“Providence” appears in the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence. It appears in thousands of other works published over the past 450 years. Yet, in almost all Bible translations, the word doesn’t appear even once. In the book of Esther, “Lord” and “God” don’t appear either. What do those (deliberate?) omissions reveal to us today?
The first seven books of the Bible all contain stories that make good men and women wince. Ruth is the first book of the Bible that’s only PG-13. Then it’s back to more wince-worthy stories at every turn from 1 Samuel to 2 Chronicles. The two books after that dial it back to PG-13, but Esther… you get the idea.
Yet the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, knew exactly what He was doing before, during, and after raising up Esther to save the Jewish people more than 2,475 years ago. In her story, the Lord and His providence come together powerfully without either being named.
Who Is God?
In our own experience, it’s impossible to talk about “providence” without talking about God. And it’s possible, but difficult, to say a lot about the Lord without talking about His providence.
Actually, two words begin to tell us, who is God? They are...
“Sovereign” and “sovereignty” appear hundreds of times in Scripture. The first is a general term for the Lord. The second is embedded 6,700+ times in the sacred divine name, YHWH. The latter typically appears as the word “LORD” capitalized in most modern Bible translations. When we discuss the Lord’s sovereignty, we can describe Him as all-powerful (omnipotent), everything-knowing (omniscient), and everywhere-present (omnipresent).
Unlike “sovereign,” the word “providence” referring to God appears in a single Bible verse only twice (Job 10:12 NIV and 1 Corinthians 10:1 MSG) out of more than 50 English translations. In some ways, that’s fitting. After all, “providence” speaks of God’s eternal, infinite, and mostly invisible hand at work in nations, tribes, families, and individuals.
Many heroes of the faith—including Job, Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Isaiah, Ezra, Daniel, and Esther—rejoiced in God’s providence, which increased their faith and trust in Him.
Do God’s guidance and goodness permeate your life? The answer is yes – even when God seems nowhere to be found.
God’s Providence in Esther’s Dramatic Story
Two generations had passed since the first large group of exiles returned to the Promised Land. A generation before the next group would return under Ezra, however, the Jewish people throughout the entire Persian empire are threatened with extermination.
The story begins in the courtyard of King Xerxes. On the seventh day of a great feast, his queen refuses to let him make a public spectacle of her beauty. Enraged, Xerxes deposes her and later selects a new queen, Esther. Unknown to him, Esther is Jewish (Esther 1:1-2:20).
Esther's cousin, Mordecai, helps her save the king's life. Later, however, Xerxes promotes Haman, a sworn enemy of the Jewish people. Xerxes approves Haman's wicked decree to destroy the Jews throughout the empire (Esther 2:21-3:15).
Mordecai urges Esther to try to save her people by appealing to the king. They fast and pray for three days, and then Esther speaks to Xerxes. Instead of presenting her petition immediately, she invites the king and Haman to a banquet. Later that day, Haman builds immense gallows and plans to execute Mordecai the next morning.
That night, however, Xerxes can't sleep. He orders one of his attendants to read the historical records of his kingdom, only to be reminded how Mordecai had saved his life. The next morning, Haman's plot begins to unravel, and that afternoon Esther exposes his plot. Later that same day, Haman is hung on his own gallows (Esther 4:1-7:10).
Esther and Mordecai then receive permission from Xerxes to reverse Haman's wicked decree. Instead of being exterminated, the Jews triumph over their enemies. The annual Festival of Purim commemorates that victory (Esther 8:1-9:32). Then for many years, Mordecai served as prime minister of Persia (Esther 10:1-3).
God’s providence at work? Yes.
God at Work Behind the Scenes
A prominent display at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., lists the names of thousands of individuals who risked their lives to protect and rescue Jewish people during World War II. How many of these people were inspired by a woman who risked her life to save her people nearly 2,500 years ago?
Esther, also called Hadassah, was separated from her family and friends only to become the queen of her pagan adopted country. She accepted God’s difficult and dangerous plan for her life, thus fulfilling a purpose she could little fathom beforehand – saving the entire Jewish population from annihilation.
Esther made the choice to act in the difficult place God put her. She even risked her life to plead with the king for her people. As queen, it would seem natural that Esther would have the clout to enter the king’s throne room uninvited. But that wasn’t the case during the reign of the kings of Persia and Media. Esther very easily could have met the sword. Esther faced her fear with the prayers of others and the conviction that God indeed is sovereign – no matter what the outcome.
Esther couldn’t see God’s authority and power, but He clearly was at work behind the scenes. The very structure of her story reveals this. Although this story does not contain any obvious references to the Lord’s name, readers of Hebrew can easily spot the letters YHWH – the Lord’s sacred covenantal name – repeated four times in the original text.
In ancient Hebrew, YHWH appears forward and backward, first letter and last letter (that is, all four combinations within four consecutive Hebrew words) in Esther 1:20, 5:4, 5:13, and 7:7. We won’t reproduce them here, but we have all four in hand and just re-read them. They’re real!
Not only are all four combinations real, but all four appear only in Esther. Otherwise, they appear fairly rarely throughout the 23,145 verses in the Hebrew Scriptures. Even some skeptics have agreed that YHWH was intentionally woven into the book of Esther. Forward combinations? Jewish speakers. Backward combinations? Gentile speakers.
Because Esther trusted God’s sovereignty and acted courageously, God used her to spare the Jewish nation and crush their enemies. As well, Esther’s relative Mordecai gained political power to continue serving the good of God’s people. Esther herself is still remembered each year at Purim—the Jewish holiday (typically in March) celebrating her bravery and God’s providence.
God is the same today as He was in Esther’s time. Even in times of difficulty and danger, we can act courageously because He will work all things together for the good of His children (Romans 8:28-37).
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