God is famous for divine reversals:
- Abraham and Sarah are childless; now Abraham is the father of many nations.
- Joseph is sold into slavery and imprisoned; then he’s appointed as head over all Egypt, second in command to Pharaoh himself.
- Moses and Israel are pursued by the Egyptian army; the sea opens, lets Israel pass through, and the Egyptian pursuers are drowned.
- Messiah is arrested, beaten, tortured, publicly shamed and unjustly murdered; God raises him from the dead and exalts him to the highest position.
Divine reversal is God having the final say. God intervening in human affairs to make His way triumph over what wicked people think and do.
Divine reversal is God not only undoing an ugly or difficult situation, but transforming it into a great event in which the participants are vindicated and God is glorified.
Divine reversal is a signature of God throughout the Scripture. It happens consistently throughout the Bible. And it’s evident everywhere in the book of Esther.
In the book of Esther, the very historical context in which the book takes place is a kind of divine reversal. It’s set during the Jewish exile in Babylon/Persia, between the time of Ezra and Nehemiah: the people of Israel were set to be like every other people on earth – conquered, assimilated, gone from history.
Just like every other people group, just like every other religion.
But, God steps in and divinely reverses the situation: the captors of the Jewish people – the Babylonians – are overthrown, and the new king, Cyrus the Great of Persia, not only permits Jews to return to Israel, but also sends money and resources for the rebuilding of the Temple. This is the historical context of Esther, and it’s a divine reversal of fortunes for God’s people.
Divine Reversals in Esther’s Life
Queen Esther’s own story is a small reversal: her parents both dead or missing, she’s an orphan with little hope in the ancient world. God steps in, finds her a loving man – her older cousin – who functions as a parent, nurtures and encourages her until “such a time as this”; the moment she is called on to save the people of Israel.
When Esther first hears of the king’s decree to ethnically cleanse the Jews from Persia, she fears for her own life, thinking if she approaches the king, she will be imprisoned or killed. In ancient Persia, anyone approaching the king unasked would be killed unless the king raised his royal scepter.
God divinely reverses the situation: when she enters, not only is her life sparred by the king, but he offers her half his kingdom.
Throughout Esther, the queen’s identity might be used against her; she may be killed because she’s a Jew. But in the end, divine reversal yet again: it is the timely revelation of Esther’s identity that saves her and the Jewish people.
Divine Reversals in Mordechai’s Life
When Mordechai overhears of a plot to assassinate the king, he’s worried: not only for the king, but also for his cousin Esther, who may no longer hold her royal position. God divinely reverses the situation: not only is the plot foiled, but Mordechai is rewarded with great honors, even being led through the streets on horseback, with Haman leading the horse by hand and announcing Mordechai’s honor.
When Haman’s hatred of Mordechai oozes out of the heart and into actions – and having built gallows on which to impale Mordechai the next day – instead the king discovers how Mordechai foiled the assassination attempt. Now, instead of death by impalement, Mordechai is given the signet ring of the king.
And in a final and decisive reversal, Mordechai refused to bow to the powerful Haman, thus putting his life in danger. But instead of death, Mordechai’s ultimate vindication is produced at the end of the book:
“Morderchai's fame spread throughout all the provinces and he grew yet more powerful. For Mordecai was second only to King Ahasuerus, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by the multitude of his people. He sought their good and spoke for the welfare of his descendants.”
Divine Reversals in Haman’s Life
Divine reversals work the other way, too: for wicked people, seemingly good situations can be reversed, and all the planned evil backfires and falls on their own heads.
Take Haman’s life for instance.
He gains the favor of the king – good for Haman. And gets the king to sign a decree stating all people must honor him – good for Haman. This seemingly good situation for a wicked person is divinely reversed: When the king hears of Mordechai foiling the assassination, it is Haman who must honor Mordechai. Divine reversal.
Haman’s anger burns against Mordechai. Using his influence, Haman convinces the king to decree the death of Mordechai and the Jewish people in Persia.
Sounds like a good thing for Haman.
But when Haman builds the gallows for Mordechai and goes in to the king to ask for permission to execute him, the King stops Haman and tells him to parade Mordechai through the streets, to give him a royal robe and a signet ring, and to declare, “This is what is done for the man who honors the king!”
Haman isn’t finished. Now fully humiliated, he doubles down: he’ll soon execute his plan to have all the Jewish people put to death.
But, God steps in and divinely reverses the situation: not only is Mordechai spared, not only are the Jewish people spared, but Haman is put to death…on the very gallows he created for Mordechai! And not only Haman, but his sons as well.
Haman sought the genocide of the Jewish people. Instead, divine reversal: the enemies of the Jewish people are killed:
The king granted the right for Jews in every city to assemble themselves and to protect themselves—to destroy, kill and annihilate any army of any people or province that might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder their possessions. The day appointed for this in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month Adar. A copy of the written edict was distributed to every province and made known to the peoples of every nationality so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.
And we’re not done yet: after this edict, many people became Jews and joined the people of Israel:
Throughout every province and throughout every city, wherever the king’s edict and his law went, the Jews had gladness and joy, banquets and holidays. Many peoples of the land became Jews, because the fear of the Jews had overcome them.
When Haman is invited by Queen Esther to the special banquet, he’s prideful, bragging that he alone is invited to the King and Queen’s banquet. But by the end of the night, his plot is exposed and he’s begging Queen Esther for his life. Divine reversal.
Haman’s grand plan had been to see the Jews murdered and their possessions confiscated. But God stepped in and divinely reversed the situation: by the end of Esther, a decisive reversal again: Haman’s own estate is handed to Esther.
Divine Reversal for the Jewish People
The Jewish people had a royal decree against them for their destruction. Divine reversal: Jews are not destroyed, but instead are permitted to assembly and defend themselves “against any army or people.”
The Jewish people in dispersion had come in as defeated slaves; a lowly people whose homeland was destroyed and occupied by a great foreign power. But through the actions of Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah, God divinely reverses the situation: not only is Israel free once again, but they’re people of renown and good repute with many peoples joining Israel: “many peoples of the land became Jews, for the fear of the Jews fell on them.”
The Jews in Persian had wept, torn their clothes, and put on sackloth and ashes; their destruction assured by the laws of the most powerful nation on earth. But God stepped in and divinely reversed the situation: instead of destruction, “gladness, joy, banquets and holidays”:
Mordecai urged them to celebrate Purim every year…in every generation…remembering when their sorrow turned into joy and their mourning into celebration. These were to be days of feasting, celebration and sending presents of food to one another and giving gifts to the poor.”
And it wasn’t long after the events of the book of Esther took place that God enacted an even greater divine reversal: Nehemiah and the exiles returned to Jerusalem.
Penning Psalm 126, the psalmist spoke of the great divine reversal following Esther like this:
When the Lord had brought our captives home
Back again to Zion
We were filled with joy and song
Our mouths were filled with laughter
We were like dreamers
Lord, restore our fortunes
Like streams in the Negev desert
Those who sow in tears
Will reap with songs of joy
He who goes out weeping
With tears for sowing
Will return with joyful songs
Carrying a full harvest of joy
Sow in tears, reap with joy.
I love that.
Divine reversal in a nutshell. God’s character in a nutshell.
Great news: God’s still doing divine reversals today. He still is reversing situations for his glory, both on the personal individual level, as well as on the national level for his people.
It’s a joyful thing to serve a God who does these things. It’s a joy to serve the God of Divine Reversals.
Chag Purim Sameach, fine Kineti readers.