One of our problems with the sovereignty of God is that it frequently does not appear that God is in control of the circumstances of our lives. We see unjust or uncaring or even clearly wicked people doing things that adversely affect us. We experience the consequences of other people’s mistakes and failures.
We even do foolish and sinful things ourselves and suffer the often bitter fruit of our actions. It is difficult to see God working through secondary causes and frail, sinful human beings. But it is the ability of God to so arrange diverse human actions to fulfil His purpose that makes His sovereignty marvellous and yet mysterious.
No Bible believing Christian has any difficulty believing that God can and has worked miracles, instances of His sovereign but direct intervention into the affairs of people. Regardless of our theological position regarding miracles occurring today, we all accept without question the validity of the miracles recorded in Scripture. But to believe in the sovereignty of God when we do not see His direct intervention, when God is, so to speak, working entirely behind the scenes through ordinary circumstances and ordinary actions of people, is even more important, because that is the way God usually works.
A nineteenth-century writer, Alexander Carson, in his book, ‘Confidence in God in Times of Danger,’ says, “For the wisdom of man cannot see how the providence of God can arrange human actions to fulfil his purpose without any miracle.” For example, one writer, commenting on an accident in which her car was struck by another that went through a red light supposed that for God to have protected her, He would have made the other driver’s car suddenly sprout wings so that it could fly over her car without impacting. What is implied in such statement is the idea that God is suddenly confronted with a crisis in the life of one of His children and has no recourse but to work a miracle or let the crisis occur.
God did allow the crisis to occur in her situation, but it was not because He could not prevent it. In His sovereignty He could have changed the timing of either driver’s arrival at the intersection, or even diverted one of them along another route had He chosen to do so. None of us knows of such events in our own lives when we have been unknowingly spared from adversity or tragedy by the unseen sovereign hand of God. As the psalmist said, “He will not let your foot slip, he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3-4).
Undoubtedly, one of the reasons the book of Esther is included in Scripture is to help us see the sovereign hand of God at work behind the scenes caring for His people. One of the more arresting things about the book is that the name of God is never once mentioned. Yet the observant reader sees God’s hand in every circumstance, bringing about the deliverance of His people just as surely as He brought about their deliverance from Egypt through mighty miracles centuries before. God was as sovereignly at work through ordinary circumstances in the time of Esther as He was through the miracles in the time of Moses.
The pivot point of the book of Esther is chapter 6. Prior to the events of the night recorded in that chapter, the lives of all the Jews in the entire realm of the Persian King Xerxes were in danger due to the diabolical scheme of one wicked man, Haman, who had recently been elevated to a position higher than that of all the other nobles in the kingdom. But in chapter 6, events begin to turn leading ultimately to the downfall and death of wicked Haman, the physical salvation of the Jews, and the elevation of Mordecai (the hero of the story) to the second highest position in the kingdom.
Because the series of events recorded in Esther chapter 6 reveals in a remarkable way how God sovereignly uses the most ordinary circumstances to accomplish His purposes, we will look at those circumstances in some detail.
On the fateful night King Xerxes could not sleep, so he ordered the book of the chronicles of his reign to be brought in and read to him. In the course of the reading, it came to light that Mordecai, who was in danger of being hanged the next morning, had on an earlier occasion reported a plot to assassinate the king. The king asked what recognition had been given Mordecai and found that nothing had been done. So the king decided on the spot to honour Mordecai and, as it turned out, the very man who had determined to hang Mordecai ended up carrying out the king’s edict to publicly honour him.
Consider what had to happen to save Mordecai from the gallows. Why could the king not sleep that fateful night? Why, then, did he ask for a dry register of facts to be read to him rather than soothing music to lull him to sleep? And when the book of the chronicles of his reign was read, why did the reader happen to read from the particular section of the book where Mordecai’s actions were recorded? Were there not a thousand chances that the reader would have selected some other portion of the annals of the Persian Empire to read?
The King heard about Mordecai’s service and asked how he was rewarded. Why had the king not rewarded Mordecai at the time he had saved the king’s life? Why did he suddenly determine to do something? And why did wicked Haman appear at that moment to ask the king’s permission to hang Mordecai? Why did Xerxes ask Haman what should be done to honour the man in such a way as to conceal the object of his favour, causing Haman to think he himself was the one to be honoured?
The answer to all of these questions was that God was sovereign orchestrating the events of that night to save His people. The question naturally arises, however, “Does God always orchestrate the events of my life for my good? If we grant that the unusual outworking of events in Esther was due to the sovereign hand of God, are we justified in concluding that God always orchestrates the events of our lives to fulfil His purpose? According to Romans 8:28, the answer is a solid yes. That verse says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is this assurance that God works in all events of our lives that gives sense to Paul’s exhortation elsewhere to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). How could we possibly give thanks to God for all the circumstances of our lives if He were not at work in them for our good?
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea