Lessons From the Book of Esther: Of Kings and Casseroles
God’s presence is not as intriguing as His absence. His voice is not as eloquent as His silence. Who of us has not longed for a word from God, searched for a glimpse of His power, or yearned for the reassurance of His presence, only to feel that He seems absent from the moment? Distant. Preoccupied. Maybe even unconcerned. Yet later, we realize how very present He was all along.
Though God may at times seem distant, and though He is invisible to us, He is always invincible. This is the main lesson of the Book of Esther. Though absent by name from the pages of this particular book of Jewish history, God is present in every scene and in the movement of every event, until He ultimately and finally brings everything to a marvelous climax as He proves Himself Lord of His people, the Jews.
Esther is an unknown, orphaned young woman whose life had absolutely no connection with the most powerful man in the Persian Empire. Yet God, in His providential tapestry, was weaving these two unrelated lives together.
The book begins by telling us that the king gave a banquet:
In the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present. For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty (Esther 1:3–4).
Can you believe that? A 180-day banquet! We’re talking six full months of banqueting, which makes today’s celebrity blow-outs look like stingy potlucks! As if this weren’t enough, the king held a second banquet. But then something happened. One of those unexpected but pivotal moments that change everything.
On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas—to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at (Esther 1:10–11).
By now the king was drunk. And while in his inebriated state, he decided to show off another of his prizes: the physical beauty of his queen.
But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger (Esther 1:12).
It was never God’s design that a wife submit to her husband’s evil desires. In King Xerxes’ case, this took the form of desiring to display her before those who had nothing in mind but lust. And Vashti refused.
If I may cut to the chase, four words will suffice:
Exit Vashti; enter Esther.
What you have to keep in mind is that Esther doesn’t have the foggiest idea that any of this is going on; she knows nothing of the events transpiring in the royal palace. She also knows nothing yet about this “royal edict” which will set events in motion that will totally change her own life. Is she in for a surprise!
This is the wonder of God’s sovereignty. Working behind the scenes, He is moving and pushing and rearranging events and changing minds until He brings out of even the most carnal and secular of settings a decision that will set His perfect plan in place. Elsewhere outside the palace, God’s hand prepares to move the heart of the king like a channel of water.
Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah (Esther 2:5–6).
Mordecai is totally unrelated to the king and the Persian kingdom. He’s a Jew living out his years in exile. He is also raising his orphaned cousin, Hadassah.
Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died (Esther 2:7).
This is the first reference to Esther, and already we have learned two things about her. She was orphaned and she has grown up to become a young woman of incredible beauty. The original text is colorful, “beautiful in form and lovely to look at.” Before long she will hear, “There she goes—Miss Persia.” And she will win the lonely king’s heart. It will be the classic example of the old proverb, “He pursued her until she captured him.” But at this point, she knows nothing about palace politics or a lonely king or what the future holds for her. She is simply living out the rather uneventful days of her young life, having not the slightest inkling that she will one day be crowned the most beautiful woman in the kingdom as well as the new queen of the Persian kingdom. Later as she risks her life to use her influence with the king, God will guide her to save her people. My, how God works!
Woven through the tapestry of this wonderful story, we find at least three timeless lessons.
First, God’s plans are not hindered when the events of the world are carnal or secular. He is as much at work in the Oval Office as He is in your pastor’s study. He is as much at work in other parts of the world, like Iran or China or the Middle East, as He is in North America. To doubt that is to draw boundaries around His sovereign control.
Second, God’s purposes are not frustrated by moral or marital failures. Isn’t that encouraging? Force yourself for a moment to imagine the debauchery of that banquet hall. The vulgarity and obscenity of the jokes. The lust in the mind of King Xerxes when he wanted to display his wife for the carnal pleasure of himself and his friends. The decision to divorce Vashti because she wouldn’t cooperate. Yet, in spite of all that, God’s purposes were not frustrated. And neither are they in your life. How do I know that? Because He is a God who applies grace to the long view of life.
Third, God’s people are not excluded from high places because of handicap or hardship. Esther was a Jew exiled in a foreign land. She was an orphan. She was light-years removed from Persian nobility. Yet none of that kept God from exalting her to the position where He wanted her.
Where are you today in your own journey? Are you discounting the significance of your days? Are you sighing rather than singing? Are you wondering what good can come from all that you have to live with? The kids you can’t handle? A marriage that lacks harmony? The pressures that seem to have no purpose?
God’s hand is not so short that it cannot save, nor His ear so heavy that He cannot hear. Whether you see Him or not, He is at work in your life this very moment. God specializes in turning the mundane into the meaningful. God not only moves in unusual ways. He also moves on uneventful days. He is just as involved in the mundane events as He is in the miraculous. One of my longtime friends, Howie Stevenson, often says with a smile, “God moves among the casseroles.”
In the midst of our usual days, we must remain pure and committed to the things of God and His work in our lives, even as we remain sensitive to His hand moving in carnal, secular, even drunken places. Only then can we bring to our broken world the hope it so desperately needs.
Esther does that, but equally important, you can do that, too. Starting today, this no-big-deal day, that seems so mundane, so commonplace, so full of, well…casseroles.