Lesson 16 - The Book of Esther
The book of Esther is set in the period of the end of Babylonian captivity1 and during a time when many of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem under Zurabbabel and just before otherswould return under Ezra. The events of the book take place between the events in Ezra Chapterssix and seven and well before the return of Nehemiah to Jerusalem. Esther is one of two books in the Bible named after women. As John Phillips says, “Ruth was a Gentile woman who married a Jew. Esther was a Jewish woman who married a Gentile.”2 The most difficult issue with the book is the fact the Name of God is nowhere to be found. Phillips reports that the name of the Persian King appears some 190 times but God is notmentioned at all. Authorship – The authorship of Esther is not specifically stated in the narrative but there is no
question that the author was a Jew who lived in Persia during the fifth century B.C. Mordecai,
Ezra, and Nehemiah have been suggested as possible authors by no one knows for certain. The
author obviously reflects both a strong Jewish nationalism and very intimate knowledge of the
Persian court and its customs.
The principle players in the story include Esther who replaced Vashti as the queen of Persia and saved the Jews from the wicked plot of Haman. Mordecai, Esther’s first cousin andguardian, adopted and raised Esther because her parents had died (2:7). He was Esther’s Advisorthroughout her time in the palace and eventually, in the providence of God, replaced Haman asthe second in command to King Xerxes I, also known as Ahasuerus. The King succeeded hisfather Darius in 486 BC and reigned until 465 BC.
Purpose of Esther:
Esther chronicles another attempt by a worldly power to eliminate the Jews. The enmity between Israel and the Devil was always real. The Devil’s purpose was the destruction of thegodly line through which would come the Messiah. It would do one well to see the parallelbetween this book and Exodus. The primary purpose is to demonstrate the providence of Godthrough His care and protection of the Jews during this time. God has always honored Hiscovenant promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:1-8) and because of His historical commitment inthis regard we can rest assured that He will fulfill every promise to the people of Israel. The events recorded for us during the time of Esther and the miraculous preservation of the Jews against all odds led to the creation of annual holiday or festival among the Jews knownas Purim, celebrated on the fifteenth day of Adar (February-March). The word for the festivalcomes from word “pur” which means “lot.” Haman cast lots to determine what day the Jews 1See the introductory material to Ezra and Nehemiah, 119-121, and time line on p. 122.
2John Phillips, “Exploring the Scriptures,” (Moody Press: Chicago, 1965), p. 97.
would be destroyed. Purim therefore reminds the Jews of God’s great deliverance from a day ofdestruction. As we watch events in world unfolding and see the hatred of so many Islamicgroups against Israel we should be reminded that in the book of Revelation we have the surepromise that God will do it again when the time comes! Outline of the Book of Esther (from John Phillips3
-The book of Esther is about the plot of Haman to destroy the people of God.
I. How the Plot was Formed (1-3)
A. The Might of Ahasuerus (1-3)
B. The Marriage of Esher (2:1-18)
C. The Ministry of Mordecai (2:19-23)
D. The Malice of Haman (3)
II. How the Plot was Fought (4-5)
A. The Cry of Israel (4:1-3)
B. The Conviction of Mordecai (4:4-14)
C. The Courage of Esther (4:15-5:8)
D. The Confidence of Haman (5:9-14)
III. How the Plot was Foiled (6-10)
A. The Death of Haman (6-7)
1. He was publicly humbled (6)2. He was publicly hanged (7) B. The Decree of Ahasuerus (8)C. The Deliverance of Israel (9:1-18)D. The Day of Purim (9:19-32)E. The Dignity of Mordecai (10) Time Line of Significant Events in Esther
-First Deportation to Babylon of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar (including Daniel) -Final Deportation to Babylon, Jerusalem destroyed (Zedekiah last King of Judah)-Jeremiah completes his ministry, Ezekiel & Obadiah Prophesy to Exiles -Cyrus issues Decree that allows Jews to return to Jerusalem-Zerubbabel leads first return of about 50,000 (Ezra 1-6) -Daniel in the Lion’s Den (do you see why he faced Jerusalem to pray? -Temple reconstruction started and halted -Darius 1st reigns in Persia (Decree of Darius, Ez. 5-6) -Temple construction continued and completed against opposition -Artaxerxes 1st Longimanus reigns in Persia -Ezra Returns to Jerusalem with about 2,000 returnees (Ezra 7-10) -Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and walls are rebuilt (444) -Nehemiah’s second term as Governor of Judah-Malachi’s ministry (ca. 420-415) Overview of the Book of Esther
Background: Again, the book of Esther is about the plot of Haman to destroy the people of God
and how God providentially protected them. The time line above gives a chronological view of
the main events and we can see that decree of Cyrus has made it possible for the Jews to return to
Jerusalem. An important question to be considered would be why were Mordecai, Esther and
other Jews still in Persia when they had the freedom to return home? This may explain the
absence of the Name of God, the fact prayer is not mentioned (though fasting was), and the fact
that there is no miraculous intervention by God in the events that took place. It could hardly be
said that God was pleased with the fact that so many Jews were at ease in the land of their exile
and unwilling to obey Him by going back to rebuild their own nation. “They had elected to stay
where they were, and God simply did not allow His name to be linked with them in this book,
although in grace He did care for and protect them.”4
Keep in mind as you study the book of Esther that the people are clearly outside the will of God. They have disobeyed God. “They forgot God; they were far from Him. They did notcall on Him in time of trouble. When they first came into the land of their captivity, they couldsay, ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ They couldn’t sing; they sat downand wept when they remembered Zion. But now they’ve forgotten Zion. In fact, it’s in rubbleand ruins, and they don’t even want to go back there. They made a covenant at the beginning .
(Ps. 137:6). They’ve forgotten, and their tongue is silent in this book. They’re not praising Godat all, nor are they praying to Him.”5 This would be a good point to make a comment about the so-called “permissive” will of God. If God was not pleased with them it must be that they are at least in His “permissive” willsince they are not destroyed or even directly chastised. They have failed to be in His “perfect”will but they are not that far off some might asset. The problem with the will of God is that isnot quite so subjective. The will of God does not have a center with concentric circles movingout that place one close but not quite all the way in His will. You are either in the will of God or 5J. Vernon McGee, “Thru the Bible,” (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1982), Vol. 2, p. 545.
you are out of it! You either obey God or you don’t. God does not grant permission for anydisobedience or deviation from His will. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not beconformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may provewhat is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2). How do youunderstand that last portion of verse 2? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ How does one prove the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God?” You prove the will of God by submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of your life. God hasonly one will for your life. You are either in it or you are out of it. The three words given hereare not three different kinds or types of the will of God. They are adjectives which describe thewill of God for us. It is "good" meaning that it is for our benefit and blessing; it is "acceptable"meaning that it is pleasing to God; and it is therefore "perfect" in every respect. If it is good forus and pleasing to God it must be perfect. And the place to find it is the Word of God. TheWord of God is the will of God! And if you are doing everything you know the Word tells you todo then all the other issues and decisions of your life will work out.
But back to the Jews in Persia. While they have forgotten God, God has not forgotten them. The theology of the book of Esther is the Providence of God. Providence is an importantconcept in the Bible. It means that God sovereignly rules over all things and controls themaccording the good purpose of His own will. He directs all things such that ultimately His willmust prevail. “"The Lord has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.”(Psalm 103:19; compare Eph. 1:1-14).
So, in the book of Esther, God is at work behind the scenes directing the affairs of men but without any miraculous intervention but rather through His providence. We will see thateach of the moves of Haman to destroy the Jews will be thwarted in some way through Godoverruling the natural sequence of events.
I. How the Plot was Formed (1-3)
A. The Might of Ahasuerus (1-3)
Xerxes I was known as a ruthless tyrant with a furious temper. His ambitions far exceeded his ability and he had abandoned himself to sensual and secular pleasures. The Kinghad continued his father’s campaign against Greece(482-479 BC) and had been defeated. Hereturned to Shushan, one of his capitals along the border today of Iraq and Iran, to seek refuge inhis harem. He was still a King with a vast domain extending from India to Ethiopia. Vashti’sdownfall as Queen came during a feast given by the King during a period of six months where he was displaying (showing off) the riches of his kingdom. Alcohol plays a role here and we cansee it’s detrimental effects on those who imbibe intoxicating beverages. B. The Marriage of Esther (2:1-18)
While our own sensibilities do not resonate with the process undertaken by King Xerxes to find a new Queen (2:2-4) the historical information is true to the times and culture. God is theone who gave Esther her beauty and she immediately became a favorite of those in charge of theKing’s harem. In fact, she had some a winsome personality that she “obtained favor in the sightof all who saw her” (2:15). We should not be surprised that the King loved her more than all theother women and made her Queen (2:17).
C. The Ministry of Mordecai (2:19-23)
Esther is operating under the watchful care and guidance of her cousin and guardian, Mordecai. In the providence of God Mordecai discovers a plot against the king’s life and givesthis information to Esther who informed the king. An investigation reveals the identity of themen and they are hanged. The event is recorded in court chronicles and for the time is forgotten.
How do you think this plot came to the attention of Mordecai? _____________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ D. The Malice of Haman (3)
Haman is promoted to a position probably equivalent to that of a Prime Minister. His hatred toward the Jews likely was already in place but Mordecai, who for unknown reasons ishanging out around the palace and he refused to “pay homage” to Haman or bow down to him.
The text does not tell us what his reason was. He does not seem to be of the same godly characteras Daniel had been, who refused to cease his worship of God and was thrown into a lion’s den.
Mordecai never protests that he will only bow down to God. We might remember that Jesustaught us to give honor to whom honor is due. Based on his position Haman did deserve therespect relevant to his office.
When asked why he disobeyed the king’s order Mordecai does not answer (3:3-4). This infuriates Haman and he is so mad he intends to destroy the entire Jewish population (3:6) andgoes to the king asking permission to carry out his evil deed against a “certain people” (3:8f). Esther had not revealed she was a Jew and Haman apparently did not reveal which people he wasgoing to destroy. Why would any king agree to destroy a group of people not even fully knowingwho they are? No wonder the text tells us “but the city of Shushan was perplexed” (3:15). II. How the Plot was Fought (4-5)
A. The Cry of Israel (4:1-3)

It wasn’t long before Mordecai discovered the plot and learned of the letters that had gone out across the kingdom setting a date for the extermination of the Jews. The discovery is sadindeed and there was a great outcry of grief and dismay among the people. What was the response of the people and what was is clearly missing from their lament (4:1-3)? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ B. The Conviction of Mordecai (4:4-14)
Mordecai instructs Esther that she is in the best position to thwart the plight of her people and that she must appeal to the king. Apparently Haman had actually bribed the king to allowthis plan to go forward (4:7). Esther is at first reluctant fearing for her life. Mordecai’s responseis one of the key verses in this book, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief anddeliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house willperish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”“ (Esther4:14).
What does this teach you about the providence of God and the importance of realizing that God has place you where you are at any given time? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ C. The Courage of Esther (4:15-5:8)
Esther courageously agrees to approach king asking Mordecai to gather the Jews in the capital to fast for her. Was this a request for prayer? It doesn’t seem so according to the text. Italmost seems that she is requesting that their thoughts be with her! Consider, how do you praywhen you know you are not in the will of God to start with (Ps. 66:18)? D. The Confidence of Haman (5:9-14)
Esther’s wise plan to reveal her request on the second day shows that she had not developed the same level of pride that Haman in a high position. In fact, we find Haman runninghome to brag about his inclusion in a banquet prepared by the Queen.
What is it that goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18-19)? _______________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ III. How the Plot was Foiled (6-10)
A. The Death of Haman (6-7)
Have you ever wondered how it was the king had a case of insomnia on this particular night? And further, just how did the king’s servant choose the particular court record to read thattold of Mordecai’s great public service to the king in warning him of a plot against his life? Let’sremember that this book is about the providence of God! 1. He was publicly humbled (6) - This event is clearly humorous and reveals what can
happen when we become lifted up in pride. Just as Haman had failed to tell the king who werethe “certain people” he wanted to destroy so the king failed to tell Haman who the certain manwas he wanted to honor.
2. He was publicly hanged (7) - Haman’s plot turns on its head and he is eventually
killed on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. In a strange twist Mordecai ispromoted to Haman’s position in the kingdom. Evidently the king realized he had been duped byHaman. It provides a great study into human nature and why lost people act the way they do.
B. The Decree of Ahasuerus (8)
Queen Esther receives all of Haman’s possessions, Mordecai is promoted to Haman’s previous position, and now Esther is in a position to petition the king to stop the evil plot ofHaman. Why the previous edict could not be rescinded is unknown. When the ancients madedecrees they were more or less set in stone. But the king allowed another edict to be created byMordecai and Esther that would counteract the previous one (8:8). Essentially the Jews wereallowed by the second edict to protect themselves and kill anyone who tried to kill them or taketheir property. This eliminated the confusion that had previously reigned in the city and there was a cause for great rejoicing among the Jews and others (8:15-17).
Amidst this time of great joy what do you find missing from the celebration? __________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ C. The Deliverance of Israel (9:1-18)
Such hatred existed in some quarters against the Jews that in spite of their newly gained right to defend themselves they are still attacked on the day which had been appointed by Haman.
However, in the grace and providence of God we find that “the opposite occurred, in that theJews themselves overpowered those who hated them” (9:1). In fact, God made it so that “fear ofthem (the Jews) fell upon all the people” (9:2,3).
How many of their enemies did the Jews kill in the city of Shushan (9:6, 15)? _________ ______________________________________________________________________________ How many did they kill in the provinces (9:16)? _________________________________ D. The Day of Purim (9:19-32)
The feast Purim is still celebrated today. They celebrated their victory over their enemies but again they failed to praise and thank the Lord for His deliverance.
E. The Dignity of Mordecai (10)
Mordecai did much good for the people and was much like Joseph and Daniel in that he was able to provide blessings and peace for the Jews. The difference was in his failure to turn thepraise and thanks to God.
What is the most important lesson you have learned from the book of Esther? _________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ Thomas E. Rush, 2010, Copies may be obtained from Berean Baptist Church, PO Box 866, Social Circle, GA 30025; Reproduction with no changes or omissions permitted.


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