Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Perfect God Works Through Imperfect People

Part 1 of Turning the Tables

Text: Esther 1:1-2:18




The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esth. 2:17). 


A Book About Reversal of Fortune

“The tables are turned.” The saying comes from board games. The tables are turned when you go from a losing position to a winning position (i.e., experience a reversal of fortune). The book of Esther is a book about reversal of fortune. In the NIV, Esther 9:1 says, “Now the tables were turned.” [1]

The book of Esther was written around 400 B.C. by an unknown author. It has been popular among Jews. (It tells about the origin of Purim.) [2] But it has been unpopular among Christians. (No Christian commentary on Esther was written for the first 800 years of the church.)

The story of Esther takes place during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes). It was a time when a man was judged according to his wealth and power, and a woman was judged according to her beauty—so in some ways, the world hasn’t change much at all.


Where Is God? 

Surprisingly, the book of Esther never once mentions God. Was it an oversight by the author? (“Oops!”) No, a Jewish author would not forget to mention God. It had to be intentional. But why? Karen Jobes writes that “the complete absence of God from the text is the genius of the book.” [3] The book of Esther shows how God—even when he seems to be absent—is working out his good will in and through the lives of his people. [4] Joyce Baldwin comments, “The unseen hand behind the events in Susa is no less active in guiding history today. The book of Esther is still relevant.” [5]

Debra Reid writes that God is “the ‘hidden’ God in the text [of the book of Esther] rather than the ‘absent’ God.” [6] God’s hiddenness is not absence. We believe that God’s isn’t absent, but we still struggle with the hiddenness of God. We say, “Why can’t I experience a miracle? Why can’t I see a vision?” But Esther never experienced a miracle or saw a vision.


Esther Wasn't Flawless

Up to this point in the story, what do you think of Esther? Esther was a beautiful woman (2:7), and she was given lots of cosmetics to make her look even more beautiful (2:9). But Esther wasn’t flawless. (1) She apparently broke the Jewish dietary laws since she didn’t refuse “her portion of food” (2:9). [7] (2) She slept with a man who wasn’t her husband (2:16-17). (3) Some would say that she became queen by just doing whatever the men in her life told her to do (unlike Vashti).

Though she wasn’t flawless, God was going to use Esther to save her people from destruction. [8] Maybe you’re thinking, “Why didn’t God choose to use someone who was more worthy?” If that’s what you’re thinking, then you really don’t understand the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is that God is a God of grace.

God works his will through us, in spite of our failures and shortcomings. 

If you think that God can’t use you to do amazing things because of your past failures or your present shortcomings, you’re wrong. Iain Duguid writes,
Here is hope for all those who find themselves in difficult circumstances in the present because of their past sin and compromise. Here is hope for people who married a non-Christian husband or wife, even though they knew it was wrong. The person who chose a career based on all the wrong motivations, or who has wasted a lifetime in pursuit of the wrong goals can discover that God is sovereign even over those sinful choices and wasted opportunities. Perhaps he has brought us to where we are today so that we can serve him in a unique way. If so, that doesn’t make those wrong decisions and sinful actions right. But it should cause us to give thanks to God that he is able to form beautiful pictures out of our smudged and stained efforts. Past failures do not write us out of a significant part in God’s script for the future. [9]
We’re not flawless, but neither was Esther.


[1] The ESV has a more literal translation of the original Hebrew: “the reverse occurred.”
[2] The book of Esther must have a source of hope to Jews living during the days of the Nazi Holocaust.
[3] Karen Jobes, Esther (NIVAC), 41-42.
[4] Theologians call this the providence of God.
[5] Joyce G. Baldwin, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC), 42.
[6] Debra Reid, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC), 48.
[7] Esther is often compared to Daniel, another young Jew who lived in a foreign land. Unlike Esther, Daniel didn’t hide his Jewish identity and “resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food” (Dan. 1:8).
[8] The deliverance of the Jews was crucial for two reasons: (1) God kept his promise to bless Abraham’s descendants, and (2) the Christ was to be born a Jew.
[9] Iain M. Duguid, Esther and Ruth (REC), 29.