Summary: Esther is a great study in God’s hand to save his people. He uses events of history and people he choses to fulfill his will. What’s his plan for you?
The canonization of Esther in the Holy Scriptures has been a hotly debated topic for centuries. While Esther tells of a historic event in the life of God‘s people, it never once mentions God’s name. For all practical purposes Esther is in the Bible to explain the origin of the Jewish celebration of Purim. This celebration is a three day event beginning with a day of fasting followed by two days of feasting, reminding Jews of God’s deliverance from their enemies. The Jews still celebrate Purim today and as part of the celebration they read the entire book of Esther aloud. When the name of Haman is mentioned they all hiss and spit. When Esther and Mordecai are mentioned they all cheer. Purim means “lots.” Haman had cast lots to decide the day for the annihilation of the Jews, and instead, through an ironic turn of events, his plot ended with his own death and the victory of the Jews over their enemies.
The time of Esther is about 480 B.C. The place is Susa, the winter capitol of Persia. Ahasuerus, (Xerxes 1), is king and the people of Israel are scattered among the nations. The Babylonian captivity has ended, but many Jews did not return. The events of Esther are before Nehemiah who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, but after Darius 1 who ordered the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
The characters of Esther each have an important part in the story. As the book opens the Persian king, Ahazuerus, is having a huge celebration that lasts for six months. He is most likely preparing for battle against the Greeks and has planned this as a pep rally for the troops. He wants to assure loyalty and devotion from his military leaders. Part of the celebration creates an opening for the heroin of our book. The king is drinking and partying and in this condition he decides to have the queen, Vashti, come in and show her beauty. One ancient historian says that she was to enter wearing only her crown. Vashti refused. This is perhaps the first recorded women’s liberation movement in Persia. Embarrassed and angry, the king calls for his wise men to help him decide what to do about it. Vashti is dethroned and possibly even executed. After this event about four years pass. During this time the Persians are defeated in battle by the Greeks at Salamis, which marks a turning point in the future of the Persian Empire.
Esther is uninterested in these details and leaves them unrecorded. But after this battle we see a stirring in the kingdom events. The king is ready for a replacement queen and all the prettiest young women are rounded up and taken to the capitol for a year’s beauty treatment and consultation on how to please the king. It is a one night stand for most. But among the young beautiful virgins selected is a Jewish girl named Esther. Her uncle or cousin, Mordecai, a man of some standing in the king’s court, raised her. And when it comes her turn to go to the king, she follows the advice of her coach, the king’s eunuch, Hegai. Esther has such a winning presence with everyone she meets that 2:15 says she won the favor of all who saw her. As it turns out, the king loved her more than all the others so he made her queen.