Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 25. Esther
Esther 4:13,14 Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
A highlight verse? It certainly seems a verse with a distinctly threatening tone to it, but it is nevertheless, as we shall see, a highly significant verse on which much turns in this book. Just in case you are not familiar with Esther, we had better pick up the key things that have happened so far in the book. In some ways it is almost like a stage play with key characters.
It starts with Xerxes, the king, (1:1), son of Darius who we read about in Daniel. He rules over the mighty Persian empire, and Susa (1:2) is one of the four ‘capitals’ of the Persian kings. He is very powerful and therefore somewhat arrogant. He holds a feast for his male friends (1:3) and during the course of it calls for Vashti, his queen, to show her off to his men friends (1:11). She is affronted by this and refuses to come (1:12). He is equally affronted and after consultation she is banished from the royal court (1:19)
He therefore needs a new queen and so a search is made for beautiful young women to be brought into the royal palace. (2:1-4) In what follows, we are introduced to a Jew called Mordecai who had been caught up in Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation and exile of Israel and who still lives in Susa (2:5,6). He has a cousin who he cares for and who lives with him, called Esther (2:7). Esther is caught up in the sweep for young women and ends up in the palace winning favour and becomes queen (2:9-18 Long story, cut short!) Mordecai keeps in touch with what is going on (2:10,11,19,20). In a small aside, there is a plot to kill the king, which somehow Mordecai hears about and the king is warned and a record is made including reference to Mordecai. (2:21-23 End of aside).
We are then introduced to another character who appears on this stage, an Agagite named Haman, whose ancestry possibly goes back to Agag, the king executed by Samuel (1 Sam 15), and who would have been an enemy of the Jews. If it was a stage production, Haman would clearly be the villain! To cut a long story short, Haman is honoured by the king making him next in honour to the king himself. All were supposed to bow before him, but Mordecai would not! (3:1,2) Haman finds out that Mordecai is a Jew and so plots to kill ALL the Jews in the kingdom (which included Israel) and sends out edicts throughout the kingdom that on a certain date all the Jews in the land are to be executed (3:5-15)
When Mordecai hears of this he prays and fasts and sits outside the palace in sackcloth and ashes. The word gets back to Esther who tries to persuade him to desist. He clearly wants her to approach the king and appeal for mercy but she explains that unless she is called in by the king it is against court protocol for her to do this. (4:1-11) It is at this point that our verses above occur: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
Look, Mordecai is saying, if all the Jews are killed, that will include you. Don’t think you will be safe just because you are queen. If you don’t act, I’m sure God will save us by some other means but you may not get saved. But then comes the highlight: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” i.e. is it just possible that God has allowed you to be in this place so that you can be the means of our salvation? There it is! What a challenge of belief. Now we won’t follow the story through, you can read it in your own time. Suffice it to say, she plots how to approach the king and get him on her side and eventually the Jews are saved and Haman killed.
So what have we got here? Genocide planned and Satan’s plot to wipe out the Jews and thwart God’s promises to Abram to bless the world through him and through his family. If Haman succeeds, there will be no nation into which the Son of God can come and display the works, the love and the goodness of God. The whole of God’s plan of salvation for the world is under threat. That is the magnitude of this threat. And there is one little Jewish girl forcibly taken into exile, forcibly taken from her family into the royal court and forcibly given to the king. It is NOT a happy set of circumstances! But she is all that stands between the destruction of God’s people and the plan of salvation for the world. She would not have realised or known the significance of all this, but that is what this is all about.
Throughout the Bible, Satan is shown to be a liar, a deceiver and a murderer, out to thwart the plans of God (but we’ll see the reality of that when we get to Job) by using sinful mankind for his own ends. It is amazing that God should trust His plans to a single Jewish girl. (Single? What about that other young Jewish girl named Mary?) What is amazing is that God uses the weak and the vulnerable and yet in both the instances we have just referred to, they have free will and can refuse! But they don’t! In the book of Ruth we saw a young foreign girl who gave herself over to join the plans of God (without realizing it). Now we have another young girl being challenged to see herself as a similar player in the plans of God.
Stop there! Neither Ruth nor Esther saw themselves as part of God’s plan for His people and for the salvation that would come about involving them. Isn’t that how it is with most of us? How many of us are sharply aware that we are key players, significant characters on the stage of God’s production? The world around us teaches us to be self-centred, self-concerned, seeing the world as revolving around us but the story of Esther (yes, and of Ruth) challenges us to see that there is a very much bigger picture and we are part of it. We never know the significance of our actions.
I can never forget the story of a man who had a lorry that he used to pick up young people, to take them to the church young people’s group, week in week out. One young man wasn’t particularly interested, so the story goes I believe, but went along and got saved at the church, but if the man with his lorry hadn’t persisted and been a servant for the kids, that young man wouldn’t have been saved. And that young man? Billy Graham, who went on to be God’s instrument as the greatest evangelist in history! Did that man with his lorry understand what he was doing and what would follow? Almost certainly not. We have small parts to play but they may have massive significance. They may be difficult parts to play but God’s grace and protection is always there.