For the six weeks leading up to Christmas, I’ll be surveying the Old Testament. From creation and the fall of man to the prophets anticipation, the entire Old Testament points to the coming of Christ. The rest of this year we will accomplish two things: 1) Teach a very brief history of the Old Testament and 2) demonstrate how every stage of the Old Testament is leading us to Bethlehem.
As the nations of Israel and Judah became increasingly more wicked, God punished them by having foreign enemies conquer them and remove them from their country. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was dispersed and never recovered. These people were forever lost. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) endured extreme hardship during this time of exile.
The book of Esther is set in the time period of the exile. It deals with the Persian King Ahasuerus and his newly elected Queen Esther. Though the king was unaware, Esther was a Hebrew orphan in exile. The events of this book play out similar to a modern day soap opera, with conspiracies, pride, drama, and revenge.
Esther’s adopted father Mordecai would stand by the King’s Gate to hear reports about his daughter. In doing so, he heard about a plan to assassinate King Ahasuerus. Mordecai immediately reported the plot to Esther who reported it to the king. The conspirators were executed and the king was saved.
Some time later, King Ahasuerus promoted a man named Haman to second in command in the empire. Haman became accustomed to subjects bowing down to him as he passed by. Mordecai, however, refused to worship him. Haman decided to not only punish Mordecai, but all of Mordecai’s people, the Hebrews. Haman was granted permission from the king to sign an edict executing all the Hebrew people at the end of the year.
Mordecai begs Queen Esther to appeal to King Ahasuerus. There is danger in approaching the king without being summoned. However, Esther obediently approaches her husband. King Ahasuerus’ response to Esther is favorable, though Esther simply requests a private banquet for the king, Haman, and herself. During this banquet, Esther oddly does not make any appeal for the Hebrew people. She simply request another banquet the following day. The king agrees to her request.
Haman leaves the banquet impressed with himself, since Esther and the king invited only him to the banquets. As he leaves he passes Mordecai and is again reminded of his refusal to bow down. In anger, he orders tall, public gallows to be erected so that Mordecai could be executed the following day.
Meanwhile, that night, King Ahasuerus is unable to sleep. For some reason, he is reminded of how Mordecai saved his life. The king realizes that Mordecai was never honored. When Haman reports to the palace the next morning, King Ahasuerus asks him what should be done for “the man the king wants to honor.” Thinking the king meant him, Haman gave lavish instructions of honor. The king commanded Haman carry out those exact instructions for Mordecai!
At the banquet that evening, Esther revealed her ethnicity as a Hebrew and asked for the king to reverse the edict for their execution. Furious, King Ahasuerus demanded that the author of the edict to execute his queen be revealed. When Esther pointed to Haman, the king ordered his execution. Haman was hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai and Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s position!
Happy endings are wonderful. But in the midst of this story, the people of Israel must have been asking, “Where are you, God?” They were enslaved in a foreign land. Haman’s edict put them on the verge of extinction. And all the promises of God for a Messiah were almost squashed.
The Hebrew’s attitude can be summed up in Esther 4:3 – “There was a great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict came. They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.”
Have you ever felt like God was not present? Have you ever asked, “Where are you God?” Let’s look at three brief observations about the story of Esther and our own times of tribulation.
1. Our troubles can hide God’s presence. God is not mentioned in the book of Esther. Anywhere. That doesn’t mean God was not present, but the people’s condition made God’s absence seem so real. Esther herself faced a momentary lapse in faith when she doubted Mordecai’s plan to approach the king. She acknowledges that speaking to the king without being summoned often brings the death penalty. And Esther hadn’t been summoned for the past month (Esther 4:11)! When our troubles are at their worst, it is hard to sense God’s presence in our lives. But…
2. Our obedience can declare God’s faithfulness. Esther’s response to Mordecai’s persistent request is “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Even if it cost her life, Esther will be obedient to save her people. Much to her surprise, in Esther 5 she wins the approval of her husband. He not only allows her to approach him, but the king declares, “Whatever you want, even to half the kingdom, will be given to you” (Esther 5:3). God is not only faithful, He provides beyond what we request!
3. Our patience can reveal God’s hope. I’m not sure why Esther did not reveal Haman’s edict at the first banquet. Some how she knew it was not the right time. Often, we rush into problems with our own quick fixes. But God rewards patient endurance. Though the Hebrew’s enemies hoped to overpower them, God gives the Hebrews hope for a future as they overpower their enemies (Esther 9:1).
What are we to do when we are asking, “Where are you, God?” Like Esther, we must recognize that God is present, even when we cannot see Him. We must remain obedient. And we must patiently look for His faithfulness to restore our hope.