Esther – Part 1

It will take about twenty minutes to read through Esther, and repeated reading will allow you to immerse yourself in the story. These notes, which will be in three parts, are offered to help you in your personal study.

Introduction and purpose, and the biblical and historical settings

Esther, the seventeenth book of the Bible, records the attempted mass destruction of the Jews exiled in the vast Medo-Persian Empire (see map).1 This was prevented by the actions of Mordecai, a Jew, and his cousin, Esther, who had become Queen. At great personal risk, Queen Esther successfully appealed to the despotic King Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jews.

The inclusion of Esther in the Bible has often been questioned because there is no reference to God nor the worship of God in the book. That said, it records the faithfulness of God towards His people in their darkest days. While He is hidden from view and is apparently silent, His control of events is seen throughout. This alone warrants its inclusion in the Bible, and our study of it.

This underlying theme is set against the backdrop of a satanic plot to destroy God’s chosen people, the Jews. It is through the nation that the promised Saviour will come. Satan is moving yet again through human agency to stop that, by orchestrating the annihilation of the Jews, Esther 3. 13.

However, we will see God’s hand in events to halt this wicked plot. Esther teaches us that God is never taken by surprise. Rather, the opposite is true. We see that He moves in advance of events, as sovereign over His creation, to fulfil His own plans and purposes.

There are, of course, many examples of this in the Bible. Do you remember when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, Gen. 45. 7, 8? He recognized that he had been placed in Egypt in advance of the famine, so that God’s people would be preserved.

So, as you read, look out for, and think about, the following actions of God as He moves silently in advance of events, to protect His people.

  • In chapter 1, note the refusal of Queen Vashti to come before the king, his courtiers and guests. This resulted in her removal from the throne. Interestingly, this seemingly isolated event paved the way for Esther to become queen.
  • In chapter 2, Mordecai the Jew and Esther come into view when a replacement for Queen Vashti is being sought. Esther becomes that new queen.
  • In chapter 2, Mordecai reports a plot against King Ahasuerus. This will become relevant later to the events of chapter 6.
  • In chapter 4 verse 14, the question posed by Mordecai to Esther, ‘who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ wonderfully crystallizes the point. She certainly is there at the right time, and God has both Mordecai and Queen Esther in position to preserve His people from the evil scheme unfolded in chapter 3.
  • In chapter 6, Haman, the enemy of the Jews, determines to hang Mordecai in a concerted plan to remove him. As Haman appears before Ahasuerus to ask permission to do so, he discovers that Ahasuerus has had a sleepless night and has determine to reward Mordecai for exposing the plot recorded in chapter 2! This stalls Haman’s plan to have Mordecai hanged there and then. Again, we see God acting sovereignly to preserve Mordecai, who will play a major part in the preservation of the Jews.
  • In chapter 8, note the ultimate and central role Queen Esther and Mordecai have in the issuing of the decree permitting the Jews to protect themselves.

Biblical setting

The events in Esther take place during the times of the two preceding exilic books, Ezra and Nehemiah.

Ezra focuses on the rebuilding of the temple, and Nehemiah on the repair of the walls of Jerusalem.

But in Esther the Jews apparently lack any ambition to return from exile. Instead, they seem to be far from God in heart, and unfaithful to Him. Even so, God does not change and remains faithful to them. He will act to preserve them from mortal danger.

Historical setting

The events occur in the Medo-Persian Empire when Ahasuerus III, also known as Xerxes I, was king (486 to 465 BC). This is the second world empire, following the Babylonian Empire, as represented by the silver breast and arms of the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapter 2.

The first verse tells us that the empire stretched from India (the river Indus) to Ethiopia. Ethiopia was the name used by the Greeks for the border area between present-day Egypt and Sudan.

In Part 2 we will look at the principal characters in this fascinating book.