Introducing Esther — Part One
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Introducing Esther — Part One

Esther 1:1–9  (ID: 2956)

God gives us every book of Scripture for our instruction. This includes Esther, a short narrative about a beautiful Jewish girl who became the queen of Persia. At the start of a new series, Alistair Begg considers best practices for studying Esther. Although the book doesn’t mention God, we should not read it only to encourage simple morals. Instead, Alistair urges us to look for God’s providential hand at work. The Author of reality, we discover, always guides every event—not only miracles but also daily life.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Esther

The Unseen God Esther 1:1–10:3 Series ID: 11703

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Old Testament, to the book of Esther. And if it’s helpful to you and you want to use one of the church Bibles, you’ll find Esther on page 410. Page 410, Esther chapter 1, and I’m just going to read the first nine verses. I had great difficulty reading some of the names after verse 9, so it’s an easy way for me to fix that: just don’t read them. And it gives me time to practice this afternoon.

Esther 1:1:

“Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: ‘There is no compulsion.’ For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired. Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

We pray briefly:

Our God and Father, we pray for your help, as we do routinely, because we actually believe ourselves to be tremendously in need of it both to be able to speak and to listen, certainly to understand, to obey your Word, to live in the light of its truth. And so, beyond the voice of a mere man, may we hear from you, the living God, for it is to you alone we listen and in the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

One of the delightful things about becoming a grandparent, as many of you know, is that you’re able to go back and read some of the old stories all over again. You thought that the day was long past when you could snuggle somebody up and begin, “Once upon a time…” And there is something quite wonderful, isn’t there, about that little introductory phrase, opening up before us vistas, discoveries, the unfolding drama that is contained in whatever literature it is to which we turn.

Well, here, as we come to Esther, we might begin by saying, “Once upon a time there was a beautiful Jewish girl who became the queen of Persia.” That’s actually the story. It’s a kind of Cinderella story—not quite rags to riches, but certainly a radical transformation in the life of this young Jewish girl, pretty as she was. The story is set against the background of an attempt led by one man, an evil villain by the name of Haman, to try and exterminate the Jewish population, the entire Jewish population, from the Persian Empire.

The Persian Empire in ancient days was the greatest empire, probably, before the arrival of the Roman Empire. And Persia ruled over Palestine for some two hundred years. I don’t want to spend any time at all on the history and geography of it. It’s easy for you to do that. Any good commentary will help you. A good Bible study guide will help you. But just so you know: if you were bumping into the book of Daniel or Ezra or Nehemiah, then you will discover that they all relate to this particular period in time and, in certain aspects, to the exact geography that is contained here.

Esther is one of only two books in the Bible that is named after a woman. The other one, of course, as you know, is Ruth. And in Ruth we are given a glimpse of the domestic life of a village, if you like. We’re given a glimpse of life lived under God in the context of poverty, of eking out an existence. And here in the book of Esther, we’re at the entire opposite end of the social spectrum. Here we are taken into the grandeur and extravagance of the palace—the royal palace—of this particular king.

And if you are not already nudging the person next to you and saying this, it probably will come somewhere along the line, so I might as well address it for you: that is, you’re saying to yourself, “What possible relevance is there in spending our time, as dwellers of the twenty-first century, digging into the events that were taking place two and a half thousand years ago in Persia, what is modern-day Iran?” And that, of course, is a good question. That’s the question that any sensible person should be asking. But it’s really a question about the nature of the Bible.

The Big Picture

And when we study any book of the Bible, and particularly one like this, as we come to the details that are provided for us in the canvas, it is important, as we’ve said so many times, that we see the details in light of the big picture. And so I want to spend some time—considerable time, actually—making sure that we don’t leave anybody behind in this class that is about to begin on the book of Esther. And the way to be left behind is to fail to understand the big picture.

The Bible is a book that understands the reader as the readers seek to understand the book.

At our elders’ meeting, we are always reading a book. The book we’re reading at the moment is by Christopher Ash, an Englishman who will be here, God willing, for our next Basics conference next May. And as we went through a chapter this past Wednesday on the nature of biblical interpretation, we were struck by a number of comments made by the author, one of which is as follows: “When we are doing our Bible interpretation, we are not in a playground having fun [and] making it mean what we want it to mean, and caring little if others make it mean something else.” When we’re doing our Bible interpretation, we are not in a playground having fun, interacting with the text, bringing our horizon to the biblical horizon, trying to fuse them, and essentially ending up with a product which says, “This is what this means to me,” as if what it means to the individual is necessarily synonymous with what it means. The real test of biblical interpretation is not the discovery of what it means to me but is the discovery of what it means. So, says Ash, “We are engaged in the … life-and-death business of discerning the meaning that is there.”[1]

This, of course, is a very contemporary concern. If you are a political aficionado at all, you know that the very same thing is happening in relationship to questions of the Constitution: Are we dealing with meaning as it is there, or is meaning what we make it to be? As we deal with the issues of history, are we dealing with historical record, or are we just interacting with it and making it mean something?

Well, you see, the Bible is not like any other book. Because the Bible is the living Word of the living God. That’s the claim that the Bible makes for itself. It is a book that understands the reader as the readers seek to understand the book. And every book of the Bible is God’s Word. And the events that are recorded in the books of the Bible are in the books of the Bible because God wants them to be.

You say, “Well, that’s very straightforward, isn’t it?” Well it is straightforward to say; it is quite a thought to grapple with, isn’t it? That all of the events that we read in our Bible, the reason we have them as the Bible is because God has given it to us, and the reason that the events are there is because he wants them to be.

Now, Paul, who was once Saul of Tarsus, when he writes to the Roman Christians of his day, he makes this very point. And in Romans 15:4, this is what he says: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” “There is a hope that stands the test of time,” there is a hope that faces “the beckoning grave.”[2] There is a hope. Where is this hope? Where is this hope to be found? Well, it is to be found in the one of whom the Scriptures speak—namely, in Jesus. For in him, says, Peter, we are “born again to a living hope [by] the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”[3] So, when we read, for example, an ancient account like this, it is absolutely vital that we’re aware of the fact that God is working everything out according to a unified plan of his own, beginning in eternity and moving to eternity. That in itself is an awesome thought as well. But that, again, is what the Bible says.

Let me take you, as it were, to two ends of the spectrum. If you turn for a moment to Ephesians chapter 1, you can look at these verses, and then you can come back to them on your own, which I hope you often will do. Those of you who take notes, not everything is absorbable in the immediate, is it? You need to come back to it. And I’ll just try and point out to you what I have in mind here.

When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he begins with this glorious statement of what it means for them to be in Christ. And although he’s going to say to them “And this all became the reality for you when you heard the word of truth and when you believed,”[4] he says, “but although that was what happened to you in a moment in time”—which is the same as has happened to you if you are a believer today. You’ll say, “There was a period in my life, there was a day in my life, there was a time in my life where all the pieces in the jigsaw fell into place, and somebody told me what I was supposed to do—to trust and to believe and to repent and so on—and I did all that. But later on, as I began to look back down the corridor of time, I said, ‘This whole thing started way beyond that evening, or way beyond that month, or way beyond that encounter.’” And that’s what Paul is writing about in Ephesians 1.

And so he says in verse 5, “He predestined us for adoption … as sons through Jesus Christ”—now, notice this phrase—“according to the purpose of his will.” “According to the purpose of his will.” God has a will. God has a purpose. God is executing everything according to the purpose of his will. It then goes on; you can read it all the way through. And then verse 9: “making known to us the mystery of his will”—you see it—“according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.” How do we understand the mystery of his will? How do we understand his purpose? Well, it is “set forth in Christ”—notice verse 10—“as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

So, we stand way back now from Esther—we’re not even touching Esther for the moment—and we say, “Now, we’re going to read this book that has to do with this evil villain called Haman, a little Jewish guy called Mordecai, beautiful girl called Esther, and an egotistical rascal called Ahasuerus. And before we delve into the details of this, what do we need to know?” Well, we need to know that God, the author of the book and the one who has retained all the details for our consideration, has a unified plan in all of history, and his plan is ultimately to unite all things in and through the work of his Son, Jesus. That is why the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, are emphasized again and again and again—because the climax of the purpose of God, the mystery of his will, is in the person and work of his Son.

That’s why when we began to study the Gospel of Mark, as some of you may recall, we paused purposefully in Mark 1:15. Because there Jesus says, remember, “The time [is fulfilled] …. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”[5] What was he saying? He was saying, “God has been unfolding his plan and purpose throughout all of the ages of time, and this now is coming to fulfillment here in this great denouement, which is in my life, and in my teaching, and in my death, and in my resurrection, in my ascension, and in my return.” When you think about some person stepping onto the stage of history and actually saying that, you say to yourself, “That is an unbelievable claim for any individual to make—unless, of course, he really was the ‘one mediator between God and [man], the man Christ Jesus.’”[6]

So, all of that to make this point: that the pictures and the promises and the symbols of the Old Testament are all to be understood as pointing to the fulfillment of God’s plan. So if you get yourself in a bit of a mess, let’s say in the book of Leviticus, and you say, “I don’t understand what all this is about, about washing these utensils and cleaning all this stuff and fiddling with all this stuff,” just stand far enough back from the painting. You’ll get it. God is working everything out. He is putting together a people that are gonna be distinguishable from all the nations of the world. They’re gonna be marked out. They’re gonna be marked out by certain symbolic gestures on their part. They’re gonna be marked out as those who are trusting in the promises that he has given to them for forgiveness of sins. But if you get too close to all the pots and pans, then you might get yourself in a real mess.

So, for example, let me give you one from here, since we’re gonna study Esther. Look at Esther 3:6. Here we have the evil villain coming in, as I have decided to call him: Haman. He’s really annoyed, as we’ll discover once the story unfolds, with little Mordecai, because Mordecai, the Jewish man, is not gonna have any of Haman’s nonsense. He’s not gonna bow down to him. He’s not gonna salute to him. He’s not gonna do any of that stuff. And Haman is not pleased. And so Haman thinks, “Well, I could kill him.” And then it says, “But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone”: “I’m not just gonna kill Mordecai,” he says. “I’m gonna kill the whole lot of them!” And that’s what verse 6 says: “So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.” In other words, he says, “I will exterminate the entire Jewish population that is existing in the Persian kingdom.” That’s what he was going to do.

“Well,” you say, “well, that’s a sort of extravagant thing. How are we supposed to understand that?” Let me tell you: you need to go back to Genesis 3:15. In fact, you need to go back to Genesis 3:15 again and again and again so as you don’t lose your place throughout the Bible. I say to you that if you can’t get your head around Genesis 3:15, you’re never actually gonna understand the Bible. You will never understand what’s taking place. It is a pivotal point of reference. Because God is speaking to the serpent in the garden of Eden, and he says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman”—hostility and conflict—“and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In other words, “This isn’t going to be a fifty-fifty fight. You will be able to do certain things, but it will only affect his heel. He ultimately will crush your head.”

Now, what is he talking about here? This is called, in theological terms, the protoevangelion. It is the beginning of the story of the good news: that there is going to come somebody, a seed of the woman, who will deal with this usurper, this one who is in conflict with the very purposes of God. So, from the very beginning of Genesis you realize that there is a battle that is going on here—that the work of God, the purposes of God, the plan of God for redemption are being opposed at every point.

And so you find that there are characters all the way through the Old Testament who are essentially seeking to do the devil’s work. And Haman is one, here in the book of Esther. Herod is another one, in Matthew. What is Herod doing when he decides to slaughter all the male children born in the area, age two and under?[7] What is he seeking to do? To exterminate the line from which the Messiah will come, the one who will crush the serpent’s head. So that there is this phenomenal conflict which runs all the way through the story.

What is happening in the book of Esther is that God is preserving his people, for it is out of those people that his Messiah is going to come.

And that’s what gives significance to what this evil character is gonna try and do. Because think about it: if Haman had been successful in his plan—and he comes close, as you’ll see if you read the story on—if he had been successful, the Jewish people as a whole would have been destroyed, the saving work of God promised in and through the descendants of Abraham would have come to an end, there would have been no fulfillment in Christ, there would have been no gospel, there would have been no church, there would have been no reason for me to preach or for you to listen.

That’s what makes this so significant, so that even the apparently minor details of the Old Testament stories are all part of the purpose of God in redemption—a purpose to unify all things in and through the person and work of his Son. That is why ultimately it leads to the united nations, where black people, white people, yellow people, green people, Scottish people, all kinds of people, will be gathered around the throne of God, and they will declare with untrammeled tongues that salvation belongs to the one who has crushed the head of the serpent.

So, what is happening in the book of Esther is that God is preserving his people, for it is out of those people that his Messiah is going to come. Therefore, he’s going to make sure that in the details that appear on the canvas, he has his people in position. Because, as Jesus explained to the lady at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews.”[8] What was he saying? Simply that. She had a question about the worshipping of God on Gerazim with the Samaritans or worshipping God in Jerusalem. He says, “A time is coming and has now come when those who worship the Father will worship him in spirit and in truth.”[9] And he says, “And salvation is from the Jews.” And it is! And God’s purposes for his people remain. And that’s the whole significance of Romans chapter 11. And you can read that some morning, at three in the morning, when you’re having difficulty. It’ll help you.

Well, I spent a long time on that, but I’m telling you, it’s really important: and that is to understand the big picture. Because otherwise, you drop into Esther, and you can do all kinds of things with Esther. You can do all kinds of things with the whole Bible. You can teach stories in a way that simply say, “You know, Esther was a really nice person, and you ought to be a nice one too.” You know, “Haman was a bad guy. Please don’t be a bad guy,” you know. “The king had a bit of an ego. You shouldn’t have an ego.” Which is all true, you know. And people do, and they fill in the blanks, and they walk away, and after fifteen years, they don’t know the Bible any better than the day they started, because they never stood far enough back from it to see what is actually happening here. God is doing something far vaster than the Persian Empire, far more significant than the British Empire, the American empire, or any empire that’s still to come. Do you believe that? That in the economy and purposes of God, you are, in Jesus, caught up in this great cosmic adventure? Instead of salvation being some little sort of personal thing—you know, “just me and my little salvation.” No! No. Lift up your eyes. Look! This is terrific.

The Big Question

Okay. Secondly, we not only need to get the big picture, but we need to face the big question. We’re gonna face it briefly, but nevertheless, it needs to be faced. What is the big question? Well, if you haven’t read the book, you won’t know, but if you’ve started to read it, you might have got an inkling. And the question is: Where is God in this book? Where is God in the book? Because Esther is not simply one of two books written to women, but it is also one of two books in which there is no mention of the name of God. The other one is Song of Solomon. The name of God never appears in the book of Esther.

And all kinds of explanations are offered. If you read the commentators, you can spend a very unprofitable evening wading through just volumes of material. I am just simple enough and content enough to conclude that the reason the name of God is not in the book of Esther is because he doesn’t want it in the book of Esther. You say, “Well, you’ve been an idiot from the beginning, and, you know, that’s why you got thrown out of most of your classes at school.” Well, maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. But if all of the events of the Old Testament are in the Old Testament because God intended them to be there, then if his name does not appear in the book, it’s because he didn’t want his name to appear in the book.

Well, why would he not want the name to appear in the book? Well, maybe to teach us something. Teach us what? Well, to teach us at least this: that in the events of life when God is apparently absent, he’s not; that you don’t have to add his name to everything to explain his presence. He is omnipresent. You don’t have to say, “God did this, and God did that, and God told me the next thing.” The unfolding story of life is God in the details—“God,” as the hymn writer says, “working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year.”[10] And one of the things that it makes clear is this: that God is not simply present in the sort of lightning bolts of his intervention—in the passage of the Red Sea; in the crossing of the Jordan, as we saw last time; in the calming of the waters. But God is present in the humdrum of life. In the everyday events of life, God is working his purpose out.

Do you remember when we studied Ruth, we saw that? Ruth says to her mother-in-law, Naomi, she says, “It’d be okay if I went and gleaned in someone’s field today?” A fair enough request, and she’s not going to sit around the house idle. What that meant was that she would go and do what the law of Israel demanded: that the crop owners would not gather the field to the extremities of the perimeter but would leave enough there so that poor people would be able to go and gather them up.[11] It wasn’t a handout; it was a pickup. It was actually a painstaking pickup. So she said, “Yeah.” So she went. And she came home all laden down with stuff, remember? And Naomi says to her, “Whose field were you in today?” She said, “Well, I just happened… There’s a guy, he’s called Boaz.” “Ohhh!” said Naomi. “Boaz! Boaz is a good one. He’s our kinsman-redeemer.”[12]

When you read the story, it says that she actually happened—“she happened”[13]—to work in that field. Well, she did happen to. But God was in control of what happened. Because what he was actually doing has to do with the big picture. Because through the line, we were gonna get not only to King David but to “[King] David’s greater Son.”[14]

So, God, although his name doesn’t appear all the time, is working. You’ll find as you read through the story that he is at work in the refusal of this Persian queen to her husband’s demands. He is at work in the sleep patterns of the king. There’s an amazing bit in this story where the joker can’t sleep. And then what he reads! Of all the things he could have read, he reads this one thing. I mean, it’s a great story. You have to read this. He’s actually overruling in the hatred of Haman. It’s Haman’s hatred. God hasn’t programmed him to hate. He hates Mordecai. He hates these Jewish people. That’s what he is: he’s a hateful person.

Well, we need to go to our third point. But Spurgeon has a lovely little section, in a sermon that he preached along these lines, about the absence of God. He says, “Although the name of God does not occur in the Book of Esther, the Lord himself is there most conspicuously in every incident which it relates.” And then, using a metaphor, he says, “I have seen portraits bearing the names of persons for whom they were intended, and they certainly needed them.” Some of you have had things done of your children or your grandmother or whatever else it is, and the portrait goes up on the wall, and people come in and go, “Who the world’s that?” you know. And so you had to decide, you have to put on it, you know, like, “Aunt Penelope” or something, “Old Aunt Penelope,” you know, “1849,” because there’s no way anybody in the world would look at that and go, “Oh, that must be your Aunt Penelope.” So that’s what Spurgeon says. He says, “I’ve seen portraits, and the name at the bottom is really important, ’cause otherwise you wouldn’t have a clue who it was.” Then he says, “But we have all seen others which required no name, because they were such striking likenesses that the moment you looked upon them you knew them.”[15] And God takes his name out of Esther so that the moment that we look into Esther, again and again and again we say, “That’s God. That’s God. That’s God. That’s God.” When God appears to be most absent in your life, trust me, he is at work.

The Big Idea

Big picture, big question. Thirdly, big idea. Big idea. What’s the big idea? Well, the big idea is providence, the doctrine of providence. Remember question 2 in our catechism? “What is God?” “God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his”—what was it?—“goodness and glory, in his power and perfection.” Actually, I think, it was “his power and perfection,” then his “goodness and glory,” in his “wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.”[16] That’s the big idea. That’s the big idea that runs all the way through Esther: that nothing happens except through him and by his will.

That is an emphasis which runs through the entire Bible—you can find it in the book of Proverbs again and again—that God is operating in everything that happens in our world. He’s directing everything according to his appointed end. He’s working everything out according to this eternal counsel of his will, as we noted in Ephesians chapter 1. And all of this is taking place in relationship to the hostility that exists between the activity of the Evil One as he opposes the work of God.

God never fails to meet his people’s needs. He knew that his people were facing starvation. He knew that he would need somebody in a position in Egypt to deal with the starvation problem of his people, and he had the perfect man. His name was Joseph. But what a strange and convoluted way to get Joseph to such a position of power! His life, incidentally, was marked by him telling dreams in the morning, which ticked his brothers off. His life was marked by the fact that his father doted on him the way you might dote on a small black Labrador puppy. He gave him clothes that he never gave his brothers. His brothers hated him. They flung him in a pit. He was excised from the pit and sold into slavery. He was on the receiving end of abuse and scorn. He ended up in jail. And through all of these things, he finally ends up saying, classically—at the end of Genesis 50 it’s recorded for us—when his brothers finally show up, he says, “Hey, guys, I know you’re upset about this. You intended all this stuff for evil, but God intended it for good.”[17] What was he doing? He was fulfilling his plan, a unified plan for all of history.

And what is happening here?

Look at 4:14, as we draw this to a close. We’re a long way from 4:14, but we can dip in, can’t we? Esther is now the queen. She’s in a position of influence. Her uncle Mordecai says to her, “You know, you’ve got a real opportunity on your hands here to get us out of a problem.” “Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.’” You see, the edict had been issued for the extermination of the Jews. So Mordecai the uncle says, “I know you’re the queen now, but don’t think for a minute that just because you’re in there with the king that you will not be subjected to this.”

Verse 14: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.” In other words, God will look after his people. That’s what he’s saying. “But you and your father’s house will perish.” And then here’s the question: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” He says, “Esther, who knows but this is the reason that you exist on the planet: that your whole life, everything that’s happened—that God gave you the DNA, that he made you pretty, he made you really beautiful, he made you desirable among all the other potential desirables to replace the queen—and the reason he’s done this, who knows,” he says, “but you have been brought to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

And when we go through this book of Esther, we’re going to discover that God is placing his servants in the right spot for the right task at the right moment. We’re going to discover that he uses and arranges even the smallest events to achieve the greatest results. God’s providence is such that nothing escapes his notice, nothing happens without his permission. Even the worst things that will happen to us in our lives will turn out ultimately for our good. Do you believe that?

See, the real test of our doctrine of providence is not in the opening phrase of the song we sang: “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” That’s an easy one. It’s a nice day, feeling good, just got the blood test back, came back negative, none of my kids are in jail, my wife is still living with me. It’s a great day in the neighborhood. Me and Mr. Rogers, we’re perfectly contented. “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” Okay, let’s go to the other side: “When sorrows like sea billows roll.”[18] That’s the test of providence. That’s the test. That’s where we’re either gonna take God at his word and trust him that he is involved in the details—that nothing is out of control, nothing will get out of control—or we won’t.

God’s providence is such that nothing escapes his notice, nothing happens without his permission. Even the worst things that will happen to us in our lives will turn out ultimately for our good.

And let me give you a word of counsel and advice: do not try and interpret the events in your life in terms of their immediate impact or in terms of their personal relevance—not because there is no immediate impact or because they are personally irrelevant, but because we will almost inevitably go wrong when we try and interpret events as they relate only to ourselves. The people of God in the Old Testament interpreted events not in terms of “my, me, and mine,” but they interpreted events in terms of “we, our, and us.” And they also didn’t interpret events in sort of tiny little time frames. They interpreted events generationally: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place [for] all generations.”[19]

See, part of the challenge of the life that we live and the world in which we live and the nature of the sort of inherent atomization of moments and of time is that we’re tempted, then, to import those notions into our theology: the computer must run faster, the answer must come quicker, the resolution must be now. But if you think about it, most of the events of our lives will not be resolved in that way. Some of us may never see our children or our children’s children profess faith in Christ before we die. We die in faith, believing that God will fulfill his purposes, that he has some of them on a very long leash. He’ll pull them in. He’ll pull them in. He’s a covenant-keeping God. That’s our promise. That’s our hope.

If I try and explain a cancer diagnosis just in terms of what it means to me, I miss out on what it means to everybody else—what it means to my wife, what it means to my children, what it means to my friends, what it means to the community. What is means is way beyond whatever it means to me. Whether I live short or whether I live long, those things are not the issue—not in the providence of God. And that is the big idea.

A Big Deal

And the last point, to which we won’t come, I called—what did I call it? I said “Big,” “Big…” Well, “Big Question” was number two. “Big Picture” was number one. “Big” something was number three, the one we’re on right now, whatever it is. “Big Idea.” Yeah. And the last one is “Big Deal.” “Big Deal.” And that’s not to pull the carpet out from the first three. But it is that this king thinks he is a big deal. And he is a big deal, but he’s not as big a deal as he thinks he is, okay? So, we’ll come to that—maybe tonight, depending on how I’m feeling.

But let me finish with this poem, and then we’ll sing a song. You know this poem, don’t you?

My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me.
I may not choose the colors;
He knows what they should be.

For he can see the pattern
Upon the upper side,
While I can see it only
On this, the underside.

Sometimes he weaves in sorrow,
Which seems so strange to me,
But I will trust his judgment
And work on faithfully.

’Cause not till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why

The dark threads are as needed
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned.[20]

We only see the links in the chain. God sees the end from the beginning. When we’re tempted to so focus on this and to forget that providence is a soft pillow and that the God who loves us with an everlasting love and has a unified purpose in history is engaged in this, we will inevitably go wrong.

Father, some of us are in the midst of deep darkness and stuff that seeks to almost overwhelm us. We’re not riding down the lazy river on the Sunday afternoon, but we feel ourselves to be taking on water at an unbelievable rate. And we pray that you will help us to hear your Word, which says, “Cast your burden[s upon] the Lord, and he will sustain you”;[21] to run into the refuge that is available to us in the Lord Jesus Christ; to find ourselves wrapped up in the embrace of his goodness, so that even when life has plunged us in its deepest pit, we may discover the Savior there.

So, to this end we commend one another to you. May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God our Father, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Christopher Ash, Hearing the Spirit: Knowing the Father through the Son (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2011), 99.

[2] Stuart Townend and Mark Edwards, “There Is a Hope” (2007).

[3] 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV).

[4] Ephesians 1:13 (paraphrased).

[5] Mark 1:15 (NIV 1984).

[6] 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV).

[7] See Matthew 2:16.

[8] John 4:22 (ESV).

[9] John 4:23 (paraphrased).

[10] Arthur Campbell Ainger, “God Is Working His Purpose Out” (1894).

[11] See Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19–21.

[12] See Ruth 2:2–3, 17–20.

[13] Ruth 2:3 (ESV).

[14] James Montgomery, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (1821).

[15] C. H. Spurgeon, “Providence—As Seen in the Book of Esther,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 20, no. 1201, 613.

[16] The New City Catechism, Q. 2.

[17] Genesis 50:20 (paraphrased).

[18] Horatio Gates Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1873).

[19] Psalm 90:1 (ESV).

[20] Grant Colfax Tullar, “The Weaver.” Paraphrased.

[21] Psalm 55:22 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.