Providential Intervention at Work
The 21st century world is programmed to think that events happen as the result of random cause and effect relationships. The message of the Old Testament book of Esther, however, presents a much different worldview where the Sovereign of the universe providentially works to intervene in the affairs of men. (Read the text: Esther 1-2:18)
Readers will be quick to notice that God is never mentioned in the biblical account of Esther. The scene opens on a banquet hall in ancient Persia with King Ahasuerus hosting a feast (Est. 1:2). The king was actually the monarch Xerxes who ruled from 486 B.C. to 465 B.C. The author uses the official title of “Ahasuerus” to emphasize status.
Ahasuerus Xerxes, King of Persia
Xerxes was an impressive personage ruling an expansive empire of 127 provinces in a kingdom stretching from India to Ethiopia.
Historians calculate that the feast mentioned in the book of Esther occurred during the third year of Xerxes’ reign shortly before his attempt to conquer Greece, a four-year venture that ultimately ended in defeat. In preparation, Xerxes brought key officials from his kingdom to the winter palace at Susa.
For almost six months, Xerxes and his officers strategized, calculated the cost and determined the viability of the campaign based on the strength of the treasury of the Medo-Persian Empire (vv. 3-4). At the conclusion, the king hosted a lavish celebration that lasted seven days (vv. 6-7).
On the final day of the banquet, an inebriated Xerxes ordered Queen Vashti—who hosted a separate feast for women—to appear before his guests. Xerxes’ intention is not detailed in the passage. Putting every facet of the kingdom on display for the admiration of his subjects, it appears that Ahasuerus wanted to show-off his beautiful queen. Vashti refused to comply.
Angered by Vashti’s insubordination, Xerxes consulted with advisors who counseled him to quickly depose the queen and seek another to fill the position. Xerxes responded favorably to their counsel, removed Vashti and sent letters throughout the empire announcing the judgement (vv. 19-20).
History describes Xerxes as easily influenced relying heavily on his advisors. After his defeat at Thermopylae and Salamis, Xerxes returned home regretting his decision to depose Vashti.
The wording of his edict coupled with the laws of the Medes and Persians prevented him from rescinding the judgement. It was left to his advisors to devise a plan for filling the vacancy of queen consort.
On the surface, the situation seemed little more than a domestic scandal that had spiraled out of control. In reality, Xerxes’ decision to seek a new queen would be crucial to the survival of the Jewish people.
Mordecai and Esther
Two key individuals emerged in the unfolding drama. The first, Mordecai, was a Jewish man from the tribe of Benjamin whose great-grandfather, Kish, had been taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar (2:6). Mordecai held an unnamed government position in Susa.
The second, a young woman with the Babylonian name, Esther (a derivative of Ishtar), was also known by her Hebrew name, Hadassah. She was under the guardianship of her cousin Mordecai after her parent’s untimely death (v. 7).
Seeking a replacement for Vashti, the king’s officers conveyed Esther along with others of the kingdom to the “women’s quarters” in the palace at Susa. Sequestered from the general population, the women were subjected to a 12-month protocol of preparation before presentation to the king.
As soon as Mordecai became aware of Esther’s situation, he counseled her not to divulge her ethnic identity. Esther heeded his warning (v. 10). Adjusting to the new environment, Esther gained favor from everyone she encountered including Hegai, the eunuch, responsible for the welfare of the harem.
Following her course of preparation, Esther was presented to the king. The record states:
“The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (v. 17).
All provinces of the Persian Empire had a holiday on the Feast of Esther that was celebrated with another luxurious banquet at the palace in Susa (v. 18).
The extraordinary situation was more than a good story with a fairy-tale ending. In what appeared to be an ironic turn of events, a beautiful young Jewish woman was now queen of the Medo-Persian Empire. What Esther and her contemporaries could not have anticipated, however, was God’s providence in placing her in a position of royal prominence.
While God set the stage for a dramatic intervention, the players who had been strategically positioned to meet a clear and present danger still had a choice as to whether they would fulfill their destiny. We are not always privileged to see the minutiae unfolding behind the scenes in our lives. The account of Esther and Mordecai is proof that every detail of life’s circumstance has a purpose in God’s providence.
1) Queen Vashti deposed (c. 1890). (Photo used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: By Ernest Normand/[Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Detail of Bas Relief: Limestone Magen David, Capernaum. (Photo credit: By Charles E. McCracken, Copyright © 2013/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.