The Book of Esther was written while the Jews were in captivity in Persia. Why were they there? They had no one to blame but themselves. God had warned them. He’d warned them repeatedly, in manifold ways, through various prophets. But they’d shut their ears to God’s admonishment. They’d persisted in their sins. And so they sat in Persia, punished for what God would’ve preferred to have forgiven.
The Book of Esther is unique in Scripture for one reason: there’s no mention of God. Imagine that: a Book of the Bible that doesn’t mention God. Don’t write it off too quickly, though. God is all over the place in Esther, and He’s proving a point. God is always working, guiding history, protecting His people, even when it appears that everything moves along completely without him. One could claim that the amazing events in this book are all coincidences, just history being history, but the believer sees no such thing. God is always working, around you, even through you, through faith in you, and most importantly, always for you, and that is no less wonderful when He does so behind the scenes than when He steps out from behind the curtain.
Esther was an unassuming Jewish girl in a haughty Persian kingdom. She was the meat and potatoes kind surrounded by five-course frivolity. More than that, she was a foreigner, from the least of Persia’s peoples, the most insignificant of King Xerxes’ subjects, the Jews. She was beautiful, but not at first glance in her humble estate. You had to clean her up some and take a good look with an open mind. Yet by God’s grace and guidance she ended up replacing Queen Vashti, whose disrespectful pride had been her downfall.
Esther’s father died when she was young. Mordecai had taken her in as his own, adopted her. He was a godly man, innocent as a dove, but also shrewd as a snake. He told Esther to keep her nationality secret. Esther wasn’t ashamed of who she was, and she didn’t necessarily lie, but she also didn’t put up a billboard on the king’s highway.
One day, while Mordecai was outside the palace gates, he overheard a conspiracy being hatched to kill King Xerxes. He told Esther, who told Xerxes, who dealt with the traitors as traitors were dealt with, and everyone went home realizing treachery didn’t pay union scale.
In the king’s retinue there was a man named Haman. Haman was the Washington type. He yearned for power and all its trappings, and you can guess what he would do to get it: anything. And anything was working out well for him. Haman was rising up the food chain, elevated higher than all the other nobles. All the royal officials bowed down to him in reverence. But one man wouldn’t. God alone deserved his worship. And that man was Mordecai. Needless to say, Mordecai’s estimated lifespan dropped significantly.
Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew. His hatred for Mordecai burned so vehemently that killing him wouldn’t be enough; he’d kill his people as well, wipe them from the face of the earth like barbeque sauce from a glutton’s mouth. He plotted, and when he wasn’t plotting he schemed. And everything seemed to be falling into place.
And then one night Xerxes couldn’t sleep. Coincidence, right? And since he couldn’t sleep, and since there was no television to turn on, he ordered the record of his reign to be read to him—exciting stuff, no doubt. And he was reminded of the plot to kill him. “What reward did this man Mordecai receive?” he asked. “Nothing,” he was told. “Well, that isn’t right,” he thought. And while Haman plotted and schemed and maybe even connived a bit, it all started to fall apart.
Haman had been busy building huge gallows while all this was going on. It was quite the gallows, the kind any man would be honored to hang from if he had to hang. When he entered in to see the king, the king asked him what should be done for the man the king delights to honor. Of course, Haman assumed Xerxes meant him. Darn sinful pride will get you every time, won’t it? So Haman closed his eyes, pretended it was his birthday and time to blow out the candles, and made his wish: “Oh, you should put a royal robe you’ve worn on him, and put him on a horse you’ve ridden, one all tricked out real fancy, and have the nobles lead him through the city so everyone oohs and aahs, and then have them proclaim before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.’ Yeah, that’s what I want, I mean, what you should do.”
And hell began to party like it was 1999. “This is my day,” the first Haman thought. “This is the day I get God, I receive my throne, my crown, my robe.” He had visions of grandeur. A victory parade was planned. Everything was going swimmingly. God’s Son was beaten and bloody, blasphemed and bent over in pain. Hah! Some God. This was easier than he’d ever imagined. What a sorry sight this Jesus was, this divine Jew outside the city gates. He didn’t even hang on a supersized gallows. No, he was nailed to a pathetic hunk of tree, one He Himself had to carry through town while everyone shouted that this was what happened to those God despises.
Oh, wait, wrong story. Back to Mordecai. This was Haman’s day. He’d practiced his power smile and celebrity wave. He was pumped, bursting with excitement. And then Xerxes said something more. “Do all this for Mordecai.” Have you ever seen Wylie Coyote fall off one of those cliffs? Haman’s cliff was named Mordecai. Haman’s world was turned upside down. First became last. Least became greatest. Despised became honored. The people condemned were rescued and set free. Thorns became blossoms and the tortuous tree a triumphant trophy—oh, wait, different story.
The church has always had its Hamans, from Eden on. Never forget, though, that Hamans can only build their own gallows. God is often hidden in history, even as we make it now, but He is always manifest where He has promised to be for us to find Him, in Word and Sacrament, where again and again the tables are turned and the script is flipped. God’s name may not appear in Esther, but it’s on you. In Him you are the king’s friend. In Him you are delivered.