Why Is God Not Mentioned in the Book of Esther?

Michael A. Rydelnik
header for Why Is God Not Mentioned in the Book of Esther?

Can you imagine someone writing a history of the birth of the United States, including the Revolutionary War, the constitutional convention, and the first federal government, and omitting any mention of George Washington? That would be inconceivable!

So, it cannot go unnoticed that in the biblical book of Esther, God, who is central to the entire story, is not mentioned even one time. The book tells of a Jewish girl, Esther, who became the queen of Persia, her cousin Mordecai who advised her, and Haman who plotted to destroy the Jewish people. Haman’s scheme was ultimately thwarted and, to this day, Jewish people celebrate Purim (the festival of “Lots”) every late winter/early spring because of this great deliverance.

Proposed Explanations for the Book of Esther

“Esther Is a Profane Book”

Some view the book of Esther as morally bankrupt. According to Old Testament commentator Lewis Bayles Paton, the book is too profane for God to be in it. According to Paton’s view, the king in the book, Xerxes, was a sensual oppressor and Esther is a manipulator who used her beauty to advance herself, Mordecai was insolent in refusing to bow to Haman, and the whole book was merely about vengeance. Paton writes, “There is not one noble character in this book . . . Morally Est. falls far below the general level of the OT., and even of the Apocrypha.”[1]

According to this view, the scroll of Esther is bankrupt of any virtue. It’s as if God would be too embarrassed to be found in it. But, if so, why would Esther have been included in the biblical canon? So, we are back to the original question—where is God in the book of Esther?

“Esther Is a Book of Propaganda”

Some view the scroll of Esther as merely nationalistic propaganda. One author, Arthur Waskow, dates the book in the Hellenistic period (in between the Old and New Testaments), long after the alleged events of the book. According to Waskow, Esther was intended as a fictional explanation of the Jewish holiday of Purim. He interprets the book as an illustrative tale of national defense and struggle against Hellenism. In his view, “God forbid that God should appear in such a story!”[2]

“Even when we do not acknowledge or remember God, He is active in caring for us.”

But no evidence exists that the biblical account is historically unreliable. In fact, there is ample evidence supporting the historicity of the book. Ahasuerus (Xerxes), the king whose drinking parties and fits of rage are recorded in the book of Esther, is verified by extra-biblical ancient histories. These works also confirmed other features of court life found in the book, such as the palace in Susa and the large harem.[3] There is little support to this view that the book is mere propaganda.

“Esther Is a Book of Parables”

Still others view the book of Esther as a parable, or rather typology, in which God is hidden in the book through the various characters. Bible expositor Ray Stedman takes this approach. Although he accepts the historicity of the book, he sees it as a parable or allegory of the spiritual life. In this view, Mordecai represents the Holy Spirit, the king represents the believer’s flesh, Esther represents the redeemed believer, and Haman represents Satan. While it may be intriguing, this allegorical view is far too subjective to be accepted as the author’s literary purpose for not mentioning God explicitly.[4]

“Esther Is a Book of Providence”

The correct explanation is that the book of Esther is about divine providence. The book conceals the name of God as a deliberate literary strategy in order to reveal God’s providential actions. Providence means that God lovingly guides all of history for His good purposes and intentions. Providence refers to the way God works behind the scenes of our lives, orchestrating events to accomplish His good plan. There are no miracles (suspensions of natural law) in providence. Rather what appears to be normal human events (from our limited viewpoint) are actually under God’s sovereign control. What appear to be amazing coincidences are not coincidences at all, but products of divine design.

This view is made all the more significant because the scroll of Esther reveals that the Jewish people had adopted the Persian culture and forgotten their God. The message of this book is that even when Israel forgot God, God always remembered His people. So, God is deliberately left out of this record to reflect the way the Jewish people of Persia had left Him out of their lives. Despite that, the book of Esther is a clear and powerful reminder that God never forgets His promises or plans! God is actively working even when we do not acknowledge Him.

Examples of Providence in the Book of Esther

God’s providence is evident throughout the book of Esther. I’ll give you a few examples, but I would encourage you to read it for yourself and you’ll find many more:

  • Esther “just happens” to find favor with the royal official in charge of the beauty contest (2:9).
  • Mordechai “just happens” to overhear the plot against the king (2:21–22).
  • The king “just happens” to welcome and point his scepter at Esther (5:2).
  • The king “just happens” to have insomnia and read the story of Mordecai saving his life (6:1–2).
  • Haman, the genocidal maniac and hater of Jews, “just happens” to perish on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai (7:10).
  • This emphasis on providence is reflected in the words of Mordecai when he challenged Esther to go to the king about Haman’s plan: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place . . . and who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14).

The Application of the Book of Esther

God’s Providential Care for the Jewish People

What does Esther’s story have to do with today? First of all, we can be assured that God is providentially active in preserving and protecting the Jewish people. God promised in the book of Jeremiah:

This is what the Lord says: he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is his name: “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 31:35–37 NIV)

This verse is clear: Israel can only be destroyed as a people if the sun, moon, stars, and the roaring seas can be destroyed. Moreover, Israel will only cease to be a nation if the heavens can be measured and the core of the earth explored. All of these things are impossibilities.

God’s promise is plain: The Jewish people can never be destroyed because God will providentially protect them. So, whether the avenger is Haman, or Hitler, or the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, the God of Israel will ultimately preserve the people of Israel, even if they forget or neglect Him.

God’s Providential Care for Followers of Jesus

We can also be certain that God is providentially caring for every individual follower of the Lord Jesus. God is not just concerned with nations—He cares for individual people. If God’s eye is on every sparrow that may fall, He will also care for us (Matt. 10:29). The Bible states that He numbers the hairs on our heads and nothing takes Him by surprise (Matt. 10:30–31). When bad things happen to us, we may mistakenly assume that God has somehow overlooked or ignored us. Nothing could be further from the truth! God has a purpose and plan for our lives. When amazingly good things happen to us, we sometimes write off such events as luck or coincidence. We cannot dismiss good or bad events in our lives as mere coincidences. Esther teaches us that God is at work in our lives in a specific and intentional way, caring for His people in good times and bad.

God’s Providential Plan in Sending the Messiah Jesus

Finally, God was acting with providence when He sent the Messiah Jesus. God promised to bless the whole world through the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:1–3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). Had Haman succeeded in destroying the Jewish people, the Messiah Jesus would not have been born.

But God preserved His chosen people so the Messiah Jesus could come as promised. Not only was God active in physically delivering His people, but He also sent the Lord Jesus to die and be raised again and to deliver us all spiritually from our own failures and sins.

Final Thoughts

God is not excluded from the scroll of Esther because He was too embarrassed to be there. Nor was the book a piece of unhistorical propaganda. God is not hidden as an allegory in the book of Esther. Rather, His seeming absence was a deliberate literary strategy to remind us that even when we do not acknowledge or remember God, He is active in caring for us. How should we respond to that message? By acknowledging God in all our ways, thanking Him for His providence, and trusting in the Messiah Jesus.

[1] Lewis Bayles Paton, “A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther,” International Critical Commentary, eds., S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C. A. Briggs (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1908), 96.

[2] Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990), 116–17.

[3] These and other historical confirmations are discussed in Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, revised and expanded (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 396–98.

[4] Ray Stedman, For Such a Time as This: Secrets of Strategic Living from the Book of Esther (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 2013), 1–4.

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