Why is God Hidden in Esther?
If I were to film this video without being in it what would you think? You might think that there’s something wrong, that it was a mistake but for great works of art that option is not available because the artist has thought way more than you. The only other answer is that there’s a reason, that the absence is intentional, that it’s a conspicuous absence. When the most obvious thing that should be there isn't, it’s always intentional.
Terrence Malick used this technique in his film A Hidden Life. It’s a film about or happens during world war two but we see almost nothing of the war. Malick intentionally hides things, even the most obvious things, to direct our attention to other, more important things: a farmer, his family, and his faith. If you want to learn more about this technique I’ve made a whole video on the film that I’ve linked below.
God is absent from Esther. It is the only book in the Bible where God is never mentioned, never said to do anything. But since this is a great work of art, this absence must be an intentional absence. God, the most obvious and important thing is absent. And understanding that this is intentional is the first step to understanding why. The second step is trickier, that is understanding what the purpose of the absence is. The author did it for a reason, but what’s the reason?
Now before we answer that question we have to guard against an error. We don’t want to read God into the book anywhere where we see fit. We have to look for the hints and clues the author has left us.
And the main clue that the author has left us is that there is another thing that’s conspicuously hidden, intentionally hidden and it’s central to the story, that is Esther’s Jewish identity. In the beginning of the story Mordecai tells Esther to not reveal her identity to King Ahasuerus and we are not told why. And while many commentators speculate as to why Mordecai does this the narrator‘s intention was to put us in the same place as the reader is when they’re wondering about the hiddenness of God, we don’t know why we can’t see God just like we don’t know why the king can’t know Esther. And it will be by observing how and why Esther hides her identity that we will learn why God hides his.
Esther’s revelation of her identity comes after there is the decree to kill the Jews and she risks her life to plead for the salvation of her people to king Ahasuerus.
That is, the revelation of Esther is hidden until the moment of salvation. And if we are to learn about how God reveals himself from Esther, then this means that God’s revelation happens at the moment of salvation too. And this is something we know from previous stories in the Bible. In the exodus, when God is describing how he is going to save the Hebrews he says that he is doing it “so that they may know” that it is God who saves. That is part of the purpose of salvation: revelation. Esther’s speech in chap 7 is full of exodus language when God revealed himself
The refrain of the exodus is “that you may know” and “know” is a keyword in the famous phrase from Mordecai, “who knows if you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this”?
What we learn from Esther is hiding and revealing is that there is a period of time of hiding that we don’t know the reason why and then at a certain point that hiddeness is revealed and it’s revealed at the moment of salvation.
And how did the revelation happen? By the saving of Israel and the judging of Israel’s enemies. That is, God is the kind of person who does these things. You want to see God is Esther, he’s there just like in the Exodus.
And this is true in the exodus and when Jesus comes, he reveals God’s identity, he is God’s showing.
But I don’t think that’s the only reason for hiding God in Esther. And here I have to confess a small fib. I said that God does not show up in Esther but that’s not exactly true. He shows up one time, in the name of a character. The name is Jeconiah which means Yahweh prepares (Yekonyâh), from the word kûn and the shortened form of Yahweh, Yah.
This name occurs in Esther 2, here’s what it says -
Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away.
Now, normally if God’s name appears in a character's name there’s no deep insight to it, it’s a fairly regular occurrence. But it’s different here because of God’s conspicuous absence. The author has strenuously avoided including God in the story. Think for a second how hard that would be for a devout Israelite who knew the story of salvation and had to keep his lips sealed as to who was doing the saving.
So God is found in the name of a person, in a person. And this foreshadows and teaches us how God will be revealed in Esther. Just like the main revelation of God in the world is man because he is made in God’s image, the only thing made in God’s image, it is not surprising that God is revealed primarily in a person: Esther.
And notice, God is found in an exiled King, Jeconiah, and it will be an exiled Queen, Esther, whom he will be found in here.
Esther silently obeys her adopted father, and at the right time she is willing to die for her people in order to save them. She is God’s showing. You want to see God in Esther? Then look at Esther, he is found in her. And that, my friends is why, the Bible is art.