Esther 1

There’s an unseen hand to me
That leads through ways, I cannot see
While going through this world of woe
This hand still leads me as I go

These lyrics from an old gospel song summarize the theme of the book of Esther. The hand of God is unseen — but very real and powerful — in the book, although His name is never mentioned. As we read this unique book of the Bible over the next several days, you will be able to trace the unseen hand of God as He silently, sovereignly guides His people and exercises His control over history.

Although Esther comes after the books named for Ezra and Nehemiah in Scripture, the events it describes took place about thirty years before either of those men came onto the scene. The book begins around 483 BC, when King Ahasuerus (an alternate name for Xerxes, see Ezra 4:6) ruled Persia, the dominant power in the Middle East at the time. Most of the Jews were still living in exile there under his rule. Ahasuerus was a monarch with absolute authority; his word was law. He was fabulously wealthy, as can be seen in the description of the decorations for the six month-long party he hosted at his palace (v.3-8).

The King was served by eunuchs (v.10, officials who were castrated to prevent them from having children and establishing their own dynasties), advised by a council of “wise men” (v.14), and married to Queen Vashti (v.9). When Ahasuerus (intoxicated after seven days of drinking) sent the eunuchs to bring the Queen to his all-male party, she refused. Enraged at her refusal, he consulted the wise men as to what should be done to punish her. Their advice, which Ahasuerus accepted and ordered, was to banish Vashti from his presence forever and to replace her with a “better” queen (v.19).

The idea behind the decree was to make an example of Vashti that would cause all the women of the kingdom to respect their husbands. It was a faulty premise: God’s design for marriage is that husbands and wives have mutual respect for each other that is based on their value as persons created in His image. Forced respect is only fear; forced submission is brutality. Genuine respect is an expression of love.

So the drama of the book of Esther begins with a drunken king who wanted to exploit the beauty of his “trophy wife”, a woman who refused to be treated like property, a man embarrassed in front of his buddies, and an overreaction to a marriage problem. God used the fallout of this messy situation to bring two of His people to a place of influence — at just the right time. Be aware today of ways God may be using you to accomplish His will. Surrender to His control and let Him work through you.