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by Henry Allen Ironside
Prefatory Note for Esther
The book of Esther contains principles of great value at all times, but especially at the present one, when some who delve very little into the word of God are liable to wonder at some of His ways, and grow discouraged in the path of obedience.
It is needful therefore, that such, and all of us, should have detailed before us the fact that “obedience is better than sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams.” May God richly bless your effort to bring to the surface what His Spirit has laid up for us in this little book.
Yours affectionately in Christ,
Paul J. Loizeaux.
No attentive reader can fail to note the great distinguishing characteristic of the book of Esther: the name of God is not found in it. No divine title whatever, nor any pronoun referring to God is there in its ten stirring chapters. Neither is there any reference to prayer which involves the thought of God as the hearer and answerer. At first glance it might seem that the book of Esther is not unique in this, as the Song of Solomon apparently keeps company with it in the omission of any title of the Deity. But it is not really so; for the name “Jah” (the Eternal) is, in the original, found in the last clause of chap. 8:6. “Jealously is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire which hath a most vehement flame;” (literally as noted in the margin, “a flame of Jah”). And even if this were not, still the bridegroom is so evidently Jehovah, whose bride Israel was and shall yet be manifested to be, that almost every masculine pronoun may be said to refer to Him. The Song of Songs therefore is really a perfect contrast with the book of Esther, being from end to end full of Jehovah as the Bridegroom of Israel.
In Esther it is quite different. Neither His name, nor any reference to Him, even veiled, is found. At least so it is on the page of the English version. Whether there be any divine purpose in the reputed fact that the name Jehovah (Hebrew IHVH) is found there in acrostics four times I do not pretend to say. The passages in which they are said to occur are chap. 1:20, “all the wives shall give;” v. 4, “let the king and Haman come this day;” v. 13, “all this availeth me nothing;” and 7:7, “that there was evil determined against him.” Properly speaking God is entirely unmentioned: but no believer in the plenary inspiration of Scripture would conclude from this that His voice speaks not to us in this writing as in all the rest of the sacred Oracles.
One rather asks: Why has He inspired so strange a book; and what is His reason for omitting His name?
The answer, as the question, may be a double one. First; in this book we have Israel in the result of a self-chosen path. They were in Persia and Babylon when they might have been in Palestine, gathered around God’s centre at Jerusalem. Second; the great subject of Esther is evidently the secret providence-a “particular” providence too-which is ever watching over the scattered nation during all the long-drawn-out “times of the Gentiles.”
In Hosea 1:9, we read of the prophet’s son: “Then said God; call his name Lo-ammi (not My people) for ye are not My people and I will not be your God.” In this condition are they found over 200 years later, in the times of Esther and Mordecai.
He who had borne with their ways for so long had at last given them up in chastisement, and allowed the Gentile oppressor to destroy the city and the temple, and to transport them to Babylon; there to learn in affliction what they would not learn in years of blessing and forbearance.
The Babylonian oppressor had however in his turn been overthrown by the Persian, under whose mild rule the dispersed Jews now were. It had pleased the Lord to give a little reviving in the midst of their bondage, and a few years before the first verse of our book, He had stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to issue a proclamation to the effect that all who had heart for it might return to Jerusalem and “build the house of the Lord God of Israel” (Ezra 1:1-3). As a result there “rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirit God had raised to go to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5).
With this remnant, feeble indeed, and few in number, the Lord is pleased in grace to connect His Name; for we find that if that Name is absent in recording His care over those who remained in Babylon, it is abundantly present in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which detail the ways of those to whom the place of the Name was precious, as it could not be to those who abide elsewhere-even in ease and comparative luxury. It is true it is as “the God of heaven” He makes Himself known to them; but what title more suitable when all earthly glory had departed; and to heaven they now looked for the coming Anointed Deliverer? Among those who went up there was much to grieve and sadden; much failure and sin;-yet they were gathered around Himself in His own appointed place, in accordance with His own Word. Hence, He raises up ministry suited to their need, and is not ashamed to link His Name with them.
If Ahasuerus, the great king, be Xerxes, as is generally believed, the history of the book of Esther would come in, chronologically, between the sixth and seventh chapters of Ezra; that is, between the times when the first company returned to Jerusalem, and that when Ezra and his company went up. In that case we can -well understand the fervent faith evidenced by this dear servant of God who “was ashamed to require of the king (Artaxerxes Longimanus, successor to Xerxes) a band of soldiers and horsemen to keep us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken to the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him; but His wrath is against all that forsake Him” (Ezra 8:22). How signally had this been proven but a short time before in the triumph of Esther.
the Seventh Week after Easter