This month, Jewish people around the world celebrate the festival of Purim (pronounced poor-im”). The holiday commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jewish nation as recounted in the Book of Esther. This joyous time is filled with games and fun, and the centerpiece of the celebration is the reading of the Megillah (the Book of Esther). Sometimes the story of the attempt to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire is simply read from Scripture. Other times, the children perform it as a drama with much pageantry. The audience or congregation gets in on the act by booing Haman (the villain of the story) and cheering Mordecai (the hero of the story) and, in some cases, Esther (the heroine).
Of course, the real hero is the God of Israel who preserved the Jewish people against all odds. Throughout the generations, individuals like Haman, Herod, Hitler and Hussein have harbored satanically inspired hopes of annihilating the Jewish people. But our sovereign God has proven His faithfulness time and time again, and will not allow His people to be destroyed or His purpose to be thwarted.
The Book of Esther punctuates this point in a unique way. You see, there is no mention of God in the narrative. You’ll not find His name nor His words anywhere in the book. What you will find is a series of coincidences that are no coincidences—a series of random events that come together to form a grand design that could only have come from a Grand Designer. In fact the festival of Purim is actually named for one of those seemingly random events. The word “Purim” comes from the word, pur or lot (Esther 3:7 and 9:24-26). The holiday derives its name from the fact that Haman cast a lot to determine when he should try to destroy the Jewish people. He found out there is no good time to hate what God loves!
Many people believe, as did Haman, that life is determined by luck, or by the force of human will, or a combination of both. They wish one another “good luck” or speak of “the luck of the draw.” Even the phrase “my lot in life” refers to the notion of chance or luck. Well, the Bible doesn’t teach that life is orchestrated by luck or by the force of human will. The Bible teaches God’s sovereignty. Proverbs 16, verse 33 says “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
I don’t think it was an oversight that God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther. I think it is His holy sense of humor. After all, one would have to be blind to miss seeing God’s hand at work throughout the entire story. It is almost as though He dares us to write off the events He orchestrated as mere coincidence.
For example, two seemingly insignificant aspects of the story might appear as coincidences by all human understanding. Yet these two “coincidences” point out that God, and not the devil, is in the details.
First, there is a beauty pageant. Who would imagine God orchestrating the results of a beauty pageant to accomplish His plans? Yet that is exactly what happened. When King Ahasuerus wanted his wife, Vashti, to appear at a party, she refused. The king in his anger, deposed the queen—and called for a beauty contest to find a replacement. Enter Mordecai, a godly man who had raised his niece, Esther, to be a godly woman. The strange thing is he enters Esther into the beauty contest and she is chosen as the new queen for the powerful Ahasuerus (Esther 2:8). Is it coincidence that she is now in a position to help foil an evil plot to destroy the Jewish people? Now Esther must risk her life to intercede on behalf of her people. Surely her heart must be trembling, but the urgency of her uncle’s words echoes in her ears, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Who indeed!
Esther’s agonizing dilemma seemed to come as a result of a series of bizarre coincidences over which she had no control. Yet she accepts her “lot in life” with remarkable courage. She asks for prayer, then goes forward into the potential danger with the now proverbial saying, “If I perish, I perish.”
Like Esther, many of us have found ourselves in unpleasant, painful or difficult circumstances due to a series of events beyond our control. But unlike our Jewish heroine, often our natural inclination is to try to find a way out of those circumstances—and sometimes when that is not possible, we become angry or bitter. The story of Purim challenges us to respond differently. Don’t believe for one minute that the circumstances of your life are mere coincidence or that life is just “happening” to you. It may well be that God has ordained those very circumstances to bring about His great purposes. Even though we may not see His hand at work, we must obey Him, be courageous and look for Him to accomplish His purpose through us.
A second “coincidence” in the Book of Esther involves a case of royal insomnia. Two of the King’s men are plotting against him. It “happens” that Mordecai overhears the wicked plot. Now Mordecai could have said to himself, “He’s not my king and it’s not my problem.” After all, the Jews were not exactly honored citizens of Persia! Yet Mordecai does the honorable thing and informs Esther. Mordecai’s good deed is duly recorded. Time passes. One night, the king has one too many cups of coffee with his dessert and can’t get to sleep. He “happens” to command that his royal journals be read to him, and “happens” to be reminded that Mordecai saved his life. At that point, can you believe that Haman just “happens” to walk in? When the king asks Haman for his advice on how to honor a man, Haman believes himself to be the man the king wishes to honor. What a divine setup!
While Mordecai’s good deed seemed to go unrewarded at first, his action was part of God’s plan to deliver Israel. Like Mordecai we must choose to do what is right in every circumstance. We can never justify indifference to the perils of those around us or dismiss them as “someone else’s problem.” It was precisely that kind of indifference that enabled Hitler to perpetrate his horrible crimes in Nazi Germany.
So anyway, God used a beauty pageant to bring about the salvation of His people, and He used a case of insomnia to bring about the exaltation of His servant and the humiliation of His enemies. Who knows what God may use in your life?
Sometimes our lives can seem like giant jigsaw puzzles. If you have ever tried to put together one of those thousand-plus piece puzzles, you know that the easiest way is to refer to the picture on the cover of the box. Life is not like that. We don’t have a finished picture to refer to as we try to fit things together. Sometimes pieces come together slowly and we haven’t a sense of “the big picture”—yet. Sometimes we are tempted to discard the pieces that don’t seem to fit into the kind of picture we would design for ourselves. But often those very pieces we might wish to discard come together to present us with God’s opportunities.
In Jews for Jesus we talk about some of those opportunities as “DA’s”—not District Attorneys, but Divine Appointments. It’s amazing how often DA’s pop up when we are facing an unpleasant task. So often when we are out on the street corners (and most of us have to steel ourselves to face rejection or even boredom when we go to hand out tracts), we just “happen” to meet someone who was thinking about the Lord that very day. Or we work up courage to call unsaved Jewish contacts with whom we haven’t been in touch for a while because they indicated they were no longer interested in studying the Bible. To our surprise and delight we discover that something has happened that very week to open their hearts to the truth. Our phone call “out of the blue” comes as a sign to them that God is trying to get their attention.
More often than not, DA’s occur when we face up to situations that require a little courage. What about the situations in your life? What kinds of things test your courage? Witnessing to a co-worker or a neighbor? Are “coincidences” cropping up in your life? Don’t despise the small things. God might be preparing you for a DA. He wants us to realize that He orchestrates such appointments, but we can choose to show up or miss the opportunity.
So when you have to face a situation that seems intimidating, don’t believe for one minute that God is not in control. As in the Book of Esther, even when we don’t see God’s hand at work in overt ways, we can know of His subtle sovereignty. We can accept His lordship, and trust Him to work out His perfect will. Rather than dismissing events as “coincidence” we can recognize God’s design. And rather than despising our difficult circumstances, we can look for the opportunities they might present to fulfill God’s purposes. Whatever you may face, if you ask for the courage to trust and obey God, His sovereignty will become apparent and you will be able to rejoice in His watch care over you!