Seeing the Unseen
Once again I tromped around our house. Frustrated, I asked my wife, “Have you seen my glasses? I can’t find them anywhere!” I knew she probably knew. She always does. I need only to ask, and she knows where I have left anything around the house. This time she gave me a puzzled look and said, “Yes, I know where they are.”
“Where?” I asked.
She smiled, “You’re wearing them.”
I wonder if sometimes our perception of God is like that. Like my glasses, God is there but we just don’t see Him. He does show up in unimaginable places and ways, but we often do not perceive Him or His ways.
It is a question we all ask or think, perhaps more often than we realize. Where is God? Why isn’t He doing anything to help me? As we know, it is often a classic case of, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”
In the Book of Esther the desire for God to surface has been so overwhelming that some scholars have claimed to see His name mysteriously embedded in the book’s structure. Yet their sightings have not been all that convincing. God’s name is not mentioned, yet it seems He has left some fingerprints. Consider some of the usual or unusual ways and places in which God apparently was working in the story of Esther.
In a marital squabble
For some reason Queen Vashti refused to come at King Ahasuerus’s bidding. This set in motion a series of events that made it possible for Esther to become queen of the Persian Empire and rescue God’s people from annihilation (1:12).
At a beauty contest
Esther’s beauty provided the opportunity for her to enter and win the beauty pageant, to become the king’s wife, and ultimately to plead for the lives of her people (2:7, 9, 15, 17; 4:8; 5:2, 8; 7:3; 8:3, 5).
At the job site
Mordecai’s employment at the king’s gate (2:19, 21) gave him the opportunity to overhear a plot to kill Ahasuerus. The recording of this incident in the king’s chronicles made it possible for the king to discover it four years later
In the throw of the dice
In chapter three the casting of the lot before Haman “in the first month” falls out so that the destruction of the Jews is to take place in the “twelfth month” (3:7). This chance lot gives the Jews eleven months to find some form of deliverance and to prepare their own defense.
In the words of a concerned cousin
When Mordecai asked Esther to intercede on behalf of the Jews, he curiously added, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (4:14).
During the silence at a special dinner Esther’s unexplained failure to speak up and
request help from the king at the first banquet that she had prepared for him allowed several important events to unfold, the most significant being the king’s insomnia and his “coincidental” discovery of Mordecai’s good deed that occurred four years earlier (2:16; 3:7; 6:1–3).
In the late-night reading of a dull book
After reading about Mordecai’s deed in the chronicles, the king decided to reward him at the same time Haman planned to have him hanged (6:4–10).
When a wife changed her mind
After Zeresh essentially said to her husband regarding Mordecai, “Hang him!” she reversed her counsel, saying, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish origin, you will not overcome him, but will surely fall before him”
After a short walk in the garden
Ahasuerus’s return from the garden at the exact moment when Haman was falling on Esther’s couch led the king to misinterpret that action as an attack on the queen and resulted in the execution of Haman (7:8).
At the gallows
Haman ended up hanging on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai (7:9–10).
In the heat of battle
Dread of the Jews and/or Mordecai had fallen on many of the people (8:17; 9:3) and not one Jew was listed as killed in the fighting. By contrast, Haman’s ten sons and 75,800 enemies of the Jews were killed (9:5–16).
All these occurrences, except for the last one, were completely normal events. In her commentary, The Book of Esther: Motifs, Themes, and Structure, Sandra Berg has observed, “These ‘coincidences’ fall within the realm of possibility but nevertheless strain the laws of probability.” The narrator twice recorded that the circumstances were turned to the favor of the Jews, but he didn’t say how or by whom (9:1, 22). He left that for us to decide.
Was God near? He didn’t seem to be involved overtly, or was He? Let’s review where God apparently rolled up His sleeves and went to work in this story: in an argument, at a contest, on the job, in Persian-style-roulette, in a conversation, during a silence, during a reading, in the change of a thought, on a walk, at an execution, and in battle.
The feeling that God is far removed when He is actually very near occurred even in the life of Jesus. God’s distance is expressed in Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Where was God? Was the relationship with His Father severed in the excruciating hours as Jesus bore our sins? Even if this were the case, Paul says concerning that time that God was actually very near. In fact, He was “in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19; Col. 1:20).
An interesting phrase describes Moses’ faith when he left Egypt, refusing to be intimidated by Pharaoh. The writer of Hebrews says, “He endured as seeing Him who is unseen” (Heb.11:27). Any two of us can look at the same event and come away with two perceptions. The one who applies the eyes of faith will see something quite different. What he sees is not imaginary, but unseen by physical perception.
In his commentary on the Book of Esther, Michael Fox expressed it this way: “The point of teaching that God is ‘hidden’ is really to teach that he is present, in other words, not truly hidden. To do so one must show people how to read God’s presence in events.”
The story of Esther, like so many other accounts in the Bible, should encourage us to apply purposefully the eyes of faith to our lives. As we do, we too will most likely see the One who is unseen, in ways and places never seen before.
Forrest Weiland (ThM, 1980; PhD, 2001) serves as the North American coordinator for the Zaporozhye Bible College of Ukraine (a ministry of Greater Europe Mission) and is a part-time faculty member of Biola University.