Esther 6:1 - On That Night the King Couldn’t Sleep
Providence, Esther and You
“On that night the king could not sleep” (Esther 6:1). The great King Ahasuerus was restless. The absolute monarch of the ancient Persian Empire was restless. The absolute monarch of the ancient Persian Empire was tossing and turning on his royal bed.
So Ahasuerus commanded the chronicles of his reign to be read to him. The reading revealed how, some years before, a conspiracy to assassinate him had been exposed by Mordecai, an officer at the palace gate and one of the many Jews that had been carried off captive into Persia. The conspirators had been executed, but the chronicles said nothing about any reward for Mordecai. As the king listened, he exclaimed, “What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” “Nothing,” he was told. “Who is in the court” the king asks? And when told that Haman, the Prime Minister, was there, he had him brought in.
Now this Haman, recently promoted to Prime Minister, was an ambitious man, poisoned by hate. Every time he walked through the palace gate his blood boiled because one person, Mordecai, would not bow down before him (No doubt because Mordecai, as a Jew, was a worshipper of the true God). So to get even with Mordecai, Haman had schemed to have all the Jews in Persia killed and had persuaded the king to authorize this by an edict.
At this time the queen and favorite wife of Ahasuerus was Esther, the ward and cousin of Mordecai. She had been chosen in a kind of nation-wide beauty contest after Vashti, the former queen, had fallen out of favor. The king, however, did not know that Esther was a Jew. When Mordecai told Esther of the plot to exterminate the Jews, then in an act of great courage she had gone unbidden before the king. To do this had actually been to risk her life. Persian law specified that anyone coming uninvited into the king’s presence would be put to death unless the king held out his scepter.
Upon seeing Esther, Ahasuerus had held out the scepter and promised her anything she requested. To pave the way for her plea for her people, she had invited the king to come to a banquet and bring Haman with him. And then she had asked them to another banquet the next night, when she planned to intercede for her people, the Jews.
One can imagine Haman hurrying home to tell about dining with the king and queen. Yet the thought of that Jew, Mordecai, who would not bow down to him continued to eat away at him. “Well, just get rid of Mordecai,” his wife and friends said to him. So Haman had the gallows built.
And thus we see Haman at the palace the first thing in the morning, waiting to get permission to hang Mordecai. But before he could even voice his request, Ahasuerus, who hadn’t slept a wink the night before, asks him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman, sure that the king could have no one else but him in mind, replied: “Dress that man up in your own royal robes, put him on your own horse, and have him led through the streets by one of your most noble princes, proclaiming: ‘Thus will it be done to the man the king delights to honor.’”
“Hurry! Do it to Mordecai right now,” said the king. Then a thoroughly mortified and dejected Haman has to parade Mordecai through the city.
That very evening Esther pled for her people and told the king that she and all her people were in deadly peril because of the edict Haman had persuaded him to issue against the Jews. Then Haman was hanged on the very gallows he had made for Mordecai, and God’s people in Persia were saved. To this day, the feast of Purim, a Jewish holiday, commemorating this deliverance, is still observed by the Jews.
All this because, “That night the king could not sleep.”
“What an example of chance and the long arm of coincidence,” many would say. No, beloved, it was neither chance nor coincidence. On the contrary, the book to Esther, the only book of the Bible in which God is not named, stands as a unique and inspired example of providence and how God watched over His people, even while in captivity of the Persian Empire.
And what is providence and how does it relate to missions? Well, it is what we may reverently call God’s behind-the-scene activity in the world and in all of life, and that certainly includes missions. Providence is that doctrine assuring us that there is no such thing as luck, chance, or blind fate; but, rather, that God, who in Christ upholds all things by the word of His power, is always in control. It’s as someone once said, “History is a thing that would stop happening if God held His breath.” I don’t think there is a better definition of providence than that of the HC #27: What do you understand by the providence of God? The almighty, everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and slickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand.
Now outwardly it is by no means always apparent that God is working behind the scenes. But He is, as the book of Esther — indeed the whole Bible — shows. Of course, not everybody believes in the concept of providence. Many abhor this idea because of the terrible and devastating things that happen, i.e., earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, floods, war, prolonged illnesses and suffering, etc.
Humanly speaking, it is difficult to understand the complexity of all that goes on in the world, including the sometimes destructive forces of nature and the persistent problem of evil. The biblical answer to these problems is not to explain everything, but, as in the O.T., to confront us with God and His greatness, His creative power, His justice, and His judgment, as well as His love, for His love and mercy also come through judgment. God’s dealings with His people in the O.T. are abundant proof of this.
But first, aside from the notion of luck or chance, there are two main views of the way things happen. There is the biblical doctrine of providence, which we have already defined and there is the view called fatalism. In The Convergence of the Twain, a poem on the sinking of the S.S. Titanic in 1912, Thomas Hardy described how, while the great ship was being built, the iceberg it was to collide with was also being formed by “the Immanent Will.” Then came the moment when “the Spinner of the Years,” the poet’s allusion to the classical idea of the “Fates,” spoke, and in fulfillment of their destiny the ship and the iceberg converged.
Now all of that may sound impressive and mysterious, but it is not a true view of how things happen. For instead of this fatalistic view, which is only a sophisticated version of luck or chance, there is the living God who governs all things and holds us all accountable for our actions. Despite repeated warnings of great danger, the captain of the Titanic chose to go full speed ahead, trusting in his supposedly unsinkable ship. But the catastrophe was not inevitably part of the iceberg and ship; the sovereign God permitted human pride to have its consequence. And since 1912, through greater precautions resulting from the disaster, similar catastrophes have been avoided.
No, providence is not fatalism. It is God’s direction over all things and especially over those persons who are related to Him through faith — a direction He exercises without destroying human initiative and accountability. I refer you to the story of Joseph and his brothers in the latter chapters of Genesis and the behind-the-scene reasons for all that happened. Joseph had experienced many hard and terrible things as the result of his brothers’ hatred and actions towards him. Despite all that had happened, Joseph had been elevated to a place of great prominence in Egypt. Did Joseph say how lucky he had been? To the contrary, we read his explanation in Genesis 50:20, 21, when he addresses his now fearful brothers:
But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is day, to save much people alive. Now, therefore, fear not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.
So we must look carefully at the concept of providence. For one thing, it brings us face to face with the Almighty. Think of the sheer greatness of the living God! There are no surprises, no accidents with Him who knows everything, who is present everywhere, who has all power, who rules the universe.
In 1715 Louis XIV of France died. Louis, who called himself “the Great,” was the monarch who made the famous statement, “I am the State.” His court was reputed to be the most magnificent in Europe; his funeral the most spectacular. Bishop Massilon, considered the greatest orator of his time, preached the sermon. The king’s body lay in a golden coffin. To dramatize his greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral would be very dimly lighted and only a special candle set above the coffin. Thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak. His first sentence consisted of four words. Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle, saying, “Only God is great!”
Yes, only God is great! This is the first thing providence teaches us. The greatness of God extinguishes the candle of man’s earthly glory. However, it has given us a far greater light that will never go out — the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world and who brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. One may be successful in business, farming, education, government, the arts, Christian service, science, or medicine. But if anyone thinks that he is indispensable, then is the time to remember that only God is great.
The second thing providence teaches us is that we live in a divinely planned world. While providence applies to everything and everybody, both the Bible and Christian experience show that God exercises a special Fatherly care over His people in every particular of their lives. This is what the Lord Jesus taught when He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:28:
And we know [Yes, we KNOW—not we think, or we suppose, or we hope, but we KNOW] that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.
Beloved, that’s providence in its highest expression. And we may rest our lives on it if we really belong to God. The HC #28 reinforces this very point: What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds all things? That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in posterity, and for what is future, have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.
While all of this is true, we must recognize that providence does not promise us exemption from the trials, disappointments, and tragedies of life. Indeed, some of God’s greatest servants have had the greatest difficulties. God never guarantees immunity from problems. He gives us something better — the assurance that, whatever happens, He can bring those who love Him through any trial, no matter how hard. The apostle Paul was speaking from experience when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:
No temptation [trial] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape that you may be able to bear it.” (May also recall the “thorn in the flesh,” 2 Corinthians 12:7ff.)
Again, the N.T. takes the doctrine of providence and brings it to a focus in the Lord Jesus Christ. The most spectacular event in history is not, as some have said, that men have walked on the moon, but that God, in the person of His Son, walked on the earth. This He did in the fullness of time, during the precise years in history set by His providence:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it… Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Acts 2:22-24, 36
The purpose of Christ’s walk on the earth was that He, who is also Creator of heaven and earth, should seek and save the lost. The God who could turn the greatest crime in history — the crucifixion of His sinless Son, a crime in which we are all involved through our sins, the God who could turn that terrible crime into the greatest blessing in history — this is the God who in His providence governs all things according to His will.
This providence of God is vast in scope, boundless as the wisdom and love of God. And in its relation to ourselves, it becomes very personal. Yet with all that it means of God’s daily, fatherly care, it never, under any circumstances, means that because He is in control of all things, we may sit back and do nothing. To use providence as a crutch for indolence and unconcern for the souls and bodies of people, for the physical, social, and, above all, the spiritual needs of our fellowman, is to trifle with God. And no one does that with impunity.
When Mordecai asked Queen Esther to intercede with the King on behalf of the Jews, she waffled with the explanation that she could enter the king’s presence unbidden only on the threat of death: “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go into the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11). However, Mordecai sent word back to her, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). The key phrase in Mordecai’s response is “relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.” God, in His infinite wisdom and resources, was not limited to Esther’s response. The options available to God to bring about deliverance for His people were as infinite as His wisdom and power. He literally did not need Esther’s cooperation. But He had chosen to use Esther. And Mordecai’s closing argument to Esther, “And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” assumes that God uses people and means to accomplish His sovereign purpose. As it turned out, God had indeed raised up Esther to accomplish His purpose. But He could just as easily have raised up someone else or used an altogether different means. He is sovereign, and His providence cannot be frustrated by our failure and disobedience, although He holds us accountable for our actions and may even work through them.
Beloved, as surely as day follows night, God in His providence knows what He has for us to do. Nothing happens by chance. “On that night the king could not sleep.” That, too, was the providence of God, for God is continuously working out his purposes and bringing His plan to pass. He does that through His people and also through the wicked. Who knows, but that you in your witness here in _______________ to a neighbor, to a friend, to a relative, “have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” Praise God that we do not live by luck or chance, but by His providence, that almighty, everywhere present power that always surrounds us. AMEN.