In a book that doesn’t mention God, it’s perhaps surprising to find it helps us to have confidence in God. One of the problems of looking at a book like Esther is that none of us is in her position – not even close. But at the same time there strong parallels
- She’s a woman trying to do the right thing in a godless society
- She doesn’t have prophets or angels to tell her what to do
- Things seem to happen to her that are outside her control and it all seems pretty unfair.
- At the same time, she’s far from perfect.
There are things we can learn from Esther herself. But still, the real hero of the book is the God who is still in control, and is governing every event in your life for your good.
Is your faith active?
We’re going to take a look at Esther’s step of faith in Esther 5 and the transformation that came over her. There really is an obvious change in her.
We’ve seen how this beautiful orphan was brought up by her cousin and then taken to be Xerxes’s Queen in a beauty contest. Everything about her is passive – she’s a victim of circumstance and her life is controlled by others (mostly men).
But when all the Jews came under an order to be wiped out, Mordecai sent this message to her: “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Of the 14 times she’s called “Queen Esther”, 13 are after that point. What comes next shows that she has gone from being a passive beauty to active Queen. But the motive for the change is her own identity as a Jew, as one of God’s own people.
- Previously she was secret, but now she owns her identity: Jew.
- Previously she was passive, but now she owns her role: Queen. Not a role she chose, it was thrust on her. And now something she embraces as a Jew.
Her identity as a Jew is as a member of God’s people in exile. God had covenanted to have a people to be his own. And that identity didn’t stand still. It’s founded on faith in God to keep his promises to keep his people. And Esther’s identity lives only in faith. And her faith is worked out in action: 3 days of fasting (and prayer), and then action.
Esther’s faith in action
The outcome of the action was unknown: She might be executed by the king (he might fancy another of those beauty contests?). But if the Jews are to die, then she is to die. God’s people are one in him.
As ever, there’s no such thing as a wholly private faith. Faith without works is dead. Actions express faith. They must. Esther realised that faith expressed in works can be risky!
But then, as Mordecai said, “Who knows?” But we know something about faith from Ephesians 2:10: For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
So, remembering Esther’s “risk” and success, here’s the thing: If you step forward to do works God has prepared in advance for you to do, how can you possibly fail? Have confidence in God.
You might stumble, and fall, like Peter taking his eyes off Jesus when he stepped out of the boat. But even then, Jesus reached down out of the storm, under the waves, and pulled Peter back to the safety. Have confidence in Jesus.
So let your faith be seen in action, with faith in God to enable you to do the very things he has told you to do. Are you nervous about speaking about God to someone? Do you find it hard to forgive someone, or even love them? “Who knows?” Perhaps you were brought to hear this sermon just to give you the confidence in God to do his work?
Praise the glory of the cross
Esther is emphatically a book about reversals. That’s even explicitly spelled out near the end (Esther 9:1). But so far all we’ve seen is setup. Things getting worse.
In chapters 6 and 7, the reversals start. In Esther 6, Haman skipped in to see the king about getting Mordecai executed before his second feast in 2 days. We said at chapter 1 that Jews still read the book of Esther in full in synagogues at Purim (late Feb, early March).It’s often read with a panto, fun feel – all “Boos” for Haman. And chapter 6 feels like something from a comedy. We’re the audience with all the information. We know Haman wants Mordecai dead. When Xerxes speaks of Mordecai being wonderful, Haman thinks the king is talking about him. He bigs “himself” up and then he’s mortified that he ends up parading Mordecai through the streets in high honour!
The day has got off to a bad start for Haman, but it’s about to get worse. He goes off to his second feast in two days with the king and queen. He’s feeling pretty chuffed about that, at least.
Until the king asks Esther again what it is she wants. Read Esther 7:3-4. Probably not what the king was expecting. Read Esther 7:5-6. You can imagine them. A really awkward silence while it all sank in. He looks at her, he look at him, eyes meet, look away.
Fear, uncertainty, rage, terror.
From Esther’s point of view, this is devastatingly well-played.
- When Mordecai the Jew refused to fall on his knees before Haman, Haman was so incensed he tried to get all Jews annihilated.
- Now Haman falls at the feet of a Jewish woman begging for his own life.
- The day started so well, and ended in disaster. In death.
Irony and reversals
Haman was killed on the very gallows that he’d had built for Mordecai. It’s all full of irony, twists and reversals.
And it’s here at this moment where this book points forward most vividly to God’s much bigger plans to save his people. Here is where we see shadows of glory to come.
There was a day when Romans, and Herod, Pharisees and religious authorities in Jerusalem finally had Jesus of Nazareth right where they wanted him.
- They despised him and wanted him dead.
- The mocked him, spat on him, struck him, laughed at him.
- And, in the end, they killed him.
They did what even Haman had failed to do to Mordecai – they managed to take the life of their enemy. How did that work out for them? Much the same as Haman.
- Their actions were not, in the end, their biggest victory.
- It was their big crime deserving punishment.
- Crucifying God’s messiah was their condemnation. Rejecting Jesus was their death, as it still is.
But they were only the ones visible by human eyes. Imagine the celebrations of Satan and all his twisted, fallen angels, evil spirits, and who-knows-what-else!
- Victory? They might have thought so, but no.
- At least, not victory for them.
In the death of Christ, Satan’s doom was sealed. In Christ’s death, death died. It lost its sting. That’s the great reversal of history.
Your great reversal
God’s wisdom is the foolishness of the cross of Christ. Seen in the salvation of people like you and me, by faith not works.
Which means that his work at the cross is your great reversal too. Your faith in Christ is credited to you as righteousness. Which is just as well, because you have none of your own. By faith, you’ve been raised from death and now live with him. Long after your mortal remains have turned to dust, you will rise again to a new body with Christ forever. How big a reversal do you want? In the meantime:
God’s hand is on your life
I said the book of Esther is built on reversals. What was down, goes up. What was up, goes down. So what’s the turning point? What’s the key moment? Who’s the hero that tips things in the right direction?
The book has been skilfully written with a clear pivot moment. It’s not Haman’s fall or Mordecai’s promotion. It’s not even Esther’s transformation.
The book begins with two feasts, early in chapter 1. It ends with two days of feasting for the Jews. There are many detailed paralleled moments before and after the central pivot, pointing you ever inwards. In the middle are two feasts held by Esther, and the pivot moment falls between those two. It’s Esther 6:1.
Was the king the hero? No way. The better question is, “Why couldn’t he sleep?” The real hero of this book is the one unseen. The big lesson is how God is very much at work in our lives even at times when he seems to be far away.
- He wouldn’t let the king sleep.
- And that set off a series of events that quickly brought the enemy of the Jews crashing down to death, and to the protection and promotion of his own people.
Have confidence in God in the details of your life
Like Esther, we don’t have prophets and angels to show us. You have plenty going on in your life, we all do. Some of it big, much of it small. And God works through it all.
- You look back at his presence on your life, how one experience led to another – and helped someone along the way.
- He is in all the situations and circumstances of life.
- Your home; where you live. Your job; who you work with.
- Your friends, neighbours, foes(!).
- As you look back, things that seemed insignificant at the time became very big in God’s dealings with you.
- Nothing in your life is random.
- That doesn’t mean it’s all good. But it does mean it’s all for your good.
He works all things for your good. He is the hero of your life.
The reversal of your life – from pain and death to life and hope – is only in Christ, secure in Christ, and will be complete in him. So step forward and do the works he has prepared for you to do. Step forward confident that he has prepared them (maybe through a king that can’t sleep, a nosy neighbour, a problem child, a broken car, a bad day at work…)
Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.