Hidden in Plain Sight
by Marty Shoub, International Liason, Tents of Mercy Network
By Marty Shoub
The Book of Esther is a curious addition to our Bibles; it poses a number of theological and historical problems and has been the subject of great controversy. The Talmud records that Esther had to convince the Sages to include her story in the Scriptures and the rabbis debated whether the text was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Church Fathers did not settle on the canonicity of Esther until the latter half of the fourth century, Esther is the only book from the Hebrew Scriptures not found in the Dead Sea Scrolls - and even today, there are Christian scholars who doubt the Book of Esther's veracity or value.
Overshadowing the historical and ethical difficulties of the Book of Esther is its controversial absence of any reference to God. Nowhere in the book is God mentioned. When Mordecai explains to Esther that she must speak to the king on behalf of her fellow Jews he seems knowledgeable of the Lord's covenant fidelity to preserve the Jewish people (see Leviticus 26: 40-45). How odd that when he cautions Esther about the consequences for failing to take on this responsibility, he explains she will perish but the people's deliverance "will arise...from another place" (Esther 4:14). Another place? Where will deliverance come for Israel if not from the God of Israel? It is if Mordecai purposely avoids any reference to divine deliverance.
At Work Behind the Scenes
Sometimes in Scripture, the reader has to discern the hand of God through the events described in the narrative - the narrator does not always spell out the moral lesson or explain how the divine plan is unfolded. We see many examples of this in the life of the Patriarchs and in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. But usually, there is some commentary to guide us through the story. God is always at work - but sometimes behind the scenes. In the book of Job, our hero is fulminating in the throes of perplexity. "Why is this happening?" Job protests. But unlike Job and his ignorant three friends, we have been privy to the scene in heaven's throne room. We know there is an unseen hand at work that brings everything right in the end. When we read Esther we do so with the knowledge that this is how our God works - sometimes with signs and wonders but more often, as an unseen power providentially exercising His sovereign will.
Despite His awesome power our God is not flashy. Why should He be? As Sha'ul explained: "For ever since the creation of the universe his invisible qualities - both his eternal power and his divine nature - have been clearly seen, because they can be understood from what he has made. Therefore, they have no excuse" (Romans 1:20). The Creator does not need to justify Himself to the creation. We should assume He is at work, as Sha'ul also explained, "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36).
The book of Esther beautifully illustrates this truth. Evil men may seek to thwart God's plans, heroes and heroines can either accept their callings or refuse, but always, the divine will ultimately prevails. Sometimes a sleepless night is the consequence of eating too much pizza, but other times it is the perfect timing of the Creator to save the innocent and resist the proud.
Herod in a Castle, Yeshua in a Barn
In January, my wife and I and a couple of friends went to explore the Herodium, Herod's magnificent mountain fortress just east of Bethlehem and south of Jerusalem. Herod built many imposing fortresses, a world class artificial port and even leveled Mt Moriah to re-create the Temple to rival the splendor of Solomon. Yet this was the monument he was most proud of - the only one he named after himself. Herodium was a magnificent castle built within an artificial mountain that Herod erected out of the rock from the mountain opposite his fortress. By the force of his will, without faith or divine power, he literally moved a mountain from one place to another. Herodium's main tower stood fourteen stories high, an unmistakable monument to a king who was determined to demonstrate his majesty to anyone who had eyes to see.
Almost under the shadow of this magnificent structure, the true king of Israel, the King of Kings, was born in the humblest shelter one could imagine. Angels sang and at some point magi paid homage, but for the most part, this king was born in obscurity. Yeshua was the opposite of Herod; He didn't need a legacy of stone to commemorate His majesty. He didn't need any external prop to proclaim His kingly identity. More than that, He avoided the limelight, usually telling those He healed to keep silent. When He saw that a crowd was coming to crown Him as Israel's king he literally "headed for the hills" to get away from them (see, John 6:15). The Scriptures tell us, "He came to His own homeland, yet His own people did not receive Him" (John 1:11). For the most part this was because we did not have ears to hear and eyes to see, but also sometimes, in a very intentional way, Yeshua hid His messianic identity. The Gospels record Yeshua instructing others, "See to it that you tell no one" on several occasions. Yeshua even ordered His disciples to keep silent after Peter had correctly identified Him as the Messiah (See, Matthew 16:20; Mark 8:29,30; Luke 9:20,21).
Mystery and Revelation
Why all this hiding? Why did the Almighty send His Son in obscurity? Why doesn't the book of Esther credit the God of Israel for Israel's deliverance? It seems sometimes we should just know, without having to be told - that is, if we know our God, we will see Him at work in our lives and in the world. If we have faith and we know the Scriptures, we should also have discernment. It is our responsibility to "search things out" (Proverbs 25:2). Those in the crowd who heard the words and saw the miracles but did not reflect deeply on the matter soon fell away. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" was Yeshua's challenge to reflect deeply on His words - to look beyond the surface to really see.
But sometimes we encounter a mystery - a truth of God that according to providence remains hidden, to be revealed at the right time. When we consider the details, timing and happenstance required for the Jews' Purim deliverance, we see a hidden move of God revealed. Yeshua spoke of a day "when the Son of Man [will be] revealed" (Luke 17:30), when "every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him" (Revelation 1:7). In that day, the Jewish people will see that throughout their long-sufferings in the world there has always been a hidden hand at work to bring about their deliverance. And so, as it is written, "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26). That which is now hidden in plain sight, will be revealed to all.RepylComment(Marty Shoub, I am not familiar with this teaching but if I understand your comment, David Pawson shows where Gods name is "hidden" within the text. This may be so, but is not at all in contradiction to the observation that no where in the text is there a direct reference to the God of Israel.')
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