Key Word: Providence, Key Verse (4:14).
The Background of the Book
The Book of Esther was perhaps written by Mordecai, the power behind the throne during the reign of Xerxes (Abasuerus), 485-464 B.C. Xerxes was the emperor whose Persian hordes fought the heroic Greeks at Thermopylae and Salamis in 480 B.C. It is placed as a Book between the 6th and 7th chapters of the Book of Ezra. The Jews who had returned with Zerubbabel had rebuilt and rededicated the Temple, although the city of Jerusalem was not yet restored as it was later under Nehemiah.
Ezra and Nehemiah give the history of those Israelites who were returned in the mercy of God to the city of Jerusalem. In both Books we see the practical effects of the Word of God and prayer in the lives of those who were stirred up to return to the Land. Esther on the other hand gives to us an account of the Jews who did not return to their land, but chose to get along in the countries whither they had been scattered. In Esther we learn the majority of the Jews did not return. Only 50,000 with Zerubbabel, and about 2,000 with Ezra. The majority found it much more comfortable to settle in Persia and occupy themselves in business, agriculture and politics et cetera. This is the state of the nation as the Book opens.
The Beauty of the Book:
In spite of the nation’s unfaithfulness and ungrateful attitude toward God, the whole Book of Esther is remarkable for the unfailing providence of God on behalf of His own people. Though His people were out of fellowship and the place of obedience, God in His infinite tenderness and divine shepherd care works on their behalf. There is no other Book in all the Bible that so beautifully manifests God’s hidden hand and loving heart protecting and planning the nation’s highest good. “Behind a frowning providence God hides a smiling face.” The Book is fascinating for its dramatic and vivid character sketches.
Esther: The low estate of the Persian court as to morals is seen in the incident against which Vashti rebelled, bringing about her removal from the throne. About four years later, Esther, a beautiful Jewish orphan girl was selected to be Queen. Her life is summed up: (a) Modest (ii.-15). (b) Winsome (ii. 9-17). (c) Obedient (ii. 10). (d) Humble (ii. 20). (e) Filial and Tender (ii. 20; iv. 4). (f) Self-Sacrificing (iv. 16). (g) Courageous and Loyal (ii. :22; viii.1; vii. 3,4). Thus she is seen as a woman endued with divine wisdom and guidance in earthly things.
Haman: Sometimes we wonder why Haman was so bitter against the Jews, when it was only Mordecai (little) who refused to bow to him. This is explained when we remember that in the days of Samuel, Saul’s work was to wipe out the Amalekites (1 Sam. xv. 2:3). This he failed to do and now we see the result. The royal family of Agag whom Samuel slew (1 Sam. xv. 33), would never forget the insult and injury. Here is Haman a direct descendant. As grand vizier of the court of Xerxes he is out to destroy the Jews. Mordecai would never honour one whom God has cursed (Gen. xxxvi. 16; Ex. xvii. 14-16). See also 1 Chronicles 1:34-36. He is the first of the Anti-Semites who hate and would exterminate the people of God. Throughout history the prophecy (Gen. 3:15) that there should be enmity between the serpent’s seed and the seed of the woman, was being worked out; and this new blow was really directed against the redemptive purposes of God, for in the seed of Abraham and through the house of David the whole world was to be blessed. The doom that came to Haman eventually will be the doom of all the haters of the Jew, even the Anti-Christ, (Dan. 2:7; Rev. 17) who seems to be typified in Haman and his ten sons.
Mordecai: To this day Mordecai stands high in the estimation of the Jews. He was a Benjamite and decendant of Saul, Israel’s first great king, and was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (ii. 6; also 2 Kings xxiv. 14, 15). Babylon fell to the Persians in 538 B. C. When the story of Esther opens we find Mordecai, like Nehemiah before him, holding office in the King’s household at Shushan (ii. 11; iii. 2). As a man he was marked by love and compassion since he adopted Esther. His faithfulness is brought out when he refused to bow down to wicked Haman, and at the same time exposed plotters against the king, (Esther ii.22, 23. Ps. xv.4; Acts v. 29). Though Haman vowed vengence upon this man, Mordecai prevailed upon Esther at the risk of her life, to break the precedent of thecourt, by going into the king’s presence unsummoned, to intercede on behalf of her people. During the meantime Mordecai was seen with agony of soul (iv. 1-4,5). God began to work; the king was restless (vi.1). Who would have thought that the man who refused to bow to an Agagite would be led forth by that very man, and exalted and honoured and ultimately made the prime minister of Persia. All through the Book we see nothing just happens, but even in a heathen reign. “All things —God” (Rom. 8:28). Haman is executed, Mordecai is exalted and the Jews are saved. To this day the Jews observe the Feast of Purim as a national holiday because of the deliverence of God to the Nation in the days of Persian Rule.
The Battle of the Book
The Book is often criticized on account of the absence of the names of God. It has been spoken of:
1. Full of improbabilities or impossibilities.
2. It bears the name of a Woman.
3. Luther the champion of Justification by faith said he wished it did not exist.
4. It is never quoted in the New Testament and seems more like a secular book rather than a Book in the Divine Library.
5. The Jews recognized Esther as part of the Canon of Scripture and regarded it as peculiarly sacred, even evaluating it second to the five Books of Moses. Matthew Henry says: “If the name of God is not here His finger is.”
Dr. A. T. Pierson, called it “The Rose Window” or “The Romance of Providence.” Here dimly but beautifully is reflected the light of redemption through its vivid panes. Someone has said a good title for the Book would be, “God amid the shadows.”
The Talmud says, “The Book of Deuteronomy tells us why the name of God is omitted.” In Deuteronomy 31:18 we learn because of their sin God had hidden His face from Israel. Yet in spite of their sin God was at work in the midst of His people giving affirmation to the truth. “There is nothing too great for His power and nothing too small for His love.”
It has been suggested that the Book may have been an extract from the records of the Persian Court, thus the name of God is omitted. In the Hebrew the incommunicable name for YAHWEH, is found four times in acrostic form, and at critical points in the story (i:20; v.4,13; vii.7). This is a fact of profound importance. Two of the occasions form the name by initial and two by final letters. In two cases the name is spelt backwards and two forwards. This cannot be of chance, and the difficulty of constructing such forms will be apparent to anyone who attempts it. Dr. A. T. Pierson has illustrated the occurrences of the Divine title Lord in the following four couplets:
Due Respect Our Ladies, all
Shall give their husband, great and small (i. 20).
Let Our Royal Dinner bring
While this Jew sits at the gate (v. 13).
IiL tO feaR decreeD I find, Towards me in the monarch’s mind (vii. 7).
1. The persecution of the Jews (1-4).
2. The Providence of the God of the Jews (5-10).
1. The Feast of Ahasuerus (i.-ii).
2. The Feast of Esther (3. - 7). (Lee).
3. The Feast of Purim (8-10).