The providence of God is one of the main focuses of the book of Esther. When the word “providence” is used to describe how God works in the world, providence refers to what God does in order to accomplish his work in the world.
The Providence of God
In his book Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel, John Goldingay discusses how God works in the world. He wrote that “God certainly had an aim, a vision, some goals, and sometimes formulates a plan for a particular context, but works out a purpose in the world in interaction with the human beings who are designed to be key to the fulfilling of those goals” (2003:60). In the Persian exile, at the time when the Jews were facing extermination, the human being whom God designed to deliver the Jews from extermination was Esther.
God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, but his providential work is found throughout the book. The events that brought Esther to the palace of Xerxes, the preferential treatment she received from the eunuch in charge of the women in the harem, Esther being chosen to be queen of Persia, Mordecai’s discovery of the plot to assassinate the king, and many other events throughout the book contributed to the deliverance of the Jews from the extermination plotted by Haman.
In the providence of God, Esther received a great blessing. An orphan girl became the queen of Persia. However, the blessing she received was not for her alone; she was blessed by God to bless others. Esther became the queen of Persia so that in the providence of God she could save her people.
While people say that some events are the work of fate, and that others are just coincidences, the biblical understanding of providence teaches about a God who is the creator of the universe and a God who cares for his creation and for his people. God has a plan to restore his relationship with humanity and this plan involves the survival of the Jewish people (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The Threat to the Jews
The Jews faced extermination because of what Mordecai had done and because of what Haman did to punish Mordecai. After Haman was promoted by King Xerxes to a high position in the Persian government, the king commanded that all his advisers were to kneel and bow before Haman in deference to his position (Esther 3:2). Mordecai refused to bow before Haman because, as a Jew, Mordecai would only bow before God.
When Haman saw that Mordecai would not bow or pay homage to him, Haman was furious. In his rage, Haman decided to kill Mordecai and all the Jews who lived in the Persian empire. Haman went before Xerxes and spoke ill of the Jews. As a result, the king told Haman do with the Jews whatever he desired (Esther 3:11).
By order of Haman, the people of Persia “were ordered to wipe out, kill, and destroy all the Jews-young and old, women and children-on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. Their possessions were also to be seized” (Esther 3:13 GWN). Haman’s orders were signed in the name of King Xerxes and sealed with the king’s ring.
When Mordecai found out what Haman was planning to do, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. Jews who lived in the provinces also put on sackcloth and ashes and fasted and lamented their situation. Although the book does not mention that they prayed, the act of mourning and fasting is always accompanied by prayer.
Esther found out what Mordecai was doing because her maids and the eunuchs who served her informed her about the situation with her adoptive father. Esther was deeply distressed with what was happening. Esther sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth and come and talk to her, but Mordecai would not accept them. “Then Esther summoned Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why” (Esther 4:5). Esther wanted to know why Mordecai was in mourning and why he refused the garment she sent and why he would not come to the palace to talk to her.
Hathach went to the city square to meet Mordecai. Mordecai told Hathach about Haman’s orders and how he planned to kill all the Jews. Mordecai also gave Hathach a copy of the edict of extermination that Haman had issued in the name of the king. Hathach was supposed to show the decree to Esther so that she could read it and know more about the dreadful situation the Jews were facing (Esther 4:8). Mordecai urged Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy and appeal to him for her people.
Hathach returned to the palace and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Esther told her servant to return to Mordecai and tell him the following message: “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law – all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days” (Esther 4:11).
The biblical text does not give the reason why Esther did not request an audience with the king so that he could hold the golden scepter and receive her. Although Esther was a queen, the law also applied to her. If the king refused to receive her, she could be killed. Access to the king probably was limited and could only be obtained through one of the king’s advisers. If that adviser was Haman, then Esther’s fear was justified.
In addition, Esther had not been in the king’s chamber for thirty days. Since Esther had her own private chambers and since the king probably had many concubines, Esther would not see the king every day. This may be the reason why she was reluctant to ask for an audience with the king. In the past Mordecai has advised Esther not to reveal that she was a Jewish woman (Esther 2:10). Now, by pleading for the Jews before the king, Esther would have to reveal that she was a Jewess.
When Esther’s servant told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai sent this answer back to Esther, “Do not imagine that just because you are in the king’s palace you will be any safer than all the rest of the Jews. Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:12-14).
Mordecai’s response was a mild rebuke of Esther. She believed that as a queen she would be spared because she was a queen. She had a special relationship with the king, and she should use her position to save her people. Mordecai tells Esther about God’s providence, “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Chataira, 2020: 70-75). He reminded her that she was blessed not for her own benefit; she was blessed to bless others.
Mordecai reminded Esther that she was in the position to deliver her people from extermination, but if she refused, God’s deliverance would come “from another place.” In his article “Will Relief and Deliverance Arise for the Jews from Another Place?” John Wiebe wrote, “When Mordecai appears to affirm to Esther that relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and that perhaps it was for the purpose of saving her people that Esther had attained royal status, the reader detects a veiled reference to God’s providence working behind the scenes” (Wiebe, 1991:409).
However, the expression “from another place” has been interpreted in different ways. At times, the word “place” refers to God. However, the word “another” eliminates this interpretation because the salvation of the Jews will not come from “another god.” Another possibility is that the salvation of the Jews would come from another prominent Jew in the Persian court, by a foreign nation, by the Persian people, or by the Jews themselves.
Mordecai does not say from where the salvation of the Jews will come if Esther does not intercede for her people. It is possible that Mordecai’s words reveal his faith in God and his trust in divine providence. Mordecai believed that God would not allow his people to be exterminated.
Another possible interpretation is that Mordecai’s response to Esther is not a positive statement, but a question. Wiebe wrote, “‘For if you certainly keep silent at this time, will relief and deliverance arise for the Jews from another place? Then you and the house of your father will be destroyed.’ With this rendering Mordecai is implying that Esther is the only possible source for relief and deliverance for the Jews” (Wiebe, 1991:413).
By declaring that Esther is the only one who could act and stop the extermination of her people, Mordecai is encouraging Esther to go before the king and plead for the deliverance of her people.
Esther recognized that Mordecai was right. The danger that the Jews faced transformed Esther from a submissive daughter, always obedient to her father and to others into a leader of the Jewish community. Esther made her decision; she would act as the agent for the deliverance of her people. Acting as a queen, Esther commanded Mordecai (the Hebrew verb is an imperative, a command) to go and assemble all the Jews and fast for three days in preparation for her visit to the king: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
In his commentary of Esther, Bush wrote, “This is a decisive turning point in Esther’s development. Heretofore, though queen, she was nevertheless under Mordecai’s authority as his ward. Now she is the one who sets the conditions and gives the commands” (Bush 2018). As a result of Esther’s command, “Mordecai went about the city and did just as Esther had commanded him” (Esther 4:17 TNK).
Esther understood that as a queen, she was the only hope her people had to survive the pogrom ordered by Haman. Esther was determined to make an appeal to the king to save the lives of her people, even if the effort resulted in her own death, “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
My pastor, Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached a sermon on November 15, 2020 titled Esther: For Such a Time as This – “Our Decision.” The post above is based on his sermon.
In his sermon, Jeff emphasized that Esther had made a decision to be God’s agent of salvation. She recognized divine providence in bringing her to the palace at a crucial time in the life of her people. Esther was willing to give her life for the deliverance of many. He also said that Jesus gave his life so that many could be saved.
Jeff told the story of a special woman at The Compass Church who had a very influential position in the business world. She quit her well-paying job because she believed that God had abundantly blessed her so that she could bless other people. She decided she could bless orphans with a strong Christian home. She decided she could bless other Christians by becoming a leader in the church. She decided she could bless other churches by being a consultant and sharing her business experience with them.
Jeff concluded his sermon by asking how we could be used by God to bless others. How can we use the blessings God has given us so that we can bless other people? Christians must decide to become God’s agents of blessing to others. Christians must become distributors of God’s blessings.
Esther: For Such a Time as This – “Our Decision.” A Sermon by Jeff Griffin.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Other Posts on Esther
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Bush, Frederic W. Ruth-Esther. Word Biblical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2018.
Chataira, Tekweni. “‘For Such a Time as This:’ A Clarion Call in a Time of Crisis,” Stimulus 27 (2020): 70-75.
Goldingay, John. Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Wiebe, John M. “Will Relief and Deliverance Arise for the Jews from Another Place?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53 (1991): 409-415.