We’ve all felt this longing within ourselves for “the Good Old Days,” and we can see it in the world around us. As much as it might make us cringe, we can relate to that aging pop star or childhood actor. The one who fears her best days are behind her, who will go through any and every plastic surgery to maintain her fleeting youth and linger, just a little while longer, in the spotlight.
We’d all like to get back to yesterday, when our marriages flourished, when the children were alright, when we hadn’t yet experienced the job loss, or cancer, or death of a loved one.
Many of us look back at yesterday and say God was with us. But today, we’re not so sure.
This was the experience of the Jewish people in the story of Esther.
The events of Esther don’t take place in the Promised Land but in the pagan lands of Persia. Israel has been conquered, dragged into exile, and is being ruled by the latest and greatest world power. The glory days of the kingdom are long over—God’s people are now insignificant and scattered and, in the absence of their previous prosperity, God is nowhere to be seen.
Where is God?
The book of Esther tells a story where God’s name isn’t even mentioned. In fact, Esther is the only book of the Bible where God appears to be absent from the story altogether. But things are not always as they seem.
In the first chapter, the great King Ahasuerus throws a feast so that he can show off “the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days” (Esther 1:4). As the king becomes more drunk with wine, and more drunk with his own self-aggrandizement, the party comes to its climax: The king summons the beautiful Queen Vashti so that he can show her off as his crown jewel, the pinnacle of his glory, his trophy wife. But she refuses.
Though some have speculated about why she refused, the author doesn’t really say. What’s clear is that the all-powerful King Ahasuerus, King of Persia, ruler of the whole world, isn’t even respected by his own wife. The glorious king is really just an everyday fool with marital strife.
Adding insult to injury, the fool tries to remedy the situation by making it a matter of State.
He calls his seven wise men, the princes of Persia and Media, to help him recover his pride. But they’re not all that concerned with the king’s household; they’re worried about their own. Will their wives feel free to imitate the queen—to disrespect and disobey their husbands? Ironically, as punishment for Queen Vashti, they give her exactly what she wants: She’ll never have to come before the king again (Esther 1:19).
This scene is a comedy. Though the king hopes to show off his royal glory, the author of Esther displays the foolishness of the rich and famous. The powerful kingdom of Persia is really a circus of clowns—petty children throwing tantrums and playing games.
God Is Not Where He’s Supposed to Be
We’re often tempted to live simply by what we see, interpreting the dismal moments of life as an indication that we’re insignificant to God and that the powerful of this world are really those who matter. But the author of Esther doesn’t want you to mistake success for virtue or power for wisdom. Prosperity doesn’t equal blessing, and the ordinary moments of life are where God often works.
So where is God? Christian author Chad Bird writes, “The mystery of where God is found in our world is that he’s not where he’s supposed to be.”
Though we look for God in what’s glorious or powerful, God doesn’t often deal in such things.
Without even mentioning his name, the author of Esther shows us how God is orchestrating the events to come—he will work not in power, or might, or miracles, or even through the godly. He will work through the ordinary—through pagan rulers, egotistical kings, annoyed wives, and bad advice. In the story of Esther, God will work for the good of his people through providence.
And this tells us something about where we look for God.
Where is God when life is going well? When the marriage is sweet and the kids well behaved; when you’re killing it at your job and the promotion comes; when the cancer goes into remission—are these the only times God is with his people?
Is God also with you and working in the everyday moments? When you overslept and didn’t have time for your devotional; when your prayers are distracted; when you say hurtful things to your spouse; when the job is thankless; when health is breaking down—is God still working for your good then?
It might not be difficult to say that God was with you in the glorious yesterday, but what about in the inglorious today?
The story of Esther shows us that God’s works are often quiet and hidden from our eyes—in the egotism of a pagan king and the foolishness of men. And this is how he continues to work today.
Invited to the King’s Feast
Through one disciple’s greed, the Pharisees’ jealousy, and Pontius Pilate’s cowardice—through these everyday, providential moments—Jesus Christ died on a foolish and ugly cross.
Why? Christ died in order to bring you to the feast.
See, it’s a very good thing for a king to hold a feast and to be invited into his company. And just as King Ahasuerus held a great feast, so will our King Jesus hold a glorious and lavish banquet. At the end of days, there will be another party.
But at this feast, the king doesn’t call the beautiful queen to show off his splendor. He calls the ugly girl—he calls you and me, in all of our awkwardness and anxiety, sinfulness and foolishness. He calls us, the weak and foolish things of this world, to come and join the party (1 Cor. 1:26–31), not so that he can put us to shame, embarrass us, or use us, but so that he can serve and care for us, dress us in the finest attire, and give us a seat at his table. You, dear Christian, have been called to the great feast.
God will certainly work though miracles, but he’ll also work through everyday moments to make sure to get you there.
Jesus Christ died to get you to the feast, and in his good providence, he’s leading you there.