The Providence of God: The Hand Behind the Headlines

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Esther 1-5

“Divine providence” is one of the overriding themes of the Book of Esther.

Many great minds have attempted to define providence.  The 19th century clergyman T. Dewitt Talmage said: “Despots may plan and armies may march, and the congresses of nations may seem to think they are adjusting all the affairs of the world, but the mighty men of the earth are only the dust of the chariot wheels of God’s providence.”

American patriot Benjamin Franklin observed, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man.”

Author and theologian J.I. Packer says of God’s providence, “He [God] knows, and foreknows, all things, and His foreknowledge is foreordination; He, therefore, will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man.”

What is divine providence?

I suggest, Providence is God’s sustaining oversight of creation and His direction of all things to His appointed end and purpose. The apostle Paul suggested the same in Romans 8:28-29, writing,

Romans 8:28-29 – “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

In summary, the providence of God is practical (“all things work together”), personal (to them that love God), and cannot be divorced from God’s divine purpose (“to them who are the called according to His purpose”)

The Book of Esther is best known as the only book in the Bible that never mentions God by name; however, the events recorded in the book make it clear Esther is a testimony of God’s providence in the life of a young Jewish maiden and His preservation of His chosen people by sovereignly guiding the affairs of mankind to fulfill His divine purpose and end.  Chronologically, the events recorded in the Book of Esther fall in the midst of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Esther was a Jewish maiden living in Persia, today’s modern Iraq, around 480 B.C.  She was a descendant of the Jews taken captive to Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.  After conquering Babylon, the Persians gave the Jews liberty to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem; however, many remained in Babylon; among them a Jewish man named Mordecai (2:5-7), the uncle of Esther who took her into his home after the deaths of her parents.

Esther 1 introduces us to Ahasuerus, the Persian king who was presiding over an empire at its peak, but facing the growing military presence of the Greek Empire.  Some scholars suggest Esther 1 follows Ahasuerus’ first defeat against the Greeks.  His impetuous demotion of Vashti, his beautiful queen, when she failed to obey his command to come to his drunken feast, sets in motion a series of events that will ultimately propel Esther from anonymity to the throne as the wife and queen of Ahasuerus.

Some seven years passed from Vashti’s expulsion as queen to the events occurring in Esther 2.  Historians believe Ahasuerus had suffered another defeat against a confederacy of Greek city-states and, returning to his palace, remembered “Vashti…what she had done” (Esther 2:1).  Knowing the loneliness of the king, his servants suggested he add to his harem, “fair young virgins” (2:3) and among them seek his queen (2:4).

It was the king’s decree that set in motion a series of events that providentially promoted Esther, who was “fair and beautiful” (2:7), to be named among the maidens “gathered together unto Shushan the palace” (2:8).  Following the advice of her uncle, Mordecai, Esther did not reveal she was Jewish (2:10).

A parade of young women entered the king’s bedchamber; however, none pleased the king until we read, “the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight…so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen” (2:17). Still, “Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people” (2:20).

Esther 3 introduces us to Haman, a man promoted by king Ahasuerus “above all the princes” (3:1).  Haman hated the Jews and especially despised Mordecai (3:2).  Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman so infuriated the man he determined to use his position to exact revenge on all the Jews (3:1-6).  Pretending a concern for what was in the best interest of the king, Haman brought an evil report against all the Jews and influenced the king to give an edict to annihilate all Jews (3:7-15).

The Jews, receiving news of the edict, began mourning, “fasting, and weeping, and wailing” (4:1-3).  Queen Esther, sheltered in the royal palace, sought to comfort her uncle Mordecai who had “rent his clothes” (4:1); however, he refused her offer of new clothing (4:4).  When she sought to know the cause of the great mourning among the Jews, she learned of the king’s edict (4:5-11).

Mordecai warned Esther her office as queen would not spare her life when her Jewish lineage was divulged (4:12-14).  Giving testimony to divine providence, Mordecai appealed to Esther, “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14).

Putting her life at risk, for no one, not even the queen was allowed to enter the king’s court without his invitation; Esther came before the king.  Seeing his queen, Ahasuerus invited her to approach and offered to grant her whatever she requested (5:1-3).  Setting her plan in motion to save her people, Esther requested Haman be summoned for dinner with she and the king (5:4-8).   Receiving the invitation, Haman boasted he was given a private invitation to dinner with the king and queen (5:9-13).

I close today’s devotional commentary with this thought:

God could have chosen any means to save His people, however, Mordecai believed God chose Esther to be instrumental in that task (“for such a time as this” – 4:14).  Mordecai was confident in the sovereignty of God and had faith in God’s providential care of His people (4:13-14).

Friend, God will hold you accountable for your influence and opportunities of service. Bury your talents, refuse to employ your gifts, and the day will come when you give account to the LORD.  Fail to serve Him and the LORD will raise up another to serve in your place (Esther 4:14).

Luke 12:48“…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith