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The Sheer Ordinariness of God’s Providence

Category Articles
Date January 15, 2002


What is so striking about the story of Esther is the sheer ordinariness and unobtrusiveness of God’s providential workings

The book of Esther is vastly encouraging and reassuring. Nowhere is God’s name mentioned, but his presence is everywhere evident. Simply reading through Esther confronts you, at every turn, with the palpable truth of God’s sovereign providence: unseen, and unknown at least to King Ahasuerus and his Prime Minister Haman, the covenant Lord worked out “everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,” for his own glory and the preservation and good of his people.

What is so striking about the story of Esther is the sheer ordinariness and unobtrusiveness of God’s providential workings. We see it perhaps most starkly in the “beauty contest” that decides who will be the next queen of Persia. We are told that Esther ’twas lovely in form and features,” and it was this beauty that first brought her to the attention of the palace officials. We are not to imagine that some happy accident of genetic configuration accounted for Esther’s “form and features”: all she was, she was by the sovereign providence of God. It was God’s decree which set her in her family line, gave her the parents who conceived her and shared their genes with her. How she looked, and the tact she was a stunning beauty, was due to God’s providence.

Even in the tackiness of a beauty contest (and few things are more tacky and pathetic than beauty contests), the covenant Lord was ordering events and controlling who would be chosen. The point that the writer is skilfully, in an understated way, pressing upon us, is that even in such a worldly arena of male chauvinism, God was at work, fulfilling his purposes and preserving his people.

There is a massive truth here for us to take to heart. Frederick Faber put it well in his great hymn ‘Workmen of God’: ‘Thrice blest is to whom is given the instinct that can tell; that God is on the field when he is most invisible.” In every arena of life, even in the tacky arenas of wanton worldliness and political intrigue, our covenant Lord is providentially ordering events to secure his glory and the building of his church in the world. Christians need never despair, no matter the situation or circumstances. If our God can overrule a beauty contest for his people’s good, there is no event he cannot bend to accomplish his sovereign will. The God of Israel was accomplishing his purposes, and everyone looking on (except for Mordecai and perhaps Esther), only saw men ogling at beautiful women. God not only uses the wrath of man to praise him, he uses all their pathetic schemes to advance his sovereign will, while never for one moment becoming contaminated by their wickedness.

When the Psalmist wrote “My times are in your hands,” he was encouraging his soul. As you look out on your particular circumstances and are at times tempted to despair, remember who your God is: the God who rules nations, presidents, prime ministers and beauty contests. All you are, physically, temperamentally, intellectually, you are by God’s decree. He providentially ordains and orders all your ways and the ways of all men and women everywhere. For the child of God, this is not first a conundrum to solve, it is a pillow to lie on! You may never end up in a beauty contest (at least I hope you don’t) but whatever your circumstances, it is not mere men who are ‘calling the shots,’ it is your covenant Lord who is shaping events and pursuing his purposes. This is why Faber wrote “Thrice blest is he to whom is given the instinct that can tell that God is on the field when he is most invisible.” He is never off the field, even when the field is a tacky beauty contest. Our God reigns.

Ian Hamilton.
Minister of Cambridge Presbyterian Church

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