DRAMA, power, romance, intrigue – this is the stuff of which best-selling novels are made. But far from a modern piece of fiction, those words describe a true story, lived and written centuries ago. More than entertaining reading, it is a story of the profound interplay of God’s sovereignty and human will. God prepared the place and the opportunity, and his people, Esther and Mordecai, chose to act.
The book of Esther begins with Queen Vashti refusing to obey an order from her husband, King Xerxes. She was subsequently banished, and the search began for a new queen. The king sent out a decree to gather together all the beautiful women in the empire and bring them into the royal harem. Esther, a young Jewish woman, was one of those chosen to be in the royal harem. Esther, a young Xerxes was so pleased with Ether that he made her his queen.
Meanwhile, Mordecai, Esther’s old cousin, became a government official and during his tenure foiled an assassination plot. But the ambitious and self-serving Haman was appointed second-in-command in the empire. When Mordecai refused to bow in reverence to him, Haman became furious and determined to destroy Mordecai and all the Jews along with him.
To accomplish his vengeful deed, Haman deceived the king and persuaded him to issue an edict condemning the Jews to death. Mordecai told Queen Esther about this edict, and she decided to risk her life to save her people. Esther asked King Xerxes and Haman to be her guests at a banquet. During the feast, the king asked Esther what she really wanted, and he promised to give her anything. Esther simply invited both men to another banquet the next day.
That night, unable to sleep, the king was flipping through some records in the royal archives when he read of the assassination plot that Mordecai had thwarted. Surprised to learn that Mordecai had never been rewarded for this deed, the king asked Haman what should be done to thank a hero properly. Haman thought the king must be talking about him, and so he described a lavish reward. The king agreed, but to Haman’s shock and utter humiliation, he learned that Mordecai was the person to be so honoured.
During the second banquet, the king again asked Esther what she desired. She replied that someone had plotted to destroy her and her people, and she named Haman as the culprit. Immediately the king sentenced Haman to die on the gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai.
In the final act of this true-life drama, Mordecai was appointed to Haman’s position, and the Jews were guaranteed protection throughout the land. To celebrate this historic occasion, the feast of Purim was established.
Because of Queen Esther’s courageous act, a whole nation was saved. Seeing her God-given opportunity, she seized it! Her life made a difference. Read Esther and watch for God at work in your life. Perhaps he has prepared you to act in “such a time as this” (4:14).
PURPOSE: To demonstrate God’s sovereignty and his loving care for his people.
AUTHOR: Unknown. Possibly Mordecai (9:20). Some have suggested Ezra or Nehemiah became of the similarity of the writing style.
DATE WRITTEN: Approximately 483-471 B.C. (Esther became queen in 479)
SETTING: Although Esther follows Nehemiah in the Bible, its events are about 30 years prior to those recorded in Nehemiah. The story is set in the Persian empire, and most of the action takes place in the king’s palace in Susa, the Persian capital.
KEY VERSE: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14).
KEY PEOPLE: Esther, Mordecai, King Xerxes I, Haman
KEY PLACE: The king’s palace in Susa, Persia
SPECIAL FEATURES: Esther is one of only two books named after women (Ruth is the other). The book is unusual in that in the original version no name, title, or pronoun for God appears in it (see the note on 4:14). This caused some church fathers to question its inclusion in the canon. But God’s presence is clear throughout the book.
The book of Esther is an example of God’s divine guidance and care over our lives. God’s sovereignty and power are seen throughout this book. Although we may question certain circumstances in our lives, we must have faith that God is in control, working through both the pleasant and difficult times so that we can serve him effectively.
- Esther becomes queen (1:1-2:23)
- The Jews are threatened (3:1-4:17)
- Esther intercedes for the Jews (5:1-8:17)
- The Jews are delivered (9:1-10:3)
EXPLANATION: The book of Esther tells of the circumstances that were essential to the survival of God’s people in Persia. These “circumstances” were not the result of chance, but of God’s grand design. God is sovereign over every area of life.
IMPORTANCE: With God in charge, we can take courage. He can guide us through the circumstances we face in our lives. We should expect God to display his power in carrying out his will. As we unite our life’s purposes to God’s purpose, we benefit from his sovereign care.
EXPLANATION: The Jews in Persia had been a minority since their deportation from Judah 100 years earlier. Haman was a descendant of King Agag, an enemy of the Jews. Lust for power and pride drove Haman to hate Mordecai, Esther’s cousin. Haman convinced the king to kill all the Jews.
IMPORTANCE: Racial hatred is always sinful. We must never condone it in any form. Every person on earth has intrinsic worth because God created mankind in his image. Therefore, God’s people must stand against racism whenever and wherever it occurs.
EXPLANATION: On February 28th, the Jews celebrate the feast of Purim, which symbolises God’s deliverance. Purim means “lots”, such as those used by Haman to set the date for the extermination of all Jews from Persia. But God overruled, using Queen Esther to intercede on behalf of the Jews.
IMPORTANCE: Because God is in control of history, he is never frustrated by any turn of events or action of man. He is able to save us from the evil of this world and deliver us from sin and death. Because we trust God, we are not to fear what people may do to us, instead, we are to be confident in God’s control.
EXPLANATION: Faced with death, Esther and Modecai set aside their own fear and took action. Esther risked her life by asking King Xerxes to save the Jews. They were not paralysed by fear.
IMPORTANCE: When outnumbered and powerless, it is natural for us to feel helpless. Esther and Mordecai resisted this temptation and acted with courage. It is not enough to know that God is in control; we must act with self-sacrifice and courage to follow God’s guidance.
EXPLANATION: The Jews were a minority in a world hostile to them. It took great wisdom for Mordecai to survive. Serving as a faithful official of the king, Mordecai took steps to understand and work with the Persian law. Yet he did not compromise his integrity.
IMPORTANCE: It takes great wisdom to survive in a non-believing world. In a setting which is for the most part hostile to Christianity, we can demonstrate wisdom by giving respect to what is true and good and by humbly standing against what is wrong.
©Dodgsons KingsWay International, 1973.