ESTHER
A Bible Study

1. P--ersian decree against Vashti

2. U--ncle Mordecai saves the king

3. R--evenge plotted by Haman

4. I--ntercession made to Esther

5. M--aking dinner for Ahasuerus

6. F--avor shown to Mordecai

7. E--sther requests her life

8. A--hasuerus gives Mordecai promotion

9. S--ons of Haman hanged

10 T--estimony to Mordecai's greatness

"PURIM FEAST"

Outline

  1. THE FEASTS OF XERXES (1:1-2:18)
    1. Vashti Deposed (chapter 1)
    2. Esther Made Queen (chapter 2:1-18)
  2. THE FEASTS OF ESTHER (2:19-7:10)
    1. Mordecai Uncovers a Plot (chapter 2:19-23)
    2. Haman's Plot (chapter 3)
    3. Mordecai Persuades Esther to Help (chapter 4)
    4. Esther's Request to the King: The First Banquet (chapter 5:1-8)
    5. A Sleepless Night (chapter 5:9-6:14)
    6. Haman Hanged: The Second Banquet (chapter 7)
  3. THE FEASTS OF PURIM (8:1-10:3)
    1. The King's Edict in Behalf of the Jews (chapter 8)
    2. The Institution of Purim (chapter 9)
    3. The Promotion of Mordecai (chapter 10)

The Grace of God found in Esther

God's grace is depicted in the book of Esther through the heroine as a type of Jesus Christ. Esther, like JESUS, is willing to die for her people and is an advocate on their behalf.

The book of Esther shows how God in His grace preserves His people in the face of danger and opposition, as He protected them from the threat of annihilation. Through ordinary people God overcomes as He protected them from impossible obstacles to accomplish His gracious will.

The Central Purpose

The purpose of the book of Esther is to record the annual festival of Purim, a yearly reminder of God's faithfulness to His people.

Author and Date

Although we do not know who wrote the book of Esther, it is possible to make some inferences about the author and the date of the composition. It is clear that the author was a Jew, who had knowledge of Jewish festivals.

The author also has a knowledge of Persian customs, the setting of the story in the city of Susa and the absence of any reference to the land of Judah or to the city of Jerusalem suggest that the author was a resident of a Persian city.

The earliest date for the book would be shortly after the events narrated around the year 460 BC. The book would have to be written before Ezra's return to Jerusalem. Looking at the book as a whole is suggests that the festival of Purim had been observed for some time prior to the writing of the book (cf. 9:19) Because of the absence of any Greek words and the evidence of Hebrew style and dialect suggests that the book must have been written before the Persian em~2ire fell to Greece in 331 BC.

Themes in the Book

The book of Esther will answer the question "where is God when bad things happen?" In the book of Esther there is a complete absence of any explicit reference to God, worship, prayer or sacrifice. The author of Esther has deliberately refrained from mentioning the word God or any religious activity to heighten the fact that it is God who controls and directs all of the seemingly insignificant coincidences of our life! At every point in the book of Esther it is assumed that the Lord's sovereign rule is at hand. As we study this book together we should he asking ourselves the question where has God been in my life especially at times when I didn't realize it?

I. INTRODUCTION TO THE PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS (Chapter 1:1-3:6)

A. Xerxes, the Persian King (1;1-2:4)

(1) The rejection of Vashti, his queen (1:1-22)

In an introductory section the author brings on stage the chief characters of his highly dramatic story. The author will provide background information about them which we need to know in order to understand each respective role they will play.

The first to make his appearance is the Persian king, Xerxes. The king is an important character because the outcome of the issues depends on his decision. Xerxes' domestic affairs rather than his military exploits furnish the setting of the account. His rejection of one queen and the selection of her successor is what precipitates the action and which will determine the course of events.

At a banquet for the men of high office, the king, deep in his cups, orders Queen Vashti to display "her beauty" to those in attendance. She refused to comply with his wishes. Thereupon his guests, as befuddled as he, advised him not only to depose Vashti but also to issue a pompous decree throughout the empire that "every man be lord in his own house."

"From India to Ethiopia" The territory and resources of the Persian kings exceeded those of previous empires. Men did his bidding from the Indus River to Ethiopia, south of Egypt. If forces of evil should be favored by such a potentate, they would appear to be invincible! The territory alone was a vast area of land.

The ancient historian by the name of Herodotus reports a gathering of Xerxes' mighty men in the year 483 BC. two years before the ambitious king set out on an ill-fated campaign to conquer Greece.

No doubt the king did not entertain all of his guests for the entire period of half a year ("one hundred and eighty days"). Continuous festivities were in progress as various groups of imperial representatives had their turn at the court of "Persia and Media."

By law, or by special decree the king set aside a rule of etiquette governing royal banquets. ordinarily guests were required to drink only as the king raised his goblet or as the master of ceremonies gave the appropriate signal. At these drinking bouts such restrictions did not apply. "As every man desired", he could imbibe to his heart's content.

The name Vashti is a Persian word meaning "beautiful." According to secular records the only queen Xerxes had was a queen named Amestiris. According to what we know of the king's character thus far we can cone to the conclusion that more than one beautiful woman was favored to become the first lady of his harem.

No reason is given for Vashti's defiance of the royal order which was officially transmitted to her by the eunuchs. Two reasons could be given: perhaps the queen too had imbibed too freely at the banquet for the women. Possibly she felt revulsion against being exhibited as nothing more than another piece of property reflecting Xerxes' pomp and majesty.

The "wise men" were experts either in astrology, science, or in the interpretation of law. Persian kings relied on "seven counselors" for advice in making important decisions. They "saw the king's face" at regular intervals, being admitted to his presence on a standing order of procedure.

The noblemen either humored the king or they engaged in mock heroics engendered by imaginary fears which the wine had conjured up in their fevered minds. The decree they recommended was ridiculous at a time when women had no choice but to "give honor to their husbands."

The royal decree, issued officially and publicly announced, could 'not be revoked." To assert himself as "lord in his own house" a man could demand that his wife, if she was not of his nationality, adopt her husband's language.

(2) The search for a new queen (2:1-4)

The record does not reveal whether "the anger of the king" decreed only that Vashti be deposed or whether he ordered her executed. In a more sober and calm moment he realized, perhaps with some twinges or regret, that a search for a new queen was necessary because of his rash act.

B. Heroine and Hero (2:5-23)

(1) Esther (2:5-18)

Next to be introduced in the cast of characters is the heroine: ESTHER. Her appearance on the scone is a natural sequel to the state of affairs created by an ill-tempered, autocratic ruler. We learn how Esther found herself to be in the eye of the hurricane. An orphaned Jewess and ward of her cousin, Esther rose from a favored position in the royal harem to a place at Xerxes' side as his queen.

Esther is a Persian name which is an adaptation of the Persian word "stareh" meaning star. It is a variation of the name of a goddess known in Babylonia as Ishtar. Hadassah is her Hebrew name meaning myrtle.

Mordecai is very likely an adaptation of the common Babylonian name Mardukaia, a devotee to the god Marduk.

Mordecai adopted Esther because her father and her mother died. Esther is introduced as the beautiful and lovely cousin of an exiled Jew who became her guardian. Both of them were in exile because their common grandfather Kish had been carried away with Jehoiachim by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC. more than 100 years ago.

Esther began to rise from obscurity when taken into the king's palace her charm captivated the keeper of the royal harem. A possible reason for concealing her people or kindred was the fear of prejudicing her chances of advancement. In this connection the question arises how she was able to keep her nationality a secret without compromising her religious beliefs.

Esther had to undergo a prescribed regimen of beautifying, lasting a year, before she was considered ready for admission to the king. Then she faced the prospect of every maiden in the harem to spend only one night with the king unless he "delighted in her and she was summoned by name." As it turned out, Esther won a permanent place in the palace because "the king loved Esther more than all the women and made her queen instead of Vashti."

The "second harem" literally "the second house of the women" is where those unfortunate women were confined for the rest of their lives who had the privilege of indulging the king's desires for one night. In the normal course of events Esther would have joined them.

Esther became queen 4 years after Vashti's rejection and 1 year after Xerxes' defeat at Salamis (480 BC) where his expedition against Greece foundered. The month "Tibeth" corresponds to our January on our calendar.

(2) Mordecai: the king's assassination foiled (2:19-23)

Mordecai not only remains behind the scenes as Esther's guardian but also as an independent role model. In addition to the information we have about him, the author reveals an incident in his life which explains his contribution to later developments. He saved the king's life by exposing a plot to assassinate him.

Esther's well-kept secret worked also to Mordecai's advantage. If it had been common knowledge that he was the queen's cousin, the king's enemies would have been doubly careful to keep their mouths shut in his presence. "The king's gate" was the place v/here the exchange of gossip and rumor filled the air.

C. The Villain: Haman, the enemy of the Jews (3:1-6)

The last of the principal characters to be introduced is the villain Haman. Anyone who incurred Haman"s displeasure would find it difficult to survive. He was also ruthless and cruel. "Filled with fury" over Mordecai's refusal to "bow down" before him. Haman "sought to destroy the Jews."

Because "he was a Jew" Mordecai refused to accord Haman the honor he expected. It would appear to have been needlessly foolhardy and provocative for a member of an exiled people to offend the king's fully accredited representative unless the particular act of homage implied a violation of religious principles. Ordinarily a Jew did not need to withhold reverence from kings and rulers. (Genesis 43:26)

At this point we have all the necessary background for the high drama which we are about to witness. The lines of combat are drawn. Esther and Mordecai must match wits with a man bent on murdering an entire people. "On earth is not his equal" in power unless it be the ruler of the empire Himself. God is not mentioned but we know that He is at work with His people.

II. THE PLOT TO LIQUIDATE THE JEWS (Chapter 3:7-4 3)

A. Haman's Wicked Proposal Sanctioned. (3:7-11)

It was 5 years after Esther became queen that Haman initiated his vicious program to kill the Jews. Haman planned carefully. Before getting the king's approval, he cast lots to make sure what day would be right for his venture. Next, he proceeded to obtain the king's approval. To get it he had to tell a big lie. He represented Jews as detrimental to the state because they refused to be assimilated, being different from all other peoples. He suggested furthermore that his proposal would be financially profitable as the property of the executed criminals was forfeit to the crown. Duped by Haman, the king sent out official notices ordering that the Jews "in every province" be executed on the day agreed upon.

The word "Pur" reproduces the sound of a common noun, found in Assyrian records. It designates the kind of pebble used in throwing dice. Its plural form "Purim" becomes the name of the festival which commemorates the fact that divine providence overruled this casting of lots.

B. Extermination Ordered by the King. (3:12-15)

Eleven months were to elapse before the execution of the decree. No doubt it was the date determined by lot. The delay would make sure also that the order reached every corner of the empire. No Jew was to escape!

C. The Distress of the Jews. (4:1-3)

Mordecai and his countrymen expressed consternation over their impending doom by wailing and other customary rites of mourning. Fasting usually was associated with prayer; lying in sackcloth and ashes, with repentance.

III. COUNTERPLOT TO SAVE THE JEWS (Chapters 4:4-8:17)

A. Esther's Cooperation is Enlisted (4:4-17)

Dramatic action was required if Haman's wicked designs were to be foiled. Mordecai promptly set in motion a counterplot by enlisting Esther's cooperation. Reluctant at first, she agreed to risk her life ''to go unbidden to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people." Her charm gained her an unusual audience with the king. However, she did not present her request to him at once. Only after he was her guest at two banquets did she find the opportune moment to make her appeal. The result was that the tables were turned on the villain and the decree to kill the Jews was neutralized by another edict which permitted the Jews to defend themselves.

Kept secluded in her quarters, Esther had to rely on the eunuch, appointed to attend her, to establish communication with her cousin. Mordecai's refusal to put on the garment she sent him and his insistence on wearing the sackcloth of mourning "in the open square of the city" alerted her to the fact that the cause of his grief was not a personal bereavement but a "calamity of national proportions', for lamentation for one's private distress was not made in public.

Circumstances now demanded that Esther make "known her people or kindred." Had she identified herself with the condemned race earlier, access to the king could have been jeopardized if not ruled out entirely.

The penalty for entering the inner court without being called applied even to the queen. She did not seek an audience through the proper channels apparently because she feared a rebuff. For thirty days the king had not been disposed to see her, either because, for some reason, she was in disfavor with his highness or because she was the victim of court intrigue. Esther had no other choice but to take the calculated risk of an unauthorized appearance before the king.

Mordecai believed that deliverance will rise for the Jews whether through Esther's intervention or in some other way. In the final analysis, more than human effort was necessary if the forces of evil were to be overcome. Help would come from "the place" i.e. from God alone, from heaven, from the holy One from on high.

We can learn from Esther. Her willingness to live up to her responsibilities at the risk of losing both honor and life has encouraged people in key positions to put their resources and influence in the service of a righteous cause, come what may.

B. Esther's Successful Intervention (5:1-8:17)

(1) The first day of a banquet (5:1-7:1)

a. The King and Haman are invited...5:1-8

The King's hall. Remains of such an audience chamber have over the years been uncovered by archaeologists. The only hope of counteracting Haman's plot was to get through to the king. Fully aware that the prospects of saving her countrymen and her own life were at stake, she entered the royal court in defiance of a rigid protocol. However, instead of incurring the king's displeasure, she "found favor in his sight." Nevertheless she did not divulge the purpose of her intrusion at once even though he promised to give her "to the half" of his kingdom if she had a special request to make.

Biding her time, she chose to make certain that she was firmly established in his good graces. She made sure also that the villain would be present when the time came to expose him. Therefore she invited the king and evil Haman to a banquet. That evil Haman was jubilant to be the only other guest at such an exclusive function. Confident that he could count on the queen's support in his revenge on his enemy, he had gallows erected on which to execute Mordecai...

The king rightly surmised that Esther dared to act "against the law" because she needed his help in a matter of grave concern to her. Anticipating a costly request, the king used the stereotyped formula of "even to half of my kingdom..." to indicate that he was willing to

grant even such a favor. (For a similar pompous promise see Mark 6:22)

When Esther asked for nothing more than his and Haman's presence at a banquet, he pressed her for her real "petition" by repeating his earlier question. Esther agreed to "do as the King" wished only after he was her guest at "the dinner" for him and Haman.

b. Haman is confident of a royal favor... 5:9-14

At the news that Esther had consented to intervene with the king Mordecai removed his sackcloth. Dressing as decorum demanded he returned to the vicinity of the palace, where he was more apt to keep himself informed about further developments.

Meanwhile, Haman did not even dare to proceed without royal authorization. The invitation to dine with the king and the queen made him so sure that he could obtain orders for Mordacai's immediate execution that "he had the gallows made" in advance.

Indignation over Mordecai's insult rankled so painfully in Haman’s vain heart that it spoiled his enjoyment of the man good things which had come his way. In his rage Haman wanted Mordecai hanged so high--over 80 feet--that all people would take warning not to insult the grand Haman!

c. Events during the night before the banquet...6:1-14

1. Mordecai's belated reward...6:1-11

Esther acted more wisely than she could have known when she decided to take her time in bringing her concern to the king's attention. Her delaying action permitted a chain of circumstances to develop into a situation which made the king favorably disposed to her countryman "Mordecai the Jew" and paved the way for the failure of Haman's plot against him and all the Jews...

It just so happened that during the night before the banquet the sleepless king was reminded of his failure to reward Mordecai for exposing a coup against his royal person.

The villain too could not sleep. He came to the court in order to get Mordecai's death warrant at the earliest possible moment. However, when he did get summoned before the king, he got orders to bestow on Mordecai the honor and public acclaim to which he thought he was entitled!

It suddenly became evident to him that in his controversy with Mordecai the king had taken sides against him. Haman's "wise men and his wife" confirmed his fears that his doom was only a matter of time. When the king's eunuchs arrived to escort him "to the banquet that Esther had prepared" he was anything but "joyful and glad of heart."

Anyone who would not think that nod Himself were not using all of the circumstances and all of the events would have to explain away the following events...

(1) The king spent a sleepless night
(2) He chose to relieve his boredom by having the royal annals read to him
(3) He hit upon the account of Mordecai's unrewarded deed and loyalty
(4) Haman came to the court at the moment the king was about to pay his debt to Mordecai
(5) All this happened in the night before the banquet.

The explicit mention of 'Mordecai's race at this point in time seems to imply the following...

(1) Haman's dispute with him was quite generally known
(2) His refusal to bow down before Haman was dictated by a principle peculiar to a Jew, namely the first commandment.

2. Haman's premonition of doom...6:12-7:1

The act of covering the head is a gesture of mourning. The "wise" men, his "friends" were wise only by hindsight. Actually, they gave him very foolish advice!

(2) The second day of the banquet--the tables are turned! (7:2-8:2)

a. Evil Haman is sentenced to die 7:2-10

Esther let the first day of the banquet pass without complying with the king's request to tell him what she intended to ask of him that was so urgent that she risked an unannounced audience with him When the king again requests and pressed her for an answer on the second day of the banquet, she decided she had nothing to gain if she postponed the moment of decision any longer. As straightforward as necessary and as diplomatically as possible she presented her case. The result was a dramatic and drastic reversal of fortunes...

(1) not Mordecai but Haman was hanged on the gallows
(2) Haman's position in the king's court was entrusted to his intended victim.

The die was cast. Esther identified herself with a people under sentence of death by royal decree. As she quoted the edict almost verbatim the king could not fail to conclude that she was a Jewess.

Esther seems to make two points. On the one hand, she makes clear how desperate the situation was. If her and her people's affliction were not a matter of life and death she would not have brought it to the king's attention. On the other hand, she intimates that the king would sustain a great loss indeed if he were to let the decree be executed.

Esther brought the interview to a climax. She pointed her finger at Haman. He was the man who "would presume to" murder "my people." From this accusation the king could gather that she was speaking of Haman's plot to kill all Jews and that she, a Jewess, would share their lot.

When the king stormed out of the room in a fit of anger, Haman had reason to expect the worst. As a last resort the exposed villain pleaded with the Jewess to intercede for him! This humiliating appeal only helped seal his fate. The enraged king accused the hapless Haman of attempted rape because he found him at Esther's feet when he returned.

What irony! During the king's absence from the room Esther remained on the "couch" on which guests at a banquet werw accustomed to recline. The man who brought unjust charges against the Jews was now himself falsely accused by the king.

The attendants at the court used the gesture of covering to indicate that in their opinion Haman's crime was so abhorrent that he should be given no consideration or mercy. The ancient Greeks and Romans covered the face of a criminal about to be executed. Today, a criminal who is to be executed is given a blindfold or a hood. In the Old Testament shame or dishonor is said to cover one's face. (Psalms 69:7) A person covered his face to express humiliation or grief. (2 Samuel 19:4)

b. Mordecai is given a promotion 8:1-2

The king invested Mordecai with the full authority of a grand vizier. He was soon to make use of the right to affix the royal seal, engraved on the king's ring, to an official document.

(3) The decree to kill the Jews is neutralized (8:3-13)

a. The request to rescind the decree is denied 8:3-8

Evil Haman would no longer harm the Jews. However, the decree "to destroy the Jews" masterminded by him, was still in effect. Even the king's hands were tied. He could not "revoke the letters devised by Haman" as he reminded Esther when she pleaded with him to countermand the order. The "laws of the Medes and the Persians" was such that once a decree was put in force it could not be changed. It stood for all times and seasons.

The best the king could do was to let a proclamation go out in his name which would neutralize the effects of the original edict without canceling it. The new grand vizier acted at once. He issued a decree supplementing the earlier one. The new directive authorized the condemned people to "defend their lives." If they were "to slay, and to annihilate any armed force...that might attack them" and "plunder their goods" they would not be liable to the charge of murder and theft.

Esther "spoke again to the king" "without being called" by him. Signaling with his scepter as before, he granted her another audience, even though she violated the rules of the court.

Esther no longer had to mention herself. She could rely on the king's protection, who now knew that his queen was a Jewess.

b. A decree with the opposite effect is issued 8:9-14

The new decree went out more than two months after Kanan's was published.

(4) Joy over prospect of deliverance 8:15-17

Fear for their lives gave way to joy among the Jews "wherever the king's command and his edict came." In Susa the populace greeted the new grand vizier with loud acclaim as he emerged from the palace dressed in robes of blue and white, the national colors of Persia, and decked out with royal insignia.

Mordecai's prestige made identification with Jews so attractive for "many from the peoples" that they "joined them" as converts to the Jewish faith.

IV. COUNTERMEASURES ARE CARRIED OUT (Chapter 9:1-19)

A. Enemies are Slain (9: 1-15)

(1) In all provinces 9:1-10

As the tables were turned on Haman so the new edict, issued by Mordecai, effected a reversal in the fate of the Jews. Allowed "to avenge themselves upon their enemies" they got the mastery over their foes, laying "hands on such as sought their hurt." In "all the provinces" they turned on those "who hated them." In Susa alone they "slew and destroyed five hundred men." At Esther's request, the king granted the Jews in the capital a second day in which they had a free hand to destroy their enemies. On the third the Jews gathered in Susa for feasting and gladness.

All Persian government appointees realized they would have to reckon with the grand vizier if they harmed his countrymen. This "fear of the Jews" overcame not only the officials but spread to all people throughout the empire.

According to 8:11 the Jews were allowed to "defend their lives" against those "that might attack them." It appears that they went beyond protecting themselves against attacks. The account simply records the fact of the slaughtering without condemning or approving it from a moral standpoint.

(2) In the capital on two days 9:11-15

Esther requested permission to extend the purge of their enemies to the entire city of Susa. The Jews refusal to take spoils is emphasized because it was in contrast to the action of the Israelites at the time of the Exodus.

B. Rejoicing on the Third Day. (9:16-19)

No doubt the king was not aware that so many of his subjects would be affected by Mordecai's decree! On his ill-fated campaign in Greece he sacrificed thousands. Many Bible scholars figure that 7,500 would appear to be more realistic. What is believed is that in the course of the transmission of the text an extra zero was placed.

Verse 9:19 explains a difference in the custom of observing the deliverance from Haman's plot. The Jews of the villages began feasting and holiday-making one day earlier than their brethren who live in cities like Susa where the original festivities were preceded by two days of bloodshed rather than only one.

V. DELIVERANCE COMMEMORATED: THE PURIM FEAST (Chapter 9:20-32)

A. Festival Instituted by Mordecai (9:20-22)

Mordecai called on all the Jews to make the days on which they "got relief from their enemies" occasions for annual celebrations. Like our 4th of July! Queen Esther lent her prestige to her cousin's ordinance. The name which the newly ordained festival acquired was a reminder how close the "wicked plot" came to being successful. All that remained for the enemies of the Jews and his cohorts to do was to wait the day set for the execution. They felt they could not fail because they selected the date by casting what they called "Purim" i.e. "lots." The people rejoiced that they were not helpless victims of a blind fate.

B. Name Explained: Future Observance Ordered (9:23-28)

The events which were the basis for Purim are summarized in verse 24. To this day observance of the festival of Purim includes the reading of the Book of Esther.

C. The Celebration is Promoted by Esther (9:29-32)

Queen Esther added her endorsement to the kind of letter sent out by Mordecai in his own name.

VI. EPILOGUE: PEACE UNDER MORDECAI'S ADMINISTRATION (Chapter 10)

The book concludes with a brief sequel to the story. The Jews did not have fear of repetition of Haman's threat to their lives for some time. They were safe everywhere at least as long as Mordecai was the highest official of a king whose "power and might" stretched across "the land" from the Indus River to "the coastlands of the (Mediterranean) Sea." The record of Mordecai's administration, "written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia" has not been discovered. The "chronicles" referred to in 6:1 likewise remain buried in the ruins of the Persian empire. Some day maybe they might be unearthed by some archaeologist. But until that time so ends the story of our heroes Esther, Mordecai, and of course the Lord God of Hosts who worked everything together for the good!

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sources

The Acrostic Bible An Entertaining Way to Remember The Bible Barry Huddleston Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, TN. 1978 Walk Thru the Bible Ministries Portland, Or.

Concordia Self Study Bible New International Version Robert G. Hoerber Editor Concordia Publishing House St. Louis, MO. 1986 pp. 717-718

Concordia Self Study Commentary Robert R. Roehrs Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 1979 pp. 298-305