If you're a female, when you were a child, did you ever spin around in a long dress pretending to be Cinderella? Perhaps you watched Cinderella on TV or video. Was it a cartoon version? Maybe a parent or sibling read it to you. Or perhaps you saw Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1965 production starring Lesley Ann Warren. Maybe you watched the 1997 show with Brandy, Paola Montalban, and Whitney Houston. If you’re a big Cinderella fan, perhaps you saw and read all of these and more.
What about My Fair Lady—did you ever imitate Eliza Dolittle singing about the rain in Spain (or the rine in spine)? Did you mentally protest against Henry Higgins when he asked “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”?
Many cultures have their rags-to-riches stories like Cinderella and My Fair Lady. The details differ, but the general plotline is the same: a poor, plain girl of questionable pedigree rises from poverty to become rich and beautiful, perhaps even the queen of a vast empire.
The Book of Esther is like a Hebrew Cinderella story. Yet some significant differences set this drama apart from fictional stories such as those mentioned above. For one thing, Esther’s story actually happened. The book begins with the same Hebrew word (“wyhy”) that introduces the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Ezekiel, and Jonah. We are supposed to read Esther as fact, not fancy.
Another key difference is that in Esther, the villain (Haman) is far worse than any evil stepmother or chauvinistic linguistics coach. Haman is out to commit genocide, and the king approves his plan without hesitation.
Yet there’s an even more significant difference: the main character in this Cinderella story is someone other than the woman at the center of the drama. In fact this story’s main character is never explicitly mentioned by name, nor does He appear. An accurate Playbill for this drama would have to have an empty space next to the photo of the one playing the lead. He is invisible, yet we trace His hand through every turn in the plot as the seeming coincidences add up.
William Temple, the ninety-eighth archbishop of Canterbury, was known to have said, “When I pray, coincidences happen; and when I don’t pray, they don’t happen.” The author of the Book of Esther stacks together a long string of “coincidences,” while never mentioning anything religious such as the temple, prayer, or even God’s name. Yet readers without being told know better than to think all the events in the book merely happened due to chance. We are left instead with one conclusion: The only way all these “coincidences” could have happened is if God directed every last detail.
Consider some of the “coincidences” in Esther’s story:
. The king wants his wife to appear, which just happens to set in motion events that will lead to the survival of an entire people group.
. The queen refuses, which just happens to provide the opportunity for Esther to become queen.
. Esther just happens to be beautiful enough to enter (and win) the king’s beauty contest.
. Esther just happens to be received favorably, both by the eunuch over the harem and by the king himself.
. Mordecai just happens to be in a position in the palace that allows him both access to Esther and to overhear a plot to kill the king.
. Mordecai’s revelation of the plot is recorded in the king’s annals (which just happen to be read on the most opportune night some years later).
. The dice or “lots” thrown to determine when the Jews are to be killed just happen to indicate the twelfth month, allowing eleven months for the Jews to seek a means of deliverance.
. Esther’s unexplained delay in having a second banquet just happens to allow the king a chance to have the insomnia that will motivate him to listen to his chronicles.
. The section read to him just happens to be the part about how Mordecai saved his life.
. Haman just happens to arrive at the palace with Mordecai on his mind at the very moment when the king is thinking about how to honor Mordecai.
. The very “gallows” (or pole) Haman installed for having Mordecai impaled (they would “spike” people after killing them) just happens to be the means of Haman’s own destruction.
. The king’s entry into Esther’s room at the exact moment when Haman falls on her couch just happens to make him misinterpret events, resulting in Haman’s death.
. Not one Jew is listed as killed while 75,800 of their enemies just happen to be destroyed—on the very day when the Jews were to face destruction.
This Cinderella story has ramifications that far exceed an “if the shoe fits” scenario. Much more is at stake than a glass slipper and love that ends “happily ever after.” Ultimately, Esther just happens to be in the right place at the right time and of the right nationality to intervene for hundreds of thousands if not millions of people and save them from certain genocide. God uses Esther to make a way, to keep His promise, to triumph over evil in one grand reversal.
And He is still sovereign over every event of our lives today.
Excerpted from Espresso with Esther.