The story of Esther's rise from an unknown Jewish girl to become the queen of a mighty empire illustrates how GOD used events and people as instruments to fulfill His promise to His Chosen People. Following several days of revelry, the drunken king Ahasuerus - generally identified with Xerxes I (reigned 486-465 B.C.) - asked his queen, Vashti, to display herself to his guests. When Vashti courageously refused, she was banished from the palace. Ahasuerus than had "all the beautiful young virgins" (Esth. 2:3) of his kingdom brought to his palace to choose Vashti's replacement.
Scripture records that "the young woman [Esther] was lovely and beautiful" (Esth. 2:7). The king loved Esther more than all the other women. He appointed her queen to replace Vashti (Esth. 2:17).
At the time, Haman was Ahasuerus' most trusted advisor. An egotistical and ambitious man, Haman demanded that people bow to him as he passed - something which Mordecai, a devout Jew, could not do in good conscience. In rage, Haman sought revenge, not only on Mordecai but also on the entire Jewish population of the empire. He persuaded the king to issue an edict permitting him to kill all the Jews and seize their property.
With great tact and skill, Esther exposed Haman's plot and true character to the king. As a result, Ahasuerus granted the Jews the right to defend themselves and to destroy their enemies. With ironic justice, "they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai" (Esth. 7:10).
Even today Jews celebrate their deliverance from this edict at the Feast of Purim (Esth. 9:26-32), celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of the month of Adar. (IBD)
Date: Shortly after 465 B.C.
Theme: Community efforts that forge a nation
Key Words: Humility, interdependence, fear of GOD
It takes its name from the beautiful Jewish orphan - the protagonist of the story - who became the official spouse of the Persian king Ahasuerus. He is generally considered to be the monarch Xerxes I, who succeeded Darius I in 485 B.C. and governed for twenty years over 127 provinces, from India to Ethiopia. Ahazeurus lived in Shushan, the capital of Persia. In this time, a certain number of Jews were still found in Babylonia, in spite of having been declared free to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1; 2) fifty years earlier. The story develops during a period of four years, which begin in the third year of Xerxe's reign.
(IBD) Shushan was the ancient capital of Elam, in southwestern Iran; later a royal residence and capital of the Persian Empire (Neh. 1:1; Susa, NASB, NIV, RSV). The site is present-day Shush, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of the Persian Gulf.
Long before the time of Abraham in the Old Testament, Shushan was the center of Elamite civilization. Some scholars believe it was a cult city centering around worship of one of the chief Elamite gods. The city had frequent contacts with Mesopotamia.
When Cyrus the Great (reigned 550-529 B.C.) established the Persian Empire, he made Shushan its capital. At Shushan Darius the Great (ruled about 521-486 B.C.) built his magnificent royal palace. This palace, when occupied by Artaxerxes II (404-359 B.C.), figured prominently in the story of Esther. In fact, most of the events recorded in the Book of Esther took place in Shushan (Esther 1:2-5; 2:3-8; 3:15; 4:8-16; 8:14-15; 9:6-18). It was in Shushan also that the prophet Daniel had his vision of the ram and the goat (Dan. 8:2) and where Nehemiah lived in exile (Neh. 1:1).
According to a tradition of the Shiite Muslims, the present-day village of Shush (ancient Shushan) is the site of the tomb of the prophet Daniel.
Content: The Book of Esther is a study in how GOD's people survived in the midst of hostility. Haman, the second figure of the kingdom, wanted the destruction of the Jews, and tried to manipulate the will of the monarch to decree their execution. GOD then uses Esther to save his people. Haman is hanged; and Mordecai, a Jewish leader in imperial Persia, becomes the first minister. The Feast of Purim is instituted to commemorate the salvation of the Chosen People.
The Book of Esther is unique because GOD's name isn't mentioned. However, GOD's presence and his ways are made evident throughout the text, especially in the lives of Esther and Mordecai. From a human perspective, Esther and Mordecai are two people little prepared to fulfill a principal role in the formation of a nation. He was an exiled Benjamite Jew; she was his adopted orphaned niece (2:7). Esther's spiritual maturity displayed in her patience in awaiting the moment in which she would ask GOD to save His people and denounce Haman (5:6-8; 7:3-6). Mordecai also shows maturity in seeking the opportunity and GOD's direction in order to serve him. Consequently, he recognized the precise moment in which Esther should reveal her identity as a Jew (2:10). This prudent attitude, obviously inspired by GOD, was decisive (6:1-14; 7:9,10) in that situation, and puts the spiritual basis on which the story leans into evidence.
Finally, Esther as well as Mordecai feared GOD, not people. In spite of the consequences, Esther and Mordecai refuse to pay homage to Haman. Esther risked her life for the love of her people, approaching the king without having been called. Her mission was always to save those whom the enemy attempted to destroy (2:21-23; 4:1-17; 7:1-6; 8:3-6). As a result, they led the nation to liberty, were honored by the king and awarded great authority, privileges and official responsibilities.
Question of History and Literary Genre: (HBH) The reliability of the Book of Esther as a historical witness has been challenged. In more recent years many scholars have recognized that it has a historical nucleus. Some of these same scholars believe that the literary genre of Esther is historical novel or historical romance. The Book of Esther, as the argument goes, has the properties of legend and fiction. Internal oddities include Mordecai's age (at least 124 years old if he indeed were deported by Nebuchadnezzar; compare 2:6; 3:7) and other questionable exaggerations (for example, 1:4; 2:12; 5:14; 9:16). It is argues that the story's protagonists and the incidents related cannot be corroborated outside the Bible. Furthermore, the Greek historian Herodotus (History VII, 114) identified Xerxes' queen as Amestris, not Vashti or Esther.
However, scholars who esteem the book as a reliable historical witness have answered that it shows an accurate and detailed knowledge of Persian life, law, and custom. Archaeological information about the architecture of the palace and about Xerxes' reign harmonizes well with the story's depictions. The occasion of the banquet in the third year (1:3) corresponds to the remarks of the Greek historian Herodotus (History, VII.8) that Xerxes convened his leading men in that year to plan a campaign against Greece. Also the name of a court official, Marduka (Mordecai?), has been attested in Persian tablets from this time. While it is not possible to identify with certainty this figure as Mordecai, the name gives the story a ring of authenticity.
as for the incongruities, evangelicals answer with alternative explanations. For example, the Hebrew text can be interpreted to mean that Mordecai's ancestor Kish was deported by Nebuchadnezzar (2:6). As for Amestris, some have attempted to equate the names of Esther and Amestris on a linguistic basis, but this has been questioned. Others have accounted for the discrepancy by suggesting that Xerxes had more than one queen or that Amestris was queen during the four years between the removal of Vashti and the wedding of Esther (1:3; 2:16).
If it can be shown that the author intended the book to be read as a literary fiction, it should be interpreted accordingly as one would a parable or allegory without doubting its inspiration. However, if the author intended it as historically verifiable, interpreters should treat it as a reliable account of the Persian Jews. The author indicates that the book should be read as historical when he invites his readers to verify this account by consulting Persian annals where the story's events (and more) can be found (10:2). This is the same kind of invitation found among the histories of Kings and Chronicles. Unless there is compelling evidence otherwise, the trustworthiness of the account should be the interpreter's guide.
Esther Without "GOD": (HBH) Esther is the only book in the Hebrew Bible that does not mention GOD's name. Also absent is any reference to the law, Jewish sacrifice, prayer,or revelation. It is the only book of the Old Testament from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Opinion about the book's religious value has varied. Luther considered it worthless. The famous Jewish scholar Maimonides [twelfth century A.D.] set it beside the Torah in importance. The book's canonical status has been disputed by Jews and Christians.
One explanation for the book's "secular" nature is that a Jewish author took the story almost verbatim from an official Persian record that omitted GOD's name. Others have suggested that the author was more concerned about the Jewish people as a nation than their religious practices. However, official records (for example, the Cyrus Cylinder and Moabite Stone) are known to have invoked or referred to deities without reservation. There is no reason the name of Israel's GOD would have been offensive to Persian religion. Old Testament literature does not make the modern dichotomy between secular concerns and religious ones when describing historical events.
A better explanation is that the absence of religious language best suited the author's theological purposes. The author expressed his theology through the vehicle of story, arranging the events and dialogue to accentuate that theology. He omitted Israel's religious distinctives because he wanted to veil GOD's presence. The author believed in GOD's sovereignty but that GOD's intervention is expressed through human instrumentation.
The author did not directly speak of GOD's participation; rather, he only hinted at GOD's presence. He did this through the characters who recognized divine intervention in their lives (4:15-16b). The mention of fasting and the wearing of sackcloth and ashes (4:1-3; 4:16; 9:31) imply that the Jews worshiped since prayer commonly occurred with fasting in the Old Testament. The author perceived that GOD effectively orchestrated the salvation of the Jews, but he did not want GOD's actions to be obvious.
Another way the story shows GOD's hand is by reversing the expected outcome of the events. Human intrigue, manipulation, and simple coincidence are the overt explanations for the dramatic changes in the story's conclusion while covertly GOD is at work. The story's structure further enhances the author's theme of reversals. By omitting reference to religious activities, the author commented on the spiritual status of the Jews living in the Diaspora. These Jews were the ones who did not volunteer to return to Jerusalem as part of the "remnant" through whom GOD would work again (Ezra 1:4; 9:8-9). Through their faith was fragile, GOD remained faithful to His covenant by preserving them.
Purpose and Theology: (HBH)
Finally, the book is a parody on Gentile domination. Mighty Xerxes, draped in royal splendor, is depicted as a weak, easily manipulated monarch who was ill-informed about the events of his own kingdom. The prerogative of Gentile authority - the irrevocable law of the Medes and Persians - entrapped the king and ultimately brought down Gentile authority (epitomized in Haman). True power is found in the virtues of loyalty, honesty, and fasting in worship of GOD.
The foil for this feasting is Jewish fasting which was the author's way of expressing this people's commitment to their religious heritage (4:1-3,16). Fasting preceded feasting in the case of Esther's approach to the king (4:16), and thus fasting was also commemorated as part of their Purim (9:31). their fasting, the outward expression of their trust in GOD, precipitated their victory and celebration.
Personal Application: One of the principal objectives of the Book of Esther is to offer us, through the lives of Esther and Mordecai, a classic example of cohesion and solidarity. Their mutual relationship vividly illustrates the unity that Jesus asked for to reign among his disciples (John 17). The success of their individual mission, as ell as their own survival, depended entirely on staying united. Esther also show how GOD destroys those who try to harm his people. All this reminds us that the LORD will defend us against Satan and that his sovereign will prevail.
Christ Revealed: Queen Esther acted like Jesus in several aspects. In the first place, she lived in total submission obeying the authorities that GOD had placed over her: Mordecai and King Ahazeurus; just as the LORD Jesus, during his earthly ministry, lived in total submission and obedience to his heavenly Father.
In the second place, Esther also totally identified with her people and fasted for three days to intercede in their behalf (4:16). Hebrew 2:17 tells us that (Jesus) "had to be like his brothers in every way, to be a merciful and faithful high priest". As such, the LORD also prayed and fasted for his own (Matt. 4:2; John 17:20).
In the third place, Esther renounced her own life to save the nation from sure death. For that, the king exalted her. In the same way, Jesus handed his own life over so that a world of sinners could be saved from eternal death, and for that, the Father exalted him (Phil. 2:5-11).
The Holy Spirit also led Esther and gave her strength to fast for her nation and to call the people to do the same (see Rom. 8:26,27).
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