Divine Providence in the Book of Esther
The providence of God is something which we may not often consider or of which we may not always be conscious. Yet it is a reality. Whether we consider the course of world history or our own lives personally and in connection with other people, divine providence is always at work.
The Book of Esther is almost entirely characterised by divine providence. It is the only book in the Bible where God’s name is not mentioned at all. This has astonished many readers but the reason for it is that He is not dealing with His earthly people in a direct and visible way in the events recorded in this book. And yet His finger can be seen very clearly in many details. It is indeed a very interesting book.
The word ‘providence’
The English word ‘providence’ has its origin in the Latin word pro video, which literally means to see in advance. It is obvious that no human being is able to see things before they take place. Solomon says: ‘for thou knowest not what a day (that is, the next day) will bring forth’ (Prov. 27:1). We may have a hope or expectation that certain things could possibly happen but we will never have pre-knowledge. Only our God is a ‘God of knowledge’ (1 Sam 2:3). He is the only one to really foresee things before they happen. He knows the future. In fact, He knows the end of all things, and has done so even before the created universe came into being.
Further, God is in control of everything and he will conduct and direct everything according to His perfect will. In Isaiah 46:10 He says: ‘declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure’. In addition to His foreknowledge, God’s providence means He directly influences things according to His purpose so that in the end His plans will always be realised.
Direct and indirect dealings
Sometimes He works actively and obviously — sometimes the finger of God is very manifest (see the finger on the wall in Dan. 5:5). Yet sometimes He acts indirectly in a way we do not immediately detect. He is, so to speak, acting behind the scenes. Yet He is moving the scene. That is what we usually describe as ‘providence’. He is acting in a hidden way.
In Psalm 11:4 David says: ‘Jehovah is in the temple of his holiness; Jehovah, — his throne is in the heavens: his eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men’. Since the ‘times of the nations’ began (Luke 21:24), after Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, God has been dealing with this world in a more indirect way, and not so much in a direct and visible way as was seen before.
This is clearly seen in the book of Esther where the Jews are under the political power of the Persian Empire. If we look at some details we will learn certain lessons about divine providence.
God’s providential dealings are hidden
In many cases we cannot discern God’s providential dealings at first sight. We have already noted that His name is not mentioned at all in this little book whereas His finger is clearly seen. He was not manifesting Himself but at the same time He was acting behind the scenes and neither Esther nor Mordecai may have had any idea of what He was doing in their favour. They surely had many questions but perhaps no answers. Yet all happened exactly according to His foreknowledge and counsel. Only at the end of the book does this become clear (ch. 10). At the beginning everything looked very different. Mordecai was supposed to be hanged and all of the Jews were threatened by death and extermination. However, God had it in mind to glorify Mordecai and this is what He did in the end. It was part of His purpose to save His people, which He also accomplished. Instead of fear of death and threatening we read of ‘welfare’ and ‘peace’ (10:3).
God is not only in control of the destiny of peoples and nations. Nor is His interest limited to the big issues in our lives. Rather, He holds everything is His mighty hand — even the small details of everyday life. Very often we do not take this into account and we ask questions — Why? How long? etc. However, our limited perception does not mean that His dealings with us are not real. They are! It was God who kept sleep away from king Ahasuerus. It was God who directed the king not to ask for some women to attend him and distract him (which was quite usual at court at that time) so that he asked to see ‘the book of the records’ (6:1). And it was God who directed his attention to the record this contained concerning the way Mordecai had saved his life in the past. Was all that just by chance? Not at all! God had all these small and inconspicuous details in His mighty hands. In the end, all these things turned out to fulfil His plans.
God’s providential dealings are comprehensive and all-embracing
If we go through the book of Esther we will find that nothing happened by chance. All started with the feast of the king and the refusal of Vashti to come to him at his request. All ended with his second decree that saved the Jews. Everything in between was directed by God. He holds all things in His hand. Paul reminds his Roman readers that ‘all things’ — not only some — ‘work together for good to those who love God’ (Rom. 8:28). Even if we sometimes may not see this, or even believe it to be the case, it is true. Therefore Paul says: ‘we know’. And this knowledge has to do with all things. There is no incident in our life that God will not use in order to fulfil His plan. Psalm 119:91 says: ‘all things are thy servants’. In Romans 11:36 Paul declares: ‘For of him, and through him, and for him are all things: to him be glory for ever. Amen.’
Man is responsible
God not only uses circumstances or events in order to accomplish His purposes, He also uses people — whether godly people like Mordecai and Esther or ungodly and wicked people like Haman. Even king Ahasuerus (the mightiest man on earth at that time) was just an instrument in His hand. God’s dealings with people never contradict or take away man’s responsibility. Man is not a puppet in His hand. He has created us in such a way that we can make our own decisions, and we bear the full responsibility for what we do. Those who killed the Lord Jesus fulfilled God’s counsels, yet they bear full responsibility for what they did (Acts 4:27–28). In the book of Esther this is seen in connection with the great enemy and hater of the Jews called ‘this wicked Haman’ (7:6). At the end, his wickedness resulted in his own destruction and their salvation. Man may call this irony, but this is far from the case. It was God’s hand and purpose but also the consequence of the free decision of Haman, who was fully responsible for all of his decisions and actions.
God is sovereign
While man is responsible, God is sovereign: ‘in him we live and move and exist’ (Acts 17:28). It is impossible for us to do anything against His determined will (although, as discussed above, this does not negate man’s responsibility, nor should we use it as an excuse for inaction, weakness or failure). We should never underestimate God’s sovereignty. He is so great that He gives man liberty to make his own decisions and at the same time directs all things in a way that corresponds with His purpose. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are like two sides of a coin. We can never see the two sides at the same time. Only God can. Human philosophy tries to explain this mystery but always fails. ‘The hidden things belong to Jehovah our God; but the revealed ones are ours and our children’s for ever’ (Deut. 29:29). We should distinguish these two matters but not seek to separate them.
God will always fulfil His purpose
Divine providence will always reach its goal. In the book of Esther there is a twofold objective: first, the salvation of the Jews and the exaltation of Mordecai in Persia (a figure of the salvation of the Jewish remnant in a future day and of the Lord Jesus and His coming glory in the millennium); second, the destruction and ruin of Haman (a figure of the coming antichrist). All this speaks of the ‘fulness of times’ when God will ‘head up all things in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth’ (Eph. 1:10). At that time, God’s government will no longer be indirect but all will be under the direct and visible control of the Son of man (Ps. 8), the Lord Jesus, the man of God’s counsels, who will rule over all things. God has a great pre-determined plan for this creation and we can be sure that He will accomplish everything according to His purpose, especially as it concerns His Son, and to His glory. We can also be sure that He will also accomplish His purpose in our lives. All will turn out to His glory.
The lessons of the book of Esther should not be ignored. God is in control even though we may not always be able to see this. He is acting through circumstances and using human instruments. Everything will turn out according to His objective. No one will ever be able to oppose Him. This should strengthen our faith and trust in our God, particularly in a difficult day like the present. Elihu told Job: ‘Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters’ (Job 33:13). When we reach heaven, there will be no more questions about His dealings with us and all will be to His everlasting glory and honour.
 In Scripture, God’s foreknowledge of individuals or groups of people is a foreknowledge of them for blessing (see Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29; 11:2, 1 Pet. 1:2, 20).