1. Religion & Spirituality

Book of Esther

Introduction to the Book of Esther

By

Queen Esther

Queen Esther

Photo: Getty Images

Book of Esther:

The book of Esther is one of only two books in the entire Bible named for women. The other is the book of Ruth. This is the story of a beautiful young Jewess who risked her life to serve God and to save her people.

Esther lived in ancient Persia about 100 years after the Babylonian captivity. When her parents died, the orphaned child was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai.

One day the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes I, threw a lavish party. On the final day of the festivities, he called for his queen, Vashti, eager to flaunt her beauty to his guests. But the queen refused to appear before Xerxes. Filled with anger, he deposed Queen Vashti, forever removing her from his presence.

To find his new queen, Xerxes hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

Soon after, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the conspiracy, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai's act of kindness was preserved in the chronicles of the king.

At this same time, the king's highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

So, Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed. The king bought into the plot and agreed to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plan and shared it with Esther, challenging her with these famous words:

"Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 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 your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14, NIV)

Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then risking her own life, brave young Esther approached the king with a plan of her own.

She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where eventually she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman's diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows--the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai. (Some translations read "impaled on a pole" rather than "hung on the gallows." In ancient Persia the precursor to Roman crucifixion was done by impaling the body and hanging it on a wooden pole or stake.)

Mordecai was promoted to Haman's high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. As the people celebrated God's tremendous deliverance, the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.

Author of the Book of Esther:

The author of Esther is unknown. Some scholars have suggested Mordecai (see Esther 9:20-22 and Esther 9:29-31). Others have proposed Ezra or possibly Nehemiah because the books share similar literary styles.

Date Written:

The book of Esther was most likely written between B.C. 460 and 331, after the reign of Xerxes I but prior to Alexander the Great's rise to power.

Written To:

The book of Esther was written to the Jewish people to record the origins of the Feast of Lots, or Purim. This annual festival commemorates God's salvation of the Jewish people, similar to their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The name Purim, or "lots," was likely given in a sense of irony, because Haman, the enemy of the Jews, had plotted to completely destroy them by casting the lot (Esther 9:24).

Landscape of the Book of Esther:

The story takes place during the reign of King Xerxes I of Persia, primarily in the king's palace in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire.

By this time (486-465 B.C.), more than 100 years after the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, and just over 50 years after Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Jerusalem, many Jews still remained in Persia. They were part of the diaspora, or "scattering" of exiles among the nations. Although they were free to return to Jerusalem by decree of Cyrus, many had probably become established and did not wish to risk the dangerous journey back to their homeland. Esther's family were among the Jews who stayed behind in Persia.

Themes in the Book of Esther:

There are many themes in the book of Esther. We clearly see God's interaction with man's will, his hatred of racial prejudice, his power to give wisdom and help in times of danger. But there are two overriding themes:

God's Sovereignty - The hand of God is at work in the lives of his people. He used the circumstances in Esther's life, as he uses the decisions and actions of all humans to providentially work out his divine plans and purposes. We can trust in the Lord's sovereign care over every aspect of our lives.

God's Deliverance - The Lord raised up Esther, as he raised up Moses, Joshua, Joseph, and many others to deliver his people from destruction. Through Jesus Christ we are delivered from death and hell. God is able to save his children.

Key Characters in the Book of Esther:

Esther, King Xerxes, Mordecai, Haman.

Key Verses:

Esther 4:14
"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (ESV)

Esther 4:16
"Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish." (ESV)

Esther 9:20-22
Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. (NIV)

Esther 9:28
These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants. (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Esther:

• Esther becomes queen - 1:1-2:18.

• Haman plots to kill the Jews - Esther 2:19 - 3:15.

• Esther and Mordecai take action - Esther 4:1 - 5:14.

• Mordecai is honored; Haman is executed - Esther 6:1 - 7:10.

• The Jewish people are rescued and delivered - Esther 8:1 - 9:19.

• The Feast of Lots is instituted - Esther 9:30-32.

• Mordecai and King Xerxes are revered - Esther 9:30-32.

Old Testament Books of the Bible (Index)
New Testament Books of the Bible (Index)

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.