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The Book of Esther

The Book of Esther

I.       Contents and Outline

This book is generally divided into three major section:

1.        1:1 to

2.        3:1 to

3.        to 10:3

It may also be divided in detail into the follow 14 sections:

1.        1:1-22             

Queen Vashti was removed from the palace

2.        2:1-20             

Esther was chosen to become queen

3.        2:21-23           

Mordecai saved the king’s life

4.        3:1-7               

Haman was elevated by the king

5.        3:8-15             

Haman conspired against the Jews, the king commanded to kill all Jews

6.        4:1-17             

Mordecai acted to save his people, Esther recognized her duty to save her people

7.        5:1-8               

Esther’s first banquet

8.        5:9-14             

Haman prepared a gallows, plotted against Mordecai

9.        6:1-13             

The honored was put to shame, Haman led Mordecai on horseback

10.     -8:2          

Esther’s second banquet, Haman hanged on gallows

11.     8:3-17             

The king commanded to remove the Jews’ enemies

12.     9:1-19             

Jews destroyed their enemies and lived in peace

13.     9:20-32           

Feast of the days of Purim

14.     10:1-3             

Mordecai elevated to prime minister

II.    Events and Historical Background

The events in the Book of Esther occurred during the time of King Ahasuerus (485-465 B.C.), who was the historical Xerxes.  He attacked Greece but was defeated by Thermopolae in 480 B.C., and by Salamis in 479 B.C., and returned without any accomplishments.  He made Esther queen in 478 B.C. (1:3; ).  The king’s banquet in chapter one took place in 483 B.C.  The first days of Purim were the 14th and 15th days of the twelfth month in 473 B.C.  Susa, located 300 kilometers east from Babylon, was the city were King Cyrus built his winter palace.

III. Special Features

The Bible records many virtuous women, however, only the Books of Ruth and Esther use a woman’s name as the title.  One was an exemplary Gentile woman who entered into the house of the Elect, the other was a savior of her people in a Gentile land.  According to Jewish scholars, the Persian meaning of Esther (sitareh) is star.  She was truly a star that shone in darkness during the time when the Israelites were taken captive to foreign lands.  She brightened the chosen people in her time and, transcending the boundaries of time and space, she has enlightened the true believers of the last days.

When the Israelites were taken captive in Gentile lands, they were like a rock that fell into a vast ocean.  That was a silent period.  This book emerged as a shining star in a period of darkness, allowing us to understand the people’s patience, intelligence, and dedication.

Throughout the book, there is no mention of the word “God” or “the Lord”, however, God’s planning and preparation is evident in all the events.  Sharp contrasts of right and wrong, good and evil, reward and punishment, and life and death may be found in the book.  Events in the book are very fast paced, although there are places in which the events seemed to be delayed, but they only serve as a break amid the fast-paced action.

IV.  Characters in the Book of Esther

A.     The enemy of the Jews, the evil Haman (7:6)

1.        He was an Agagite (3:1) and possibly descendant of the Amalekites, a fierce enemy of the Jews (descendants of Agag; Ref.: I Sam 15:20).  Haman exhibited the deceitfulness and violence of the Amalekites.  “Amalek was first among the nations” (Num 24:20), an ancient tribe of people, and descendants of Esau’s son Eliphaz and his concubine (Gen 36:12,16; I Chron ).  They lived in the same region as the descendants of Ishmael, “from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt” (I Sam 15:7; Gen 25:18)

Historical Battles Between Israelites and Amalekites

 a.      Roaring lions of the wilderness road (I Peter 5:8)

(a)     Israelites’ first battle after leaving Egypt - the battle at Rephidim (Exod 17:8-16):
Although the Israelites were victorious in the battle of Rephidim, the Amalekites followed the Israelites throughout the wilderness journey, killing those who were weak and tired who fell behind (Deut 25:17-19).  This was still remembered by God even until the time of Samuel (I Sam 15:2-3).

(b)     Tragedy in Kadesh - battle at Hormah (Num -45):
The Amalekites were the tall and mighty people seen by the spies (Num ; ); the Israelites exercised their strong will to neglect God’s will, resulting in the bitter defeat at Hormah

 b.      One of the fierce enemies in the time of the Judges (Judg ; ; 6:3, 33; )

 c.      King Saul’s battle against the Amalekites (I Sam 10:5)

 d.      Battle at Ziklag in the time of King David (I Sam 27:5-12; 30:1-31)

 e.      Final battle in the time of King Hezekiah - battle in MountSeir (I Chron 5:42f); from this time on the Amalekites disappeared from biblical history

2.        Haman had the cruelty, treachery, and pride of the Amalekites

B.     Mordecai

He was a Benjamite. By studying the genealogy (2:5-6; Ref.: I Sam 9:1), it was highly possible that he was from the house of Saul; he exhibited the excellent characters of God’s chosen people:

1.        Took care of the young and orphans as they were his own (2:7)

2.        Did not seek the high positions, did not promote his good work (-23; 6:1-3)

3.        Willing to be ordinary, did not seek after abundance ()

4.        Humbled in the high post, kind and merciful as ever (8:1-2; 10:1-3)

C.     Esther

Taken captive during the years of turmoil, God prepared her as a shining star during the time of dwelling in foreign lands.  She shone the light of God to brighten the entire household of God and the entire race of her people. 

1.        Her life was comparable to the life of Joseph in many aspects:

 a.      Chosen to live in the palace of foreign king

 b.      Captive nation was a fierce enemy of Israelites

 c.      Saved themselves and their entire race of people

2.        Her good characters:

 a.      Showed filial piety, even though she was queen (2:7, 20)

 b.      Did not seek anything else, did not occupy herself with material enjoyment ()

 c.      After recognizing her responsibility, she fully relied upon God, risking death to save her people (-16)

 d.      Did not rebel, did not force, wisely saved the people (5:3-8; 7:1-6)

V.     Reflection From Reading the Book of Esther

A.     God appeared to remain silent—He had already prepared (Gen )

1.        Esther’s position as queen

2.        Mordecai’s work guarding the king’s gate

3.        Years of the kingdom’s struggles

 a.      God prepared the salvation (Eph 1:3-12)

 b.      Joseph suffered thirteen years, to prepare to save his own race (Gen 45:5; 50:19-21)

 c.      Moses’ training and trials in the first eighty years was God’s period of preparation

B.     To recognize the responsibility and to seize the opportunity, isn’t it for today’s opportunity ? (Esth 4:14)

1.        Lived a calm and peaceful life at the palace, oblivious of the danger and disasters outside

2.        Encountered difficulties without means to resolve them

3.        Recognized the responsibility and seized the opportunity

4.        Originally had nothing (), but could now destroy the enemy ()

 a.      Abraham receiving the Lord (Gen 16:1ff)

 b.      Seize the chance to offer the ointment (Mk 14:7)

 c.      Gehazi misjudged the opportunity (II Kg )

 d.      The two anointed ones, show the distinction between man’s timing and God’s timing (I Sam chapters 24; 26)

C.     The people’s prayer of intercession upheld Esther is determined heart of sacrifice ()

1.        All Jews in Shushan fasted and prayed for three days and nights

2.        Servant girl in the palace fasted and prayed for three days and nights

3.        Esther fasted and prayed for three days and nights

 a.      Jesus’ prayer of intercession to help in Peter’s weakness and to strengthen him

 b.      Jesus, who is everlasting, is praying for us in heaven to save us unto the end (Rom -34)