The book of Esther is one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. The whole story can be viewed as God’s faithfulness even when we are unfaithful. The history prior to the story has everything to do with the story itself.
The nation had fallen under Divine judgement due to persistent rebellion and the practice of idolatry. After slavery in Egypt and experiencing God’s mighty deliverance, the Children of Israel went into the land of promise. But the people continued on a path of rebellion until God had no choice but to bring them under His own judgement. The kingdom of Judah was destroyed, and those who survived were exiled to Babylon.
The book of Esther was written from this place of exile and sorrow; a period where God seemed to have cast away His people and was hiding Himself from them. The Jews lived defenseless and completely at the mercy of a foreign kingdom. If ever Satan was looking for an opportunity to erase God’s people, the time had come. But in all of Israel’s failures, we find a God who remembers His people, and watches over them even while they are under His own hand of judgement.
Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, was a righteous and believing Jew living in that period of exile. In spite of experiencing the pain of God’s judgement with the rest of his people, he made a choice to honor God, regardless of what society around him thought. It was a difficult choice he had to make, but by refusing to conform, to bow down and honor Haman (“the enemy of the Jews” Est 3:10) he became the reason for a legal plot to wipe out all the Jews of the kingdom.
A lot was cast and a date was chosen. A legal decree was signed by the king declaring a set time when all the Jews throughout the kingdom would be killed. There were no protections or government systems to appeal to for justice or mercy, and there was no right to self-defense. The decree was a ‘death warrant’ for every Jewish man, woman and child; to be carried out in the name of the king.
But God, who was never mentioned by name but was hidden in the story, did not leave His people to the whims of evil men. He may not have revealed Himself as in the former days, but it was He that worked out the great salvation for the Jews against all their enemies. He proved again to His people that He is a faithful God, and remembers them even when they were under His own judgement.
In Purim, we wear masks to remind us that God himself was a masked character in the book of Esther. He never came out to reveal Himself, but was working out His plan of deliverance for His people from His secret place.