127 Provinces. That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.
The king’s scribes were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day. And an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded concerning the Jews, to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language. . . . saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives . . .
(Esther 8:9-11a ESV)
The king? King Ahasuerus, king of the Persians and Medes. The edict? A counter-measure of the edict that had gone out before, devised by Haman, an enemy of the Jews, declaring that all Jews were to be destroyed? The outcome of this second edict? “The reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them” (Es. 9:1b). The scope of the victory? 127 provinces.
While the events recorded in Esther were concerned with those Jews who decided to remain in Babylon rather than go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, the impact of those events was felt in all 127 provinces within the Persian/Mede empire — including Israel, “the province Beyond the River” (a term used frequently in Ezra). Had it not been for the book of Esther, there would have been no book of Nehemiah.
While the world was moving and shaking in Susa, God was protecting in Jerusalem. While men were scheming and edict-ing, the Sovereign God was in control. While the storm was brewing in the Empire’s capital, the anchor held fast in the land of promise. While not even the name of God is mentioned in Esther, that God was in the thick of it all is evident by the fact that the latter portion of Ezra and Nehemiah exist. God worked in and round the palace through a nobody who became queen in order to preserve and protect a people He had chosen for Himself to reign over as King.
127 provinces. A reminder that God works behind the scenes and in far away places. While the gates of hell may seem to be bursting forth all around us, the God who will prevail is at work, even if out of sight, protecting us — faithful to His eternal promises and His unchanging person.
I can only imagine what is was for those exiles who returned to Jerusalem to have heard that first edict read authorizing their destruction. What a kick in the gut. Made no sense given they were certain they were in God’s will having returned to the land to rebuild the temple. But then, to have received the second edict allowing them to defend themselves? What hope! And then to see their enemies defeated? To have experienced the reality of “the reverse occurred”? What joy! What elation! What reason for celebration! Worthy of a perpetual feast of remembrance (Es. 9:20-28).
. . . as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor. . . . Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons . . .
(Esther 9:22, 30-31a ESV)
Our God reigns. Our God prevails. His promises are sure. The outcome is guaranteed. The victory is ours. Our sorrow will turn to gladness. Our mourning will fade as we feast in remembrance.
By His grace. For His glory.