Esther: Queen of Persia
Queen of Persia
Threat to the Dispersed Jews, Triumph of the Jews.
Background: Events 483-473 BC during the life of Esther, Jewish Queen of Persia Theme: God's preservation of the dispersed Jews Outline: Threat to the Jews and Triumph of the Jews Key Verse: "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14, NIV)
Background 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Summary Questions QUIZZES
Xerxes was the Persian king who tried to conquer Greece. He was defeated. The generals were preparing at these feasts, and after the defeat Xerxes turned his attention to building programs including expansion of the city of Susa. Put together with this story, Xerxex deposed Vashti as the feast, went to battle and was defeated, and then turned his attention to expanding Susa at which time the Beauty Contest was suggested. Archeology has confirmed the splendor of the city of Susa, and later Greek records exist of the captured prize of gold and silver couches. These events take place between the second return from Exile to Jerusalem under Ezra and the third return under Nehemiah.
Introduction/Notes on Commentary: Throughout the introduction and commentary (BKC), Mr. Martin, the commentator, seems to make a great deal out of the fact that Mordecai and Esther stayed in Persia and therefore were walking in disobedience to God. This viewpoint flavors the interpretation of other actions, for instance, in 3:2-4 he states that Mordecai's refusal to bow before Haman "stemmed more from pride than from religious scruples." It would be a point of major significance if the proposed extermination of the Jews was the result of a misplaced pride, but the text does not point this out. Significantly, nothing in the text of the book of Esther states that they were in disobedience in remaining in Persia. The same reasoning could be applied that Nehemiah spent most of his life in disobedience to the LORD, because he did not return to Jerusalem at the very first opportunity. We do not know the specific circumstances or reasons why Mordecai and Esther remained in Persia. It is worth mentioning that Mordecai was a descendant of Saul, and Haman a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite (1 Samuel 15:23). Saul's refusal to exterminate the Amalekites led to his rejection by the LORD.
I. Esther Placed in Position (1:1-2:20)
1:4 In reference to the BKC, to keep the comparison to the Exodus in perspective, the Exodus from Egypt included perhaps 2 million Hebrews, this first return from exile included about 50 thousand (although in Ezra 2 this total is contained in a list of the men of Israel, so the number could be perhaps 200 thousand or higher if women and children are additional).
2:5 The name 'Jew' is derived from Judah. Since all twelve tribes had gone into exile, the Northern tribes some century an a half before the Southern Tribes, all Israelites were now simply identified by the name of the main Southern tribe of Judah. To a large extent, this is true today. Other than some Levites and Priests (who are a special class or family of Levites descended from Aaron), few Jews today are able to trace their ancestry to specific tribes.
2:8 The Hebrew for 'take' may indicate that Esther did not have a choice in this matter.
2:16 Four years have passed since Vashti was deposed.
II. Jews Marked for Extermination (2:21-4:3)
2:21 In fact, Xerxes would later be assassinated in his bed by Artabanus in 465 BC.
3:2-4 It would seem that if Haman's refusal was misplaced pride (as indicated in the BKC) resulting in an attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish race, that this would be clearly stated in the text! Rather, Mordecai is consistently portrayed as a wise and faithful man, and Haman as the enemy of God and his people. If Mordecai had no legitimate grounds for his refusal, then Haman was at least partially justified! I think not!
4:1-3 Although Mordecai had advised Esther to keep her nationality a secret, when the edict was published he publicly mourned. Mordecai and the other Jews who wore sackcloth and ashes were not trying to hide their nationality, but openly pleaded with God.
III. Calamity Averted by Esther (4:4-9:19)
4:4-9:19 It is the negative interpretation placed on Mordecai's refusal to bow to Haman which leads the commentator of the BKC to state "Nothing has been said so far in the Book of Esther to suggest Esther and Mordecai were people of great faith in Yahweh". If Mordecai's reasons were legitimate, he displayed faith. Furthermore, the response of public mourning in sackcloth identified Mordecai as a prime target under the decree to all who saw him! He did not attempt to flee! We do not normally develop great faith immediately when a trial comes! If we have not built a relationship with the Lord, and learned to trust Him in small things, then a major crisis simply washes us away. My opinion, which flavors my reading of the text, is that Mordecai was faithful to the LORD and his refusal to bow was based on religious principles.
4:12-14 "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish" (Esther 4:14). This verse certainly reads like a confession of faith to me. Did Mordecai's expectation of help from the king lessen his faith, while Ezra's and Nehemiah's expectation of help from other kings did not lessen their faith? Again, it depends on whether you are predisposed to view Mordecai as a weak believer walking in disobedience or whether you see him as being God's man where God wanted him to be.
4:14b MEMORY VERSE: "Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Mordecai did not presume to know God's specific will in an infallible way, but he certainly saw the possibility and encouraged Esther to stake her life on trust in God.
4:15-17 My viewpoint prevents me from passing over the comment in the BKC, "Esther and Mordecai are seen as great patriots on behalf of the Jewish nation, but are not presented as righteous people, like others in the Old Testament who fully trusted the Lord." Perhaps he is referring to Moses, who died outside of the Promised Land because of disobedience, or David who had one of his heroes killed so he could marry his hero's pregnant wife, or Elijah who fled from Jezebel in fear, or Solomon the Wise who worshipped his wives' various gods, or Noah who got drunk after the flood, etc. The text does not specifically point out flaws in their character, but does show that they are human. The commentator's underlying presupposition is that no Jew can be in God's blessing outside of the Promised Land. This presupposition leads the commentator to find fault wherever he can to show that they were disobedient Jews. Rather, I see them as both national and religious heros of the Hebrew and Christian faiths.
5:13 What a powerful force pride is. Haman had every material blessing he could ask for (a high position in court, many sons) yet one person who would not bow to him canceled his pleasure!
6:7-9 Haman would have paraded as king. What else could it mean that he wanted to dress in the king's clothes, ride the king's horse with the king's crest, and be paraded by the king's noble prince? Regardless of everything Haman had, he envied his king!
9:13 Note that the hanging on the gallows was not the method of execution. The ten sons of Haman were already dead. The hanging and exposing on the gallows demonstrated utter contempt for Haman’s family and the evil deeds they had done.
IV. Feast of Purim Established (9:20-32)
V. Greatness of Mordecai (10)
Xerxes throws a party, perhaps planning his upcoming invasion of Greece. Offended by Vashti, he deposes her a queen. After his return from a defeat by Greece, he turns his attention to public works in Susa, where his advisors suggest a beauty contest. Esther, a Jewess, wins. Her uncle Mordecai uncovers an assasination plot, and through Esther, reveals it to Xerxes.
Haman, an ancestral enemy of the Jews, is promoted but upset when Mordecai refuses to bow to him. Haman plots to kill Mordecai and all the Jews. Mordecai proclaims a fast, and reminds Esther of her ancestry and God's loyalty. She plans a banquet for Xerxes and Haman, after which Haman gloats. Xerxes is reminded of Mordecai, and Haman must lead a procession celebrating his deeds. At the second banquet, Esther reveals that she is a Jewess, and Haman has plotted against her people. Xerxes has Haman executed.
The decree made under Haman's influence, setting a day for everyone to kill Jews, cannot be rescinded. However, Xerxes gives the Jews permission to defend themselves. After a successful defense and killing of the enemies of the Jews, Mordecai institutes the feast of Purim. It is named after the way Haman selected the day for killing the Jews, by casting lots (purim). The feast is still celebrated today by the reading of the book of Esther in the synagogue. It is around February.
1. What happened to the earlier contestants who did not become Queen? The contestants after Esther?
2. Why aren't other events concerning the Jews and Persians, like the returns to Jerusalem and the defeat by Greece mentioned?
3. Did God need Esther to talk to Xerxes? What would have happened if she didn't?
4. Did Esther have a strong sense of God's calling and purpose in her life? Did she respond properly?
5. How does the ancient story of Saul and Agag relate to these events?
6. How do Jews remember celebrate these events in modern times?
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Updated March 2012