The Hidden God of Esther

Scroll of Esther from the Jewish Museum near the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary.

How can a book which fails to mention not only the name of God, but also prayer, worship, the coming Messiah, heaven, hell or faith, be included in the canon of the Old Testament? The puzzling book which Luther wished “did not exist at all” [1] features a Torah-ignoring woman and bloody self-defense by Jews, has two significantly different versions [2] and was the only canonical book absent from the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery at Qumran. [3] The “Megillah” or Scroll, however, is also the most widely published book of the Old Testament because of its widespread use at Purim. [4]

Despite its unclear historicity and literary classification, [5] and “while there is no name of God, and no mention of the Hebrew religion anywhere, no one reads this book without being conscious of God.” [6] More than being just conscious of God, a reader of Esther can identify multiple theological themes contained in this short book. While acknowledging no single theological topic can be independent, nor categorized as pertaining to God or man entirely, I have arbitrarily divided this discussion into two foci: God, and the believer. In the end, we’ll discover the “hidden God” of Esther “is so great, so powerful, that He can work without miracles through the ordinary events of billions of human lives through millennia of time to accomplish His eternal purposes and ancient promises.” [7]


Providence, Covenant and a Theology of Sin

Was it luck that Esther was chosen queen from almost 400 other women? [8] Or did God overrule the Persian beauty pageant proposed by heathen men for good? [9] Was the king’s delay in rewarding Mordecai for his discovery of an assassination plot by Bigthan and Teresh simply coincidence? Or was God working providentially, directing history, making good of evil intentions and ruling over people and nations? The providence of God is described by Dr. Strong as “God’s attention concentrated everywhere” [10] and Paul instructs the Ephesians that God works all things according to the counsel of His will. [11]

Esther uniquely highlights God’s actions, fingerprints, plans and thoughts, as we read of King Xerxes’ insomnia, his choice of entertainment, his specific choice of reading material, the delay in rewarding Mordecai, and the timely arrival of Haman in the courtyard. [12] Even as the lot (pur) is cast, consulting the gods for the proposed date of the Jewish pogrom, God determines the results working through forbidden, secular ways of divination. [13] Through each twist, turn and plot change, the author of Esther leads the reader to craft a definition of providence.

More than luck or coincidence, God’s providence is His on-going will and activity toward His creation, as he “continually accompanies history on its course.” [14] Providence, from the Latin word providentia, means seeing ahead of time. [15] Our understanding of the degree to which God’s providence controls, directs, guides or even overrules man widely varies, depending on an individual’s perspective. [16] Holding human will and freedom in tension with God’s sovereign plans and purposes challenges theological discussions about providence. C.S. Lewis suggests every event is providential, brought about as answers to prayer – some granted and others refused. [17] Chafer proposes that human freedom, under the control of God’s sovereignty, is found between God’s eternal purpose and its perfect realization, and at no time is God’s sovereignty subject to human freedom. [18]

God providentially removed King Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty, forcing the prideful king to admit the true sovereignty of the Lord, and moving the king’s heart how He wishes. [19] Providence is God’s silence in times when we question his presence. Esther reminds us, that even when God seems particularly absent and uninvolved in situations, “He is there and He is not silent.” [20] When we’re tempted to cry out as Ellie Weisel, a child Holocaust survivor, “Where is God? Where is He?” [21] God’s providence assures us He is working, albeit silently at times, and His timing is perfect. [22]

Providence is also the freedom to fulfill one’s destiny, as seen in the life of Esther and Mordecai. People are not marionette puppets in the hands of God, but rather individuals with unique gifts, passions, successes, failures and times of disobedience. God achieves his purposes through (unlikely) people, working behind and beside His creation. He uses obscure people like Esther’s eunuch Hathach to complete important tasks, [23] Gentile kings and queens like Xerxes and Vashti, [24] and even nonpracticing exiled Jews like Mordecai and Esther. God prepares people for coming tasks and places them in positions as needed, like Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon and Mordecai serving at the king’s gate. He is neither surprised by circumstances nor at a loss for prepared, willing servants, [25] and “When the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment, and the world will wonder where they came from.” [26]

While God’s providence is the backbone of Esther, His actions can only be understood within the framework of election and covenant theology. God knew, God called and God chose His people, the Jews. And He covenanted with them. Esther definitively answers “Yes!” to the question, “Was God still working according to His covenant promise?” Esther dramatically reminds readers God is always at work caring for and protecting His people, as He originally promised Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.

Esther clearly portrays that God blesses those who bless you and curses those who curse you. God proved to be faithful to His people even though they were exiled in a foreign land, hadn’t yet returned to Jerusalem, and were possibly unobservant of the Torah, just as promised in Deuteronomy 4:23-31. Esther’s victory on behalf of her people relates directly to her identity as God’s Chosen. God not only delivers His people, but even makes their name great, expanding their influence and numbers. [27]

As New Testament believers, our life and death also hinge on our identification with God through the person of Jesus. We trust God’s promises to work all things for good; Warren Wiersbe in fact writes, “The book of Esther is one of the greatest illustrations in the Bible of Romans 8:28.” [28]

While Esther enjoys a fairy-tale ending for the Jews, one cannot overlook the gruesome death of Haman, his 10 sons, and thousands of Persians. Just as the Jews are providentially protected as God’s Chosen, Haman’s defeat results from his identification as an enemy of the Jews, and God. Haman’s wife Zeresh expresses Genesis 12:3b clearly when she warns, “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!” [29] God protects His people by responding to those who inflict harm upon them. The entire Jewish population, even those in Israel and Jerusalem, faced annihilation as a result of Haman’s edict, and God fought for His people against His enemies. [30] The relationship between Mordecai and Haman mirrors the age-old hatred between the Jews and Agagites, while also demonstrating the antisemitism rampant in the world.

God’s intolerance of anti-Jewish hostility, and Satan’s attempts to sideline God’s purposes also relates to New Testament believers. Although Jesus promised He would never leave us, [31] our faith does not guarantee blessing and prosperity. In fact, Jesus said Christians would become the focus of the world’s hatred and persecution [32] and we practically know that devotion to God will always bother someone. [33]

Esther’s theology of covenant addresses God’s response to the evil and sin directed at His people. However, Esther also develops a theology of sin and evil apart from our covenant understanding. Galatians 6:7 declares, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” [34] Esther illustrates this truth for the faithful and unfaithful, the believers and unbelievers. Additionally, through its personification in the person of Haman, sin is portrayed as inherently personal, rather than an esoteric entity. “Human evil, wherever it occurs and for whatever motivation, always sets itself against God, because God is the definition of goodness and righteousness.” [35]

The results of sin have personal, as well as corporate impact. Evil is not only powerful, but self-deceiving, [36] and rooted in pride. [37] “Sin is a boomerang which hurts the sinner more than anyone else” as we see the progression of Haman’s sin from selfishness, to pride, hatred, revenge, and finally murder. [38] On a corporate scale, Esther identifies widespread results of evil including 75,000 lives lost, a king signing a death warrant for his own wife, and Haman hanging on a gallows he built for another. The generational impact of sin is also noted, as the conflict between Mordecai the Jew and Haman the Agagite stems from King Saul’s disobedience in destroying all the Amalekites. [39]

Esther’s treatment of evil offers hope, however, for those under the curse of the transferability of guilt. Generational sin can be overcome, as shown by King Saul’s descendants Mordecai and Esther breaking the curse and ultimately preventing the family line of Christ from being killed. [40] We too are reminded that God’s long-suffering toward the wicked is not His failure to respond and punish sinners, but instead, additional opportunities for their repentance, as God’s desire is not for sinners to die. [41]


Faith, Distinctness and Remembrance

Thus far we have focused on Esther’s theological themes as they relate to God directly. While providence, covenant and a theology of sin pertain also to us, God is the active participant. Our focus now shifts to consider theological themes in which the believer is directly involved. Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we don’t see. In Esther we do not directly see God, but clearly are shown hope and certainty in His involvement and deliverance.

From Mordecai’s declaration that relief and deliverance will arise, [42] to Esther’s faith-filled declaration, “If I perish, I perish,” [43] to the Jews’ joyful celebrations of victory long before the prescribed pogrom day, [44] the book of Esther demonstrates faith. Faith perseveres in trying and difficult situations, unfair times and fear-filled challenges. Esther’s involvement in the Persian beauty pageant was forced, as scripture describes she “was taken”; [45] however, she exhibited grace, literally “lifting up grace before his face.” [46] Mordecai faced the unfairness of life as Haman got promoted after Mordecai saved King Xerxes’ life. And even when Haman declares the day of destruction of the Jews, Mordecai responded with fasting and sackcloth, crying out to the Lord, convinced God was greater than Haman. Finally, Esther also responds in faith, gaining strength and courage by turning to the Lord. “Because Esther intercedes in the heavenly courthouse, God intercedes in the earthly one.” [47]

Mordecai’s faith in God’s divine providence recognized both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. God works through people, as Joseph plainly expresses in Genesis 45:7, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Faith in the book of Esther involves three vital pieces: obedience, dependence and responsibility.

God strengthens those whose hearts are obedient. [48] Esther demonstrated obedience to Mordecai, [49] then to her eunuch Hegai, [50] and initially to the king’s protocols. [51] However, when obedience to man’s laws conflicted with God’s plans, Esther obeyed the Lord, and received favor. Mordecai also demonstrated dual submission both to the Lord and to man. But when forced to violate God’s laws and bow to Haman, Mordecai refused, citing his Jewishness as the reason. [52] Früh suggests, “obedience is our right of passage” and is connected with favor. [53] The apostle John links obedience with love in John 14:21.

Faith also requires dependence on God. Whereas one might assume Esther would possess many rights and much power as queen of the world’s most powerful empire, the opening scenes in which Vashti was deposed over asserting herself one time in a morally righteous situation, shows how little influence Esther really had. Esther’s faith, however, was not based on her queenly influence, rights or power, but instead on her dependence on God. While Esther had a strategy for approaching the king, she depended on God to work out the details, and thus instructed Mordecai, the Jews of Susa, her maids and herself to fast for three days. As a result, “She proved how powerful one life can be when it is devoted to the service of the Lord.” [54]

A final component of faith is responsibility. James 4:17 states, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” Esther remaining silent and continuing to hide her Jewish identity meant not only death for herself and her people, but a failure to assume moral responsibility. Mordecai’s rhetorical question, “Who knows?” [55] echoes the prophet Joel, [56] and suggests hope is found by not only obeying and relying on God, but also yielding oneself to be used by God to accomplish great things. Pittacus, the Greek Wise Man expressed this idea as such: “Know thine opportunities.” [57] Esther’s defining moment, and a key component of the theology of faith, is her taking responsibility for the life God had given her by identifying herself with God, and the people of God. [58] After all, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” [59]

God chose and established covenant with His people, and consequently commanded them to be set apart, distinct and holy. Esther’s choice to keep her identity concealed troubles many scholars. Did she compromise her faith? While she embraced her heritage when it mattered, the book as a whole addresses elements of holiness theology. Esther, along with Apocryphal books Judith and Tobit, originated from a time when Jews were struggling with adapting their traditional practices to the Hellenistic culture in which they lived. The books served as warnings against syncretism and reminded Jews of the importance of distinctness. [60] Esther reminds Jews and Christians alike God has commanded us to lead distinct lives and “Be holy, as I am holy.” [61]

Finally, Esther addresses the theological value of remembrance. Jews worldwide recite the Sh’ma Yisrael, which commands teaching the next generation the truths of God. Similarly, Esther 9:26-28 calls upon each successive generation to celebrate and teach God’s deliverance in the Feast of Purim. The church is always one generation from extinction, and as such we must realize the Christian life is neither a 50-yard dash or marathon, but a relay race in which we must pass on the faith. [62]

Esther stands as a critical explanation of the joyous Feast of Purim, celebrated annually on Adar 14-15. Unlike other feasts handed down by God, “Purim began as the spontaneous response of God’s people to his omnipotent faithfulness to the promises of the covenant.” [63] God reversed and transformed misfortune into blessing and annihilation into survival. Jews now remember and celebrate venahofoch hu – the opposite happened. [64] Purim is part of unfolding story of redemption told throughout the Word, and in some way parallels our celebration of the resurrection. Jobes and Nygren write, “on this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them,” [65] and we realize they could be referring to Purim and/or the resurrection!

A longer consideration of this book could address Esther’s irony and parallels which point to God’s sovereignty and shadows of what is to come; comparisons between fatalism and faith, and Haman and Hitler; and finally consider God’s passion for the least of these and His instructions for our response to injustice.

The hidden God of Esther acts providentially and faithfully maintains covenant. Esther further teaches the tragic realities of sin, challenges believers to faith that embraces obedience, dependence on God and responsibility, and speaks to the importance of distinctness and remembrance. It is all of this that echoes in synagogues on Adar 14-15 as Jews gather, read the Scroll of Esther, and sing, “Utzu etzah, vetufar; dabru davar, velo yakum; ki Immanuel”. [66]



1 William S. LaSor and others, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 822.

2 John Drane, Introducing the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 217 explains that Esther in the Septuagint contains 107 additional verses as compared to the Hebrew Bible. The “Additions to Esther” includes references to God, the importance of dreams/visions, and the contribution of Esther’s and Mordecai’s prayers in God’s deliverance of His people.

3 LaSor and others, 823.

4 Ibid, 821.

5 Ibid, 533 discusses the debates about categorizing Esther as fiction, historical fiction, fictional history or a history narrative. The Tanakh places Esther in the Kethuvim (The Writings) along with Psalms, Proverbs, Ezra and Nehemiah. Esther’s historicity has been questioned because Herodotus lists Amestris as queen, and claims queens came only from seven noble families, the lack of extra-biblical support for a massacre of 75,000 people killed in one day, and the prevalence of “coincidence”. However, King Xerxes, like Darius, may have had several wives including ones from outside the seven noble families, Herodotus fails to say anything about the time period of Esther, and the noted “coincidence” can be explained by God working providentially.

6 Quote from G. Campbell Morgan in Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed: Doing God’s Will Whatever the Cost (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2008), 77.

7 Karen H. Jobes and Janet Nygren, Esther: God Fulfills a Promise (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 58.

8 Charles R. Swindoll, Esther: A Woman of Strength & Dignity, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 42.

9 Lottie B. Hobbs, Daughters of Eve, (Fort Worth: Harvest Publications, 1963), 153.

10 Wiersbe, 78.

11 Ephesians 1:11 NKJV.

12 Esther 6:1-6.

13 Proverbs 16:33 and Psalms 16:5-6 identify the Lord as determining the results of casting lots.

14 Alan Richardson, A Dictionary of Christian Theology, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969), 280.

15 Providentia is composed of pro meaning “before, ahead of time,” and videntia meaning “to see” (and is from where we get our word video).

16 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 2:84 indicates God overrules in the affairs of men whereas Jobes and Nygren, 54 suggests “Beneath the surface of human decisions and actions is an unseen and uncontrollable power at work, which can be neither explained nor thwarted.” C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 306, writes “If God directs the course of events at all then he directs the movement of every atom at every moment.”

17 Lewis, 306.

18 Lewis S. Chafer and John F. Walvoord, Major Bible Themes: 52 Vital Doctrines of the Scripture Simplified and Explained, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 148.

19 Daniel 4:31 leads to Daniel 4:35, just as described in Proverbs 21:1.

20 This famous quote from Francis Schaeffer is found in Swindoll, 5.

21 Ellie Weisel overheard this question from a man at a concentration camp in his book, and captured it in his haunting book, Night, as described by Swindoll, 127.

22 God’s silence is described in 1 Samuel 3:1 and throughout Job. Esther provides an interesting example of providential timing as Haman’s edict of a forthcoming annihilation was sent out precisely on Passover Eve.

23 Hathach facilitated the discussion between Esther and Mordecai after Haman’s edict had been pronounced. Prior to this discussion, Esther was unaware of the danger facing herself and her people. Hathach was the messenger that relayed Mordecai’s famous call to action, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

24 Vashti’s refusal to appear before King Xerxes was intended for more than just Esther becoming queen, but rather for Israel’s deliverance as described in Isaiah 55:8-11.

25 Servants are prepared by God as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:26 that not many were influential, wise or of noble birth when originally called.

26 A quote from A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, as recorded in Wiersbe, 95.

27 At the conclusion of Esther, Mordecai serves as the Prime Minister, second in command only to King Xerxes. He is both well-respected and financially blessed. Esther 8:17 suggests many people from other nations became Jews. This means Jews either experienced increased support, or as the Septuagint claims, many became circumcised Jews. Harold W. Attridge, ed, The HarperCollins Study Bible, Revised Edition, (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 689.

28 Wiersbe, 78.

29 Esther 6:13, NIV.

30 In Exodus 23:22 God declares, “I will be an enemy to your enemies…” Similar to other Old Testament battles (ie Deut 2:25, Deut 11:25, Josh 2:8-11), we see God fighting for His people as the “fear of the Jews fell upon them” in Esther 8:17.

31 Matthew 28:20.

32 For example see Mark 13:13, John 15:18-20 and 1 Peter 2:20-21.

33 Swindoll, 70.

34 Proverbs 22:8 and Job 4:8 also express the perspective of sowing and reaping in regards to sin and evil.

35 Jobes and Nygren, 103. Esther also identifies divine justice portrayed as the destruction of evil.

36 Ibid., 66.

37 Proverbs 29:23.

38 Hobbs, 160, 155.

39 1 Samuel 15:2-3.

40 Aaron Früh, The Decree of Esther, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2004), 184.

41 For example see Ezekiel 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9, Matthew 23:37.

42 Esther 4:13-14.

43 Esther 4:16.

44 Esther 8:15-17.

45 Esther 2:8 uses the Hebrew word laqach to describe Esther’s entry into the king’s harem which can mean “seize or take away”.

46 As discussed by Swindoll, 45, about Esther 2:9.

47 Früh, 95.

48 2 Chronicles 16:9.

49 Esther 2:10, 20.

50 Esther 2:15-16.

51 Esther 4:10-11.

52 Much debate exists about whether Mordecai would have violated God’s 1st and 2nd Commandments had he bowed to Haman. We see Abraham, for example, bowing to the Hittites in Genesis 23:7. However, Mordecai’s refusal to bow is similar to the actions of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego in Daniel.

53 Früh, 46-47.

54 Hobbs, 157.

55 Mordecai’s entire question, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” is in Esther 4:14.

56 Joel 2:14.

57 Wiersbe, 80.

58 Jobes and Nygren, 45.

59 British politician Edmund Burke coined this insightful phrase, as quoted in Wiersbe, 122.

60 Drane, 216.

61 Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16, Romans 12:2.

62 Früh, 86.

63 Jobes, 85.

64 Früh, 187.

65 Jobes, 86.

66 The chorus, based on Isaiah 8:10, translates as “take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak the word, but it will not stand, for God is with us (Immanuel).” Früh, 189.