Recently I pondered whether delving into the Old Testament Torah would help bring about some understanding to Calvinistic/sovereign grace issues within my own faith. Unbeknownst to me, my bride has been studying the book Esther in a women’s Bible study. She’s well aware of my consternation regarding Reformed theology in general and unconditional election in particular. She believes a sovereign God can, and does, direct the events in the lives of believers – and for that matter, non-believers as well. With her permission, I have copied her summary of the book of Esther and how this book has helped to bring about a new sense of purpose and understanding within her own life.
Can everything that happens in the book of Esther be explained by naturally-occurring events?
- The king can’t sleep one night and asks the archives of his kingdom to be read to him – which happened to be of the time Mordecai reported a coup against the king and was never rewarded for it.
- The king is invited to a dinner by Esther.
- Esther rose to be queen based on her beauty and personality.
- The king sees someone in the courtyard which happens to be Haman.
- A prideful Haman gives the king a grandiose idea of how to honor someone – the honor Haman actually wishes to have bestowed upon himself.
- Haman just happens to be “falling on the queen’s couch” when the king reenters the room.
- The king makes a decisive decision to have Haman executed.
- A newly built gallows had just been built by Haman which had been intended to hang Mordecai.
Is it all just happenstance? It seems impossible that all of those events, taken together, could randomly have lined up that way. It appears that everything was orchestrated and planned out. And none of the players could possibly have seen, understood or even imagined that each event had been specifically designed.
Is there a lesson for us? Does God work this way in our lives? How do we know if God orchestrates circumstances in our lives today? The book of Esther teaches that God can use people to bring about events he desires – even through people who don’t acknowledge or worship him. The book of Esther also shows God’s heart and compassion for his people. God has good intentions toward us and the power to orchestrate human events in our favor. I believe God has the power to answer my prayers, the power to influence my mind and help me make wise decisions.
Did God orchestrate the approval process at Hamline so that I would enter their education program? Does God specifically want me to be a reading teacher? I still can’t answer these questions with 100% assurance. However, I think it’s much easier looking back over time at events to see a plan and that’s why it’s so evident in the book of Esther that there was a plan. We are looking back over time. No one in the story saw the plan as it was unfolding. The book of Esther teaches that God sees and cares and works on behalf of his people. May we trust in God’s good intentions and his providence over our lives.
Romans 8:38-39 states, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I’m not sure it really means anything, per se, but I find it interesting that I’ve never come across any Calvinistic reference pertaining to God exercising his sovereignty within the Book of Esther. Still, it’s hard to argue against the “lessons” of Esther that my better 7/8ths elaborated on in her journal. And, it’s hard to argue against those passages in scripture in which God takes an active role or against those individuals specifically called out by God – including Moses, Abraham, David, the disciples, Paul, et al. I don’t doubt that God, being God, can do as he pleases. That said, I’m not a “determinist” and as such am not convinced that God directs the actions and activities of each and every “free agent” (a philosophical term I seem to be coming across more often). Nevertheless, perhaps it is only through the long lens of time that we can understand the path on which we’ve walked and how all that we have encountered on that path has indeed, per Rom 8:28, worked together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose.
5 thoughts on “Would Esther Have Been Considered a Calvinist?”
I’ve always thought that God lets us know what He thinks we can deal with and understand.
Thanks for your comment, Brian. In his book God’s Will, God’s Best (pg 61), Josh McDowell talks about discovering God’s will takes time and that, “God isn’t going to tell you everything right now, and detecting His specific will is an ongoing process.” MacDowell also states, “God usually leads you little by little, keeping you close to Him.”
I know a lot of people who believe that God’s will is revealed as if a scroll is unrolled. However, I am more in agreement with the principles of “spiritual expediency” as outlined in Gary Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God. I don’t doubt that God does and can lead. However, it is my opinion that it is extremely rare that God divinely leads. Are the events in Esther part of God doing his will? Perhaps so. Still, there are numerous times in the New Testament where Paul appears to make a decision without praying or without seeking God’s “perfect will” i.e.
1 Thes 3:1-2, 5-6
1 Cor 16:3-4
(that’s interesting. for what it’s worth – based on his explanation of God’s sovereign will, i’m pretty sure friesen is a calvinist while josh mcdowell is very anti-calvinism.)
“I’m not a “determinist” and as such am not convinced that God directs the actions and activities of each and every “free agent” (a philosophical term I seem to be coming across more often).”
what does “directs” mean?
“free will” has 2 issues IMO:
1) finite creatures are constrained by time.
you get one choice and that’s it. if you had waffles for breakfast, you cannot go back and undo that.
2) our will is not arbitrary.
Luke6:43No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
James3:10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Jer13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
most people don’t actually believe in “free will” as such.
a man who ardently supports gun rights as an NRA member isn’t really concerned that his will might freely choose to vote for a gun-control candidate once he gets in the voting booth. when you get in the car, you aren’t generally concerned that your will might choose to steer you into a tree. one friend who is allergic to mushrooms doesn’t have to worry about going out to eat and her will choosing the pasta with extra mushrooms.
the calvinist teaching about “free agency” meshes well with the scriptural teaching that we make choices based on our desires and our understanding…based on our nature. our choices and actions reflect our hearts. and we are responsible for the choices we make. (but it’s silly to argue that we are equally likely to choose what we hate as what we love…what we consider meaningless as something that appeals to our sense of duty.)
so peter’s denial of Christ was certain, because it reflected who peter was at the time. God didn’t step in and “direct” peter to deny Jesus as if peter were a puppet. but God did “ordain” his denial in the sense that that was how God intended the story to go. and peter was never free to do otherwise…as if he could act in opposition to everything his heart and mind were telling him was true.
and haman and esther made choices that reflected how each understood the world and what each desired. and God ordained that those choices weave together to start moving His people out of exile and back to their own land.
while it’s not overtly calvinist (compared to say, gen50:20 or judges14:4), i’ll add that esther as a book just fits with the overarching hebrew certainty in the OT that God is in control.
job said that “God gives and takes away.” (and he did not sin for saying that God was responsible.) when naomi’s sons and husband died, she said God was responsible. Another weird example:
2Sam24:1 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
1Chron21:1Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
one commenter suggested that God intended to bless abraham earlier but abraham’s choices messed up God’s timetable. the OT seems to have a different take:
Gen15:13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
hundreds of years of human choices…jews, egyptians, amorites…but God had it all mapped out.
c.s. lewis drew on his pagan training to suggest that God couldn’t actually know a choice until it had been made…that the Creator of time doesn’t understand time as well as we do. but that is just not biblical (or rational, except that it might allow God to disclaim responsibility…but that’s not a defense that can be found in the bible – quite the opposite.)
just some things to consider as you’re reading…
I think Mordecai shows a clear understanding that God was directing circumstance and calling but certainly not controlling in some absolute sense.
He tells Esther, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14
At no point does he think that Esther has no choice in this game, only that God’s plan of deliverance will continue even if the people in it are changed. In the west in particular, we have an obsession with the individual. God called Israel, not Joab from Levi. Joab from Levi was born into the ethnic context which was under the blessing but he still had to participate in the covenant (and as such be a child of the promise of faith – Romans 9). God promised that he would deliver Israel from Egypt and into the promise land but most of them died in the wilderness. Did he break his promise? No, he never said every individual would make it, only that Israel will make it.