Among the sixty-six books of the Bible only two are named after women, namely, the book of Ruth and the book of Esther. Both of these books deal with events that took place during the days of shadows. That only two of these sixty-six books are named after women, however, must not leave the impression that the other sixty-four are named after men. That certainly is not true. Some are named after events, others after their content. Some are named after congregations such as Romans, Corinthians, and the other epistles of Paul addressed to believers in a particular city or region. One, the epistle to the Hebrews, is named after a people. No more than forty of the sixty-four not named after women are named after men. It all depends on whether you speak of Lamentations or Lamentations of Jeremiah, and of Song of Solomon or, as the Netherlands Confession calls it, Song of Songs. And, even though we might be able to list forty of them as named after men, many of them are named after the same man twice or even three and four times. We have First and Second Samuel. And we have the gospel according to John and three epistles of John.
Now these two women, Ruth and Esther, have much in common but also wide differences. What they have in common is that they are both descendants of Shem of whom God said through Noah, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” What is more, both of them are descendants of Terah, the father of Abraham, who was the seed of Shem. Ruth was the descendant of Lot who was the son of Abraham’s brother Haran. Esther was a descendant of Abraham and a Jewess, while Ruth was a Moabitess. Neither, therefore, was a Canaanite. Neither descended from Canaan whom Noah in God’s name addressed with these words, “cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren.”
Where they differ greatly is that Ruth, the Moabitess, was born in a land where Jehovah was not worshipped and His covenant with His people was not known, but in God’s grace she was brought to faith in Him and to His worship. Esther, the Jewess, was born in the line of a people that did worship God and among whom God’s covenant was known, and by some enjoyed and respected. But she herself was not a believer. She acted in gross unbelief, revealing a far departure from the faith in God manifested in her forebears such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to say nothing of David and the prophets Elijah and Elisha who lived long before her birth, but also the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah who lived more closely to the days of her life, and of Daniel and Ezekiel who lived in the same land of captivity that she did.
Yes, Esther was an unbeliever in spite of what many have written and said about her. It is my intention, the Lord willing, to consider this period of the day of shadows for a few months. And in doing so it will becomes very, very plain that all this praise heaped upon Esther as such a savior of God’s people is due to a failure to look carefully at all that God says of her in the book. There is overwhelming evidence that she was an unbeliever, as were all the characters named in the book. Not one shows as much as one work of faith in Jehovah. Reserve your criticisms of this position until we come to the evidence later on in the book.
Such being the case, that is, Esther being an unbeliever, we have here the only book in the Bible named after an unbeliever. That must not make us backtrack and concluded that she must have been a believer or she would not have had this honor. That does not follow; and the sovereign God had a perfect right to decree that the name of an unbeliever should be used as a title of one of the books of our Bible. In fact it is His sovereign grace that did this, as we hope to point out later. It belongs to the purpose of the inclusions of this book in Holy Writ.
Consider that naming the book after an unbeliever does not mean that she is honored. If that were the case we would have to say that such giants of faith as David, a man after God’s own heart, and Elijah were denied an honor. True honor results from having one’s name in the book of life. And the fact that only two books in Holy Writ are named after women is no reflection on believing women who have their names in the Lamb’s book of life. Many are the women whose names are mentioned in Scripture and to whom therein great honors are given by God. Sarah and Rahab are honored by having their names listed among the giants of faith in Hebrews 11. And let us not forget the words of the angel to Mary, the mother of Jesus, “Hail, thou that are highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” And the use of one’s name merely to give a title to a book in no way means that this one is blessed of God. What God says about these individuals after whom the books are named is what counts. What is revealed of them on the pages of the book is God’s evaluation. It is not what your name it, but what your deeds are that reveals whether you have honor before God or shame. Elimelech who took his family to Moab for bread had a name that means My God is King, but he did not live that way. Judas Iscariot had a name that means praise, but he was not to the praise of God’s names. And though he has no book named after him—the Jude (and this is a form of the name Judas) who wrote that last but on book in the New Testament is quite another person—his name is listed with the twelve disciples of Jesus. Is that an honor? It is to his shame that he, a disciple of Christ, defected so greatly as to betray Christ. As a paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Luke 10:20 we may put it this way, “In this rejoice not that thy name appears above a sermon preached, on the cover of a book on doctrinal or exegetical subjects, not that a cathedral or library is named after you; but rather rejoice because your name is written in heaven.” That is it! To have one’s name written in heaven! And an innumerable host of women have that, even though only two books of the Bible are named after women.
Now there is another unique feature about these two books of Ruth and Esther. Strikingly enough these two,and these two only, begin the same way with the same eight words, namely, “Now it came to pass in the days….” From there on, a variation appears. Ruth continues with the words, “when the judges rules.” Esther finishes the statement with, “of Ahasuerus.” In the Hebrew these eight words are only two words because of the grammatical construction of the Hebrew which makes the “Now it came to pass” one word, and the “in the days” likewise one word. And though this expression appears frequently in Scripture, only in these two books do we find it as the introductory words. And that gives it special meaning here.
These eight words not only pinpoint the time when the events recorded in these books took place, but they also establish the fast that this is history, that what is written in these books is fact and not fiction. It came to pass means that what is written took place. Fables, novels, and fiction so often begin with, “Once upon a time.” This is vague and indefinite and must be because the things written in these books never actually happened. Never, and to no degree, must we explain this “Now it came to pass” as “Once upon a time.” The events listed in this book of Esther (and of Ruth also for that matter) are not imaginary events that originated in the mind of a man. In fact, so important are the events recorded in these books that God Himself moved men to pen them as undeniable history that has significance for His church. What came to pass and is recorded in these books stands in a vital connection with our salvation, because these events are so important and essential for the coming of the Son of God in our flesh. We may say, therefore, and this we intend, the Lord willing, to bring out in the treatment of this book of Esther, that a crucial event in the realization of our salvation came to pass, is real history and happened as a fact of history.
Serving our churches and the brethren and sisters here in New Zealand at the time these lines are written we are limited as to reference works. But there are books written that question the historicity of this book of Esther. Higher critic—so-called because, though they elevate themselves above God’s Word and dare to criticize what the All-wise God has given men to write they give a low blow to Scripture— present it here as a story with a moral in it but not to be taken as real history. Others claim that this book also is time-conditioned. And although they do not say it in so many words, they deny that the truth of Isaiah 40:8 namely, “But the Word of the Lord abideth forever.” Men who speak of “time-conditioned” writings in Holy Writ, we are told in Isaiah 40:6-8, are grass as we all are. They are time-conditioned, but God’s Word is not any part of it. And just because man cannot find in man’s records historical data to substantiate what is written in the book of Esther does not mean that is did not come to pass. We would do better to call man’s records faulty rather than God’s! All this did come to pass. It all happened. God says so. And therefore you and I must say so as well.
And behind this “Now it came to pass” we must see God’s eternal counsel. What came to pass is what God eternally decreed and planned for our salvation. Itcame to pass, and that means first of all that it came from somewhere. And that somewhere is God’s counsel. What was eternally in God’s mind now happens on this earth and in the lives of men who inhabit this earth. For us it is long passes. But it took place in the days of Ahasuerus as the finder of God wrote it through man.
We do well, before proceeding, to emphasize that this introductory phrase applies to all that is recorded in the book and not simply to what is written in the first chapter. And, as we already pointed out, as we consider the book we must bear in mind that salvation is coming to pass through the events recorded in this book. Christ is coming. God’s promise of salvation in Him is coming to pass. The events in this book are going to serve that purpose, and therefore are recorded for our comfort and instruction.
Even though all the characters in the book are unbelievers, as we shall see, when we examine their works in the light of the rest of Holy Writ, we see that God is at work here using wicked men, as He did at the cross of our Savior, to realize our salvation. And the book makes it so plain that our salvation is sure. And that is a truth which we and our children will need in the days that lie ahead. We need to know that even when god is denied by those who are in what still calls itself church, God is faithful to His promises.
But let me conclude this installment by urging you to search the Scriptures and not to take for granted what many, or I, have written about this book. To begin with, it is claimed that the name of God appears nowhere in this book. It would seem that way. But if you search carefully and listen to what God Himself says, you will find His name. And I do not mean in a figurative sense. I do not mean as in Psalm 75:1 which declares that His name is near and His wondrous works declare it. The very way in which that name of God appears has significance; but there is no room left to treat that now.
Until we can write more fully about this matter let this truth stand out clearly in your mind: Salvation is sure! All that which was needed for it came to pass on time and exactly as in God’ counsel. What must still come to pass will become part of the history of this world. The day will come when in the new Jerusalem all the saints will say, “Now it has come to pass as God had promised us. Here we are with the full salvation which our faithful God prepared for us. It came to pass in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ that we were glorified to begin to pass an endless life with our God and Father, and to eat again of the tree of life in the new Jerusalem.”