Simon Bowkett's Podcast

Esther overview - the God Who seems not to be 'there'

September 24, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
Esther overview - the God Who seems not to be 'there'
Show Notes Transcript

•        Introduction

Sometimes it seems, doesn’t it, as if God isn’t there?

Times can get challenging.

Things can happen you wish hadn’t happened.

You’ve got to just live with it sometimes when you really feel the felt presence of the Lord of Glory might have been a significant help.

But the Heavens are like brass.

Deuteronomy 28:23 describes the effect of the withdrawal of Gods covenant blessings as feeling like that … as if the Heavens are hardened over as hard as brass …  and you have to resolve whether you are going to trust God and launch out to do what you know He’d want you to do, regardless of whether you can see Him there with you or not … however much you actually fear to do so.

Esther is a book for that sort of circumstance … when God seems far off and your circumstances are perplexing.

You see, Esther is a book that never mentions God.

Where prayer doesn’t happen.

Where God’s voice is not heard.

Yet where God’s very imperfect people don’t hold back but step out in faith … and when they do that …

Well, far too many coincidences and reversals of bad situations take place to come to the conclusion that God is as absent as He feels.

He’s NOT absent.

He’s there all the time!

He’s inviting faith … but He’s not making much noise.

Of course, here in Esther the people of God are in Exile, and here’s the thing:

They have been put there for good reason!

They had persistently turned their back on their God and were now living with all the sorts of foretold consequences of violating God’s covenant that they were warned of in Deuteronomy 28.

They were in a bad situation … but the faithful God had not given up on them.

Here’s how that becomes apparent.

(The deep structure of this book is even more beautifully crafted, by the way, than the book of Ruth … which is in itself absolutely exquisite … but here I’m very briefly outlining the contents of Esther just to give an overview and make a fairly important point for us).

Now, the story is set over 100 years after God’s people were exiled to Babylonia.

And while some Jews had returned to Jerusalem (Ezra, Nehemiah …) many did not.

So, the Book of Esther is about a Jewish community living in Susa which was the capital city of the ancient Persian Empire … they hadn’t returned to Jerusalem … and were still living in exile under very adverse circumstances.

The two main characters in the story are two Jews, Mordecai and his niece Esther.

Then you’ve got the King of Persia (who’s a bit of a drunken push-over of a man in this story) and then there’s the government official Haman who is a bit of a cunning pantomime villain.

Remember the big thing is that God is always at work in this story but always behind the scenes … and there’s the point.

The first section of the book revolves around Esther and the King

•        Esther and the King, chs. 1-3

            •          The King of Persia’s banquet, chs. 1-2

The King of Persia throws a pair of very elaborate feats that last 187 days … all to display his greatness and splendour.

On the final day in an alcoholic haze he demands his wife … (Queen Vashti) comes into the feast and displays herself for the men to gawp at and admire her good looks … all to further enhance his own ego.

She refuses … which you didn’t do for a bloke like that.

In his drunken rage he deposed Vashti and issued a decree that all Persian men should now be the masters of their own home.

Then the King sets up a beauty contest to find his new Queen.

This is where we meet Esther and Mordecai.

Esther enters the contest … not revealing she was Jewish … and wins.

The King is obsessed with her and makes this Jewish woman his Queen.

An even bigger coincidence is that Mordecai then happens to overhear two royal guards plotting to murder the King.

Mordecai tells Esther, Esther tells the King and Mordecai gets credited with saving the King’s life.

No mention of God … but this all has the hallmarks of God’s providence.

And you’re left thinking: ‘hang on, so much of this looks bad and wrong … what is it that God is UP to here?’

But it’s going well … all heading in a positive sort of direction … until up pops Haman.

            •          Haman the Agagite, ch. 3

Haman we’re told was an Agagite and the Agagites were ancient Canaanite people (1 Samuel 15).

Hanan the Agagite gets promoted to the most eminent position in the Kingdom and the decree is issued that everybody should kneel before Haman.

Mordecai refuses, Haman ain’t happy, and when he discovers Mordecai is Jewish he gets the King to make a crazy decree to destroy all the Jewish people.

Now here’s a quirky thing … to discover the ‘auspicious’ time they should approach the King to ask for this act of genocide, Haman rolls dice (called Pur in Hebrew, or Purim if there’s two of them - hold onto that little nugget of a thought because we’ll come back to it).

Once the King and Haman have agreed on this genocide, they indulge in a big drinking session together.

So in the second section of the story …

•        Haman sets out to conflict with God’s people chs. 4-5

            •          Esther & Mordecai form a plan, ch. 4

Now … please notice that this isn’t a plan to wait on their God Who hasn’t been even mentioned in the account so far.

There have been interesting providences along the route, but no clear stepping in of God into the story.

So what do Mordecai and Esther do?

They do not sit back and wait for the Lord, but act to protect the Lord’s cause in His people.

Esther is going to go to the King, tell him she’s Jewish and ask him to reverse the decree.

This is extremely courageous!

Approaching the King without an invitation in that place and time was an act that would carry the death penalty.

THAT’s the kind of guy Esther was dealing with.

Now, it WAS Esther’s initiative to do this … her plan … and she sent a message to Mordecai to tell him about it and in a context where God seems to be silent in the face of His people’s sufferings, there’s something very telling about the message Mordecai sends back.

He says:

“ 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 4:15

{When you’ve been going through that sort of hampering, obstructing and frustration and through the sort of ‘what next now Lord?’ experience we’ve had for the last few years … there’s something inspiring in that message of Mordecai’s!}

But even more inspiring is Esther’s response to Mordecai:

““Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him”.

Esther 4:16&17

Interestingly there Esther has undergone a huge change of status in the story as she’s resolved on this act of great faith and risk and Mordecai goes away ‘and did everything as Esther had ordered him’.

That’s clear reversal of their roles.

So now we find Esther throwing a banquet to press forward the plan that in courageous faith Esther and Mordecai have settled upon …

            •          Esther’s first Banquet, ch. 5

Esther invites Haman and the King to an amazing banquet she is hosting the next day.

Haman leaves drunk and immediately sees Mordecai in the street.

He fumes at Mordecai who won’t kneel to him and orders that a tall stake be set up so that Mordecai can be impaled on it in the morning.

It looks as if things can’t get any worse for God’s people … they’d gone quietly on for 150 years living under adverse circumstances with a terrible King afflicting them … but everything’s starting to look pretty serious now.

•        Esther and Mordecai take an initiative, chs. 6-8

            •          The pivotal point, ch. 6

In chapter 6 the King is struggling to sleep so he has someone come and read to him from the annals of his reign, and that person just happens to read the bit about the time when Mordecai had saved the King’s life.

The King had totally forgotten about that!

So come the morning, Haman came in to request Mordecai should be impaled but before he could get to it the King asked …

… “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honour?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honour more than me?” 

And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honour, 

let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, 

and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. 

And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. 

Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honour, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: 

‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’” 

Then the king said to Haman, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. 

Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.” 

So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honour.”

Human rushed home to his wife and family in despair and they responded ““If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.”

(Esther 6:13)

Those words mark the pivot in the book and here is where Humans downfall and the preservation of God’s people begins.

            •          Esther’s second banquet and deliverance dawns, chs. 7-8

So when the King and Haman arrive Esther tells the King that she is Jewish and Haman has manoeuvred the king into enacting a decree to murder Mordecai (who’d saved the King’s life) along with all of the Jews.

The King’s already had quite a lot to drink so when he hears this he flies off into yet another drunken rage.

He goes out into the garden to plan what he’ll do to Haman …


“The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realising that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.


Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banqueting hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.


The king exclaimed, ‘Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?’

As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.  Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, ‘A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.’

The king said, ‘Impale him on it!’  So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.”

Esther 7:7-10

The King ordered Haman be impaled on the very stake he’d set up for Mordecai.

It’s ironic.

God … the God Who is not getting mentioned … has behind the scenes reversed the situation for His people.

The snag is that the King can’t revoke a decree he’s already made … it’s a long-standing and fundamental principle of Persian law.

And the King has decreed death to all the Jewish people because of Haman.

So the King commissions Mordecai to issue a counter-decree that the Jewish people must resist and destroy anyone who plots or sets out to kill them on the day appointed for the slaughter of the Jews.

There is great celebration and Mordecai is elevated to sit beside the King.

•        Deliverance and commemoration, chs. 9-10

Firstly, the Jews are mandated to wipe out Haman’s gang and then on a second day they get mandated to deal with anyone who threatens them throughout the Kingdom.

And then … Esther and Mordecai establish by decree this annual two-day feast of ‘Purim’ to commemorate their deliverance from destruction.

The name of the feast come from Haman’s dice … his purim.

Haman was trying to figure out destiny with those dice.

But through a heady mix of irony and reversals, Esther shows us that the God Who doesn’t shout always works out destiny according to His plan by His inscrutable providence.

•        Conclusion

The book is structured really cleverly with things the baddies have going their way in to the detriment of God’s people in the first part of the book mirrored by their going God’s way in the second part … it’s a detailed structure I’ll be getting into in our DIY Sunday Service Kit online over the next few weeks but here and now I’m just highlighting that the disasters coming across the path of God’s people (that seemed likely to have them annihilated) get wound back.

They don’t see God down stage, front centre of the story.

Esther and Mordecai have to go out on a limb, put their lives on the line and take initiative almost ‘in the dark’ with no clear word from God to light their way.

Yet God’s providence is clearly at work in the ironic reversals that scatter the path as they tread along it.

And there’s just one more astonishing thing to point out here.

God is faithful to a very imperfect people.

These people were exiled (as Deuteronomy 28 points out they would be) because they’d wandered badly and persistent from God.

By the time of the events of Esther they had been in Exile for 150 years or so, and whilst SOME had returned to the land God had appointed for them, the ones we hear of here clearly had not.

And then there’s the moral ambiguity and failure going in this story.

Esther married a gentile, not a good Sunday school boy.

A lot of drinking, sex and murder goes on in the book and there are clear violations of the Torah and its commands.

Esther and Mordecai are NOT put forward as example of great moral behaviour, but of trust and hope when things are threatening and look like turning out badly.

So why IS God not mentioned?

The message of the book seems to be that despite Exile, ‘God’s apparent ‘absence’ in their experience and Israel’s moral compromise … even THEN God’s not abandoned His promises or His faithfulness to His people.

            His faithful but very UNWORTHY people.

God can do and DOES work in the mess and even in the moral ambiguity of human history … and life after Genesis 3 is certainly really very, very messy.

And He uses the faithfulness of even sinners to accomplish His purposes.

That ISN’T to say He accommodates sin.

It IS to say that He HAS got grace to offer to people willing to trust God’s Providence EVEN when we CAN’T see it working.

We’ve learned from the book of Esther that God IS committed to redeeming His world … even to redeeming rural Wales.

And we need to trust Him to work that out … even while it feels as if God isn’t actually there.

There are many times in the unfolding story of God’s people when it seems as if God is absent … exile, things working against God’s people, times when it seems God is NOWHERE to be found.

Right at those times when you think God is most ABSENT … those are the times when God is most present, working in strange and mysterious … sometimes ironic … ways behind the scenes.

The book of Esther is trying to challenge and inspire us to trust God through challenging times, even times when it most seems God is not at work.

What we need at such times is to seek God’s Spirit to work on us with this book He has inspired, to challenge OUR world view and for us to discover again how God is at work in OUR story even when we can’t FEEL Him there.

To do that here in this big city, there in rural Wales and across the world that He sends us to serve Him in.

When you’re in those times when bad things seem to be happening and God seems far away these God-inspired ‘coincidences’ still happen because God is still quietly at work, driving forward his gracious plans and Heavenly purposes.

Our part is to go on taking the initiatives and pushing at the doors in front of us because He’s quiet but He’s still powerfully at work.