Chapter 1.
Introduction to Esther

I. The Basic Background

The book of Esther is a highly revered book to the Jews and is ranked in its importance with the Law of Moses. The Jews call Esther "The Megillah" or "Megilloth Esther" (Esther Roll or Scroll). This book was one of five scrolls assigned for reading on Jewish holidays. The Megilloth or Rolls appear in the Hebrew Bible in this order.

1. Canticles—Song of Solomon... It is read with the Passover which celebrated the Jews deliverance from Egypt.

2. Ruth—It is about God's goodness in the land. It is read at the Feast of Pentecost. The Ten Commandments were given during Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was given to us at Pentecost.

3. Lamentations—Used on the ninth of Ab commemorating the destruction of the Jewish temple. This happened twice on this day under Nebuchadnezzar and the Romans. It is also believed to be the day the twelve spies gave a bad report according to Jewish historians.

4. Ecclesiastes—This was read at the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast commemorated God's provision and goodness in the wilderness for forty years. The Jews would live in booths or tents to remind themselves of wilderness living.

5. Esther—Esther was read at the Feast of Purim which usually falls at the end of February. This was the Jewish month Adar (February/March). This month was considered the last month of the sacred year.

Purim

The word "Purim" means "dice." It was wicked Haman who used dice to set a date for the extermination of the Jews from the Persian Empire on the thirteenth of Adar. God delivered the Jews from the destruction of the plot. Purim is one of three feasts celebrating deliverance.

  1. Hanukkah—Feast of the deliverance of Judaism.
  2. Purim—The deliverance of the Jews is celebrated.
  3. Passover—Deliverance from the slavery of Egypt and the Death Angel.

Esther's courage, wisdom, and appeal to her royal husband led to the execution of wicked Haman and a law enabling the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies. Over 75,000 enemies were destroyed including 800 in the capital of Susa.

The custom of Purim was to read the scroll of Esther on the 14th of Adar. When Haman's name is mentioned during the reading, the people would "boo" and stomp their feet on the ground. Children would sound off noise makers to drown out his contemptible name. When Mordecai's name was mentioned everyone would cheer.

The celebration on this day involved giving gifts to the poor and to family members. It was a time of great joy. The Jews drank and made merry to the point where their soberness was in question. A three cornered poppy seed pastry called Hamantashem was eaten to symbolize the hat of wicked Haman. It also represented the three people of Esther's feast... the King, Esther, and Haman. The fate of three groups was decided at the feast too... Mordecai, the Jews, and Haman.

Purim not only included feasting, but also masquerades, parodies, and plays. The lesson of Purim is the Jewish people cannot be destroyed by making anti-Semitism the law of the land. Isaiah put it this way...

Isaiah 54:17—No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

After WW2, Julius Streicher, Hitler's minister of propaganda was sentenced to be hanged as a war criminal. As he ascended the gallows, he was heard to say, "Purim, 1946! Purim, 1946!" He had learned the lesson of Purim too late and too well.

II. THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK

The purpose of the book of Esther is to demonstrate the sovereignty of God and His care for His people. It also teaches us that man's extremity is God's opportunity. God is seen in His power, providence, protection, and preservation. The key to understanding the book of Esther is found in the word providence. Providence means "to provide in advance." Ruth is a book about the romance of redemption and Esther is about the romance of providence.

God shows His provision for His people. God is like the unseen rudder on the ship of state. When God is not seen at the steering wheel, then He is the backseat driver. Providence is the hand of God in the glove of history. God's hand is seen in....

The book of Esther is stamped with

Romans 8:28—And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Esther happens to become queen to a heathen king for a reason. Mordecai happens to foil an assassination upon the king for a reason. The king happens to read the account of Mordecai just at the right time.

The book of Esther reveals that God has His servants for times of crisis. They may be hidden or unknown till the time strikes, then God sends the deliverer. God has a way of having the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

In Egypt, the storm clouds of starvation were approaching. God raised up Joseph for the occasion.

When the Jews were oppressed in slavery, Moses was raised up from the wilderness to proclaim to Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" He said this with courage and confidence. There was steel in his words because he was commissioned by the great "I AM."

When the Philistines and the Midianites oppressed Israel, Samson and Gideon were raised up by the Lord to lead.

In order to conquer the enemies of Israel, a shepherd boy named David was made king to lead Israel into victory.

When the Syrians invaded, Judas Macabbeous arose to the occasion.

When God's people were brought to the brink of extinction; when the promised seed of the Messiah was on the verge of being wiped out, Esther and Mordecai were put into a position to deliver God's people.

Our responsibility as believers is to spiritually prepare ourselves daily. If a crisis arises, God's voice is represented though our life, actions, and words. God may tap you on the shoulder at a moments notice. A critical hour may arise at work, city hall, school, the class room, in the family, at church, at the state capitol, even in Washington D.C. We are to be ready at a moment's notice to be a voice for God and available to Him.

III. RUTH AND ESTHER COMPARED

A quick glance at the books of the Bible reveals that Esther is one of two books with a woman's name. The other one is Ruth. Ruth joins hands with Esther.

IV. WHERE IS GOD?

The key verse of the 167 verses in Esther is

Esther 4:14—For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

In the text of the story, God's name is not mentioned at all. For this reason, the canonicity was doubted. No name, title, or pronoun for God appears. None is mentioned in the Song of Solomon either. There is no mention of Palestine, the Jerusalem Temple, the Law of Moses, or prayer. Fasting is mentioned in the book. The New Testament does not quote from the book of Esther. Though God's name is not present in the book, His finger is present. God puts in check every move wicked Haman attempts.

Why is God not mentioned? Several ideas have been offered about this fact.

1. Jehovah declared that if His people forsook Him, He would hide His face from them. (Deut. 31:16-18). The Jews in Persia have been disobedient to the will of God. The Lord may not have wanted His name associated with these Jews.

2. The writer of Esther (possibly Mordecai) may have left out God's name because this document may have been for the royal records of Persia. The writer may not have wanted to offend the Persians.

3. If Mordecai did write this book, he may have avoided God's name also because the Persians would have given credit to their heathen gods instead of Jehovah.

V. THE KEY CHARACTERS IN ESTHER

Esther means "Persian star." Her name may possibly be associated with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. It was not uncommon for exiled Jews to have pagan names (Daniel 1:7). Her Jewish name is Haddasah which means "myrtle." The Haddasah or myrtle tree played a significant role in Jewish ceremonies.

Esther is a beautiful picture of the redeemed of the Lord, believers in Jesus Christ. As the myrtle is the emblem of immortality, the Church will live with Christ for eternity. The myrtle has evergreen, dark, shiny leaves with white five petaled starlike flowers which emit a sweet fragrance from the flowers and bruised leaves. Believers today have a sweet fragrance in their life when Christ saves them, they suffer for Him, and are surrendered to Him in every area of their life. Five is the number of grace in the Bible. Believers are recipients of God's grace and are cleansed by the blood of Christ. Esther is the accepted queen or bride. She is a picture of those who received the righteousness of God by His redemption. Esther was chosen by the grace of the king. She didn't work to become queen. We don't work to become the bride of Christ. We are saved by His grace. Esther is in submission to Mordecai even though she is queen. She follows the directions of Mordecai who is a type of Christ. The Church today is to follow and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Esther was given one year to learn how to beautify and prepare herself for her husband, the King. The believer today is to prepare and beautify him or herself until Christ, the King of Kings, returns or we meet Him in death. We are to adorn ourselves with the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29:2; 2 Corinthians 7:1). Esther was a woman of piety, faith, courage, compassion, charm, patriotism, and maturity.

Vashti

Vashti means "beautiful woman." She was a beautiful queen who lost her place because she did not submit to the king and disobeyed his decrees. Beauty and works did not please the king. Obedience was demanded. God demands our obedience to His word too. Our righteous beauty and works will not please the King of Kings.

Mordecai

Mordecai is the cousin of Esther who cares for her. He is Esther's Kinsman Redeemer as Christ is our Kinsman Redeemer. He pays her debts and assumes responsibility for her. Mordecai shows mercy in adopting Esther. Christ did the same for us in receiving us into the family of God (Ephesians 1:7). Mordecai was faithful to the king as Christ was faithful to His Father's will. Mordecai was hated and despised just as Christ was hated (Isaiah 53:3; John 15:25). Mordecai was severely tested and so was Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11). Mordecai was of the tribe of Benjamin which means "son of my right hand." He reminds us of Christ who is at the right hand of God the Father.

It is interesting to note that Mordecai's name appears more times than Esther's in this book (58 times to Esther's 56). In fact, he is mentioned in nine of the ten chapters while Esther is mentioned in only six of the chapters. If you exclude the very first chapter you will find that the action of 7/8 of the verses of the book is primarily caused directly or indirectly by Mordecai. Some feel the book should be entitled Mordecai instead of Esther because of these facts.

King Ahaseurus (Xerxes)= means "the lion king"

Ahaseurus indirectly pictures the power of God the Father in His sovereign rule. His empire today would consist of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, West Jordan, most of Egypt, North Sudan, NE Libya, NE Greece, the Black Sea, coastal Bulgaria, and SW Russia.

Haman

Haman is a picture of the Anti-Christ who will oppose and endeavor to destroy God's people in the Tribulation. Haman is the only one branded with the title "The Jews Enemy" (3:10; 7:6; 8:1; 9:10, 14). The numerical value of the phrase "Hainan the Wicked" = 666... the number of the Anti-Christ.

The number thirteen is also linked with Haman. Thirteen is the number of rebellion, apostasy, defection, corruption, revolution, and disintegration. In chapter 3:12, the decree is issued on the thirteenth day of the thirteenth month of planning. In chapter 3:13, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of that second year, the Jews would be put to death. Three thirteens are found here in connection with the destruction of God's people.

The book of Esther is a prophetical forecast of God's deliverance of the Jews from the Anti-Christ in the Tribulation. Haman was an Amalekite who were bitter enemies of God's people. Amalek was the grandson of Esau who was born after the flesh (Galatians 4:22-29). In Exodus 17:16, the Amalekites are the enemies of God. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is instructed to destroy all the Amalekites. In disobedience he spares King Agag who is later slain by Samuel. The remnant of Amalekites escape from the area of attack including a woman who is carrying Agag's child (1 Samuel 15:6-9; 1 Sam. 27:8; 2 Sam. 1:1; 8:12; Psalm 83:7). The final destruction is in 1 Chronicles 4:40-43.

Saul's failure and disobedience lead to future problems for God's people. We find Haman the Agagite in Esther 3:1. Saul's disobedience provides a number of lessons and insights.

Insights

1. The point of disobedience and failure is the point where we must begin again in obedience in order to have victory. A bitter person must forgive his offender. Sinful living must be confessed and repented of and then dedication must be renewed. Jonah got out of God's will by running from God and he got back into His will by doing and obeying what God originally told him to do (Jonah 3:1). In Esther we find this truth illustrated in Saul, the son of Kish, a Benjamite. He disobeys and fails. Problems are created from God's enemies. In Esther 2:5, Mordecai is also of the family of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin. It is his obedience that leads to victory over the enemy.

2. Saul was man's choice over God. He was tall, big, and strong, and cowardly. His life ends in destruction. Mordecai was a little man, yet, he was a man of courage. He lived a life of exaltation by God and victory. Mordecai is an illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.

VI. THE TIME PERIOD OF ESTHER

The events in Esther cover a period of ten years (483-473 B.C.) They revolve around ten banquets. Around this time period three great world battles are being fought at Salamis, Thermopylae, and Marathon. Two world leaders died... Confucius and Buddha.

A basic time line of the book would look like this.

536 B.C.The Jews return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel's leadership.

516 B.C.20 yrs. later...The Temple was completed.

485 B.C.Ahaseurus begins to rule for the next 20 yrs.

483 B.C.The events of Esther chapter one take place (in 3rd yr. of reign) Vashti gives birth to Artaxerxes.

481 B.C.An attack is launched against Greece that was planned in chapter one.

480 B.C.Ahaseurus is defeated at Salamis. The Persians are totally defeated one year later.

479 B.C.The events of chapter 2 take place (in 7th yr. of reign) Esther becomes the queen almost 60 yrs. after the decree of Cyrus and around four years after Vashti is removed. This is 33 yrs. before Nehemiah.

473 B.C.5 yrs. later...Esther saves her people.

465 B.C.Seven to eight years later, Ahaseurus is assassinated.

445 B.C.Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem.

{See the Review Questions For this Chapter on Page 106.}