God’s sovereignty versus man’s. It is about providence, “the foreseeing care and guidance of God” (dictionary.com). The author wants us to see God in the everyday affairs of life, even though He is not visible to our eyes. He wants us to realize that God’s seeming lack of presence does not mean He is not there. God does not have to put on a show to prove He is powerful. He doesn’t require a burning bush or a pillar of fire to prove His existence. Just when we think He is no where to be found, He shows up. About the time we conclude God is absent from our midst, we realize He has been there all along. God is always at work. He never sleeps or slumbers. He is never out of control, out of touch or out of reach.

Xerxes was the king. But he was about to find out who was really in control.

Pride, Pomp, Circumstance.

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