Introduction to the Book of Esther
Having completed the book of 1 John last week we are beginning a new study here at Community Church. We are going to be studying through the book of Esther. I will be honest with you that I am both intimidated and excited to go through the book of Esther. I am intimidated because when compared to other books in the bible so few pastors have decided to study this book with their congregations.
Surprisingly, when I went to one of my books at home that traces the foundations of grace throughout all of the bible and church history I found that there were no comments on the book of Esther. I looked for quite some time but Dr. Steven Lawson did not have a section that discusses Esther in what has been called his Magnum Opus work. From what I could tell he traced the foundations of grace through every book in the bible but Esther. I did, however, find one cross reference from the book of Esther when he was writing about one of the prison epistles.1 Next time I go to a conference where he is speaking I will have to ask him about this.
Could it be true that there is no treasure to be found in the pages of this book? Could it be true that there are no doctrines of grace to be discovered in this book that is in our bible? Is there none to be found in all 10 chapters? Is there nothing of value in this book and its 166 verses?
Spurgeon once said that every text, every verse, and every word of the bible longs for its opportunity to declare the glory of Christ. This is our opportunity for us to open our bibles to the book of Esther and to declare the glory of God by considering every verse.
I am excited to embark on this study because I know that God will bless our time in this book and that He will apply these truths to our hearts in profound ways. The book of Esther has many relevant things for us to contemplate that will help us in our own day as the setting of this book concerns believers of God who live in a very pagan society. It concerns the faithful who live in a world dominated by political power and pagan religions. In that day, God’s people probably often wondered if God was present in their lives. In this book we will see that God is always present and active.
Interestingly, the book of Esther and the book of Daniel are the only two books in the bible inwhich its setting takes place entirely outside of the Promised Land. Even more interestingly is the fact that the book of Esther shows no interest in the Promised Land at all.2 However, one of the main topics of this book is the Jewish people and how God preserved them throughout the whole kingdom of the Persian Empire.
Then we must consider that Esther is only one of two books in the bible that does not mention God by name at all. The other book in which God is never mentioned is the book of Song of Solomon. The fact that the Song of Solomon did not mention God by name did not stop Martin Luther from often quoting from it and even saying that that book painted a profound picture of what the Gospel looks like in the life of a believer. However, Luther was not as fond of the book of Esther. He argued that the book of Esther did not belong in the cannon of scriptures.
There have been other reasons why some have questioned the place that Esther should have within the cannon. They have brought up the fact that Esther was the only book contained in the Old Testament that was not found among the Qumran scrolls. And they will point out that the early church fathers did not quote from or comment much from the book of Esther.
Yet, none of this should dissuade us from wanting to study this book and enjoying it as part of the inspired and authoritative Word of God. There are many other reasons why we should have confidence to study this book. For example,
In AD70 Josephus’ writings suggest that Esther belonged within the Cannon of Scripture.
The Mishnah, and other rabbinic teachings, suggest that the book of Esther is to be included within the Old Testament Cannon.
The council of Jamnia (90AD) considered Esther to be a book that should be included in the Cannon.
The Council of Hippo (AD393) included Esther in the Cannon.
The Council of Carthage (AD397) included Esther in the Cannon.
And today the book of Esther remains central to Jewish liturgy, and Christian theologians appreciate its historical progress into the canon as a sign of its centrality and importance within the faith story of God’s people.3
The fact that God is not mentioned by name in the book of Esther has caused me some pause concerning going through this book. What a contrast from the books that we have recently gone through. Books like: the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Philippians, and 1 John. And yet, this particular characteristic concerning this book may make our study even more fruitful than we may realize at first. Consider what Debra Reid says in her commentary on Esther concerning this very thing. She says, “Instead of giving up on a theological quest, we find ourselves searching more earnestly for a God whose non-appearance seems to enhance His presence. The result is that, because our minds are teased, our subsequent theological conclusions incorporate reflection at a number of penetrating and intriguing levels.”4
I love the words, “...Instead of giving up on a theological quest, we find ourselves searching more earnestly for a God who non-appearance seems to enhance His presence.”
There have been times when people have left our church because they did not think that we focused upon the right things. They left the church because they thought we did not emphasize what they wanted to hear. Let me give you two examples.
There have been people who have decided to leave this church because we did not spend some time each week addressing political and world events in view of the scriptures. One person told me that he wanted to attend a church where the preacher has a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
After I was told this I asked myself, and probably some of the elders, if we were doing something wrong? Is it not good enough that Community Church has made it a priority to go systematically through the scriptures? Should we be topical? Should I preach with a paper in one hand and the bible in the other? But in response to this question comes Paul’s charge to young Timothy, “I charge you...preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
There was another time when one of our attenders stopped coming to church. For the longest time I did not see them until one day I ran into them in town. I was glad to see them and asked them if they were attending church somewhere else. I was glad to hear that they were. I wanted to hear why they had left so that I could address anything that I may have done wrong. They told me that they wanted to go somewhere where the Holy Spirit was spoken of more.
I thanked them for their feedback and considered what they had said. Once again I found myself wondering if I was doing something wrong? We go systematically through the scriptures and we try to emphasize whatever the text is addressing. There is one sense in which the Trinity shows up on every page of the bible and we should recognize the profound work that the LORD is doing in that text. But there is another sense in which you will not be addressing some of these things every Sunday. Am I doing it wrong? Do I need to change?
At the time we were going through the book of Philippians so I sat down and read through it from beginning to end. I circled every time that the Holy Spirit was mentioned. Do you know how many times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Philippians? The Holy Spirit is mentioned less than a handful of times in the entire book of Philippians. And yet, His presence and power are meant to be understood as being in the church and with the believers at all times.
Philippians 1:18b-19 - Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance...
Philippians 2:1 - So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Philippians 3:3 - For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh...
From this I concluded two things. First, I can always do better at pointing out the Trinity in my sermons. Secondly, I concluded that we must be careful not to demand more than what Paul demanded from himself. Paul wrote to the Philippians a Spirit inspired letter that was ‘God breathed’ and yet, he only spoke of the Holy Spirit three times; but Paul presupposed that the Holy Spirit was present everywhere and in everything.
Because the Spirit is not mentioned often in the book of Philippians, does that make the letter less inspired than Luke and Acts? No! Neither does it make Esther less of an inspired book because God is not mentioned specifically. We will discover that Esther will be a testimony to what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 77:19is true, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were not seen.” The psalmist is recalling to Himself that God is a very present help in times of trouble even when He is not made visible.
God leads His people through the turbulent, chaotic, dark times. And most of the time we are unaware of what God is doing even when He is very much present. We will see this to be the case in the book of Esther.
God is working a century before these events as Daniel prophesies about the Persian Empire and how it will be part of God’s future plan.
God is working in the events that unfold in the opening chapter of this book when you see a prideful and sinful king throwing a party in which drinking and sin abounded.
God is at work when leaders are removed from their prominent positions.
God is at work when He exalts the humble to prominent positions.
God is at work when evil people plot and scheme against the righteous.
God is at work delivering the righteous from what appears to be impossible situations.
God is at work fulfilling his will even when people have neglected His will and forgotten about what God has commanded.
You may be sitting here today and you may be wondering if God could be with you in your job? Can he really be in a place where his name is blasphemed, gossip abounds, the managers are not godly, and the company supports godless things (like abortion, the sexual revolution, etc.).
You may be sitting here today and you may be wondering if God could be involved in the different levels of our government? Can God be involved in who is elected, in who is hired, in who is contracted to do certain things? Can God be sovereign over all things in government when there is such wickedness, corruption, deceit, malice, bribery, ungodliness, and pride? Can God be involved where laws are written and passed that dishonor Him? Can God be involved when the authority He has given to the authorities is mismanaged and perverted? Is God ever squeezed out by big government?
You may be sitting here today and wondering if God could be with you in your family life? Is God there with you when your spouse is not saved and is not honoring the Lord? Is God working among you when your spouse makes unwise decisions and listens to wicked counsel? Is God working in your family when your home life does not reflect the perfect will of God? Is God with you when the answer is not immediate?
You may be sitting here today and wondering if God could be with you at school when your professors teach you things that are not biblical and when they blaspheme God. When the professor makes the Christians in the room feel like they are the foolish ones for believing in a God who created the world and sustains all things by His powerful word? When you are made to feel like your stance on sexual purity is prude and when your convictions become an offense to what this culture accepts?
As we go through the book of Esther we will find that God shows up in the most unlikely places. We will see that God uses the most surprising people to accomplish His will. We will see that when we think that God seems to be the least likely to show up and influence impossible things – He shows up in a BIG way.
Dr. David Thompson gives several reasons why the book of Esther was written. First, it was written to encourage God’s people and to remind them that God will always care for them and protect them regardless of how intimidating and powerful the enemy may be.
Secondly, Esther reveals to all God’s people the principle that no matter what the political climate, no matter how negative the threats and hostility may be, God will always sovereignly and providentially care for His people.
Thirdly, from a practical perspective we see in Esther the type of faithfulness and the type of attitudes that God will bless and use to accomplish his will.
How certain can we be that God is not only providentially watching over His people but that He is going to act on their behalf? Let us close this morning by considering Esther 4:14. It is there that Mordecai tells Esther that she must go before the king and seek his intervention. She is afraid but he says to her “...if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place…”. Paul says it this way, “...if we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself.”
In the book of Esther we will not observe perfect people. In the book of Esther we will not see the most righteous people. In the book of Esther we will not see the most wise people. What we will see is a faithful, wise, righteous and sovereign God who cannot deny Himself as He works around us. Amen.
1Steven J. Lawson, Foundations of Grace, A Long Line of Godly Men Vol.1
2The Message of Esther, David Firth, IVP, p.19
3Debra Reid, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Esther