We are starting a new journey through the fascinating Old Testament Book of Esther. Besides reading like a thrilling novel, this book is unique in all of Scripture because it is the only book in the Bible that never mentions God. Yet, as we will see, though God is not mentioned by name, His sovereignty and faithfulness to His promises are evident throughout the book.
Esther begins with an introduction to the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes. Some translations of the Bible refer to him as Ahasuerus, which was the title of the Persian ruler. Xerxes ruled the Persian Empire from 486-465 B.C. and was considered the “King of kings” by his subjects. He ruled a vast empire with an iron fist and nearly bankrupted his empire with his building projects, lavish living, and many military campaigns. He was known for his extraordinary height—though Herodotus’s claim that he was over 8 feet tall was surely exaggerated, many historians do believe he was over 7 feet tall—and he was known for his erratic fits of anger. The Book of Esther begins with one of Xerxes’s lavish feasts, which was thrown in honor of his crushing an Egyptian rebellion. It is at this feast that Xerxes and his generals will plan the massive invasion of Greece, an invasion that will be made famous by the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. This failed campaign will begin the slow decline of the Persians and the rise of the Greeks. Additionally, it is at this feast that one of Xerxes’s fits of anger will deprive him of Vashti, his current queen, opening the door for a young Jewish girl named Esther to become queen of the Persian Empire.
Though the Jewish people had begun their return to the land of Israel during the reign of Xerxes’s grandfather, Cyrus, that migration would take generations. Ezra and Nehemiah would not return to Jerusalem until the reign of Xerxes’s son, Artaxerxes I. The Jewish people were still for the most part scattered throughout the Persian Empire and had adjusted to life in exile. They had built new lives in these foreign lands, and many had even prospered under Babylonian and Persian rule. Yet, they never forgot who they were, and most strove to maintain their national, cultural, and religious identity. It was this strict adherence to their identity that caused resentment among their enemies and led one Persian official to plot his own holocaust.
One of the difficulties with which we must wrestle is our lack of clarity into God’s plans. Certainly, there are times when God’s will and presence are on magnificent display. In those moments, it is not only easy to see what God is doing, but it is usually also very clear how we should respond. But if we are being honest, those moments are not as frequent as we would like. We live much of life in-between, not entirely sure what God is up to. Esther speaks to those spaces in our lives and assures us that God is true to his promise in Rom. 8:28 that He is working all things together for our good and His glory. In Esther 1, we see God use the capricious actions of a drunken king to pave the way for Esther to be elevated to a position of influence. In this wonderful book, we are invited to look past the uncertainty of our circumstances and see that God has been there all the time, lovingly working to redeem our lives.
- 1 Peter 2:11 tells us that we, too, are sojourners and exiles. Do you find it difficult to live in this culture and maintain your Christian identity? How so? In what areas are you doing this well? In what areas do you struggle?
- Can you think of a time in your life when it was clear that God was at work, and you could identify His plan for you?
- Looking back on your life, can you think of a time when it wasn’t clear at the time how God was working, but it was evident later?
- Take a moment to consider your current circumstances. It can be personal circumstances, family circumstances, or even national circumstances. How can you look past uncertainty and see God at work?