Good literature is comprised of several elements. Among them is a plot, character development, tension, crisis, climax and resolution. In this regard, the little book of Esther receives high marks. It employs all this plus irony, satire, drama, and the emergence of a true heroine and hero. We who have become so accustomed to the story are perhaps dulled to the sheer excitement that builds as the plot unfolds.
Five individuals hold center stage throughout the book:
Xerxes – He reigned from 486 to 465 B.C. Historians portray him as a cruel despot, ill-tempered, immoral and impatient. He was ruthless in murdering when his anger was aroused. His anger was matched by his sensuality.
Vashti – She was ordered to come before the king and his guests and immodestly display herself for their amusement. Her refusal led to her being deposed as Queen.
Haman – He is referred to as the Agagite, an Amalekite, an inveterate enemy of the Jews. His arrogance and pride, his rapid rise and equally rapid fall all play into the themes of irony which dot the book in various places. It is significant that Israel’s first king, a Benjamite, failed to deal with Amalek as instructed. Here, another Benjamite, refuses to reverence this Amalekite.
Mordecai – In many ways, Mordecai is the hero of the book and is seen advancing in character and strength from chapter to chapter. He emerges in chapter 10 as the benefactor of the nation, “seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed.”
Esther – The Jewish orphan who becomes queen; placed by the sovereign hand of God in a strategic location for a critical time in Israel’s history. She is God’s instrument for preserving the remnant nation and preserving the Messianic line.
Esther finds its place among the post-captivity books, shedding its spotlight on those Jews who did not return from the land of Persia. As such, its place chronologically is near the end of the OT. We are reminded that not all those in captivity rose to meet the moral challenge issued by Cyrus. Yet the failure of men is never an occasion for abandonment by God. He is faithful despite our failures.
Everyone reading the book of Esther is immediately aware that there is no mention of God, no mention of prayer, and no appeal to God for deliverance. There have been many suggestions as to the reason for this. Among the possibilities is that God did not link His name with a people who did not respond to the call to return. But it is also possible that with many of the children of God still in bondage, the writer did not wish to antagonize the Persian government by showing the hand of God in the affairs of that nation.
Another unique feature of Esther is that there are no references in the NT to the book.
While the absence of reference to God may suggest that Esther is an “orphan” book with no links with other OT books, that is not the case. It bears resemblance to the story of Joseph in that we have a Jewish person elevated to a Gentile court for the purpose of preserving the nation. If we remember that it was a sleepless night for Pharaoh, as well as for Xerxes, that brought Joseph from the dungeon and Mordecai to honor, the parallels become even more striking. Other details can be worked out.
There are also links with the Exodus story from the land of Egypt. This is left for you to work on!
Lessons (from Themes)
- Feasts punctuate the book at the beginning, middle and end.
- Notice the emphasis on Mordecai’s garments. They mirror his rise to power and influence. By means of the garments, you can find links with the Lord Jesus: he wore garments that marked him as a man of sorrows, the man whom the king delighted to honor, and garments of vindication and rule.
- God’s sovereign control of circumstances: these are too many to mention. Consider Esther’s orphan status, her singular beauty, the overlooked deed of Mordecai, the sleepless night, the exquisite timing of God, the entrance of Haman, the gallows he had built, etc. One of the primary lessons of the book is to teach us that there are no coincidences with God. Yet we learn that divine sovereignty works through human instruments who place their lives on the altar for the good of others.
- The faithfulness of God to His people is evident as we see Him moving in the affairs of nations to preserve the line to the Messiah. Shushan may be miles removed from Bethlehem, but had God not controlled events in the palace, the events which occurred in Bethlehem would not have transpired.
- One of the purposes of the book is to explain to a new generation of Jews the reason for the Feast of Purim.
The Seeming Triumph of Evil (chs.1-5)
- The Stage Is Set (ch.1)
- The Selection of Esther (ch.2)
- The Sinister Plot of Haman (ch.3)
- The Supplication of Mordecai (ch.4)
- The Summit of Haman’s Success (ch.5)
The Sovereign Touches of God (chs.6-10)
- The Reversal of Fortunes (ch.6)
- The Revelation of the Foe (ch.7)
- The Request by the Queen (ch.8)
- The Revenge of the Jews (ch.9)
- The Results of Mordecai’s Honor (ch.10)