Years ago, I was talking with an old preacher. After a while, he paused and leaned toward me. He said, “I’m going to give you a formula that will change your life. Always try to be where God wants you to be, when He wants you there, doing what He wants you to do, the way He wants it done. Take anything out of that formula and you’ll mess up.”
- Not being where God wants you puts you out of place.
- Not being there when He wants you there puts you out of time.
- Not doing what He wants you to do puts you out of sequence.
- Not doing things the way He wants them done puts you out of His will.
I really had no problem with any of that formula. Obviously, if I know the where, when, what and the way, then of course, I’ll try to do my best to do it. The hard part is making sure I know God’s plan. But what if I don’t know? Or maybe the greater question is: Is it necessary to know and be yielded to His plan before God can accomplish anything in my life?
I spent way too much time early on worrying about God’s will. I felt unless I knew exactly where I was going and what I’d be doing, I couldn’t commit. I’d ask God, “Show me Your will.” But all I heard was silence. So, I just went along with my life. With just a general idea of what He wanted me to do, I went to college, married my wife, got into church work, went to seminary, relocated to serve various churches along the way. And, honestly, I’ve enjoyed the journey. But I couldn’t always see God’s plan while it was going on, until I turned around. What I couldn’t see while it was going on, was very clear looking back. God had been directing my life all along.
When He was making plans to use the Babylonians to capture Judah, He told Habakkuk: Hab 1:5 Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because [I am] doing something in your days - You would not believe if you were told.
Why wouldn’t God simply announce His plan? This is what I’m going to do. Because He knew the people’s tendency to evaluate, or modify or reject those plans. He told Habakkuk his job was to “believe I know what I’m doing and trust Me to do it.”
That’s the bottom line of faith. It becomes clear for us through the Book of Esther. They had no idea that God was at work. Or how each incidental moment in the story connected to God’s greater plan. That’s why it’s so much clearer to us, reading it today, than it was living it back then. We see what they didn’t see. We know what they didn’t know. They were in the center of God’s will, even though it looked like they were simply, randomly living their lives.
What does that say to us? God is continually working all things together for good, accomplishing what concerns us, making everything appropriate in its time. We take everything that’s going on down to the bottom line of faith: God knows what He’s doing and we must trust Him to do it.
Esther 2:1-23 After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.
After these things is quite an understatement. You’ll remember that in Chapter 1, the reason for the great gathering and display of Ahasuerus’ splendor was the mustering of his troops collected from all over the Empire, in preparation for war with Greece. Once they were all assembled in Susa, he held a banquet for his commanders and other dignitaries. He told his wife, Vashti to come and display her beauty to everyone. She refused. To keep her actions from affecting every home in Persia, she was deposed as queen. Then Persia went to war with Greece.
The Greco-Persian war was a two-year engagement with Persia attempting to conquer Greece on various fronts. A pivotal battle was the Battle at Thermopylae where the Greeks held off the Persian army for two days at a narrow passageway between the Thermopylae mountain and an inlet of the sea. When the Persians finally broke through, the Greeks pulled back and left 300 Spartans to hold off the Persians. They did so for an additional day.
The Battle at Thermopylae has been used by military historians to illustrate the difference between men forced to fight, as were the men in the Persian army, and men defending their homeland. According to what’s at stake, fewer devoted warriors, willing to fight to the death, are a more formidable force than a huge army. Eventually, however, the 300 were killed. But even with that victory, the Persians were later forced to leave Greece, defeated for a second time. When Ahasuerus returned to Persia, he had lost the majority of his army and his royal splendor was now tarnished.
So, vs. 1, Ahasuerus had returned home from war, and after his anger eased from the defeat, he longed to be comforted in the arms of his wife. But he had no wife.
2 Then the king's attendants, who served him, said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. 3 Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let their cosmetics be given [them.] 4 Then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti." And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly.
5 [Now] there was at the citadel in Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, 6 who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been exiled with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had exiled. 7 He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful in form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.
8 So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to the citadel of Susa into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king's palace into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. 9 Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king's palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem. 10 Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make [them] known. 11 Every day Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared.
You realize Esther and Mordecai were not planning out this adventure. There was no scheme to somehow get Esther in as Queen and save the Jews. In fact, there was no threat against the Jews at that time. It would come later. And neither is it known whether the girls volunteered or were taken by force in this search.
But, while that’s going on, watch the progression of Mordecai. At first, he was just a custodial cousin, then an advisor, finally an observer.
12 Now when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women--for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women--
Obviously, some of these young girls were in pretty bad shape if it took them a whole year to try and make them presentable. But now, add an additional year to the timeline.
13 the young lady would go in to the king in this way: anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. 14 In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, [returned to the herd] to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name. 15 Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her. 16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the tenth month which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
This is the gap between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. 3rd year to now the 7th year. We’ve had a war, a search and a year of beautifying, roughly a four-year gap.
17 The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his princes and his servants; he also made a holiday for the provinces and gave gifts according to the king's bounty.
A wedding feast.
19 When the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate. 20 Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her; for Esther did what Mordecai told her as she had done when under his care.
Remember the last time we saw Mordecai he was walking back and forth in front of the entrance to the court of the harem. Now, he’s sitting at the King’s Gate. In ancient times, the business of the people would take place at the Kings’ Gate. It was a place to see and be seen. Problems were resolved, contracts established and transactions made. Those who helped make wise decisions rose to high status among the people there. To sit at the King’s Gate meant you had a position of influence. This was the subtle work of God to maneuver Mordecai to be at the right place at the right time.
21 In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's officials from those who guarded the door, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22 But the plot became known to Mordecai and he told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai's name. 23 Now when the plot was investigated and found [to be so,] they were both hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king's presence.
Now, let’s go back to being in the right place at the right time.
First with Esther. What did the delay between Chapter 1 and 2 do? Gave her four years to grow into a young lady. All these girls that were brought into the harem were teenagers. Any older and they would have already been married. If Esther was sixteen or even eighteen now, at the deposing of Vashti, she would have been twelve - fourteen. It gave her time to become a desirable young woman.
Now for Mordecai. Because Mordecai sits at the King’s Gate, he is positioned to hear a plot that will be instrumental later in the story. After he hears what these men are planning to do, he tells Esther, who in turn tells the King. And something as innocuous as a paragraph noting this in the Book of the Chronicles of the King’s affairs, will factor in as a contributing element in how the story ends.
There are two ways to read Scripture. One is for information, to discover things that went on historically, telling us what was done, said and taught. The other is for insight to discover what the story is saying to us personally. Do I just want details and doctrines or am I looking for application? Is there something in this story through which God will speak a word to me?
We can read Esther for information, learn how a young Jewish girl saved the nation from total destruction, and that’s a good and interesting story. It’s inspiring to see such courage, cunning and determination. But when we read it for insight, we find there is an all-powerful God working out details that require precision and planning from His side and action from the characters He has called to participate.
So that tells me, the God who said, “I have plans for you,” who worked out His plans through Mordecai and Esther, using Ahasuerus and others, does the same thing in my life. And the fact that they were not aware of it at the time, tells me God is doing things in my life at this very moment that I may not be aware of until much later.
So, what’s our takeaway? 1) God is present and active in our lives at all times whether we see it or not. 2) And right now, in this moment, He is working behind the scenes, making a way for us to walk through these uncertain times, by bringing light into our darkness. 3) Because He is the God who is working in us that which is pleasing in His sight. Heb 13:21
I must get my life down to the bottom line of faith: to believe God knows what He’s doing and trust Him to do it.
How can I do that? In salvation we give Him our whole lives, but in trusting Him, we give Him each day.
By reducing my whole life down to today, I’m exactly where God wants me to be, when He wants me here, doing what He wants me doing, the way He wants it done. I’m trusting Him for today.
I have no guarantee about tomorrow, but since I’m here today, This is the day the Lord has made for me, I will rejoice and be glad in it. Giving Him today and trusting Him for today is all He requires. Don’t stress out about tomorrow. Just give Him today.
A boy went into the grocery store and asked the man for a box of laundry detergent to wash his cat. “Oh, no, you don’t use laundry soap to wash a cat.” The boy took the box anyway and went home. A few days later he was back in the store. The man asked how things went with washing the cat. “My cat died.” “I told you not to use laundry soap to wash him.” “Oh, the soap didn’t kill him. I think it was the spin cycle.”
It may feel like we’re being run through the spin cycle, but even so: this is the day the Lord has made, and because of that, I will rejoice and be glad in it. Remember the purposes of God will never take you where the plans of God cannot accomplish what’s best for you.