The book of Esther is a strange little book in the Bible. No where in it is God mentioned. No where do we find people praying or doing any kind of religious ritual. At one point people fast but even that fasting seems to be more of an act of unity than a religious act toward God. In fact, Esther seems to be so integrated into the culture that no one even realizes she is Jewish until she reveals herself. This would suggest that, unlike Daniel, she’s probably eating the same food as everyone else, she’s observing the same rituals as everyone else, and possibly even integrating other gods like the culture around here. If she wasn’t people probably would have noticed and she would not have been able to keep her Jewishness a secret.
So with all that being said, what do we do with the book of Esther? What can we take out of it?
Even though the book of Esther doesn’t mention God anywhere it sure seems like God is there. It actually seems like the author of Esther goes out of his (or her) way not to mention God explicitly. For instance, when Esther is confronted by Mordecai to speak up for her people he says in 4:14 that even if she doesn’t go to the king help will arise from some place else. Mordecai also wonders if Esther has not been made queen for just a time as this. In both these lines it would have been easy for the author to mention God as the one who will raise up a saviour or as the reason why Esther has risen to the position of Queen. God, however, is not mentioned.
So why isn’t God mentioned? I think it’s because it’s part of the message of the book of Esther that the author is trying to communicate. Although we don’t know exactly when the book of Esther was written it was written sometime while Israel was in exile in a foreign land. Those living in exile seem to have taken the words of God from the prophet Jeremiah to heart, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”(Jeremiah 29:4-7).
We know from history that Israel did in fact do well while they were in exile. They did so well in fact that when the time came, during the reign of Cyrus, that they could go back to Jerusalem, most chose not to return. One of the reasons then that I think the book of Esther was written, and written in the manor it was, was to remind the people of Israel that God was still at work. That even though they couldn’t worship like they used to, since the temple was destroyed and they were living under foreign rule, God was still there. I think this is also the reason that the book of Esther doesn’t mention God. During the exile God wasn’t doing lots of flashy things but that doesn’t mean God wasn’t still working on behalf of His people. He was, but not in a necessarily obvious way. People, like Esther and Mordecai, had to take steps of faith without having a prophet or a sign from God directing them. They had to trust that the steps they were taking were a part of God’s plan, that God was still looking after them. This is why I think God isn’t mentioned in the book, because the author wants us to feel what it was like to have to discern the way to go, trusting that God is the one directing the paths, when there is no audible voice saying which path to take.
This then is the big encouragement for us. Yes there will be times that God and His Spirit are speaking to us, that the way of the Lord is obvious for us to take. However, there will be other times when God appears to be silent. There will be times when we have to make a decision, sometimes small and sometimes big, and we won’t necessarily have a clear direction from God. It’s at these times we can take encouragement from the book of Esther that God is still there. God is still working in the background orchestrating the events around us and raising up people into the correct positions. It is at these times that God asks us, like Esther, to take that step of faith, to step out into the unknown trusting that He is there on the other side.
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