March 7, 2024

Esther: The Providence of God Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: Esther: The Providence of God
‌TEXT: Esther 4:1-17 (ESV)
‌SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
‌DATE: 3-10-24

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As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.


We’re finishing our Finding Jesus series this weekend. When I first became the senior pastor — here at Gateway Church — I had the goal of preaching a sermon on each book in the Old Testament. And — today — the goal will be complete. I had this goal because it’s fairly common for the Old Testament to be a challenging part of the Bible for people to understand. So I thought doing a series like this — where I introduce you to a book of the Bible that you may or may not be familiar with — give an overview of the book — look at a particular section of it — and then — show you how to find Jesus — could be a resource used for years to come.

So — if you’re ever reading a book in the Old Testament and want a quick overview — be sure to go to our website — — and search for our Finding Jesus series.

Now — I just mentioned how one of my goals has been to show you how to find Jesus in the Old Testament. Why is this one of my goals? Because we believe that the Bible is telling one story — the story of Jesus. And here’s why we believe this.

Near the end of Luke’s gospel — after Jesus was killed on the cross — he appears to two men who thought he was still dead. Somehow Jesus hid who he was from them — so they have no idea who they’re talking to. And Jesus gives them — and us — a lesson on how we’re to read and understand the whole Bible.

Luke 24:17–27 (ESV)
And he (that’s Jesus) said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And (these next words are key — this is how we know the whole Bible tells one story — watch what Jesus does. And...) beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.


All the Scriptures — both Old and New Testaments — are about Jesus.

Today we’re finishing the group of books referred to as the history section of the Old Testament. These books cover historical events in the life of God’s people. And — today — we’ll be looking at the book of Esther. So — if you have your Bible — please turn with me to Esther chapter four.


While you’re finding Esther chapter four — let’s take some time to get our bearings in the book — and I hope you’ll see that Esther is a book you’ll want to go read for yourself.

But — first — one last time of remembering where we are in the history of God’s people. The books of history pick up where the books of Moses end. The people have been rescued out of Egypt — and have been led by Moses to the edge of the Promised Land. They send spies into the land to scope out their new home — only to be given a report that causes the Israelites to distrust God’s promise to them. So they wander in the wilderness for forty years until an entire generation dies. Moses — along with Joshua and Caleb — two spies who did trust God’s promise — arrive with the next generation of Israelites at the edge of the Promised Land. However, Moses’ time on earth had come to an end — this is when God appoints Joshua as the leader of the people.

Under his leadership — the Israelites conquer the Promised Land. And — after Joshua — there’s a brief period when the people faithfully follow God. But — in the book of Judges — we read about the people turning their backs on God again and again and again. Yet — in a demonstration of his love and faithfulness to his people — God raises up judges who act as saviors for the people — the judges deliver the people from the consequences of their rebellion — they turn the people back to God.

During the time of the judges — we met Ruth. Hers is a love story of an outsider welcomed into God’s family. And her book ends by telling us that — the son born to her — will have a descendant who will be king of God’s people.

In the book of Judges there’s a repeated phrase — “in those days there was no king in Israel” — alluding that the nation will one day have a king. And the books of Samuel record the nation’s transition between the judges to having a king. Samuel’s a prophet called by God to anoint Israel’s first king — his name is Saul. Things don’t go well for Saul — he’s a proud man who refuses to repent of his rebellion and sin — so God removes his anointing from Saul and tells Samuel to go to the house of Jesse to anoint Israel’s next king — his name is David. And the remainder of the books of Samuel record the lives of these first two kings of Israel.

The book of First Kings begins by covering the end of David’s life and then records the history of David’s son — Solomon’s reign as king of Israel. Solomon is the last king to reign over a unified nation because — his son Rehoboam — will make a foolish decision which results in a national split. The nation of Judah is formed with Jerusalem as its capital and has the descendants of David as its king — whereas the nation of Israel goes its separate way — with Samaria as its capital.

You’ll read of king after king, and conspiracy after conspiracy, and betrayal after betrayal in the northern kingdom of Israel. The nation never recovers — leading to its eventual defeat by the Assyrians.

Why was Israel destroyed? Israel was destroyed because of its 1) idolatry, 2) its injustice, and 3) its covenant unfaithfulness. The kings and the people would not listen to the prophets God had sent to them. 

And — now — our attention is on the nation of Judah — the southern kingdom — and its eventual defeat. Judah has some good kings — and it has some horrific kings. Prophets of God call the kings of Judah to repent. And — though there are a few good kings — the evil kings eventually lead the nation so far from God that it too is conquered. 

And the books of the kings end with the people of God being led to live in exile in Babylon. And this leads us — the readers — to wonder if this is it for God’s people. Is God finally done with them?

The book of Esther picks up about a hundred years after the Babylonian exile. Babylon has since been conquered by Persia and — at this point in history — some of the Jews have returned to Jerusalem — while others remained living in the land of their exile. The book of Esther focuses on some individuals living in the capital of Persia — the city of Susa.

There’s Esther — who the book is named after. Mordecai — Esther’s uncle — they’re both Jewish — by the way. There’s the king of Persia. And — finally — there’s the Persian official named Haman.

There’s an interesting fact about the book: God isn’t mentioned. God’s not mentioned once in the entire book. Which makes us wonder what the author is trying to accomplish in recording Esther’s story without mentioning God? We’ll get to that later — because that’s how we’re going to find Jesus.


So that’s the background of Esther — now — let’s turn to the book’s content. 

The book begins with the king of Persia throwing an elaborate party that lasts about half a year. For some of us — the office Christmas party lasts too long — if that’s you — be glad you don’t work for the king of Persia. But the king has thrown this six month long party to show off how great he is. Kings tend to have egos — in fact, there’s only one King I can think of who was truly humble — but on the last day of his party — after having way too much to drink — the king demands that his wife make an appearance and show off her beauty to all of his guests. 

And she refuses.

Do you know what’s worse than an earthly king with lots of power? A drunk earthly king with lots of power! 

Since his wife refused to show off her beauty to his guests — he gets rid of her. And — to find his next queen — he puts together a plan that the TV show the Bachelor stole its whole premise from. Just kidding — sort of.

But this is when Esther and Mordecai enter the story. 

Esther is one of the women up for receiving the king’s final rose. And Esther — this Jewish young woman — who’s been hiding the fact that she’s a Jew the entire time — gets the rose. And she becomes queen. 

Shortly after Esther’s been named queen — her uncle Mordecai overhears some men plotting to kill the king. He lets Esther know of the plot — she tells the king — and the plan is stopped. This will be important in a moment.

Next we meet Haman. He’s a power hungry individual who’s full of himself. He’s also an official of the king. One day he starts demanding that all people kneel when in his presence — the guy’s got an ego problem. 

Well — Mordecai refuses to kneel. Which makes Haman mad. And — in a great imitation of a spoiled child — Haman gets the king to write an official decree declaring the death of all Jewish people. Haman had found out that Mordecai was Jew — and what better way to get back at the guy who won’t bow down to your ego than to have his entire people murdered. 

A dice is thrown to pick the date when the Jews will all be killed. And the date is set for eleven months later.

What comes next is the passage we’re going to look at more closely — but here’s what happens in the rest of the book. 

Esther throws a banquet for the king and Haman. They both have a lot to drink — but before they leave — she invites them back to another banquet set for the next day. Drunk Haman leaves the banquet both pleased and proud. But — as he heads home — he sees Mordecai and his egotistical rage and anger rise to the surface again. He has a giant pole — a sharp stake — constructed. His plan is to impale Mordecai on it the next day.

Interestingly — that night the king can’t sleep. He has a servant read to him to try and bring the sleepy time zzz’s on. And the servant just so happens to read to the king the historical record of that plot to kill him that Mordecai had warned Esther about. And the king asks, “What reward did Mordecai get for saving my life?” And the servant said, “Nothing. No reward was given to Mordecai.”

The sun rises. The morning has come. And Haman goes to the king to request permission to kill Mordecai. But the king asks him a question first.

Esther 6:6b–10 (NLT)
“What should I do to honor a man who truly pleases me?” Haman thought to himself, “Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?” (Ego!) 7 So he replied, “If the king wishes to honor someone, 8 he should bring out one of the king’s own royal robes, as well as a horse that the king himself has ridden — one with a royal emblem on its head. 9 Let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. And let him see that the man whom the king wishes to honor is dressed in the king’s robes and led through the city square on the king’s horse. Have the official shout as they go, ‘This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!’” 10 “Excellent!” the king said to Haman. “Quick! Take the robes and my horse, and do just as you have said for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the gate of the palace. Leave out nothing you have suggested!”

And Haman — though full of ego — knows his place. And he does what he’s told. 

He puts a royal robe on Mordecai. He has him ride on one of the king’s horses. Haman leads Mordecai throughout the city shouting, “This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!” And — when it’s all over — Haman is humiliated. And…

Esther 6:13–14 (NLT)
13 When Haman told his wife, Zeresh, and all his friends what had happened, his wise advisers and his wife said, “Since Mordecai — this man who has humiliated you — is of Jewish birth, you will never succeed in your plans against him. It will be fatal to continue opposing him.” 14 While they were still talking, the king’s eunuchs arrived and quickly took Haman to the banquet Esther had prepared.

During this second banquet — Esther reveals to the king that she’s Jewish and that Haman has tricked the king into writing a decree that will have her, and her uncle — who saved the king’s life — and her people — all killed. 

Now the king’s been drinking — again — and he gets really angry. He storms out of the room — and while he’s outside gathering his thoughts — Haman starts pleading with Esther for his life. And — when the king returns — he thinks that Haman is assaulting his wife! So he orders Haman to be impaled on the pole that he had built for Mordecai’s murder.

Now — Haman’s death doesn’t end the decree ordering the death of all Jews. Esther and Mordecai get to work to try and stop the decree but — in the traditions of the land — the king can’t revoke a decree he’s already made — but — a king can make a counter-decree. 

So a new decree is sent throughout the land giving Jews the right to defend themselves and to destroy their enemies. The Jews celebrate. They defend themselves. They destroy their enemies. And Mordecai is made second in command in Persia — only the king had a higher position of authority than Mordecai. 


And — now — we turn to the passage we’re going to look at more closely. We’re in Esther chapter four — beginning in verse one. And this is right after the king’s first decree — the one ordering the death of all Jews — had just been sent out.

Esther 4:1–17 (NLT)
When Mordecai learned about all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on burlap and ashes, and went out into the city, crying with a loud and bitter wail. 2 He went as far as the gate of the palace, for no one was allowed to enter the palace gate while wearing clothes of mourning. 3 And as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes. 4 When Queen Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was deeply distressed. She sent clothing to him to replace the burlap, but he refused it. 5 Then Esther sent for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who had been appointed as her attendant. She ordered him to go to Mordecai and find out what was troubling him and why he was in mourning. 6 So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the square in front of the palace gate. 7 Mordecai told him the whole story, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. 8 Mordecai gave Hathach a copy of the decree issued in Susa that called for the death of all Jews. He asked Hathach to show it to Esther and explain the situation to her. He also asked Hathach to direct her to go to the king to beg for mercy and plead for her people. 9 So Hathach returned to Esther with Mordecai’s message. 10 Then Esther told Hathach to go back and relay this message to Mordecai: 11 “All the king’s officials and even the people in the provinces know that anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king has not called for me to come to him for thirty days.” 12 So Hathach gave Esther’s message to Mordecai. 13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” 15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

“Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” What a powerful statement. A statement of purpose — of possibility. A statement acknowledging there are some unknowns — “who knows if…” — while acknowledging hope and confidence in God — “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place…”

In our overview of the book — did you notice all of the times that seem too improbable to be coincidental? 

Of all the women up to receive the king’s final rose — Esther is chosen. 

Mordecai just so happens to overhear a plot to murder the king. 

The king just so happens to forget to reward Mordecai for saving his life. 

The roll of the dice to mark the date when all Jews will be killed just so happens to be months away. 

The king can’t sleep and just so happens to hear the story of Mordecai saving his life and is told that he failed to reward him for the good deed. 

This all just so happens to take place hours before Haman hopes to have Mordecai killed. 

And Haman just so happens to have to honor Mordecai instead of having him murdered. 

And Haman just so happens to be killed on the pole that he had built for Mordecai’s death. 

It just so happens, and happens, and happens, and happens — too many coincidences to be coincidental. Even down to “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Oh — we know Mordecai — we know. Esther was made queen for a time just like that.


If you don’t know — we have a church podcast. We answer your questions, discuss sermons, hear stories of folks who are part of this faith family, and so on. One of the topics we’ve been discussing is the Westminster Confession of Faith — which is a theological document that’s part of our church constitution. Next week, we’ll be discussing the confession’s chapter that covers the providence of God. 

What is God’s providence? I won’t read everything the confession has to say about God’s providence, but here are some highlights.

God, who created everything, also upholds everything. He directs, regulates, and governs every creature, action, and thing, from the greatest to the least, by his completely wise and holy providence. He does so in accordance with his infallible foreknowledge and the voluntary, unchangeable purpose of his own will, all to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. - WCF 5.1

What we first learn about God’s providence is that all things — not only exist — but continue to exist — because God is actively involved in his creation. He’s not apathetic to what’s happening. He’s not aloof. He didn’t create everything and then abandon us to our own destruction. He’s passionately involved in his creation. Even in Esther’s story where he’s not even mentioned. As the author of Hebrews reminds us…

Hebrews 1:3a (NLT)
The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.

And there’s comfort — peace, really — in knowing that things aren’t left up to chance — or the roll of the dice — but are under the loving, kind, and gracious power of he who gave his life — in love — for us.

In the book of Esther we see how God “directs, regulates, and governs every creature, action, and thing…by his completely wise and holy providence” which is what the confession teaches us. The confession continues to explain God’s providence by stating…

God is the first cause, and in relationship to him everything happens unchangeably and infallibly. However, by this same providence, he orders things to happen from secondary causes. - WCF 5.2

We see this throughout the Bible as well. For example…

Psalm 33:10–11 (NLT)
The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes. 11 But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.

Or as Paul writes…

Ephesians 1:9–11 (NLT)
God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ — which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ — everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

God is the first cause of all things. Meaning his will is ultimately behind all that’s happening in his creation. And his will — his plan — will be accomplished. For he has the power to frustrate the plans and schemes of the nations and individuals — just like he frustrated Haman’s many plans. 

But God’s plan stands firm. What God intends to happen will happen. 

Part of God’s plan is what Paul calls the mystery of the gospel. That — at the right time — Christ would come to save those whom God has chosen to be part of his people. And nothing — not even the death of Jesus — would stop God’s plan from being accomplished.

Jesus’ opponents — in their hatred for him — had him murdered on a cross — another pole made for death. And they thought they were doing God’s will by getting rid of a blasphemer. And — though they were mistaken about many things — who Jesus was, that their hatred towards him was ungodly, that Jesus was not blaspheming but telling the truth — though they were mistaken about many things — they were not mistaken in believing that they were accomplishing God’s will. They were just mistaken in what God’s plan was. For God’s eternal plan was that Jesus would die as the promised Savior at the hands of angry sinners.

The confession goes on to say…

Just as the providence of God in general extends to every creature, so, in a very special way it takes care of his church and orders all things for its good. - WCF 5.7

An example of this is found in the book of Romans.

Romans 8:28 (NLT)
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Dear Christian, the hope for us is that God so cares for his people that he orders all things to happen for our ultimate good. 

“Do you mean that God is going to use this cancer for my good?” Yes. 

“That he’ll use this betrayal by someone I thought was a friend for my good?” Yes. 

“That God’s going to use this — whatever goes in your blank — parenting situation, work conflict, another contentious presidential election — for my good?” The answer is yes. 

This is what God has promised to his people. And God always fulfills his promises.

If this is hard for you to comprehend — know that you’re in good company. As I recently read, “There are lots of things about this world that I don’t fully understand, so it’s not hard for me to imagine that there are going to be an infinite number of things that can fit into God’s infinite mind that just don’t fit into mine.” (Greg Gilbert, Who is Jesus?, 65)

My puny, limited mind can’t comprehend how God is causing everything in this broken, rebellious, often crushing world to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I wish I could comprehend it — it would make being a pastor so much easier — I’d have so many more answers for you. 

But I don’t have all the answers. But I do have one answer that I’m confident in: God is faithful — and he always keeps his promises to his people. Including his promise that he is providentially working behind the scenes in your life — just like he was working behind the scenes in Esther and Mordecai’s life. And — if you believe in Jesus — he is causing everything to work together for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose. Let’s pray.


Heavenly Father, thank you that nothing is left to chance. We may roll the dice but you determine how they fall. We make plans — plans which often fail — but your plan never fails. What assurance there is in knowing that the One whose plan never fails has determined to love and rescue his people.

Spirit of God, give our hearts assurance that our trust in Christ for our hope and salvation is real and genuine. Not so we trust in ourselves — but so we trust you more. Especially when life is hard and — like Mordecai — it feels like everything in the world is against us. Remind us in these difficult moments — grab our attention with the truths we’ve seen today: The nations may plan — people may scheme — but it is the Lord’s plan which will never fail.

And — Jesus — the plan determined in eternity past was that you would die for the sins of your people. Your opponents thought they were succeeding as they put you on trial, trumped up the charges, and had you killed. But this was all your plan. For it was your choice to come to earth to die for our sins. It was your plan and nothing and no one — not the religious leaders, not your earthly enemies, not even Satan himself — could disrupt your plan to rescue those whom you love.

If you believe in Jesus — receive these words of promise: Not even your doubt can stop Jesus’ plan to rescue and love you. Sometimes we give our doubt, or our disobedience, or our depression, or the darkness that we face way too much credit and power. Nothing can stop Jesus’ plan of rescue and love for you.

And — if you don’t believe in Jesus — but desire to be loved in this way — all you need to do is say, “Jesus, I want to be loved by you. I want to know that I’ve been called according to your purpose. Rescue me — save me.” That’s all that’s required. It really is that simple. Father, Son, and Spirit — thank you for making it simple to receive your love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


May you go trusting in God’s providence — that he is causing everything to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.