Summary: This is an introduction to the book of Esther.
Who among us doesn’t enjoy a good story? One of the most popular forms of entertainment in our culture is watching movies. My wife and I enjoy watching movies and some of our favorite movies are those that are really well told stories. We really shouldn’t be surprised that we enjoy stories so much. After all, our Lord Jesus knew this and taught through the use of stories. He was a master storyteller. Think of all the wonderful parables He gave us. One of my great hopes is that in heaven someday, we’ll all gather around the feet of our Master, and listen to Him tell stories as He did so many years ago as recorded in the New Testament. Jesus, the Master Teacher, used stories and parables to convey great truths about Himself, His ministry, and the Kingdom of God. It should come as no surprise then, that many of the wonderful truths revealed in God’s Word are revealed through stories. One of the great stories in the Bible is found in the book of Esther. It’s a love story. It’s an adventure. It’s a drama. It’s a suspense thriller. It is a story of intrigue, of mystery, of shadowy figures and secrets. It amazes me that with all the Bible stories that have been made into movies, no one has made a movie about Esther. To me, it seems like a screenwriter’s dream. What truly makes the story of Esther even more intriguing is that it is a true story—it really happened. Unlike any other book in the Bible God is never directly mentioned in Esther, but even so, the story told is full of marvelous revelations about God and His plan for His creation.
Esther’s story takes place after the Babylonian conquest of Israel, when Israel was destroyed and the people taken captive. God had warned Israel that this would occur if they did not repent of their evil ways. For 70 years, the Jews were held in captivity and scattered throughout the regions. Though a group of Jews was allowed to return to Israel, led by Zerubbabel, most Jews were still dispersed and lived under pagan rule and influence. The Persian period of world history was being played out, and the King of Persia was a man named Ahasuerus, or Xerxes, as his Greek name is pronounced. But the story begins many years before when a young Jewish girl named Hadassah, or Esther, was orphaned and then taken in to be raised by her relative, Mordecai. As a young woman, she was beautiful, and by all indications had a wonderful and sweet personality. So there she was, living her life, raised and taught by her cousin Mordecai, and apparently going about her life in a very ordinary way. But her life was to take a very unexpected turn.
It seems the king, who had a reputation for holding great feasts and drinking parties, was holding forth a great celebration. It was an extended celebration where the wine flowed freely, and the king was in a mood to show off. He called for his servants to bring his wife, Queen Vashti to the celebration. In Chapter 1, verse 11, we read that Vashti was ordered to appear wearing her royal crown. Some Bible commentators have taken this to mean that this was all she was supposed to wear. Regardless, Vashti didn’t like the idea of being displayed as a trophy and refused to go. In that culture it wasn’t wise to disobey the command of a husband, but worse yet was disobedience to the king. As punishment, the king’s advisors convinced him to divorce her and dethrone her as Queen. Some time later, the king was convinced to send out a command that all the beautiful young virgins of the kingdom be brought in to harems and prepared by his servants to be presented before him. One of the many young women brought in as possibilities for the new queen, was young Esther. After 12 months of preparation and beauty treatments and purification rituals, each young woman was presented before the king. Each one was given whatever she desired to take with her to the king’s palace.
During her preparation, her custodian, a eunuch who served the king named Hegai, became very devoted to Esther, and helped her by giving her additional supplies and maidservants, and the best quarters. When the turn came for Esther to go in to the king, she took only what Hegai advised her to take. So when she went to meet the King, he fell in love with her more than all the other women, and the word says in Esther 2.17: “…she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen.”