Summary: A study of the book of Ester beginning with a background review of chapter 1 verses 1 - 2
Ester 1: 1 – 2
Today’s Starting Lineup
1 Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia), 2 in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the citadel,
I think it will be beneficial for us to take a look first at some information relative to the whole book of Ester before we begin our verse by verse study. It will I believe paint a enlightening picture of what we are about to study. So, let’s take a look at today’s starting lineup.
First of all there are no solid grounds for identifying the author of the book. All we can say is that he was almost certainly a Jew, that he probably lived in Persia, being familiar with Persian customs, manners and institutions, and that he had a firm belief in the overruling power of God.
Furthermore, the total lack of mention of our Heavenly Father Yahweh [YHWH] or God, of the Torah (the Law), or of specific elements of Jewish worship, point to someone eager to reconcile the Persian empire with the Jewish people, as good solid members of the empire. It would have been extraordinary at a later date for the above to apply. It was when the Jews were being most actively persecuted that they responded by a firm appeal to YHWH and the Torah, and there would be no reason for the non-mention of either at such times, even by someone seeking to be conciliatory towards their overlords. But in seeking to counter the charge that they observed their own laws and refused to observe the laws of the king (3.8) it is perfectly understandable. We would therefore date the book in the second half of the 5th century BC.
The book deals with the question of the proposed treatment of Jews in the Persia empire during the reign of ‘Ahasuerus’, when a powerful courtier by the name of Haman, angry at not receiving from Jews the extreme obeisance that he demanded, determined to annihilate them, seeking to use his influence for that purpose. It indicates how they were signally delivered from what was for them a time of grave national emergency. It was a crisis even exceeding their slavery in Egypt, for it threatened almost total annihilation, something that Esther herself brings out in chapter 7 verse 4. The intervention of God is, however, left to be inferred from the history outlined, as, quite unusually, the name or title of God is nowhere specifically mentioned in the book. On the other hand it is made quite clear that Mordecai was absolutely sure of some kind of intervention. Consider, for example these golden nuggets of information:
• 1). That Mordecai spoke of Esther as ‘coming to the kingdom for such a time as this’ (4.14). He clearly saw in her incorporation into the harem, and selection by the king, the distinct purpose of God, although spoken of in the indirect way which would become common later when the constant use of the Name of God was frowned on.
• 2). That even if Esther was disobedient he was sure that ‘enlargement and deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place’ (4.14). This could only indicate his certainty of the over-ruling hand of God. It is another example of indirect usage.
• 3). That Esther called the Jews to engage in a three day fast over the situation, which she clearly considered would help her cause, and which every reader would see as being accompanied by prayer (4.16).
• 4). That the response of both Mordecai and his fellow Jews was to fast and ‘cry out’, and weep and wail, and wear sackcloth and ashes, clearly with the aim of moving their God to action (4.1-3; 9.31).
• 5). That when the people heard of their deliverance they ‘had light and gladness and joy and honour’, all words associated elsewhere with worship. Light coming upon His people was a sign of God’s activity as the prophet Isaiah points out in chapter 9 verse 2 of his book. Thus this could only indicate an attitude of worship.
These acts could only indicate religious entreaty and celebration, whilst fasting would hardly have been expected to prevail if it was not directed towards God. Esther especially clearly considered that it would help her cause. Besides the very fact that the reader knew that the book was dealing with the Jews as a people meant that certain assumptions would be expected to be made, for the Jews undoubtedly saw themselves as God’s people, and all that happened to them as related to God. The Book was accepted into the canon precisely because the Jews did see what happened as an indication of their God’s direct activity, and saw the Book as portraying that fact.