The Unseen Hand of History
April 26, 2023
-Dr. J. Vernon McGee, from our Esther Bible Companion
The story of Esther is a most remarkable account of how God in His providence saved His people. It’s an unusual story to be included in the Bible because, as you may know, it doesn’t include any reference to God—yet His fingerprints are all over it. This is the story of several million people who were disobeying God by not returning to the land of Israel as He had commanded them to. Now they’re out of the will of God.
Let’s pick up the action in the throne room, palace, and banquet hall of the great king Xerxes of Media-Persia, one of the world rulers of a great world empire. He was planning a campaign against Greece at that time and had called in all the leaders of the 127 provinces of his kingdom.
Then something happened he didn’t anticipate: His queen refused to come at his command. It was a family scandal, and something had to be done. So she was set aside. This king then made his campaign against Greece. He came back home, retired in absolute humiliation and defeat. His servants wanted to do something to cheer him up so they suggested a beauty contest that would bring in the most beautiful women of all the kingdom’s provinces.
As we look into this story in the palace, I see nothing spiritual there. It’s as godless as anything possibly could be. It’s a drunken orgy that’s taking place. But God’s overruling it. And now we’re beginning to see what this book teaches. It teaches the providence of God. And God was arranging these events so that, at the proper time, He’d have someone there to intervene on behalf of His people. God is moving the story into His rescue tomorrow.
Now we’re introduced to this man, Mordecai. He belonged to the royal family of Israel, the family of Saul. He must have been a little boy at the time of his capture, but now he’s grown and serving in the palace in some capacity. Mordecai cared for his cousin, Esther (whose name means “star” and who was apparently a very beautiful woman).
God’s name isn’t written in this story, but you’ll see His fingerprints are here. And not only that but someone has defined “providence” as “the hand of God in the glove of circumstances.” And, believe me, His hand’s moving the glove of circumstances. And friend, that’s true in your life and it’s true in my life also.
Providence means “to provide.” God will provide. You remember what Abraham said on top of Mount Moriah when Isaac said, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham said, “God will provide” (see Genesis 22:7-8). God provided two thousand years after Abraham on the top of that same ledge that goes through Jerusalem. On Golgotha, the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. God provided a Lamb where “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) was offered. God provides.
Think of providence as the hand of God in the glove of human events. That means God is the backseat driver. He’s the coach who calls signals to the runner on second base. That’s the way providence moves. He’s the unseen rudder on the ship of state. He’s the pilot at the wheel during the night watch. And as someone has said, “He makes great doors swing on little hinges.”
By God’s providence, Esther came to the throne. And because Esther came to the throne, it enabled her to intervene and intercede on behalf of her people. And an entire people would have been exterminated at that time had she not been there. In the book of Esther, we’re going to find out one night a king couldn’t sleep and he didn’t have any aspirin tablets, so he read some records. And it’s a good thing he read them because it changed the destiny of a people.
That’s providence. And we’ll see God’s providence come to light over and again in this book.
- What do you love so far about this true story?
- It happens in most every great story. Things look bleak … but then something happens. This is God’s providence at work. Can you think of a time in your life as you look back that you now see God was at work? Describe what happened.
- The setting of the book of Esther is Persia, after God commanded His people to return to Israel. How have you seen God at work in circumstances where people were living outside His will? Was He still gracious and kind? Was He still involved? What could have been the cost? The blessing?
- One of the lessons we can learn about God from Esther’s story is “silence doesn’t mean He’s not there.” How does this reality impact your thinking about your own story? About history in general?
- If you love history, you’ll be interested to know that the events of the book of Esther (483-473 B.C.) happen during an intense season of wars in world history. Explore online outlets for world history timelines to find out more, especially how King Xerxes impacted the world stage. Some other historical people also lived and died in this time range, including Buddha in India and Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, in Greece.
- On the topic of God’s providence: Read and ponder/discuss the following verses:
- Genesis 50:20
- Job 12:23
- Psalm 103:19
- Proverbs 16:9, 33
- Proverbs 21:1
- Daniel 2:21
- Jeremiah 29:11
- Romans 8:28
- Romans 11:36
- Colossians 1:17
- Philippians 2:13
- 2 Peter 1:3
How does this shape your view of God at work in our history?