I was watching Andy Murray play Novak Djokovic for the ATP World Tour Finals title last last year. The title was important, but nothing in comparison to the title of world number one which was also up for grabs that night. I watched as these two masters of tennis battled it out, and as the hours passed, Murray received the title he fought so long and hard for. The two men on the court were surrounded by seventeen thousand spectators, and they all shared Murray’s delight as he lifted the trophy. But how did Murray arrive at that moment of victory? No doubt through countless hours of practice. But what else? Tennis is often seen as a solo sport, but every step of his career Murray has had individuals who have supported him both financially and emotionally, individuals who have trained him, who have taken the time to work on his consistency, correct and perfect his service. But when journalists wrote about his victory, the people who surrounded him day after day, who were essential for his success, were never mentioned. It makes you wonder if they were ever there at all?
The author of the book of Esther doesn’t mentions God’s name once. The book is set in the reign of the Persian King Xerxes (c.438 B.C.), in the citadel of Susa. There are ten chapters filled with drama, with twists and turns, and a good pinch of irony. But not once do we read of anything even slightly religious. As Karen B. Jobes observes, “Esther shows no concern for dietary laws”, she gets married to a Pagan King after losing her virginity to him, and is celebrated for pleasing him more than any other virgin of the harem. Mordecai too, encouraged Esther to hide her identity, compromise her faith, and disobey the Torah. Together they hardly make a set of role models for the Jewish people. Jobes goes on to say that the book has so little in common with the rest of Scripture, that if you were to replace the word “Jews” with the name of another ethnic group “there would be no reason to think the story had anything at all to do with the Bible.” Yet we have received this book as part of our canon of Scripture not because of the characters we meet in the book, but rather because of our God that is constantly working behind the scenes. He is not mentioned once, but this book is absolutely about Him.
Many of us know the thrill of encountering God in a powerful way. We each long for the Holy Spirit to speak to us, to move us, to fill us, and these dynamic meetings between God and humankind are wonderful and exciting, but they aren’t our usual experience of God. What happens on a Monday morning, the day after Sunday’s meeting? Where are you going? What are you doing? Is God with you there at work, is He with you during your lunch hour, and the drive home? When you are stuck on the M25 in rush hour traffic, where’s God? We spend comparatively little time in a Church building collectively worshipping God, what happens for the rest of our time?Sometimes we can harbour an unnatural disconnect between the God of Sunday and our everyday lives. The Book of Esther challenges us to look for God in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. Esther’s entry into the story occurs through a beauty contest, and I cannot think of a more shallow event than this one. Yet this thoroughly irreligious event gives birth to a Queen who sits on a throne “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
I believe that it is the genius of the author to hold themselves back from explaining every event that happens. Instead the author gives us ‘coincidence’ after ‘coincidence’ and we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer helpfully summarise these ‘coincidences’ for us;
Esther happened to be selected as Vashti’s successor; Mordecai happened to uncover the plan to assassinate the king; (Xerxes) Ahasuerus happened to have insomnia on the night before Haman planned to kill Mordecai; the selection of royal chronicles read to the king that night happened to contain the report of Mordecai’s good deed.
Often when we think of God we recall the powerful images He has given us of a parted sea, fire falling from the sky, people healed and sometimes even raised from the dead. Wonderful images of His power and might, a reminder surely that nothing is impossible with God. But what about the God of the gentle whisper? God need not appear as a burning bush to become involved in human affairs. The book of Esther teaches us to look for God’s whispers, rather than His fire alone. Over the next few months it is my intention to share with you the book of Esther. I trust that God will be challenging you and I to look at the ‘coincidences’ in our lives, because perhaps there is a little more to them than meets the eye. Perhaps behind the scenes is a God who is shaping His world without receiving the credit he deserves. Perhaps that same God has placed you where you are today, not by accident, but purposefully, “for such a time as this.”