This post necessarily combines thoughts about the book of Esther in the Bible and about Chuck Swindoll’s commentary on Esther, titled Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity. Mr. Swindoll’s book is the January selection for the Semicolon Book Club, and I chose it because the women of my church will be discussing and studying the book of Esther in early March at our yearly women’s retreat.
The first observation I read in any commentary, Bible study guide, or study of the book of Esther I picked up was that Esther is the only book in the Bible that never mentions God.
Ray Stedman (quoted in Swindoll’s Esther): “For many this little book is a puzzle, for it seems to be out of place in the Bible. There is no mention in it of the name of God; there is no reference to worship or faith; there is no prediction of the Messiah;there is no mention of heaven or hell–in short, there is nothing religious about it, at least on the surface.”
Matthew Henry (also quoted in Swindoll’s book): “But though the name of God be not in it, the finger of God is directing many minute events for the bringing about of His people’s deliverance.”
Swindoll: “When I come to this book that never mentions God, I see Him all the more profoundly and eloquently portrayed throughout it. It’s there in invisible ink. Just like life. I’ve never seen skywriting that says, ‘I’m here, Chuck. You can count on me.’ I’ve never heard an audible voice in the middle of the night reassuring me, ‘I’m here, My son.’ But by faith I see Him, and inaudibly I hear Him on a regular basis, reading Him written in the events of my life–whether it be the crushing blows that drive me to my knees or the joyous triumphs that send my heart winging.”
It’s probably not an original thought with me, but one of the things this “God-in-the-background”, God as the Silent Orchestrator of all things, made me think of was the writing of fiction by Christian authors. Why wouldn’t the book of Esther be a wonderful model for Christians who write fiction?
I’m not saying that the book of Esther is a fictional account. I believe it’s true history. I also see the hand of God very clearly in the events that are recounted in Esther. However, the human author of Esther felt no need to point out to his readers that God was the one who moved the heart of King Xerxes to love and listen to Esther, that it was God who preserved the Jewish people from annihilation by their enemies by manipulating events and moving people to do His will. And yet it’s so obvious. God is the main character in the book of Esther without his ever being named.
Wouldn’t it be a challenge to a Christian author to see if one could write a God-permeated book without ever mentioning God or prayer or worship or faith? Even better, what about a book filled with the teaching and person of Jesus that never tells the reader exactly what to think and what words to use and how to define Jesus’ presence in the world?
I’m not talking about a book with some vague new-age spirituality. I just wonder if a book that presented the gospel of Jesus Christ without ever telling the reader exactly what it was doing and what to think about it might be more of a paradigm shifter than a book that preaches explicitly. Fantasy can do something like this if it’s done skillfully (Tolkien, C.S.Lewis), but I believe it can be done with regular realistic fiction, too. I just don’t know of very many Christian authors who are writing that kind of book.
So Esther made me think about how we write and read and present stories. It also made me think about how God works in our wold and how often we can miss His presence if we’re not looking with eyes of faith. God is at work all of the time. But we don’t always have eyes to see or ears to hear. I have people I’m praying for who seem as lost as they’ve ever been, in whose lives I see nothing of God’s hand. That doesn’t meant that God isn’t at work. But it may be a while before I can see it. I may never see the complete picture this side of heaven. Esther may not have had any idea that God was at work in her elevation to the position of queen. But He was.
Key passage from the book of Esther: Esther 4:12-16
When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Where has God placed you for just such a time as this? What is He calling you to do?
If you read Esther, either the book in the Bible or Mr. Swindolls’ commentary or both recently and posted about it, here’s a linky where you can leave a link to your post. (Scroll down for the Saturday Review.)