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ALPHAPEDIA

HISTORY OF ESTER IN THE BIBLE

Esther was born at a time when Israel was in captivity as a result of their disobedience to God. Not only was Esther an ordinary woman living in a foreign country, but she was part of a minority race that held itself in low esteem. So much so that when she was later chosen to be Queen Mordecai advised her to keep her Jewish nationality a secret (Esther 2:10).

On any given day, God chose Esther to do through her what he had planned before she was born. When I was young, when I learned this fact, I remember thinking: If God had a plan to use an ordinary girl like Esther, maybe He has a plan for my life too (Ephesians 2:10)!

In 1 Corinthians 10:11 it says, “Now all these things happened to them as an example, but they were written for our instruction. Imagine, God wrote Esther’s story so that you and I could learn, not only from her example, but also to show us how the lives of ordinary people who submit to His ways work.

Esther lived in ancient Persia about 100 years after the Babylonian captivity. When Esther’s parents died, the orphaned girl was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai.

One day, the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes I, organized a luxurious party. On the last day of the festivities, he called his queen, Vashti, eager to show off her beauty to his guests. But the queen refused to appear before Xerxes. Full of anger, he deposed Queen Vashti and took her away from his presence forever.

To find his new queen, Xerxes organized a royal beauty contest and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa. Soon Mordecai discovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the plot, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was foiled and Mordecai’s act of kindness was preserved in the king’s chronicles.

At this time, the king’s highest official was an evil man named Haman. He hated the Jews, especially Mordecai, who had refused to bow to him. Haman devised a plan to kill all the Jews of Persia. The king accepted his plan to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plot and shared it with Esther, challenging her with these famous words:

“Do not think that, because you are in the king’s house, you alone will escape from all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, the relief and liberation of the Jews will come from elsewhere, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows if he has reached his royal position at a time like this? (Esther 4: 13-14)

Esther urged all Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then, risking her own life, the brave young Esther approached the king with a request. She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where she finally revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman’s diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. 

Enraged, the king ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows, the same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai. Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and the Jews were granted protection throughout the country. The people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance, and the joyous feast of Purim was instituted.

Written to

The book was written to the Jewish people to record the origins of the Feast of Lots, or Purim. This annual festival commemorates God’s salvation of the Jewish people, similar to their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The name Purim, or “lots,” was probably given in a sense of irony, because Haman, the enemy of the Jews, had planned to completely destroy them by throwing away the lot (Esther 9:24).

Landscape

Esther’s story takes place during the reign of King Xerxes I of Persia, mainly in the king’s palace in Shushan, the capital of the Persian empire. At this time (486-465 BC), more than 100 years after the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, and just over 50 years after Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Jerusalem, many Jews still remained in Persia. 

They were part of the diaspora, or “dispersion” of exiles among the nations. Although they were free to return to Jerusalem by decree of Cyrus, many had settled and probably did not wish to risk the dangerous journey back to their homeland. Esther and her family were among the Jews who remained in Persia.

Topics in Esther’s History

There are many topics in Esther’s book. We see God’s interaction with man’s will, his hatred of racial prejudice, his power to give wisdom and help in times of danger. But there are two main themes:

1. God’s sovereignty: God’s hand is at work in the lives of his people. He used the circumstances in Esther’s life, as he uses the decisions and actions of all humans to providentially develop his divine plans and purposes. We can trust in the sovereign care of the Lord over every aspect of our lives.

2. God’s deliverance: The Lord raised up Esther as He raised up Moses, Joshua, Joseph, and many others to deliver His people from destruction. Through Jesus Christ, we are delivered from death and hell. God can save his children.

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