The Fascinating Book of Esther

Posted on March 21, 2019

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By David Ettinger

From the movie “One Night With the King”

A Great Read
The Book of Esther may be the best “read” in the Bible. It has adventure, intrigue, deception, a life-and-death scenario, a heinous villain, a beautiful heroine, rousing plot twists, and an epic ending. It is also a “short read”; you can plow through it in about 30 minutes. The Book of Esther contains mysteries which have not been answered; a unique characteristic that no other book of the Bible possesses (nor wants); and great lessons to be learned.

The Timeline
The Book of Esther occurs over a 10-year span. The years are 483 B.C. to 473 B.C., and take place between chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Ezra. The timeline breaks down this way:

  • Persian King Xerxes decides to throw a riotous drinking party in the third year of his reign (1:3), which is 483 B.C. (Your Bible may refer to the king as Ahasuerus).
  • Queen Vashti rebels against the king and is banished (1:19), and the action picks up four years later, in 479 B.C., when Xerxes decides to find a new queen. It is 2:16 which informs us that this occurs “in the seventh year of his [Xerxes’] reign.”
  • We skip another five years, to “the twelfth year of King Xerxes” (3:7), which is 474 B.C.
  • The final jump, of nine months, takes us to the twelfth month of the king’s reign (9:1), which is 473 B.C. And there are your 10 years.

Why Does Vashti Live?
At the end of Xerxes’ six-month party, he summons Queen Vashti to join the festivities. Her refusal is not explained and, despite theories to the contrary, there is no indication that Xerxes wanted her to do anything immoral or lewd. Keeping in mind that the queen had no power but was more of a figurehead, why did Xerxes banish her but not execute her? After all, she roundly rebuffed the most powerful man in the world.

persia map

We don’t know the answer, but here is a possibility. The king’s son, Artaxerxes (mentioned in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah), was born in 483 B.C., the year of the party. If Vashti was pregnant, the king would not have wanted to slay the heir to the throne. If he was already born, perhaps Xerxes extended special consideration to the mother of his child.

Spiritual State of Mordecai and Esther
These two – who were cousins, though Mordecai was much older and a father figure – were not spiritual stalwarts. Following Israel’s 70 years of Babylonian captivity, the Hebrews were granted permission to return to their land (Ezra 1:1-4). However, the Jews had become comfortable in their pagan exile and only a small percentage returned; the rest remained, Mordecai and Esther included. They seemed to have been comfortably assimilated into Persian culture. There is no mention of either of them ever praying or calling upon God’s name. Which brings us to …

The Name of God is Not Mentioned
This is the only book of the Bible that can make this claim. Furthermore, there is no quote from Esther in the New Testament; the Mosaic Law is not mentioned; prayer is never indicated (though fasting is); and sacrifices and offerings are not referred to. The reason? It appears the people living in Persia neglected God’s will. He wanted them in Israel participating in Temple worship. The omission of God’s name may reflect the godlessness of the Persian Hebrews.

The Obvious Immorality
The search for a new queen was twofold: The candidates were to undergo a year of beauty treatments and then be taken to the king’s room to spend the night with him. The king would make his choice based on the one who “pleased” him most (2:14). Scripture is discreet, but it is clear that the unmarried Jewess partook in fornication with the king. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, what she did was by mandate of the king who issued an “order and edict.” Failure to cooperate may have cost Esther her life.

book of esther

The King’s Limited Power
Despite its might, the Persian Empire (539-331 B.C.) was not an absolute power. After it was revealed to Xerxes that his prime minister, Haman, had issued a decree authorizing the extermination of the Jews, he lacked the authority to rescind it. He had to write another decree to combat the original one (8:8). By comparison, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had no such limitations; he was an absolute monarch and did whatever he wanted (Daniel 5:18-19).

The Haman Prototype
The murderous Haman set the pattern for all despots who would seek to destroy God’s people – both the Jews and Christians. Like Haman, they either all have ­been – or will be – defeated and utterly destroyed.

The Aftermath
Xerxes was assassinated eight years following the events of the Book of Esther, in 465 B.C. It is believed Esther died before him. (There is no historical document outside of the Bible that references Esther.)

The Purpose of the Book
The unknown author of Esther wrote this chronicle to encourage the minority of Jews who returned to Israel from exile by showing them how God preserves His people. The Book of Esther continues to stand as a witness to this.

Major Lesson of the Book of Esther
When Esther is hesitant to act on behalf of her people, Mordecai tells her: “… who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Be aware of the circumstances you are in; it could well be that God has put you there for a particular purpose. Just as God brought Esther to the throne at a specific time of history, so He places you in strategic positions. You may not understand why you are there, but always consider that God could be using you in a crucial “Esther” moment of your life or the life of someone else.

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