Sights and Insights: Providential placements

Purim remembers the Jews’ deliverance, but the story also points to the one who works behind the scenes.

Odessa Jews (photo credit: Yevgeny Volokin/REUTERS)
Odessa Jews
(photo credit: Yevgeny Volokin/REUTERS)
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at
Purim means more than costume parties, drinking, and eating triangular cookies filled with fruit. The holiday remembers the historical event in the book of Esther where the Jews survived a plot to exterminate them.
My favorite part of the holiday includes the reading of the book of Esther. Ironically, it’s the only book in the Bible that never mentions God. It never speaks of prayer. It has no miracle. And yet it’s Scripture? Yes.
The story of Esther is built on a growing series of seeming coincidences, all of which play essential to the story. As you read Esther this week, you might take note of these elements.
“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14). Mordecai spoke these words to Queen Esther to urge her to appeal to the king on behalf of her people. Mordecai’s question presupposes that providence placed Esther in a place of influence for a specific purpose.
When I think of the land of Israel, I see Mordecai’s principle written large.
The land of Israel sat in an amazingly strategic position as the only intercontinental land bridge between the superpowers of the ancient world. The strategic International Highway—sometimes called the Great Trunk Road or the Via Maris (“Way of the Sea”)—ran the full length of the land of Israel. This vast artery of transport stretched from the Fertile Crescent all the way to Egypt. Israel stood at the crossroads of three continents— Asia, Africa, and Europe—and the surrounding seas and desert forced all who traveled to Egypt by land to traverse Israel. Thus, the armies of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome all invaded Israel in order to control its International Highway. Israel remained for millennia the crossroads for international imperialism, war, and trade.
I find it fascinating that when world powers traveled through Israel during biblical days, God’s people would either influence these foreigners or be influenced by them. Because of this influence, Israel’s central position among the nations proved to be a double-edged sword. The Prophet Ezekiel recorded how God lamented that Jerusalem’s general placement as “the center of the nations” had borne no fruit of obedience (Ezekiel 5:5). Ironically, God’s people had been swayed by the very nations He intended them to influence. Total reversal of his intention.
Like most people, I never think of Purim without thinking of Esther. But I also think of providence. As in Esther’s story, we often don't see God explicitly involved in our lives. At times, it’s like he's not there. But we see in Esther God silently working behind the scenes through seeming coincidences. I believe God guides our lives with the same kind of providence.
Esther found herself in a place of influence, providentially placed to do what was right in a culture dead-set to do wrong. As one who believes the Bible, I believe God has placed us where we are—wherever that may be—to accomplish the same thing. 
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at