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Tragedy, Yet Hope

What can be said for the religious purpose or message of a book in the Bible that mentions a certain Persian king 190 times in 167 verses but mentions God not at all? Martin Luther is recorded to have said, "I am so great an enemy to the … book of … Esther, that I wish [it] had not come to us at all." Most Christians are less outspoken, but they nevertheless harbor much doubt and confusion as to the true message God wants to convey to His people through this portion of His holy Word.

Killing For God?

In the first place, the very idea of an Israelite theocracy is offensive to many Christians today. Can we take seriously the idea that God delivered millions of Israelites from bondage and settled them in Canaan when doing so involved the death of vast numbers of Egyptians and Canaanites? How could the holy God of Israel then destroy Gentiles throughout the Persian empire and record this slaughter in the book of Esther without any reference to Himself?

The answer to the first question is found in the fundamental attributes of God and the nature of sinful man in the light of God's eternal purposes. God is absolutely holy and sinful man has no right to stand before Him (Genesis 6:6-8). However, God is also gracious, and has determined to bless nations in proportion to their response to His message through one nation, Israel, created by His sovereign grace (Gen. 12:1-3; Deut. 7:6-11).

Forsaken by Forsaking God

For Jews to have adopted the pacifistic attitude of "live and let live" toward idolatrous Gentiles in Palestine would have been to invite divine judgment (Judges 1-2). Such a tragedy is what finally happened. Because of centuries of disobedience, especially in religious compromise with Gentile neighbors, first the northern tribes (722 B.C.) and then Judah (586 B.C.) were deported and scattered throughout Mesopotamia and beyond. However, in 536 B.C., only half a century before the opening scenes of Esther, fifty thousand Jews were led by their gracious God to return to Jerusalem. They joyously set up an altar of sacrifice and began to rebuild their temple.

The situation described in the book of Esther, however, is vastly different. There seems to be no evidence that Mordecai or Esther harbored any desire to relate to the heart of God's theocratic program by journeying to Jerusalem, offering the prescribed Mosaic sacrifices, and praying to Jehovah in His holy temple. Esther does not display the "Judaism at any cost" spirit that distinguishes Daniel. The impression remains that Esther's Jewishness was more a fact of birth than of religious conviction.

Hope for God's People

The undeniable providence of God as seen in the detailed events of this amazing book, coupled with the complete omission of His name, point to both the tragedy and the hope of Israel today. Even though many Jews are back in the land of promise, Israel, as a nation, is completely unregenerate. They have both seen and rejected their Messiah. But the book of Esther is a divine message of hope for Israel as well. Even in her unsaved condition, she has not been forgotten by God. It is true that He broke her off from His tree of blessing, but it is also amazingly true that "if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again" (Romans 11).

This is the mystery and the message of the book of Esther to our world today. Divine rejection and yet divine providence. Tragedy—and yet hope.

—Condensed from Esther and the Destiny of Israel by John C. Whitcomb. Copyright 2005 by John C. Whitcomb.

Where are the heroes in the Book of Esther? Look no further than Mordecai and Esther. They are the ones who take the necessary risks to secure the deliverance of their people.

Where are the spiritual heroes in the Book of Esther? Look elsewhere; there are none to be found in this book.

—From "Ruth & Esther: God Behind the Seen" by A. Boyd Luter & Barry C. Davis.