… Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the kings’ gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning and fasting among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
— Esther 4:1-3

This week I finished my walk through the book of Esther, once more surprised by the polished versions of the women in the Bible we are normally given. I think we may have a different picture of biblical womanhood if we took the time to understand the full breadth of these women in their contexts, the bold audacity and risk of those we have put on such pedestals. Quiet and silent are the last things I would label them.

At the unfortunate climax of the story in Esther 4, we are left with an entire people group looking at the end of themselves, weeping and lament just the beginning of the proper response to their fate. “Who knows” is the only thing they seem to hold on to, especially in this book where even the name of God is not uttered, where He is elusive, where He seems to be absent.

As I’ve said before, it’s not only in this book where God seems to not be speaking or guiding His people. We see it so vividly in Ruth as well, and so we have to think that maybe Scripture is trying to tell us something about God that we need to hold on to for our livelihood, especially in the midst of deep hardship and trial.

It has blown me away time and time again that God not only has a plan and purpose that He is both looking at the whole of as well as intricately involved in, but that He chooses to use us feeble, frail, and fallen human beings as a part of it. Even Me.

It’s His providence, His provision, His grace that continues to weave itself in each of our lives and even without His direct, audible voice, guides and redeems the story we are living in. Hopefully this word can be a blow to the many who proclaim a “let go, let god” mentality that forgets that we have a purpose to walk out.

This certainly does not lack suffering.

If I perish, I perish.
— Esther 4:16b
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A new friend spoke this Bonhoeffer quote to me this week to me as she talked about her experience leading a children’s ministry as an African-American woman in one of the most wealthy, white, affluent areas in the country. The suffering that she faces are things that I will never experience, yet her heart to be a disciple maker, an advocate for the oppressed, a proclaimer of truth and light in the midst of lies and darkness only revealed to me a life and fire that could not be put out.

Once again, I am thankful for the many ways in life that seem to not have God’s audible voice, but He is also so clearly at work. Shortly after, I heard on Saturday at a church we had never been to this next quote with once again another call to come and die.

When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.
— C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

We live in the most comfortable, cushy, “protect yourself” gospel here in America. It has made me so sad that we have genuinely sacrificed what it means to take up the Cross in order to fight for a life that puts me, myself, and I first. There are many ways in my life that I too must repent of this. I am thankful beyond words for a Savior who demonstrated the opposite, a reversal: His life for ours. Choosing the weakest, most oppressed, most looked down upon in society. The tables turned, life abundant was presented but not as the world gave. Justice and mercy.

Esther, Mordecai, the heroes of our story, risked their lives. It was truly life or death, and she could have protected herself, kept her mouth shut, saved her skin, clinging tightly to her newfound wealth and crowns. Oh, what glory we would see in the world around us if we entered in to the truth that the Kingdom of God calls us to and acted upon it.

Fortunes have been reversed, but the outcome supersedes reversal expectations.
— Debra Reid

The language is so purposeful as the author of Esther takes great pains to show you the irony of everything that was planned to happen being flipped upside down. It's parallel to the verses we started with, but exactly the opposite at the same time.

Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor, and in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the jews, a feast and a holiday.
— Esther 8:15-17a

Not to mention the beauty within what also looks like horror: the reversal of Saul’s disobedience in 1 Samuel 15. As Saul does not follow through with what God did audibly tell him to do, God's purpose finds a way to fruition in Mordecai. Our God will not be thwarted.

Even the very thing meant for their demise, the "pur" or lots, becomes the very object that recalls this celebration of remembrance and rejoicing (Esther 9:24). It is not hard to see one of the stories of their relatives paralleled here, Joseph, the son of technicolor wild reversal.

As for me, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…
— Genesis 50:20a

The message here in the middle of chaos turned to rejoicing is we have a King who redeems the worst of the worst. Do not get me confused for Joel Osteen: suffering is inevitable, and it’s not the hope of what is lost being returned tenfold that we should long for. We long for what is wrong to be made right, and we may not see that until Christ comes once more.

In the midst of what may feel like many “who knows,” we can thank God that we are not in control, but have a part to play, a purpose and call.

As we live into the truth of Christ’s kingdom here and now, already but not yet, the gospel speaks the truest word. Here is the beauty of the best reversal, the good news to those who find themselves to be poor, have want, are afflicted and are in need:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
— Isaiah 61:1-3

Instead of. Here is where Jesus changes everything. A reversal that Jesus does, and is.

There is a reason for the feasts, a reason for this pattern that the people of God are brought into: to remember. Remember your rescuer. Remember that you were chosen not because of your own goodness but His. Remember that you have been brought into a new family. Remember to what He has called you. Remember. Remember. Remember.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.