Esther

Esther

אסתר

Reading 0,30 - 10 Chapters - 167 verses - 5,637 words

Vital Statistics

Author and Date

Although we do not know who wrote the book of Esther, from internal evidence it is possible to make some inferences about the author and the date of composition. It is clear that the author was a Jew, both from his emphasis on the origin of a Jewish festival and from the Jewish nationalism that permeates the story. The author's knowledge of Persian custom, the setting of the story in the city of Susa and the absence of any reference to conditions or circumstances in the land of Judah suggest that he was a resident of a Persian city. The earliest date for the book would be shortly after the events narrated, ie., c. 460 B.C. (before Ezra's return to Jerusalem; 8:12). Internal evidence also suggests that the festival of Purim had been observed for some time prior to the actual writing of the book (9:19) and that Xerxes had already died (10:2). Several scholars have dated the book later than 330 B.C.; the absence of Greek words and the style of the author's Hebrew dialect, however, suggest that the book must have been written before the Persian empire fell to Greece in 331.

Purpose, Themes and Literary Features

The author's central purpose was to record the instruction of the annual festival of Purim and to keep alive for later generations the memory of the great deliverance of the Jewish people during the reign of Xerxes. The book accounts for both the initiation of that observance and the obligation for its perpetual commemoration (3:7; 9:26-32).

Throughout much of the story the author calls to mind the ongoing conflict between Israel and he Amalekites (2:5; 3:1-6; 9:5-10), a conflict that began during the exodus (Ex 17:8-16; Dt 25:17-19) and continued through Israel's history (1Sa 15; 1Ch 4:43; and, of course, Esther). As the first to attack Israel after their deliverances from Egypt, the Amalekites were viewed - and the author of Esther views them - as the epitome of all the power of the world arrayed against God's people (Nu 24:20; 1Sa 15:2-3; 28:18). Now that Israel has been released from captivity, Haman's edict is the final major effort in the OT period to destroy them.

Closely associated with the conflict with the Amalekite is the rest that is promised to the people of God (Dt 25:19). With Haman's defeat the Jews enjoy rest from their enemies (9:16,22).

The author also draws upon the remnant motif that recurs throughout the Bible (natural disasters, disease, warfare or other calamities threaten God's people; those who survive constitute a remnant). Events is the Persian city of Susa threatened the continuity of God's purposes in redemptive history. The future existence of God's chosen people, and ultimately the appearance of the Redeemer-Messiah, were jeopardized by Haman's edict to destroy the Jews. The author of Esther patterned much of his material on the events of the Joseph story (2:3-4:9,21-23; 3:4; 4:14; 6:1,8,14; 8:6), in which the remnant motif is also central to the narrative (Ge 45:7).

Feasting is another prominent theme in Esther, as shown in the outline below. Banquets provide the setting for important plot developments. There are ten banquets: (1) 1:3-4, (2) 1:5-8, (3) 1:9, (4) 2:18, (5) 3:15, (6) 7:1-10, (8) 8:17, (9) 9:17, (10) 9:18. The three pairs of banquets that mark the beginning, middle and end of the story are particularly prominent: the two reference to the irrevocability of the Persian laws (1:19; 8:8), two days for the Jews to take vengeance (9:5-12,13-15) and two letters instituting the commemoration of Purim (9:20-28,29-32).

An outstanding feature of this book - one that has given rise to considerable discussion - is the complete absence of any explicit reference to God, worship, prayer, or sacrifice. This "secularity" has produced many detractors who have judged the book to be of little religious value. However, it appears that the author has deliberately refrained from mentioning God or any religious activity as a literary device to heighten the fact that it is God who controls and directs all the seemingly insignificant coincidences (6:1) that make up the plot and issue in deliverance for the Jews. God's sovereign rule is assumed at every point (4:12-16), an assumption made all the more effective by the total absence of reference to him. It becomes clear to the careful reader that Israel's Great King exercises his providential and sovereign control over all the vicissitudes of his beleaguered covenant people.

Esther Interpretive Challenges

The most obvious question raised by Esther comes from the fact that God is nowhere mentioned, as in Song of Songs. Nor does the writer or any participant refer to the law of God, the Levitical sacrifices, worship, or prayer. The skeptic might ask “Why would God never be mentioned when the Persian king receives over 175 references? Since God’s sovereignty prevailed to save the Jews, why does He then not receive appropriate recognition?

It seems satisfying to respond that if God desired to be mentioned, He could just as sovereignly have moved the author to write of Him as He acted to save Israel. This situation seems to be more of a problem at the human level than the divine, because Esther is the classic illustration of God’s providence as He, the unseen power, controls everything for His propose. There are no miracles in Esther, but the preservation of Israel through providential control of every event and person reveals the omniscience and omnipotence of Jehovah. Whether He is named is not the issue. He is clearly the main character in the drama.

Second, “Why were Mordecai and Esther se secular in their lifestyles? Esther (2:6-20) does not seem to have the zeal for holiness like Daniel (Da 1:8-20). Mordecai kept his and Esther’s Jewish heritage secret, unlike Daniel (Da 6:5). The law of God was absent in contrast to Ezra (Ezr 7:10). Nehemiah had a heart for Jerusalem that seemingly eluded the affections of Esther and Mordecai (Ne 1:1-2:5.

The following observation help to shed some light on these issues:

    1. First, this short book does not record everything. Perhaps Mordecai and Esther actually possessed a deeper faith than becomes apparent here (cf. 4:16).

    2. Second, even godly Nehemiah did not mention his God when talking to King Artaxerxes (Ne 2:1-8).

    3. Third, the Jewish festivals which provided structure for worship had been lost long before Esther, e.g., Passover (2Ki 23:22) and Tabernacles (Ne 8:17),

    4. Fourth, possibly the anti-Jewish letter written by the Samaritans to Xerxes several years earlier had frightened them (ca. 486 B.C.; Ezr 4:6).

    5. Fifth, the evil intentions of Haman did not just first surface when Mordecai refused to kneel down (3:1, 2). Most likely they were long before shared by others which would have intimidated the Jewish population.

    6. Sixth, Esther did identify with her Jewish heritage at a most appropriate time (7:3, 4). And yet, the nagging question of why Esther and Mordecai did not seem to have the same kind of open devotion to God as did Daniel remains. Further, Nehemiah’s prayer (Ne 1:5-11, esp.v. 7) seems to indicate a spiritual lethargy among the Jewish exiles in Susa. So this issue must ultimately be resolved by God since He alone knows human hearts.

Outline

I. The Feasts of Xerxes (1:1-2:18)


II. The Feasts of Esther (2:19-7:10)







III. The Feasts of Purim (chs. 8-10)



A. Vashti Deposed (ch. 1)

B. Esther Made Queen (2:1-18)

A. Mordecai Uncovers a Plot (2:19-23)

B. Haman's Plot (ch. 3)

C. Mordecai Persuades Esther to Help (cg. 4)

D. Esther's Request to the King: Her First Banquet (5:1-8)

E. A Sleepless Night (5:9-6:14)

F. Haman Hanged: Esther's Second Banquet (ch. 7)

A. The King's Edict in Behalf of the Jews (ch. 8)

B. The Institution of Purim (ch. 9)

C. The Promotion of Mordecai (ch. 10)

The Times of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

Esther Horizontal

God's character in Esther

  1. God is provident - 8:5-17

Christ in Esther

Although Esther does not mentions God specifically, His sovereign protection over His people remains apparent throughout the book. God placed Esther in the key position to impede Haman's plan to destroy the Jews. Esther typifies Christ in her willingness to lay down her life to save her people. Esther also represents the position of Christ as Israel's advocate. In all these events, God declares His love for Israel in His constant watch over the Jews: "Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber hot sleep" (Ps 121:4).

Notes