By Chuck Griffin
Esther is an unusual book of the Bible. For one thing, it never mentions God.
Through the centuries, scholars have debated whether it should even be in the Bible. I’m convinced, however, that its core message is one of the most useful biblical teachings we have as we cope with the modern world.
I boil that message down this way: God often works in the world through what look like coincidences.
I’ll leave it to you to read this wonderful tale, an act that should be a pleasure. It reads like a short story, particularly if you have a modern English translation.
Suffice it to say that there are two main characters, Esther and her adoptive father Mordecai, both Jews living in exile in the capital of the Persian kingdom.
Through a series of odd events, including what amounts to a beauty pageant, Esther becomes queen, all the time keeping her Jewish heritage a secret. She has no real power, however; mostly, she exists to provide companionship to King Xerxes (Ahasuerus in some translations).
On a separate track in the story, Mordecai works as a court official, but in the process he angers the king’s top administrator, Haman. When Haman finds out Mordecai is a Jew, he plots to destroy not only Mordecai, but also every Jew in the empire.
By being in the position she is in and acting bravely, Esther saves the Jews and even arranges for the destruction of their enemies. To do this, she has to go unbidden before the king, an act that could get her killed.
The whole book turns on a series of coincidences. The enthronement of a Jew during the impending destruction of the Jews is the obvious one. The king’s sleepless night, leading to the reading of a particular court record, is another.
While God is not mentioned in the book, it is easy to assume that the original audience saw God’s hand in all that happens in the story. What makes the Esther story different is that God nudges history along through divine coincidences rather than driving it forward with pillars of fire and peals of thunder.
Of course, for God to move history in such a way, human beings have to respond to God-made opportunities when they arise. If people simply sit passively, saying, “I’m not sure I see God,” little happens.
The formula for participating in God’s divine plan is simple. First, accept that God does have a hand in day-to-day events. Second, when you think you’ve identified a moment in time where God is calling you to act, do something about it. Act courageously, with an attitude of hope in everything you do.
As Mordecai tells Esther when her moment of decision is before her: “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” In the eyes of other people, we may have been made big or small, but I believe we are where we are for a reason.
Lord, in those moments where we sense you have gently prodded us to take risks on behalf of the kingdom, give us the kind of courage and selflessness necessary to act. Amen.