"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”: - Esther 4:14 (ESV)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Esther is not what it includes but what it leaves out. God is nowhere mentioned in the entire book. Not his name, Yahweh, nor his acts, nor his character, nor his involvement are anywhere directly named. If we look in Esther for a full account of God's name and character, we will be disappointed. And yet, the story of Esther is shaded by God's sovereign providence throughout.

The Big Idea of Esther

The big idea of Esther can be summarized in this way: God preserves his people. Although it appears that the Jews will be obliterated from the face of the earth, a series of seemingly happenstance events occur which result in the Jews not only surviving but thriving.

An Outline of Esther

Esther follows several story arcs that revolve around the key characters. It turns out that Esther is not so much the key to the story as the people she represents, the Jews, but also her uncle Mordecai and the villain, Haman the Agagite. The story contains a great reversal in which Haman the ant-Semite and second to the king is replaced in dramatic fashion by the very Jewish man whose actions incited him to desire the extermination of the Jews in the first place.

Esther begins with a rare event. The Jews are in exile in Persia. The Persian king's wife Vashti refuses to come at his bidding during a feast, and he dethrones her in response. There will be a new queen in Persia. Of all people, a Jewess named Esther is picked after a long selection process, helped along by the king's servants who favored her. Esther becomes queen. Around the same time, Esther's uncle Mordecai happens to uncover an assassination plot against the king, which is verified and stopped.

In chapter three, Haman, a high official who hates the Jews, convinces the king to decree their destruction for the sake of the kingdom. In response, Mordecai and Esther hatch a plan to plead for their people. The problem is that the Persian law says that no one, not even the queen, can waltz into the throneroom to speak with the king without first being invited, on pain of death. It is a 50-50 situation whether that person dies or not, depending on the king's mood. This is where the famous line, "If I perish, I perish", originates (Esther 4:16).

In chapter five Esther makes her move and the king accepts her. She invites the king and Haman to a feast the next day. Haman is so happy that he celebrates that night with his wife and friends, who suggest to him that he prepare a gallows on which to hang Mordecai, so he does. As it happened, that same night the king could not sleep, so he had the chronicles of his kingdom read to him. He was reminded of how Mordecai saved him from the assassination plot, so the next day he asked Haman how best to honor someone. Thinking the king was referring to himself, Haman suggested the most public honor he could think of, only for the king to tell him to do that very thing for Mordecai! When Haman returns home before Esther's feast, his wife warns him that he will not be able to conquer Mordecai if he is a Jew, which is an ominous bit of foreshadowing for Haman when Haman's wife, Zeresh, turns out to be right.

In chapter seven, Esther finally reveals her Jewish identity to the king and pleads for her people, dramatically revealing Haman to be her greatest threat. Haman hastens his own demise when, after the king storms out, Haman throws himself at Esther to plead for his life. Meanwhile, the king returns and interprets it as a sexual assault. Haman is hanged on his own gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. And in the beginning of chapter eight, Mordecai is given Haman's exalted position.

In chapter eight, there is still the issue of the Jews' safety, since the decree has already gone out. Mordecai issues a counter-edict in the king's name stipulating how the Jews may protect themselves. The whole city of Susa celebrates and many people become Jews out of fear.

The story of Esther ends with the tables turned in the Jews' favor in chapters nine and ten. The Jews destroy those who intended to destroy them. A feast called "Purim" is instituted in remembrance of the occasion. Esther concludes with a final note about the acts of the king and the legacy of Mordecai.

The Benefits of Esther

If a person with no knowledge of the Bible were to read Esther, he would learn little about God. Esther is a good story and perhaps inspiring in some ways, but its import is lost unless it is understood in light of the rest of Scripture. Why is this so?

Esther highlights the preservation by God of his people. It is fascinating that Mordecai warns Esther with so much confidence that relief will arise from another place if she does not take the opportunity to plead for her people. Mordecai does not include an extended discourse on the goodness and sovereignty of God in providing for his people in exile, but he does give a tantalizing hint. There is a body of doctrine behind his words. Mordecai's doctrine prepared him to react, not in fear, but in faith.

A person with no knowledge of the Bible would find it all intriguing. What makes the Jewish people so important? Why are they hated so much? How can Mordecai be so confident that relief and salvation will come from somewhere even if Esther proves to be a coward? Why does Haman's wife warn him against opposing Mordecai? How does she know that opposing the Jews is a bad idea?

The rest of Scripture makes it clearer. We know that the Jews are God's people and that he had rescued them out of Egypt to bring them to the promised land. The Jews are in exile in Persia due to their unfaithfulness to the covenant of Moses, but God is still faithful to them because he has made promises to Abraham and David that are not dependent on the people's keeping of the law but only on God's word. God is going to bring the people back to the land after the 70 years of exile are up as God decreed.

Esther is a reminder that even when God seems far away and what should be true does not match what is, God's hand is never shortened so that he cannot keep his promises. The Jews´ presence in Persia is not due to the machinations of any human king or government. The Jews are in Persia because God has them there. And the Jews will fare in Persia precisely how God intends.

The same is true for us. If God's people ever seemed outside of the providence and provision of their God, it is in the time of Esther. But they never were. They never will be. There is nothing and no one in heaven, on earth, or in hell that can separate us from the love of God (cf. Rom. 8:38-39). God´s steadfast love is not limited to certain borders, circumstances, or parameters. God´s people are never outside of his hands, no matter how difficult or painful those times may be. It also does not matter how much evil and wickedness seem to be winning the day. Evil is not in control and never will be. Just as Satan was limited in his ability to harm Job, and Haman was thwarted in his plan to exterminate the Jews, so we who are in Christ are never exposed to suffering or evil that our heavenly Father is not measuring and limiting to the precise amounts that he decrees. He cared for his people then, he cares for his people now, and we can be reminded of that from Esther.

On Esther and Living for God Through Christ