The Book of Esther tells an amazing, fascinating story and yet God's name is never mentioned anywhere in the entire book. So how do we know if this Old Testament book truly belongs in the Bible?
We'll find out today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from the opening verses of the Book of Esther. We're in chapter one. When we study any book of the Bible, and particularly one like this, as we come to the details that are provided for us in the canvas, it is important, as we've said so many times, that we see the details in light of the big picture. And so I want to spend some time—considerable time, actually—making sure that we don't leave anybody behind in this class that is about to begin on the book of Esther.
And the way to be left behind is to fail to understand the big picture. So, what is happening in the book of Esther is that God is preserving his people, for it is out of those people that his Messiah is going to come. Therefore, he's going to make sure that in the details that appear on the canvas, he has his people in position. Because, as Jesus explained to the lady at the well, salvation is from the Jews. What was he saying?
Simply that. She had a question about the worshiping of God on Gerizim with the Samaritans, or worshiping God in Jerusalem. He says, A time is coming, and it has now come, when those who worship the Father will worship him in spirit and in truth. And he says that salvation is from the Jews.
And it is! And God's purposes for his people remain. And that's the whole significance of Romans chapter 11. And you can read that some morning when you—at three in the morning, when you're having difficulty, it'll help you.
Well, I spent a long time on that, but I'm telling you, it's really important. And that is to understand the big picture. God is doing something far vaster than the Persian Empire, far more significant than the British Empire, the American Empire, or any empire that's still to come. Do you believe that? That in the economy and purposes of God, you are, in Jesus, caught up in this great cosmic adventure?
Instead of salvation being some little sort of personal thing—you know, just me and my little salvation? No! No! Lift up your eyes! Look!
This is terrific! Okay. Secondly, we not only need to get the big picture, but we need to face the big question.
We're gonna face it briefly, but nevertheless, it needs to be faced. What is the big question? Well, if you haven't read the book, you won't know, but if you've started to read it, you might have got an inkling. And the question is, where is God in this book? Where is God in the book? Because Esther is not simply one of two books written to women, but it is also one of two books in which there is no mention of the name of God.
The other one is Song of Solomon. The name of God never appears in the book of Esther. And all kinds of explanations are offered.
If you read the commentators, you can spend a very unprofitable evening wading through just volumes of material. I am just simple enough and content enough to conclude that the reason the name of God is not in the book of Esther is because he doesn't want it in the book of Esther. You see, you've been an idiot from the beginning, and that's why, you know, that's why you got thrown out of most of your classes at school. Well, maybe not. I don't know. But if all of the events of the Old Testament are in the Old Testament because God intended them to be there, then if his name does not appear in the book, it's because he didn't want his name to appear in the book. Well, why would he not want the name to appear in the book? Well, maybe to teach us something.
Teach us what? Well, to teach us at least this—that in the events of life when God is apparently absent, he's not. That you don't have to add his name to everything to explain his presence. He is omnipresent.
You don't have to say, God did this and God did that and God told me the next thing. The unfolding story of life is God in the details. God, as the hymn writer says, working his purpose out as year succeeds to year. And one of the things that it makes clear is this—that God is not simply present in the sort of lightning bolts of his intervention, in the passage of the Red Sea, in the calming of the waters. But God is present in the humdrum of life, in the everyday events of life.
God is working his purpose out. Do you remember when we studied Ruth, we saw that? Ruth says to her mother-in-law, Naomi, she says, It would be okay if I went and gleaned in someone's field today?
Fair enough request, and she's not gonna sit around the house idle. What that meant was that she would go and do what the law of Israel demanded, that the crop owners would not gather the field to the extremities of the perimeter but would leave enough there so that poor people would be able to go and gather them up. It wasn't a handout. It was a pickup.
It was actually a painstaking pickup. So she said yeah. So she went. And she came home, all laden down with stuff, remember? And Naomi says to her, Whose field were you in today?
She says, Well, I just happened. There's a guy, he's called Boaz. Oh, said Naomi, Boaz.
Boaz is a good one. He's our kinsman-redeemer. When you read the story, it says that she actually happened. She happened to work in that field.
Well, she did happen to. But God was in control of what happened. Because what he was actually doing has to do with the big picture.
Because through the line, we were gonna get not only to King David but to King David's greater son. So God, although his name doesn't appear all the time, is working. You'll find as you read through the story that he is at work in the refusal of this Persian queen to her husband's demands.
He is at work in the sleep patterns of the king. There's an amazing bit in this story where the joker can't sleep. And then what he reads, of all the things he could have read, he reads this one thing.
I mean, it's a great story. You have to read this. He's actually overruling in the hatred of Haman. It's Haman's hatred. God hasn't programmed him to hate. He hates Mordecai. He hates these Jewish people. That's what he is. He's a hateful person.
Well, we need to go to our third point. But Spurgeon has a lovely little section in a sermon that he preached along these lines about the absence of God. He says, Although the name of God does not occur in the book of Esther, the Lord himself is there most conspicuously in every incident which it relates. And then, using a metaphor, he says, I have seen portraits bearing the names of persons for whom they were intended, and they certainly needed them. Some of you have had things done of your children or your grandmother or whatever else it is, and the portrait goes up on the wall, and people come in and go, Who in the world is that?
And so you had to decide. You have to put on, you know, like, Aunt Penelope or something, old Aunt Penelope, you know, 1849, because there's no way anybody in the world would look at that and go, Well, that must be your Aunt Penelope. So that's what Spurgeon says. He says, I've seen portraits, and the name at the bottom is really important, because otherwise you wouldn't have a clue who it was. Then he says, But we have all seen others which required no name, because they were such striking likenesses that the moment you looked upon them, you knew them. God takes his name out of Esther so that the moment that we look into Esther, again and again and again, we say, That's God. That's God. That's God. That's God.
When God appears to be most absent in your life, trust me, he is at work. Big picture, big question. Thirdly, big idea.
Big idea. What's the big idea? Well, the big idea is providence, the doctrine of providence. Remember question 2 in our catechism, What is God? God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his—what was it?—goodness and glory, in his power and perfection—actually, I think it was his power and perfection, then his goodness and glory—in his wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.
That's the big idea. That's the big idea that runs all the way through Esther. That nothing happens except through him and by his will. That is an emphasis which runs through the entire Bible. You can find it in the book of Proverbs again and again, that God is operating in everything that happens in our world. He's directing everything according to his appointed end. He's working everything out according to this eternal counsel of his will, as we noted in Ephesians chapter 1.
And all of this is taking place in relationship to the hostility that exists between the activity of the evil one as he opposes the work of God. God never fails to meet his people's needs. He knew that his people were facing starvation. He knew that he would need somebody in a position in Egypt to deal with the starvation problem of his people, and he had the perfect man. His name was Joseph. But what a strange and convoluted way to get Joseph to such a position of power. His life, incidentally, was marked by him telling dreams in the morning which ticked his brothers off.
His life was marked by the fact that his father doted on him the way he might dote on a small black Labrador puppy. He gave him clothes that he never gave his brothers. His brothers hated him. They flung him in a pit. He was excised from the pit and sold into slavery. He was on the receiving end of abuse and scorn.
He ended up in jail. And through all of these things, he finally ends up saying, classically, at the end of Genesis 50, as recorded for us, when his brothers finally show up, he says, Hey, guys, I know you're upset about this. You intended all this stuff for evil, but God intended it for good. What was he doing?
He was fulfilling his plan—a unified plan for all of history. And what is happening here? Look at verse 14 of chapter 4 as we draw this to a close.
We're a long way from verse 14 of chapter 4, but we can dip in, can't we? Esther is now the queen. She's in a position of influence. Her uncle Mordecai says to her, You know, you've got a real opportunity on your hands here to get us out of a problem. He says, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. You see, the edict had been issued for the extermination of the Jews.
So Mordecai the uncle says, I know you're the queen now, but don't think for a minute that just because you're in there with a king that you will not be subjected to this. Verse 14. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place. In other words, God will look after his people.
That's what he's saying. But you and your father's house will perish. And then here's the question. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? He says, Esther, who knows, but this is the reason that you exist on the planet.
That your whole life, everything that's happened, that God gave you the DNA, that he made you pretty, he made you really beautiful, he made you desirable among all the other potential desirables to replace the queen. And the reason he's done this, who knows, he says, but you have been brought to the kingdom for such a time as this. And when we go through this book of Esther, we're going to discover that God is placing his servants in the right spot for the right task at the right moment. We're going to discover that he uses even and arranges even the smallest events to achieve the greatest results. God's providence is such that nothing escapes his notice, nothing happens without his permission. Even the worst things that will happen to us in our lives will turn out ultimately for our good.
Do you believe that? See, the real test of our doctrine of providence is not in the opening phrase of the song we sang, When peace like a river attendeth my way. That's an easy one. It's a nice day, feeling good. Just got the blood test back, came back negative. None of my kids are in jail.
My wife is still living with me. It's a great day in the neighborhood. Me and Mr. Rogers were perfectly contented. When peace like a river attendeth my way. Okay, let's go to the other side. When sorrows like sea billows roll. That's the test of providence. That's the test. That's where we're either going to take God at his Word and trust him that he is involved in the details, that nothing is out of control, nothing will get out of control, or we won't.
And let me give you a word of counsel and advice. Do not try and interpret the events in your life in terms of their immediate impact or in terms of their personal relevance. Not because there is no immediate impact or because they are personally irrelevant, but because we will almost inevitably go wrong when we try and interpret events as they relate only to ourselves. The people of God in the Old Testament interpreted events not in terms of my, me, and mine, but they interpreted events in terms of we, our, and us. And they also didn't interpret events in sort of tiny little time frames. They interpreted events generationally.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place for all generations. See, part of the challenge of the life that we live and the world in which we live and the nature of the sort of inherent atomization of moments and of time is that we're tempted then to import those notions into our theology. And the computer must run faster.
The answer must come quicker. The resolution must be now. But if you think about it, most of the events of our lives will not be resolved in that way. Some of us may never see our children or our children's children profess faith in Christ before we die.
We die in faith believing that God will fulfill his purposes, that he has some of them on a very long leash. He'll pull them in. He'll pull them in.
He's a covenant-keeping God. That's our promise. That's our hope. If I try and explain a cancer diagnosis just in terms of what it means to me, I miss out on what it means to everybody else—what it means to my wife, what it means to my children, what it means to my friends, what it means to the community. What it means is way beyond whatever it means to me, whether I live short or whether I live long. Those things are not the issue.
Not in the providence of God. And that is the big idea. And the last point to which we won't come—what I call it, I said, well, big question was number two, big picture was number one, big something was number three, the one we're on right now, whatever it is, big idea, yeah. And the last one is big deal. Big deal. And that's not to pull the carpet out from the first three, but it is that this king thinks he is a big deal, and he is a big deal, but he's not as big a deal as he thinks he is.
Okay? But let me finish with this poem, and then we'll sing a song. You know this poem, don't you? My life is but a weaving Between the Lord and me I may not choose the colors He knows what they should be For he can see the pattern Upon the upper side While I can see it only On this, the underside Sometimes he weaves in sorrow Which seems so strange to me But I will trust his judgment and work on faithfully Cause not till the loom is silent And the shuttles cease to fly Shall God unroll the canvas And explain the reason why The dark threads are as needed In the weaver's skillful hand As the threads of gold and silver In the pattern he has planned We only see the links in the chain. God sees the end from the beginning. When we're tempted to so focus on this and to forget that providence is a soft pillow, and that the God who loves us with an everlasting love and has a unified purpose in history is engaged in this, we will inevitably go wrong. You're listening to Alistair Begg with an encouraging reminder of God's providence, even when he appears to be absent. We'll find out more tomorrow on Truth for Life and Alistair will be back in just a minute to close the program. We're just in the early days of our study in the book of Esther. This is a remarkable story of God's sovereignty over the events that unfold in this historical drama.
In the coming weeks we'll hear from Alistair about how God is at work in the details, even though he is never specifically mentioned in the book. The series is titled A Study in Esther and if you'd like to re-listen to or share any of the messages you hear with a friend, you can download any single message from this study or the entire series, all for free, at truthforlife.org. If you'd like to own Alistair's teaching through Esther or give it as a gift, it's available to purchase on a USB drive for our cost of $5. You can find it in our online store at truthforlife.org slash store. While you're in the online store, take a few minutes to browse through all the wonderful biblically solid resources that are available to purchase at our cost. We're able to offer these books at affordable prices along with free access to Alistair's teaching because of the generosity of our Truth Partners. These are listeners like you who give a monthly amount and pray consistently for Truth for Life. If you've been listening to Truth for Life for a while, why don't you sign up and become a Truth Partner today. Join us in the mission to take God's word to the far reaches of the world. It just takes a few minutes to sign up online at truthforlife.org slash truthpartner or call us at 888-588-7884.
And when you join with us, we're going to say thank you by inviting you to request today's recommended book. It's titled 12 Things God Can't Do. Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world is on our shoulders and that can give us sleepless nights wondering if everything will work out in the end. Well, the book 12 Things God Can't Do offers encouragement for those hours of restlessness by reminding us that God doesn't sleep. He hears our prayers.
He is sovereign over all the earth 24 hours a day. This is an aspect of God's nature that provides us with a great sense of security and assurance. It's one of the 12 things God can't do. Learn 11 other things God can't do that will provide you with comfort and peace when you get your copy of the book. Again, request your copy of the book 12 Things God Can't Do today when you sign up to become a Truth Partner.
You can also request the book when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now here's Alistair with a closing prayer. Father, some of us are in the midst of deep darkness and stuff that seeks to almost overwhelm us.
We're not riding down the lazy river on the Sunday afternoon, but we feel ourselves to be taking on water at an unbelievable rate. And we pray that you will help us to hear your Word, which says, Cast your burdens upon the Lord, and He will sustain you, to run into the refuge that is available to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, to find ourselves wrapped up in the embrace of His goodness, so that even when life has plunged us in its deepest pit, we may discover the Savior there. So to this end, we commend one another to you. May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, our Father, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine.
We are so glad you joined us today. Great kings and great nations may come and go, but God is the ultimate authority. So does this give Christians the right to challenge or despise earthly authority? We'll find out more tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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