Coincidence – or Providence?

Esther 4:14b - And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? Read the whole book of Esther.
Is there such a thing as coincidence in your life as a growing Christian? Can you just happen to be in the right place at the right time? And what about the wrong place at the wrong time? Or does God control and guide your destiny--even the people you meet and the places you visit and the particular times involved? Coincidence--or Providence?

The answer to the question above is both simple and complex. It is simple because the straightforward one-word answer is "Providence"! The Bible teaches that God is not only sovereign in controlling all things at all times, but is actually programming and guiding events in accordance with His eternal purposes. Ephesians 1:11 says that "He works all things after the counsel of His will." (See also Psalm 33:11 and Isaiah 43:13.) Nothing happens by pure chance or accident, and what appears to be merely fortunate or unfortunate circumstance is really the outworking of God's plans.

However, the answer to the question of coincidence or Providence is also very complex. That is, it is complex from the human perspective because of our finite limitations. We don't always have the big picture to show us what God is doing and why He is doing it. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).

How far God allows the sinful will of man, as well as the will of Satan, to operate in this world in specific instances is not easily determined. Again we must acknowledge, "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33). And how God is able to permit the evil and cruelty that has been perpetrated by men and devils and still "work all things after the counsel of His will" is beyond our finite comprehension. When and where God interrupts His natural laws by miraculous, supernatural intervention is not always clear.

The exact relationship exists between a believer's prayers (answered and "unanswered") and the outworking of God's pre-determined plans and purposes does not have a simple answer. We do know, however, that "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (James 5:16), and also that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28). So while the biblical answer to our original question is Providence - and not coincidence or chance in any way, shape or form - we must acknowledge that our comprehension of this answer is far from complete. The intricate weavings of God's workings in history are sometimes better appreciated than investigated. (Read Psalms 131 and 139.)

An appreciation of Providence is one of the benefits that come to growing Christians when they read the book of Esther. Providence is the over-all theme of this Old Testament book. Although we do not find the name of God mentioned even once in the book of Esther, throughout the book we are conscious of God working things together behind the scenes to accomplish His purposes. It is Providence, not coincidence, that is obviously at work in the events of Esther, and the hand of God is everywhere evident in this book. In fact, the concept of Providence is actually enhanced in Esther because God chose not to put His name in the headlines, but rather everywhere between the lines!

There is a great practical lesson here for us. Many times God does not show Himself up front in His dealings with us, and yet we can be sure that He is silently and continually at work in our lives to accomplish His good purposes. (See Philippians 1:6.)

The events of the book of Esther took place around 475BC in the land of Persia (where the country of Iran is today). The Jews had been forced to leave their homeland as captives many years before (586BC), when the Babylonian army under Nebuchadnezzar had conquered their nation, destroyed Jerusalem, and burned the Temple. After Babylon fell to the Persians in 539BC, the Persian king, Cyrus, issued an edict which granted permission to the Jews to return to the land of Judah. About 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem at that time.

However, many other Jews chose to remain in the vicinity of Babylon and other areas of the expanding Persian Empire. Some of the Jews prospered under Persian rule, and a few even held political office. Daniel and Nehemiah, for example, held high positions in the Persian government. (See Daniel 6 and Nehemiah 1.) Esther's older cousin and guardian, Mordecai, also held some kind of government post. The phrase "sitting in the king's gate" in Esther 2:21 seems to indicate this.

However, there was also a significant amount of anti-semitism at this time, as Esther 3:13 and 9:1 indicate. It was in this historical setting that Haman, a high government official and the villain of the story, was confident that his scheme to kill all the Jews of the Empire would be carried out (3:8, 13). Naturally speaking, it looked like all hope for the Jews was gone. The die was literally cast (3:7). The design of Satan to do away with God's people, from whom the predicted Messiah would come, seemed foolproof. But Providence was at work.

Xerxes I (Ahasuerus is the Hebrew form of this name) was more than a little miffed when Queen Vashti refused to show off her beautiful body at the King's banquet and drinking party (1:10-12). Vashti's exile opened the door for a new queen to attain the influential position with King Ahasuerus. Providence! And it just worked out that the beautiful Esther happened to be "in the right place at the right time" and was selected as the new queen. More Providence!

Let's pause for a practical lesson. Is it not possible that God has sovereignly ordained your good looks or unique abilities so He can use them in a special way for His glory? Think of all the factors that "just happened" to fall into place for Esther. Even the king's mood happened to be just right on the date of Esther's appearance. This is especially significant when we learn from extra-biblical sources that Xerxes I was a very cruel, moody and temperamental emperor. This fact is helpful in understanding verses like Esther 4:11. So here again we see Providence at work in bringing Esther to the place and position in God's plan and purpose to save His people. In passing it should be noted that God in no way placed Esther in a compromising situation. Her night with the king was not an act of fornication (2:14-16). All the women in the king's harem were considered married to the king. Xerxes I was a polygamist, but Esther was not an adulteress. Perhaps Esther 4:14 could apply directly to the position or job that God has placed you in right now. Never think in terms of coincidence or chance or accident, but rather Providence.

Meanwhile, Mordecai "just happened" to overhear a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus. This information was passed on to the king through Esther and it was documented in the royal chronicles (2:21-23). It wasn't long before these events also proved to be providential. It "just happened" that one night King Ahasuerus could not sleep. He decided to pass the time by reading the royal records. And sure enough, he read about Mordecai's loyalty and decided to reward him (6:1-3). God was even in control of the king's insomnia and the reading material he selected!

Now about this time wicked Haman arrived at the palace in order to request permission to hang Mordecai. Haman hated this faithful Jew because he refused to bow down to any mere man, even the exalted Haman. The king asked Haman, "What should be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?" (6:6). Haman's eyes lit up as he thought of ways he himself could be paraded around town with royal robes and crown. Little did he dream that the king had Mordecai in mind. And guess who had to lead the parade for Mordecai? What Providence!

Esther had come to the conclusion that she must act on behalf of her people even if it cost her life. Just because Esther was providentially brought to her influential position did not mean that life would be easy or that God would not test her faith. God tests our faith! (See James 1:3 and 1 Peter 1:7.) Are you being severely tested right now in the position where God has placed you? Can you by faith say, as Esther said, "If I perish, I perish" (4:16). It certainly wasn't coincidence that Ahasuerus not only extended the golden scepter to Esther (5:2), but offered up to half of the Persian Empire to her as well (5:3). This was almost unbelievable! Esther was hoping only that the king would give her an opportunity to plead for mercy for her people - she certainly didn't expect a "blank check"! Providence!

God is still able to do "exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Incidentally, what would you have asked for if half the Persian Empire had been offered to you?!

As a result of Esther's courage and faithfulness, wicked Haman was eliminated and the Jewish people were saved. Of course, from the divine perspective it was Providence all the way. Even Haman's cast of the dice was controlled by the hand of God (3:7), so that the Jews would have eight months preparation time to defend themselves. (See Proverbs 16:33.) The fact that the Persian edict to kill all the Jews could not be revoked was also part of God's plan (8:8). The new decree which countered this "law of the Medes and Persians" not only resulted in the preservation of the Jews, but in the elimination of many anti-Semites! The feast of Purim, that is still observed annually by many Jewish people, originated as a celebration of these events.

All these events were the result of Providence - they were not coincidence! Events in our lives today are not governed by coincidence or chance. They are all part of God's providential plan for our ultimate blessing.

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