Monday, May 31, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 8: Silent Providence

This chapter of the book Not By Chance focuses on the book of Esther. Even though God is not explicitly mentioned in the book of Esther, it is obvious that He is working throughout the entire narrative.

The chapter begins with a lengthy introduction and overview of the book of Esther. The most obvious unusual feature is that there is no direct reference to God, by noun or pronoun; this occurs in no other book of the Bible. Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, are living in Shushan, the seat of Persian government. They are the "human heroes" of the story, used of God to save all the Jews. As today, God's presence is not overt, but assumed; He does not communicate directly with men; and his modus operandi is the "silent providence" mentioned in the title.

The functions of the book are several. As a work of literature, it is a "divine drama, a suspenseful demonstration of providence" (p. 124). Its theme is the governing providence of God. It serves a historical purpose by recounting the events that led to the establishment of the Feast of Purim, still observed by Jews today. Theologically, it highlights God's providence in ruling and overruling in the affairs of men and to demonstrate His protective care for His people. Practically, it illustrates truths related to God's providence and our lives.

The chronology of the book is important both within the story and in the larger historical context. Ahasuerus (known generally as Xerxes I) becomes the king of Persia in 485 B.C. at the age of 34. Three years later, at the feast described in Esther 1, he deposes his wife Vashti. Before the events of Esther 2, he leads the famous invasion of Greece (480 B.C.) which was ultimately successful. In 478 B.C., Esther becomes queen; Haman's plot and subsequent events occur five years later (3:7). It is important to note that the key events of the book are all unanticipated and crucial to the final outcome.

Several emphases are found in the book of Esther.

  • The "nonmention" of God. There are implicit references to God in 4:13-16, 6:13, 8:17, and 9:2-3.
  • Wrath is an important feature of the story: Of the king against Vashti (1:12, 2:1), of Bigthan and Teresh against the king (2:21), of Haman against Mordecai (3:5, 5:9), and of the king against Haman (7:7, 10). God used the hatred and hostility of man, as well as restraining it, to effect His will.
  • Destruction: First, Haman intends to destroy the Jews; then, the Jews destroy their enemies. There are eight references to each of these in Esther.
  • Chance—but from the perspective of man. A number of events appear to be "chance" but are truly providential. Interestingly, the word "Purim" is from the Persian word for dice.
  • Reversal: Both a literary feature of the book, as well as the very real evidence of God's hand at work.
Lessons from the book of Esther (from pp. 135-140 of the book):
  • God controls and directs the free acts of evil men—including the wrath of His enemies and the enemies of His people—for His own praise and purposes (Ps. 76:10)
  • Recognize that God is in control when you do not get what you think you deserve, or even what you may rightly deserve (Es. 2:23)
  • Resting in the providence of God, determine to do right because it is right, regardless of the consequences (Es. 3:2)
  • Realize that God is in control of who and where you are (Es. 4:13-14)
  • Be sensitive to God's leading, and give God time to work providentially (Es. 5:1-8)
  • Be assured, despite all apparent odds and even apart from all human intervention, that the king's heart is like a channel of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (Es. 6-8; Prov. 21:1)
  • Be patient; payday always comes eventually and providentially (Es. 6-7; Gal. 6:7)
  • Be content; vengeance belongs to God and His providence, not to us (Es. 8:10-12; 9:10, 15, 16; Rom. 12:18-21; Deut. 32:35)
  • Be trusting; God's providential protective care for His people runs deep (Zech. 2:8)
  • Be persuaded that, with God, there is no such thing as chance (Es. 3:7, 9:23-28)
Do you realize that the "common, everyday experiences" of daily life are filled with God's presence and activity? Or are you oblivious that God is at work around you?

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

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