“We cannot know in advance what our commitment will cost us”

July 20, 2012

The adorable line art of Annie Vallotton, from my copy of the Good News Bible.

This Sunday in Vinebranch, I’ll be talking about two Sunday school heroes, Esther and Mordecai, both of whom deserve credit because of their faith and courage. Both of them have faith, in the face of long odds, that God will somehow rescue their people from destruction. Oddly, although God’s providence is a major theme of the Book of Esther, it is—as preachers like me often point out—the only book in the Bible in which God is not named or mentioned.

In place of a direct mention of God, we have what theologians sometimes call the “divine passive voice,” as when Mordecai famously says to Esther, in Esther 4:14, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Notice: “relief and deliverance will arise.” Mordecai doesn’t have to say from where or whom relief and deliverance will come for us to know that, ultimately, they will come from God. Mordecai implies that they will arise either through Esther or through some other human agency, but God will make sure that they arise.

This is a perfect statement of God’s providence. It’s hard for believers to say how God’s going to work things out, but we trust that he will. As David Firth says,

We only recognize the working of providence by looking back, but we have to commit ourselves to God’s providence and live our lives going forward. Where the Joseph story or the narratives of Daniel and his friends can look back and see how God has worked, the book of Esther shields us from this knowledge. It confronts us, rather, with the important reality that, while there is no room for superficiality, we cannot know in advance what our commitment will cost us.[†]

For you Bible students out there, this excerpt comes from an excellent recent British commentary series published by Inter-Varsity Press called The Bible Speaks Today. A pastor friend who recommended it said it’s his favorite commentary, and, if this volume is any indication, I can see why.

David G. Firth, The Message of Esther: God Present But Unseen (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010), 78.

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