Providence Prevails - The Story of Esther

The Story of Esther
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

About six weeks ago, we read the story of Daniel, a hero from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, whose courageous faith empowered the Jewish faith in difficult times. Like Daniel, Esther is the story of a great heroine, whose courage kept the Jews alive in dangerous times.

Just as we did with the story of Daniel, we will read from the Children’s Everyday Bible, though in the case of this story, I added a crucial piece of the story that this Bible story book left out. It is great that we can hear the whole story, without reading ten long chapters of scripture, which would keep us here for a couple of extra hours. So children of God, young and old, I say to you, “Lend me your ears” and your eyes, so we can together, as one family of faith, hear this grand story of how God saved the Jews from horrible Haman, the Hitler of his day. The story of Esther can teach us that in difficult and dangerous times, we can find the courage to stand up for the dignity and protection of people, believing that God’s providence will prevail.

The story of Esther:

King Xerxes was the powerful ruler of the Persian empire. He was used to having his own way, especially in his own household. One day, he called for his wife, Queen Vashti. She was busy and refused to come. King Xerxes was furious and banished her forever from his presence. The king decided to find a new queen, so he rounded up all the suitable young women in the land. They gathered in the palace for the king to make his choice. Esther was an orphan from a Jewish family. She was gentle and kind, as well as beautiful. As soon as the king saw Esther, he decided to make her his new queen.

Esther was excited but also very nervous. She knew that, if she did wrong, she would be punished like Queen Vashti. Esther kept secret the fact that she was a Jew. This was probably good, because the king's chief minister, a man named Haman, hated the Jewish people. Haman especially hated Mordecai, Esther's cousin because every time Haman passed by, Mordecai refused to bow to him. Mordecai, as a good Jew, knew he should only bow to God.

Haman hatched an evil plot to murder every Jew in the empire. He went to see King Xerxes. "Your Majesty," he said, "I know of some trouble makers who always disobey your laws. They are the Jews. If you let me set a date to kill them all, I promise you a vast sum of money." The king agreed to this wicked plan.

Esther's cousin Mordecai worked at the palace. When he heard about Haman's plot, he sent a message to Esther. "Beg the king to save the lives of the Jewish people," he urged. Esther knew this would be a dangerous thing to do. She sent word back to her cousin. "It is against the law to go to the king uninvited," she said. "The punishment is death!" "If you don't go, you will die anyway, because you are a Jew," replied Mordecai. "Perhaps it was God's will for you to become queen, so you could rescue his people." So Esther pushed aside her fears and went to visit the king.

To Esther's great relief King Xerxes was pleased to see her. "What can I do for you?" He asked. "I would like to invite you and Haman to a banquet tomorrow," replied Esther nervously. Haman was delighted to be invited. He felt more important than ever.

Meanwhile, the king could not sleep that night, so he called Haman and asked him, "What should I do to honor someone who saved my life?" Haman, thinking he was the one, told the king he should dress that person in fine robes and let him ride the king's horse in front of all the people. So King Xerxes, much to Haman's shock and disgust, said, "Do those things to Mordecai, because he saved my life."

The next day Haman came to dinner with Queen Esther and King Xerxes. While they were eating, Esther finally dared to speak out. "There is a man who is plotting to kill my family and all my people," she said quietly. "Who is this scoundrel?!" Asked the king. Esther pointed across the table at Haman. The king exploded with rage. "He shall pay for this with his own life!" He cried.

Esther had saved her people from a terrible tragedy. (The Word of the Lord...)

They won the lottery. God’s people did. As the full story goes, Haman had cast lots to determine which day he would exterminate the Jewish people. Purim, a word that means “lots” is the Jewish celebration in February or March each year, of the deliverance of God’s people from the evil plot of Haman. As exiles in Persia and many other places, the Jews, needed to believe in the power of their God to overrule the bad luck of the dice. The book of Esther took the matter further: even when the dice had fallen, the Lord was powerful enough to reverse the bad, in order to deliver God’s people. (Joyce Baldwin)

The Book of Esther encourages us to see, like the Jewish people in the fifth century BC, the evidence of God working out our circumstances to the good, that even those events which seem to happen by luck or by chance come to by the providing hand of God. The fact that the real narrative of Esther does not mention the name of God has been seen as a problem by some people, but others say that it demonstrates the power of God at work, even in the ambiguities of life.

“The power of providence is our tentative belief in God at the outset of life-threatening events, when there is no clarity, not clear word or direction from God.” (Soards et al)

When you look at your life – do you see coincidence or providence? Can you speak of coincidence in such a way that it includes the providence of God? Some of us are programmed in our brains to see things more spiritually than others, but all of us can cultivate the ability to see our lives as well-nurtured by God.

On the other hand, if we work at it, we can deny the existence of God by finding events, which to our human eye and heart, appear random and unkind, thereby leaving us with the horrible predicament of choosing between an uninvolved God or an uncaring God. There are a number of atheists writing books these days, trying to prove the absence of God. They pit faith versus reason, but as Karen Armstrong points out in her new book, The Case for God, faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. Atheists take the fundamentalist notion of God and make that God look ridiculous but there are plenty of us Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, who believe in a God very different from the God the atheists are trying to debunk. These atheists are leading people away from faith as easily as Haman led King Xerxes to think that the Jews should be killed.

We have a story to tell about a God, who works quietly in the coincidences of life, providing for us, and indeed caring for all of creation. We believe that providence prevails even when bad things happen to good people. When families like the Craigs and the Browns have a rough year with untimely deaths and accidents we can still affirm that God is bringing good. God is comforting. God is providing. When folks like Jo Allison, Jill, Richard, Chris, Tom, Barbie, Robin, just to name a few at Peace, have a bad luck with employment, we can still know that God is providing, and that good things – like extra time with family, extra time for reading, extra time for church are the unexpected blessings God is providing.

We Presbyterians are firm believers in the sovereignty of God. That is perhaps THE central theme of the Reformed Tradition – that we have not been left to chance, but “that Almighty God possesses the wisdom, the will, and the way to transform the bad luck of our suffering into joy.” (Richard Deibert) That not even death, the final enemy, gets the last word. Life, Resurrection life, does.

So when the storms and the evil plots of others get you down, look for the prevailing providence of God and listen for the groggers drowning out the death-dealing wishes of folks like Haman, whose lust for power demonizes them.

Ring those groggers against all whose lust for power would keep oppressed people silent and fearful. Ring those groggers against all whose lust for power would stand in the way of a fruitful dialogue about healthcare reform. Ring the groggers against nuclear weapons, which in any country are a threat to all countries. Ring those groggers against all who would keep any system or practice in place, which denies people the dignity God intends them to have. Ring the groggers and know that God has a plan to restore battered and bruised humanity because God is always especially concerned for those on the underside of life. Ring the groggers against all that is mean in this world and know that the providence of God will prevail.

Let us pray:
O God, make us wise and courageous like Mordecai and Esther, so that we may speak to powerful people like Xerxes and undermine the those who would threaten or harm others, people like Haman. Make us peacemakers, who dare to speak out about injustice. Give us faith to believe that, even in the darkest moments, your providence will prevail against all that destroys us, against all that leads us to despair.