Session 34: Esther
“When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther: 4:12-14
Esther; Key verses: 4:12-16; 10:3
Key personalities: Esther, Mordecai, Haman, Vashti, and Xerxes
Timeline: About 486-465 B.C. during Xerxes, King of Perisa’s reign. The Persians were the top empire of the world; they conquered the north part of the Middle East and north Africa, from southern Europe, central Asia to India. Their only foe, the Spartans of Greece, kept the fight and the legend of the 300. The Persians built the first observatory, and the Israelites have been returning to their homeland since 538 B.C. The Iron Age is the main reason for the vast armies; however, bronze is still in the majority of farming tools. The Greeks were at their pinnacle of power and influence with Socratic philosophy; they build the temple of Zeus, use carrier pigeons to communicate, reform economic and legal laws, write tragedy plays and poetry, and build ships for exploration and conquering lands. The Olmecs built Mexican pyramids, and Darius finishes a canal from the Nile to the Red sea (started by the Egyptians--it takes 100 years). 100 years later, Alexander the Great conquers the Euro-Western world, paving the way for Rome to grow.
The Book of Esther is about a common girl who becomes a queen. This Book comes to us in the form of a short story like the Book of Ruth. It takes place between Ezra and Nehemiah. Its main theme is God’s sovereignty--using ordinary people with faith to accomplish His extraordinary plan. It is about the courage and perseverance of a young lady presented with a huge moral problem--her duty as a queen versus her loyalty as a Jew. She, a captive Jew, is chosen to become queen of Persia. It is like a Disney fairy tale of a nobody becoming a queen and foiling the evil plots that prevent her from ascending to her position; however, this is no fairy tale. This is a woman of God with God working through her. This is Esther, from a humble home, no parents (perhaps killed), uncle Mordecai who took care of her, and an arrogant villain, Haman, scheming to destroy all the people in her race. It is set in the Persian Empire capital’s palace of Shushan (one of the three) with all the opulence and trappings.
Chapter 1, Queen Vashti is deposed
Chapter 2, Esther is chosen to become queen
Chapter 3, Haman’s edict, pride erupts and conspires
Chapter 4-5, Esther has perseverance and courage
Chapter 6-7, God’s deliverance, Haman hanged
Chapter 8-10, The Jews are saved from annihilation
Textual oddities: The author is a mystery. The story of Esther is written like a Hebrew play. There are no words for "God," thus the Creator of the universe and giver of grace never appears in the book, yet it shows that God directs and His grace is magnified throughout, through His working in the lives of His people. Liberal redactors say it does not belong in the Bible, because they just can't see that even with no name of God, His Presence is made known very clearly. As mentioned before, this Book is no fairy tale; however, in the course of inspiring many, this Book is where Walt Disney gained ideas for his plot lines and characters, for his princess stories and movies, “a story old as time…”.
The return from Exile! During this time, Israel is rebooted to know God, love God and follow His precepts to be a better healthier nation to know and make Him known. This time, they do a better job.
Stuck in Babolyan. Perhaps the majority of the Jews were still in captivity, thinking God has abandoned them. Yet God is still at work, even when we do not see Him in it. Thus, many Jews have not returned, either by complacency to stay, for fear of going back, for the work that is involved and some were not allowed to go back by Xerxes’ paranoia of rebellion. Thus, these Jews were living in rubble, in disobedience to God’s call to go back to the rubble of their city, yet God’s grace reigns by using Queen Esther to save the Jews.
Key Happenings: Restoration! God’s Redemption is at work!
Vashti. She is the wife of King Xerxes and mother of Artaxerxes, the successor to Xerxes. In other historical records (Herodotus), she is mentioned as a cruel, wicked, and vain and on a power trip. To set her in place, Xerxes has her, “display her beauty’ as to enter a banquet wearing only her crown; she refused. The King and his people were drunk; she was removed and used as a cultural threat so wives would obey their husbands. Liberal scholars describe her as an early independent-minded feminist (Est. 1).
Persia. Persia is the main conquering empire of the day with as much influence as Greece, now modern Iran. It spanned southern Europe to North Africa to India. It was more tolerant of other cultures as long as they gave tribute and respected the king, and when they did not, consequences followed. They invented crucifixion and used this as the consequence whereas other ancient empires just killed and maimed their way through. They were kind to the Jews and the only Gentile king, Cyrus, to be called ‘anointed.’ In a hundred years, Alexander the Great will conquer them, and this is where the magi come from (Isa. 45:1).
Esther, meaning ‘star and happiness,’ perhaps a common name then, as it also refers to the myrtle tree that was native to Babylon. (The exiles who returned to Jerusalem took the tree with them as a symbol of their reforming nation of Israel.) She was a Jew of the humblest of origins who became the Queen of Persia for King Xerxes (Hebrew, ‘Ahasuerus’). She is humble and wise, and she gains the favor of key people to help her; she wins the heart of the king. She was chosen from beauty pageants in an empire-wide search to find the most beautiful woman to replace Vashti who lost her posting and was vanquished. Esther finds out an evil plot was afoot to destroy her people. By the rules of her kingdom, she could not get an audience with her husband King Xerxes in a timely manner, so she risks her life to gain his attention, by a breach in court edict, that the pervious queen died from, in order to save her people.
Esther demonstrated Perseverance as having confidence in God so we trust Him in difficult situations and still see His grace and love. We can do this by being encouraging with Christ-like temperament (2 Chron. 32:1-8; Esther 7; Luke 16:22-31; 18:9; Acts 19:8-10; 26:19-23; Rom. 15:14-16; Phil. 1:6; 12-14, 25; 2 Tim. 2:25).
Mordecai, is Esthers’ uncle, her father's brother, who adopted her after her parents died. Mordecai was building a foundation of faith in a child that turned into a great woman of faith. He was a man of steadfast faith and wisdom who refused to bow down to a mere man, and consequently causes an eruption of pride from Haman, who overreacts to the extreme. Mordecai wisely counsels Esther to keep her identity a secret until the right time thus saving Esther’s life and helping her to save their people. He foils a plot to kill Xerxes, and later was rewarded; this set the tone for Esther to save her people. His faith prevails, and he later became the ‘courtier’--an advisor to Xerxes (Est. 2:19-23; 10:1-3; Prov 22:6).
Xerxes. His name means ‘ruling over heroes,’ 519–465 B.C., ruled 486-465 B.C., and he was the grandson of Cyrus and the son of Darius--the fourth ‘King of Kings’ of Persia. He was a conqueror, but was frustrated by the small armies of Egypt and Greece and returned to his palace to build a bridge across the Hellespont and dug a 2,200 meter canal across the Mt. Athos Peninsula in 480 B,C. (described as the most impressive building project to date of the ancient civilizations and a testimony to the Persian’s imperial presence to rule the known world). He followed the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism and was suspicious of other religions; he may have slowed down the Jewish return to their homeland, but was kind to them. In 465 B.C., Xerxes was murdered by a trusted friend, Artabanus, the most powerful official in the Persian, and the commander of his bodyguard. Why the short reign for such a mighty king? Perhaps he should not have banished and humiliated Vashti, Artaxerxes’s mother. No news on what happened to Esther--perhaps she found favor or escaped to her people.
Beauty treatments, including olive oil, aloe ointments, spices and herbs like myrrh, as well as the burning of incense so the oilsa are infused into the skin. Special food was from the king's table, the best of the kingdom.
Concubines. They were young women given to the king in marriage without a dowry or an obligation, thus the king can do with them as he wished.
Haman, the Agagite. He is the archetype of the classic villain--very prideful, unconcerned for others and connives to get his evil way. His name suggests he is an Amelkite, Israel’s oldest enemy, who were the first to attack after the Israelites left Egypt. Saul was supposed to wipe them out, and he failed. Mordecai’s name suggests he was a descendant of Saul. Thus, Haman was primed with a centuries old grudge, and an opportunity to scheme a diabolical plot (Ex. 17:8-16; 1 Sam. 9:1-2; 15; Est. 2:5; 3:1-6).
Fasted. In the book of Ruth, the Jews fasted when they heard that Haman had tricked the king into wiping them out. This was a battle between two groups, each represented by one man’s antagonism to the other, and intervention was needed (Esther 4:3-16; 9:31).
Zoroastrianism. Started by Zoroaster in 600 B.C., the main religion of the Persian. They worship one god, “Ahura-Mazda,” meaning a wise lord, making them unique, and giving them a commonality with the Jews as the rest of the world worshipped a pantheon of gods.
The Feast of Purim was celebrated on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar (Feb./Mar.) The word Purim means lots, as in casting lots or dice. This feast day recalls the story of Esther, the time in Jewish history when the lot was cast to decide the day of destruction of the Jewish people and how God intervened so that this plan was not carried out. It was started by Mordecai to commemorate the failure of Haman's plots against the Jews. On the evening of the thirteenth, the whole Book of Esther was read publicly in the synagogue. It was a joyous occasion. This day instills to us that, "Without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Esther 9:20-22, 26-28).
The Jews had to learn real impacting faith and that God wants our trust and obedience from a response to His Love! This means that God’s Law and precepts will become our inner principles so we can no longer claim ignorance or remain in our sin. We will want to know God not out of obligation, but out of a response to Who He is and what He has done. This is a call to know God, obey His principles, and grow in Him. This was a prelude for the Old Testament Jews, that one day they would have a personal relationship with God, as we now have with Christ because of this new covenant. Also, this was theme of retort by Jeremiah that the people of his day were not concerned about God, only about their own thinking and sins. This is a call to intimately know Christ, and receive Him and His precepts so He will clear our conscience with forgiveness and a contented life in Him. When we do His will; we will delight in Him. (Deut. 5:29; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27; Rom. 8:2-4; Heb. 10:26; 13:21).
Key Takeaway: Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. There are no little people in the Kingdom of God who trust in Him. This is an epic tale, “a story old as time,” of how a beauty tamed a beast, one of history most ravenous conquering megalomaniacs, and she persuades him to help the rest of her people who were still in exile whose foes were in the king’s own royal court. God’s plan and people prevail! The Jews were able to escape their extermination, by being allowed to be armed and prepared. The Persian soldiers could not be stopped by a revoked rule; they were told to slow down and not be fierce. Haman was hanged on the same gallows he made for Mordecai, and Mordecai received a Haman’s estate and position (Heb. 11:6).
The foreshadow of Jesus Christ? Through the example of faith, perseverance and courage, models for us what a real faithful Chrisitan is to be. Esther also points us to Christ by her advocacy to save her people as Christ Advocates for us before the Father to save us. She was willing to die for her people; Christ dies for our sins.
Questions to Ponder
- Have you ever felt that God has abandoned you? Have you felt God only favors certain people and not you?
- How and why does God work in the seemingly insignificant life events like beauty pageant?
- Have you ever considered that some coincidences can be God’s Divine appointments? Remember opportunity to work there must be a response!
- How do our self interests and fears cause havoc with God’s work in our lives?
- Why would the Iserilates who went back chose to live in a land of ruble with broken walls and a unusable Temple?
- Why were there only less than 60,000 who went back to Jerusalem and 2,000,000 who remained in Persia?
- Why have so many sought the Jews total destruction? How do you see God’s grace and providential care of His people?
- If God uses ordinary people with faith to accomplish His extraordinary plan, what can He do in your life?
- How is God Presence made known very clearly, even with no name of God? How have you seen God’s Presence in your life?
- Why is it that without faith, it is impossible to please God? Why do we try so hard to not use faith in our daily lives?
- There are no little people in the Kingdom of God who trust in Him. How does this fact give you hope for your faith and outlook? What stands in your way? What can you do in Christ?
- What is the ruble in your life and what do you need to do to clear and fix it?
© 2013 R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org