This month the Jewish people and Messianic believers will be celebrating an ancient holiday known as Purim. The story of Purim is found in the book of Esther, which is traditionally read in the synagogue from a special scroll known as the Megillah.
We read in the book of Esther an account of the plight of the Jewish people in exile, residing in the land of Persia (modern day Iran). The people had been forcibly removed from their homeland of Judah about a century earlier by the Babylonian empire, which by the time of Esther had fallen to the Persians. During the reign of king Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), many Jewish people lived comfortably throughout the Persian Empire. The book of Esther records the rise of an evil government official named Haman ("boo!") who plotted to annihilate all the Jewish people residing within the boundaries of that realm. The Jews of Persia came very close to being wiped out - and the book records the events which led to the deliverance of the people through divine intervention. And regarding the "boo!" above, it is customary to shout out "boo!" and make noise every time the name of Haman ("boo!") is mentioned.
"Purim" is a Hebrew word which is literally translated “lots,” a reference to how the evil Haman chose the day that all the Jews of Persia were to be annihilated:
For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them. Esther 9:24 (NKJV)
The book of Esther records the events which led to the deliverance of the people through divine providence, although there is not a single mention of God in the entire book. This omission is so conspicuous that we can only conclude it serves a purpose.
One important detail that is often overlooked is that God had spoken through the prophets regarding their return from exile and had miraculously orchestrated the political environment of the region to open the door for His people’s return to their land. Many of course did return, and we read about that in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra. However, the Jewish communities of Persia predominantly did not – they chose the more comfortable path and remained in exile. We fail to remember that they were not supposed to be there, and this fact underscores the significance of the story.
How many of us have found ourselves in situations, saying, "I'm not supposed to be here?"
We frequently find ourselves in life situations that are not ideal. Sometimes this is because of circumstances outside of our control. Life happens. We are treated wrongly. The sins of others have their pernicious effects on us. We've experienced that to some degree or another. Sometimes our not-so-ideal circumstances are due to bad choices of our own. Either way, on such occasions the presence of God in our lives can be conspicuously absent. We second guess ourselves regarding the choices we have made at various points in our lives. We are filled with doubt. And at times we wonder if God has forgotten about us.
It is here that the story of Purim speaks loud and clear. Throughout the book we witness this unseen Hand working, showing us over and again that there is no such thing as coincidence when the Lord's promises extend to His people. It was no coincidence that Vashti loses her position as queen (1:12-19), or that Esther is chosen to be wife to the king (2:17). It is no coincidence that Esther's cousin Mordecai discovers a plot against the king (2:22). It is also no coincidence that these events were recorded in the king's records (2:23). Esther's favorable reception by the king was not a coincidence (5:1). And it just so happens that the king suffered from insomnia - so he had the royal records read to him hoping it would put him to sleep, and learns of Mordecai's good deed (6). And it is not a coincidence that Haman (boo!) is eventually found out and hanged from the gallows he built for Mordecai.
Esther was in the right place, at the right time. There are no "coincidences" with God, and it was his unseen Hand, His providence, His covenant faithfulness to His people that delivered them from annihilation.
It is through the book of Esther that we see the unseen hand of God moving on our behalf as well, even when we are blind and confused by our own short-sightedness. It is in such times that we experience God’s love and care, perceive of a purpose in life beyond that which we can readily see with our eyes - an unseen hand working in every aspect of our lives for our good, not because we ourselves are good, but because of His faithfulness. The story of Purim declares to us that God is faithful, even when we are not. His grace gently moves us to lift up our eyes to see the unseen and offers hope for tomorrow. May His grace move upon you in the same manner, and like Esther, see the unseen Hand.