April 7, 2014

The Book of Preservations: Spotting God in Esther

by Clint Archer

Reverend Robert Evans is a retired pastor who lives in Australia. Many ministers these days claim to have various supernatural gifts. But unlike the usual suspects of contemporary charismania, the Rev Evans actually does posses an ability that is closer to supernatural than any claim I’ve seen on TBN. It’s practically a superpower–though Evans neither acts nor (thankfully) dresses, anything like a superhero. As far as superpowers go, it’s not the most flashy one would pick; nevertheless it has proven very useful to cosmologists and astronomers. You see, if Rev Evans fixes his gaze on an array of particles (of any magnitude), then the next time he looks at them he can instantly tell if one is missing, or has been added.

Like I said, it’s not exactly leaping over tall buildings in a single bound.

But to impress you with how remarkable this gift really is, I want you to imagine a pool table with a fistful of salt grains causally strewn over its surface. These ruinous white specks on the felt backdrop represent stars. Now imagine 1,500 more such tables arranged in the world’s biggest pool hall, each displaying thousands of salt grains randomly spread over them. After Rev Evans has walked around and inspected each table, you could then surreptitiously sneak one grain of salt off any table and toss it on any other table. Upon his next stroll through the dining hall, Evans would be able to pinpoint exactly which spot the ambulant grain used to occupy, and where it now resides.

It might not help curtailing crime in Gotham, but it’s more impressive than Benny Hinn’s ability to make old ladies fall over with a wave of his Armani-clad arm, or banishing back pain for long enough to pass a collection plate.

With characteristic modesty, Evans explained to one interviewer, “I just seem to have a knack for memorizing star fields. I’m not particularly good at other things. I don’t remember names well.”

—“Or where he’s put things,” added his wife Elaine.

How is this party trick helpful in the real world?

Evans is the one man who can help astronomers spot the appearance of a rare phenomenon in the cosmos, namely supernovae. This type of expiring star leaves a telltale puff of light, visible to earthlings for only about one month. The problem is that the luminous smudge is practically indistinguishable from the other zillion or so generic balls of flaming gas visible through telescopes. The only way to identify the pinprick as a supernovae is if you know the patch of blackness it occupies well enough to notice a change. The occurrence is as rare and fleeting as a sighting of Joel Osteen reading a theology book. In fact, a galaxy of millions of stars might only boast one such ballistic jamboree in 300 years. No one in history claimed bragging rights for spotting more than one—except Evans. Before some stargazing computers took over the job in 2003, only 96 supernovae sightings had ever been catalogued; of those, 36 were thanks to Rev Evans.

What tickled my fancy as I read about this unlikely savant, was a comment Evans made about not finding what he was looking for. He once went three years with no supernova sightings. But this in itself is, apparently, very valuable data. He explains: “There is actually a certain value in not finding anything. …It is one of those rare areas where the absence of evidence is evidence.” It is in this paradoxical aphorism that we find a practical guide to interpreting the Book of Esther.

You see, the Bible is a book about one Person. God is the main character of every book of the Bible. The OT chronicles God’s work in creation, God’s election of Israel, God’s punishment and preservation of Israel, and God’s prediction of his advent in the person of Jesus Christ. God is acknowledged in every book of the Bible. From the longest books of the OT and NT (Jeremiah & Luke), to the shortest chapters( Ps 117 & 3 John), and even in shortest verse/sentence (John 11:35), God’s name signifies his defining presence.

There is only one exception: Esther. In this post-exilic narrative, God is neither named, nor referenced at all. Not only does the name of Jesus not appear, which would be expected in the OT, The name Yaweh doesn’t feature either. Not even a cameo appearance is made of Elohim, El Elyon, El Olam, El Shaddai, or Adonai. No one talks about God, no one acknowledges his existence. This piece of trivia prompted Martin Luther to famously denounce Esther’s claim to canonicity! And yet, using the superpowers of illumination given by the Holy Spirit Christians can see God on every page, in every movement of the action, each plot development, and in the overall lesson of the book.

God appears in silhouette; it is his absence which stands out as evidence of his presence. (Yogi Berra would be proud of me for that one).

When reading or preaching Esther, it is important, firstly, to draw attention to the details of life in Susa, a place and time where God was not acknowledged. And, secondly, to speculate about the contingencies of plot variation if God were genuinely uninvolved.

Chapter one shows what life is like where people have no knowledge of God—a six month orgy followed by an indecent proposal that led to the downfall of one queen and the ascension of another.

It just so happened that the a closeted Jewess was deemed the most beautiful girl in the world (by what other standard would a drunk Persian potentate select a spouse?)

It also just so happened that the assassination plot was thwarted by her cousin (also Jewish), and that the history book read to cure the king’s insomnia reminded him to reward his savior, who just so happened to himself be the target of a malicious plot, which just so happened… you get the (God-painted) picture.

At any point of plot development, if God’s grace and providence had not been present, the denouement would have been far less comic and way more tragic for the Jews. Every alternate tributary branching off the river of God’s will, could have led to Genocide of the Jews, and yet the raft floats merrily along the vein of God’s perfect plan carried by the current of providence.

Without God’s involvement, there is no Book of Esther. The slightest permutation of plot would have resulted in a chronicle of extinction. Instead Esther is a story of God’s epic preservation of his people, his will, his covenant, and his glory.

If I were iconoclastic enough to risk the wrath of traditionalists (and their wives) I would suggest that we rename, or at least nickname the Book of Esther, to be known by the sobriquet: the Book of Preservations.

Clint Archer

Posts Twitter

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • I love learning something new every day. Thank you Clint!

    • A love of daily learning is the key to staying young (Chinese proverb…or at least that’s what the fortune cookie said).

  • Marla Beale

    “The occurrence is as rare and fleeting as a sighting of Joel Osteen reading a theology book.” Loved it!
    I look forward to Mondays just to read your posts. Humorous and Edifying. Keep it up.

    • My ambition in life is make people look forward to Mondays. Thanks for tuning in.

      • 072591

        But Mondays are evil. You said so yourself!

  • Johanna

    I was once amused by an online fanboy discussion of a certain famous film series complaining about too many convenient coincidences in the plot, and how things would have been more “realistic” without them. Laying aside the fact that the plot is just whatever the writer/director wanted, as a believer in the sovereignty of God, I don’t merely excuse the coincidences, but appreciate them as an overarching design of the story–the notion that there’s a providential purpose behind the whole thing. The more obvious the better. I think that’s the most wonderful thing about the Book of Esther: perhaps God obscured His overt presence in the narrative of this one section of Scripture precisely for the very reason that we’d contemplate, in a tiny way, just how profound, thorough, and reassuring His sovereignty really is.

  • Howard Brown

    Could we also see that God is committed to the preservation of Israel even if the contemporary manifestation of it is far from serving, following or even acknowledging Him.