The Hand of Providence
10 Mar 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE HAND OF PROVIDENCE
Behind all the events of history on planet earth, we see the God of heaven silently at work in the protection of His people. While at times we may see the enemy triumph for a short time, we need to understand that God holds the key to ultimate victory.
God's overruling providence and sovereignty could not be better seen than through the life of a young Jewish girl born at a time when her people were scattered throughout the ancient world about 475 BC.
Approximately one hundred years before her birth, the leading citizens of the Jewish nation had been taken captive by the Babylonian forces of King Nebuchadnezzar and were forced into exile.
History then records the eventual overthrow of the Babylonian empire by the powerful Persian armies during the time of this Jewish captivity. Persia now becomes a major world empire, which at its height, extended from the northern boundary of Ethiopia to the north-western frontier of India covering 127 separate provinces (Esther 1:1). We are told in Ezra 5: 13 that under the rule of Cyrus the Great an edict was originally issued allowing the captive Jews to return to their homeland in 536 BC in order to rebuild their temple. Years later, a second decree given by King Darius during his reign, confirmed this original decree and saw the completion of the Jewish temple in 515 BC (Nichols, 1954: 459).
While these proclamations provided the opportunity for the Jews to return home, only a comparatively small number of less than 50,000 were to eventually take up the offer (Ibid).
We need to recognise that many of these people had been born in Babylon and had established themselves in profitable businesses and, as such, were less inclined to cross the desert and begin all over again. If the Jewish people had all gone home at this time many of the events that followed would never have happened (Mears, 1983: 164).
After the death of King Darius approximately thirty years later in 486 BC, his son Ahasuerus was to take the throne. The Greek historian Herodotus aptly describes him as a cruel, capricious and very sensual man (Alexander, 1999: 340). This king, also identified as Xerxes by secular historians, was to continue his father's work in holding the massive Persian Empire together. However, he was to suffer a major defeat by the Greeks at a place called Salamis in 480 BC, Historians record that this was one of the most significant battles of that era allowing the Greeks to maintain their lands and, in turn, forcing the Persians to return to Asia. As such, the Persian armies were to leave Europe forever, never to return (Ibid: 163).
Prior to this infamous battle, King Ahasuerus was to make a great feast bringing all his political and military personnel together to discuss the planning of this important campaign. It is this event that introduces our story in the book of Esther found in Ch. 1: 1-3, 9-12, 19 (Paraphrased) Let's commence reading with Chap 1: 1-3.
V 1-3 'When Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus) became king of Persia, his empire encompassed one hundred and twenty-seven provinces and stretched from the borders of India to Ethiopia. He ruled His Empire from the city of Susa. In the third year of his reign, he gave a huge banquet for all his officials and administrators. He also invited the heads of the armies of Persia and the Governors and nobles from all across his huge country.'
Let's stop here for a moment
Susa or Shushan was in the province of Elam about 85 miles or 142 km north of the ancient shoreline of the Persian Gulf and a little more than 200 miles or 330 km east of Babylon. This capital city, which was the seat of government at that time, was situated at the eastern edge of the Tigris Valley where it rises to meet the Iranian hills. The spacious Shushan palace now lies amid the three square miles of ruins that are found in that area today. Among the glories of this former palace were walls that were draped with gold, marble pillars and rich material hangings of white and violet cotton, the colours of Persian royalty (Nichols, 1954: 463).
Let's continue our reading in V 9-12
'Meanwhile inside the palace, Queen Vashti was giving a royal banquet for the women. On the last day of the king's banquet when he was in high spirits [or merry with wine], he ordered Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas, his seven personal eunuchs, to bring Queen Vashti in before his guests. The king wanted her to wear her royal crown and yet dress so scantily that everyone would see what an exceptionally attractive woman she was. When the eunuchs told Queen Vashti the king's request, she refused to go and be put on display. The king became furious. By refusing his request, Vashti was challenging his authority and making him lose face in front of all his guests.
Let us stop here again for a moment.
We need to understand that in wanting to show off Vasht's beauty, the drunken king was to outrage the most sacred rules of Oriental etiquette. Most Persian woman would never permit this to happen. The seclusion of the harem was about to be violated for the amusement of a dissolute king and his companions. It was no wonder Vashti refused. However, in order to defend his authority in front of his guests, the king, heeding the advice of his counsellors, deposed the queen.
Let's read v 19
V 19 'Therefore if it please the king, let his majesty issue a proclamation according to the laws of the Medes and the Persians which cannot be changed, that Vashti may never again appear in the king's presence. Then let her royal position be given to someone better than she.'
This decree now opens the way for God's hand of Providence to begin its work. It was to see the rise of an unknown Jewish orphan girl to become the queen of the mightiest empire on earth at that time. The story of this little girl called Hadassah was to illustrate how God could use events and people as select instruments to fulfil His promises to His chosen people (Lockyer, 1986: 355).
Just as in the story of Ruth, we see the important role that women were to play in God's great plan for the salvation of His people (Nichols, 1954: 457) Ruth becomes the ancestress of the Deliverer of Israel and Hadassah saves the people so the Deliverer might come. (Repeat) God had protected the Jewish nation through the centuries for the purpose of blessing the whole world and he was not about to allow them to be wiped from the face of the earth before the Deliverer could come. This was done according to His promise to Abraham (Mears, 1983: 164).
Although God's name is not mentioned throughout the writings of the book of Esther, every page is full of a God who we find behind every word and every deed (Mears, 1983: 163). Matthew Henry, the great Bible commentator confirms this belief by suggesting that if the name of God is not there, His hand surely is (Ibid). God is seen to be involved in directing the many minute events bringing about His people's deliverance from the hand of the enemy (Church, 1971:505). Author Dr. Pierson calls it, 'The Romance of Providence' showing that God has a part in all the events of human life (Mears, 1983: 163). It shows how God used a courageous young woman of surpassing beauty to save her people at a time of crisis when all of them could have been exterminated or wiped from the earth (Nichols, 1954: 457)
All through history God has never let His people go and this should give us a wonderful assurance of His protection in the future. God was to follow the Jewish people in their captivity into Babylon and when the prophets were silent and the temple closed, He was still to be found standing guard (Mears, 1983: 163). When the kings of the earth feasted and forgot, God remembered and it was with His hand that he was to write their doom or, in many cases, moved their hand to work out His glory (Ibid).
'The book of Esther is a major chapter in the struggle of the people of God to survive in a hostile world. Beginning with the book of Genesis, God had made it clear in chapter 12: 1, 3 that He would bless His Covenant People and bring a curse on those who tried to do them harm' (Lockyer, 1986: 357). The historical book of Esther shows how God was able to keep His promise at every stage of history and gives us the faith to trust God to protect from those who continually oppose us (Ibid).
Hadassah was to be like Joseph and David whom God had hidden away for His future purpose. When the day was to arrive He was to bring them to the fore to work out His plan. David was taken from being a shepherd to become a king. Joseph, sold as a slave, was hidden away in a dungeon in Egypt until God was ready to place him in the position of prime minister of that country. We need to recognise that God always has someone in reserve to fulfil His purposes (Mears, 1983: 164). Even those considered to be 'the weakest of the weak' were given the opportunity to 'come to the kingdom for such a time as this'.
We are now to see a little Jewish girl become a Persian queen.
What do we know about her?
The Scriptures in Esther 2: 7 make clear that Hadassah which, in Hebrew means 'myrtle', was a strikingly beautiful Jewish girl whose family had been carried into captivity and who later chose to remain in Persia rather than return to Jerusalem. It was to be after the death of her parents that she was to be raised by her cousin Mordecai as his own daughter. Their home was in Susa or Shushan which at the time was the capital city of Persia during the time of Ashasuerus.
Apart from her beauty, the narrative tells us that Hadassah was recognised as a woman of clear judgement, noble self-sacrifice, and remarkable self-control. As such, Esther 2: 15 says she was respected and admired by all who knew her.
Esther 2: 2-4 tells us that after Queen Vashti was deposed from her royal throne, the King orders that a search be made throughout all the provinces for beautiful young girls and that they be brought into the harem at the citadel at Susa. The one who pleased the King would then be made queen.
Hadassah was one of the girls brought into the harem and it is believed that before being presented to the king her Jewish name was to be changed to Esther, a Persian word meaning 'star'. In this way, her Jewish origins were kept secret as part of the instructions given by Mordecai in Esther 2: 10.
The minute Ahasuerus saw Esther he made up his mind that she would be his queen. This little girl was now to be lifted to the Persian throne at a time that the empire comprised over half the then known world (Mears, 1983: 166). This special event was to take place two years after Ahasuerus' defeat at Salamis and she was to remain his queen for thirteen years (Ibid).
To mark her coronation, the king not only remitted to all the provinces their usual tribute, but also gave her an allowance that was to be made up of one tenth of all the fines collected by his treasury officials (Ibid)
However, it is not long before a dark shadow is cast across this idealistic picture. It comes with the elevation of a man called Haman to become the King's chief minister, his most trusted advisor. We are told in Esther 3-5 that he was an egotistical and ambitious man who was to demand that all the people bow to him when and where ever he passed. This was something that no really devout Jew could ever do in good conscience and Mordecai was to be no exception to this rule. Inflated with pride, Haman could not endure the indifference of even the smallest of his subjects. The fault of Mordecai was suddenly to be magnified into a capital offence and was to include the wholesale massacre of the entire Jewish population. This event, if carried out, would be a precursor to the later Jewish holocausts of history that reach down to modern day.
This ethnic cleansing to rid Persia of the entire Jewish race was to eventually receive the King's assent and was passed into law. However, while Haman had promised a huge bribe into the royal treasury through the eventual seizure of Jewish goods and lands, it seems the King was to decline this offer as noted in Esther 3: 9-11).
Little did the King realize the far-reaching results that would have accompanied the complete carrying out of this decree that was designed to take place eleven months from its issue?
The Persian postal system, which was famous throughout the ancient world, was now put into full effect. Horses and riders, similar to the operation of the US pony express, were dispatched to all the Persian provinces. Stables providing fresh horses and riders along the postal route would take the dispatches throughout day and night until they reached their destination. Devised by Cyrus the Great, this system was to be the most efficient postal service ever used. Within a period of two months, a copy of the decree had been issued to all the Persian provinces.
However, in God's great scheme of things, Haman's day of triumph was to be short lived and his joy was only to be endured for a moment.
The crisis facing the Jewish people demanded quick and earnest action. Both Esther and Mordecai came to realise that unless God was to work mightily in their behalf, their own efforts would be futile. Their source of strength was to be found in their communion with God (White, 1943: 601) (Repeat). Instructing the Jews in the city of Susa to fast and pray for three days, she prepares to enter before the king. This was a course of action that was to place her life in jeopardy for her people. Esther knew this when she uttered those fateful words in Esther 4: 16 'And if I perish, I perish'.
To enter unsummoned before this cruel and fickle king required courage, tact and resourcefulness and it seems Esther had all three.
The entire fate of the Jews was now to depend on her. She alone had access to the king.
Mordecai's words in Esther 4: 14 were now to ring true when he suggested, 'And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?'
You know, this is an important question that we could all readily ask of ourselves in relation to the time in which we live. We need to understand that failure is not sin but faithlessness is. We need to act when God speaks. We need to do what is right and learn to leave the rest to God (Mears, 1983: 168).
God's providence was now being shown as the king favourably accepts her audience by holding out his sceptre and with tact and skill Esther is able to expose Haman's plot and his true character to the king. In the King's initial response in Esther 5: 3 he asks Esther for her request and, at the time, is prepared to give the queen 'even up to half of his kingdom'.
For two days Esther was to keep the King in suspense while preparing him for the real shock. However, before this takes place the God of Heaven begins His work. Esther chap 6 records that the king is unable to sleep so he calls for the book of records to be read to him. It is here, written in the court records, that he is reminded that Mordecai the Jew had discovered a plot on his life and had prevented it from taking place. The King now wants to reward this faithful servant.
When Satan put it into the heart of Haman to devise Mordecai's death, God put it into the heart of the King to arrange for Mordecai's honour.
From the lips of this timid retiring young woman came the denunciation of Haman's monstrous plan as she not only plead for her own life, but for the life of her people. As a result, the King grants Esther's wish and while the first decree cannot be undone, a second decree is issued to allow the Jews the opportunity to defend themselves and their properties from their enemies. This was to bring about their miraculous deliverance, which has been celebrated by the Jewish people down through history to our modern day in what is known as the feast of Purim.
In a dramatic twist of plot Haman is hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai's execution, while Mordecai is promoted to prime minister (Lockyer, 1986: 356, 357).
Esther stands out as God's chosen one who came to the kingdom for such a time as this.
All through time God has used men and women to fulfil His purposes. Many have come from obscure backgrounds, but when the time was right God was to bring them forward to change the very course of history.
One such man to be found in more modern times was born in a log cabin on February 12, 1809 near Hodgenville, Kentucky in the United States of America. His parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln were members of a Baptist congregation that had recently separated from another church due to their opposition to slavery (http://home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln77.html).
The historical records show that Abraham Lincoln was to grow up in a poor dirt farming family in the upper South and lower Midwest without privilege, position, or much formal education (Miller, 1992: 15) Overall, his formal schooling amounted to less than twelve months throughout his entire life (Nault, 1988, Vol 12: 312). It would seem that the world of his upbringing was closer to Puritanism than anything else, and as such, he, like the common people, was deeply religious, believing without question in a God and the unseen world (Ibid).
As with many families, his home had very few books, but it did have a Bible. Lincoln evidently read this with very great care. Throughout the early period of his life he was also constantly borrowing books from his neighbours, preferring to take the time to read than to work in the fields (Ibid).
It was also during his growing up years that he found the harsh infighting between the various denominations and with the village atheists to be nothing short of repulsive. As such, Lincoln never belonged to a particular church organization for very long (Ibid).
One of his greatest instructors throughout his life was to be found in the reality of death, the coldest of all masters (Ibid). The death of his mother when he was nine, the death of his beloved sister shortly after her marriage, the death of two of his own sons and many of his close friends in the early days of the Civil War gave him no escape from the mysteries of God and the universe (Ibid).
The importance of mothers can never be underestimated. Lincoln remembered little of his own biological mother, but years later in reference to his stepmother, he made the following statement: 'God bless my mother; all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her' (Nault, 1988: 312). It was from his mother that he learnt the many important lessons of patience, honesty and kindness.
Lincoln reached his full height of 193 cm or 6' 4' long before he was 20. He was thin and awkward, big-boned and strong, had a homely face with dark skin and black coarse hair that stood on end (Ibid: 313). Much of his strength was to come from splitting logs for fence rails and ploughing fields, not only for his dad, but also for neighbours when his father could spare him. However, his greatest asset was to be his ability as a speaker. Even as a boy Lincoln amused himself and others by imitating well known preachers and politicians who had recently spoken in the area (Nault, 1988: 313). It was this gift that God was later to use in his rise to eventually become the 16th Republican President of the United States of America.
At the age of 33, he married a girl called Mary Todd and became a successful attorney at law. One of his greatest sources of strength was to be seen in his iron will (Ibid: 310). This characteristic was to be honed well by his strong determination to overcome the many failures that had taken place in his life following on from his failure in business and farming to his many attempts to obtain political office. Over a period of 38 years Lincoln placed his trust in God and was not prepared to give up. His final success was to be seen in 1861 when he was finally elected the president of the United States of America.
There is no question that the hand of God's providence had been at work and there was no doubt that Lincoln, like Esther, had been called by God to the kingdom for such a time as this.
At the time of his appointment the American people knew little about him. There was nothing that they could see in his past history that was to show any form of preparation for the greatest crisis ever to be faced in the nation's history. With less than 40 per cent of the popular vote, and seen as a careless and inefficient administrator, Lincoln was to be faced with the greatest test of his life. Dominating his presidency was the American Civil War and the issue of slavery. The War of itself was a tragic conflict that was to result in more casualties than any other in US history. More than 525,000 men died during the four-year conflict and, interestingly enough, this was mainly from disease. The total cost to both sides was to be in the order of $15 billion (Ibid: 311).
Lincoln's two great assets were firstly, his ability to express his convictions clearly and forcefully so that millions of Americans were to take his beliefs as their own, and secondly his insight (Ibid: 310). Lincoln realized at the beginning of the war, that the Union must be saved. He determined that America, as the only important democracy in the world at that time, could not be proved a failure in the eyes of the world and, as such, it must not be destroyed (Ibid). If the Union had been lost, the United States would have become two nations, neither of which would have attained the prosperity and importance that it has today (Ibid). It could be said that Lincoln influenced the course of world history through his leadership of the North during the Civil War (Ibid).
When we understand the role of the USA in Bible prophecy, there could be no question about God's providential leading through the life of this great man of history. The dawn of truth came to Lincoln as he himself realized that the God of heaven was not at the nation's beck and call, but the nation was at his (Noll, 1992: 12). He also believed that it was because of the issue of slavery that both North and South had brought this terrible war upon themselves (Ibid). This concept is also supported by author Ellen White in Testimonies Vol 1, page 254 where she was shown in vision that the accursed system of slavery laid at the very foundation of the nations ills.
Lincoln's beliefs eventually led to the emancipation proclamation of 1862 proclaiming the freedom of all those slaves who were found in those states that were in rebellion.
Three years later, on the evening of April 14, 1865 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre by an out of work actor by the name of John Wilkes Booth. A racist and Southern sympathiser, Booth was believed to be mentally unbalanced and hated everything the President stood for. At this time, Lincoln was only 56 years of age. While buried in Springfield Illinois, Lincoln is remembered today by a beautiful monument in Washington DC commemorating his vital role in preserving the union and beginning about the process that led to the end of slavery in the United States.
God always has someone in reserve to fulfil His purposes and His hand of providence has always been at work. Like Esther, Joseph and David of old, God is preparing men and women to take their place in His great plan and He will have them ready at a time only known to Him.
We need to remember that the trying experiences that have come to God's people in the past were not to be peculiar to that age alone. Today, their enemies still see them as a Mordecai at the Gate who refuses to bow and give allegiance to them. On this battlefield will be fought the last great conflict in the controversy between truth and error. God's hand of providence will use those remaining faithful to Him to vindicate His truth and His people. There is always one thing we can do - do what is right and leave the rest to God.
Who knows that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
Alexander, P. & D. (Eds) (1999) The New Lion Handbook to the Bible. Oxford, England: Lion Publishing House
Church, L. F. (Ed) (1971) Matthew Henry's Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House
Lockyer, H. Sr. (Ed) (1986) Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Noll M. A. (1992) 'The Puzzling Faith of Abraham Lincoln in Miller, K. A., Christian History, Issue 33 (Vol. XI, No. 1)
Nault W. H. (Ed) (1988) World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago, Illinois: World Book Inc.
Nichol F. D. (1954) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 3. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Mears, H. C. (1983) What the Bible is all about. Ventura, California: Regal Books
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