This week we continued our series in the book of Esther and the presence of coincidence in this story continues to fascinate me. It helps stir our hearts to begin looking for something beyond what is apparent in this story and in our own circumstances. In the first three chapters of Esther coincidence has played a major role in the development of the plot, forcing us as the readers to look beyond that which is immediately evident in the story.
William Temple, a bishop in the Church of England during the early-mid 20th century once said, “When I pray coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” Although prayer is never mentioned in Esther in association with coincidence, the narrator seems to urge the audience to see some connection between these randomly connected events and the providence and sovereignty of God.
At the end of chapter 2, this week we read about two of King Ahasueras’ eunuchs who plan to kill him. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, every year in the Persian Empire nearly 500 young boys were gathered and castrated to serve as eunuchs in the king’s court. The author doesn’t explicitly state why these two men are angry and want to murder the king, but just maybe it has to do with the fact that they are eunuchs and the king is responsible for their condition. Regardless, they make plans and try to figure out how to get away with this crime, but they aren’t great at keeping things quiet. Mordecai happens to be in the right place at the right time and discovers this plot. As a loyal citizen and employee of the state, he turns them in and saves the king’s life.
Naturally, at this point the reader would expect to read about the reward Mordecai receives from the king, as it was customary in the Persian Empire for kings to generously reward their supporters. Certainly Mordecai qualifies in this instance. Yet we read nothing about even a gesture of appreciation from the king, a silence that is compounded by the events conveyed at the beginning of the next chapter when a new character is introduced. Chapter 3 opens with a man named Haman being rewarded and promoted, a character unrelated to the aforementioned events, who will soon become the villain in the story.
The author is careful to mention that Haman was an Agagite, which at first glance just seems to be another funny sounding name among many the author includes. But the significance of this detail becomes clear as we consider the history of Israel.
Centuries before our present story, when Saul was the King of Israel, a man named Agag was the king of a people called the Amalekites, a constant source of strife for the Israelites. In fact, the Amalekites were the first group to attack Israel after her deliverance from Egyptian captivity (Exodus 17). But the threat continued through Saul’s reign (1 Samuel 15). Clearly, the enmity between these characters runs deep. And that Agagite, the enemy of the Jews, the descendant of the Amalekites gets promoted by the king, while Mordecai’s loyalty and protection appears to go unnoticed.
This is an obvious injustice. But what we discover as the story progresses is that the delayed reward for Mordecai’s act of kindness in the end spares the lives of Jewish people throughout the empire. Because when Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, Haman convinces the king to authorize the mass execution of this insignificant and unlawful people group scattered throughout the empire. An added layer of meaning in the story is that the lots cast to determine the date for this massacre point ahead to the eve of the Jewish Passover celebration, raising critical questions for the audience: Is God still faithful? Are we still in covenant with him? He has been faithful to deliver and protect our people in the past. Will that continue?
Had the reward not been delayed, Mordecai the opportunity to cash in on an owed favor would not exist, thus altering the fate of his people in a devastating way.
On the surface these events may appear random.
It is just good luck (being in the right place at the right time)…
followed by bad luck (the denial of deserved reward)…
followed by good luck (eventual reward sparing the Jewish people).
It seems to be a string of coincidences that in the end benefit Mordecai and his people.
Or is it?
Is it possible that God’s hand is active all along, orchestrating, to some degree, the events of the story? I believe it is possible. And I believe it is a great reminder. The story of Esther is silent on a lot of these details. But it’s a silence that pushes us to look for something beyond what is visible, to trust in God even when he seems absent and our lives appear to be dictated by random chance, good or bad luck.
I’m not arguing that we should look at every minor coincidence and assume that God is trying to alter the course of our lives. Instead, simply be encouraged to be open to God’s activity and presence in every aspect of your life.
So often when we think we have been treated unfairly or life convinces us we will never catch a break and get ahead, we become angry or discouraged. Maybe God’s hand is working in your situation. Unnoticed, but present. Maybe you will look back in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years and thank God for his grace and providence in your life. Or, maybe you will never see the reasoning behind all that you face. You may go to your grave still asking the question, ‘Why?’. Either way, trust. Even when you can’t see the end or can’t imagine how your current circumstances can be a part of a bigger purpose. Trust, because God is faithful.