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The book of Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not include any direct reference to God at all.

Many have found this fact about the book of Esther troubling—it’s like reading an autobiography of Winston Churchill with no mention of Churchill. What are we to make of the fact that God is “missing in action” from Esther? Some thinkers have convincingly argued that the author’s intent is to deliver a message through the overt silence with regard to God. The omission is glaring—too glaring to understand it as a literary mistake; rather, the omission is the message. The author portrays God’s presence by not mentioning the presence of God at all.1 In other words, it’s the silence that proves His presence; the lack of theology is in fact the theology. In this way, the book of Esther teaches an important lesson for Christians today. In fact, rather than being a neglected book, Esther should be a significant part of our biblical diet.

The reason for this has to do with how our experience relates to biblical narratives. Our everyday lives coalesce with the Esther narrative more than with the Exodus, Joshua, or Kings narratives. Not many of us have witnessed miraculous deliverance (Ex. 7–12) or attesting signs (Ex. 4:1–9). We’ve never witnessed manna falling from the clouds (Ex. 16) or the walls of a fortress collapse upon God’s enemies (Josh. 6). We’ve never gazed on a vast body of water dividing at the seafloor (Ex. 14) or witnessed a three-year drought miraculously ended following a soaking-wet altar being consumed by fire (1 Kings 18:20–40). No, the ebb and flow of our lives is more akin to that of life in Persia during the time of Esther—daily activities, coincidences, mundane events, misfortunes, mistakes—normal, everyday life where the overt presence of God is all but undetectable. We, like the exiled Jews who remained after King Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 1:1–4), sojourn through life with the silent presence of God—entirely dependent on His written Word for guidance (see Neh. 7–10, 13).

Sovereignty and Providence

Among other things, the change in the means by which God exercises His sovereignty can be accounted for by the distinction between sovereignty and providence—an important distinction to maintain. Sovereignty describes the attribute of God wherein He is in authority over all things. Providence describes the way in which God works out His will in history. To put it simply, sovereignty refers to His attribute—something He is—while providence refers to His action—something He does. Providence, then, stems from His sovereignty; only the Sovereign can exercise providence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism identifies God’s works of providence as “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions” (WSC 11). He governs all—His creatures and their actions. Nothing is outside His rule, and nothing happens without His governance.

Since the Enlightenment, Westerners have resisted the notion of providence. Consider how most people in America, for instance, understand the affairs of the universe. Likely they either assume that the universe is governed by naturalistic elements, or they expect miraculous intervention from a God they’ve altogether ignored. But Scripture—through books like Esther—portrays the normative way in which God has chosen to exercise His sovereignty: through invisible providence—incognito, behind-the-scenes action—like a masterful play director who is behind the stage throughout the entirety of the show, orchestrating every event until the curtain closes without his ever being seen directly.

Covenant Fulfillment in Esther

The Old Testament records numerous crises that seem to threaten God’s covenant promises. For instance, consider the account of Jehosheba’s hiding Joash—the future king of Judah—in a temple bedroom for six years to avoid his slaughter at the hands of his aunt, the evil Queen Athaliah (2 Chron. 22:10–12). Had Athaliah murdered baby Joash, God’s assurance to David that one of his descendants would remain on the throne forever would have failed by way of his line’s extinction (2 Sam. 7:12–13).

In our lives, as in the Esther narrative, God’s silence is too loud to ignore; His absence is too glaring to miss.

The book of Esther records a corresponding crisis. The book is full of unlikely, even comical, twists and several incidents of fortunes being dramatically reversed. (It’s worth reading in one sitting to catch the intense drama of the plot line.) The enemy of the Jews—Haman the Amalekite (see Ex. 17; 1 Sam. 15; Est. 8:1)—issues a decree guaranteeing the eradication of the Jewish people throughout the known world. The attentive reader will recall how Saul’s early disobedient failure as king to eradicate the Amalekites constitutes the reason that this people was even still in existence (see 1 Sam. 15). At the behest of the king of Persia (Ahasuerus), Haman is publicly humiliated by being summoned to parade his most hated subject, Mordecai the Jew, around Susa as an honorable servant of the king (Est. 6:11). Shortly after, Haman winds up hanged on the very gallows he erected for Mordecai (7:10). Mordecai even comes to rule over all Haman’s home and possessions as the prime minister of Persia (8:2), putting him in a position to issue a counter-decree that neutralizes Haman’s prior decree to wipe out the people of God from the face of the earth (8:9–14). And all of this takes place because a Persian king suffers from a bout of insomnia (6:1–3). From our perspective, one sleepless night saves the Jewish people from being utterly destroyed, which, like the near death of baby Joash, would have brought an end to God’s covenant promises. Yet, God isn’t mentioned once in the narrative. But that’s the whole point. He was there all along, invisibly working through ordinary events to save His people.

Conclusion

The book of Revelation contains depictions of the end to which God is directing all of human history; the book of Esther depicts the way in which God has most often chosen to govern all things to that end—through inconspicuous, invisible providence. The covenant God is fulfilling in Esther is the same covenant He fulfills throughout the entirety of the Old Testament (see Gen. 12:3), only He often does it without miraculous, divine intervention. Instead, He fulfills His covenant promises through ordinary events and through the ordinary course of human lives involving flawed, often evil people and their decisions. From this we should learn to be confident in His invisible providence, remembering that hiddenness doesn’t imply inactivity. No, He’s always there, He’s always working, and He’s always faithful to His covenant and to His people—even when we don’t see Him. This is good news for you, Christian, because He’s invisibly working all things together to your profit (Rom. 8:28)—the very salvation of your soul.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)

In our lives, as in the Esther narrative, God’s silence is too loud to ignore; His absence is too glaring to miss. You can trust Him because He is in control.

 

  1. See Peter Y. Lee, “Esther,” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised, ed. Miles V. Van Pelt (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016), 480. ↩︎

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