God tells his story in the context of a fallen world.
When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. 2 He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. 3 And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. 6 Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, 7 and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. 9 And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”
12 And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. 13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. (ESV)
In this world, there is alienation, cruelty, oppression, hatred, and genocide. There is also pride, selfish ambition, obstinate behavior, gender conflict, drunkenness, and sexual lust. In the book of Esther, we encounter all these evils.
In this part of God’s story, his old covenant people have a very serious problem. Having been conquered by Babylon, they were at the time of Esther under the rule of the Persian Empire. Though their situation was to improve in a few years, at this time it became much worse, through a relatively minor incident between two men in the Persian government.
When was the plan of God in the most danger from a human perspective? Was it the Flood? When Sarah was taken by Pharaoh? Or was it when Esau wanted to kill Jacob? Perhaps it was when Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him? What of the attempted genocide by Pharaoh when Moses was born? Or God’s anger at the time of the Golden Calf? Think of the time David faced Goliath or when Saul was chasing David around Israel. What about Absalom’s revolt? Was it when the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem to destroy it? Or was it when Herod tried to kill Jesus soon after he was born? The book of Esther tells of a very dangerous time, because all of God’s people were scheduled to be destroyed by the empire of Persia. Can God protect his people in extremely dangerous circumstances? Yes, God can!
Structure of Esther (from NIV Study Bible)
- The feasts of Xerxes (1:1-2:18)
- The feasts of Esther (2:19-7:10)
- The feasts of Purim (8:1-10:3)
Ideas and features of Esther
- It has a strong Jewish flavor in a Persian setting
- Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not mention the name of God. In fact, except for fasting, it does not mention prayer or bringing sacrifices or other acts of old covenant worship. God’s people were still religious, to a degree, but they do not use his name during this critical hour. (Contrast the situation in the book of Ruth.)
- Esther presents God at work contrary to human supposition. There is no miraculous sign, like in the times of Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus and his apostles. Instead, God does something else from behind the scenes. He puts a Jewish man in the Persian government. Then God arranges for the man’s young cousin whom he had been caring for to be taken into the Persian king’s harem. And so God uses a woman—a woman who had been an orphan, a woman with no prospects or power, a woman who was not in control of her destiny, a woman who dared to violate the protocol of the Persian Empire—to change the course of history for his people. Esther is not a pretty story, and we should not try to sanitize it.
- There is a lot of dry humor at the expense of the Persians. God laughs at those who conspire against him (Ps 2:4). This books lets us join in God’s laughter.
- It tells how the Feast of Purim came to be; the book talks a lot about feasting; there are ten banquets in the book and they are a part of its storyline; in contrast to the banquets is the fast in chapter four
- Link to Rm 9:3-5 – Christ came from Israel; therefore, God had to preserve that people to carry out his promise of salvation. This story shows us how God works in secular settings to carry out his perfect will. We need this book, because we don’t see angels and miracles. People can be tempted to suppose that God is not at work unless they receive a sign from heaven or hear God speak verbally. Esther reveals that God can work without his name even being mentioned.
I. God’s background preparations to protect his people (1:1-2:18).
The Lord had to direct a number of actions to happen before Esther could be in position to speak for her people.
A.The fall of Queen Vashti – Clearly, she had to be out of the way, at least for a long time, before Esther could rise to the position of queen of Persia.
1.The drunken business party of Xerxes (1:1-8) – Apparently, the Persians liked to do their planning while they were inebriated, wrongly thinking that this helped them get into contact with the wisdom of their gods. At the time mentioned, Xerxes and his officials were planning a military campaign against Greece.
2.When Xerxes was very drunk, he ordered his wife, Vashti, to show off her beauty before his royal officials. (Many a man likes to show off when they’re drunk.) She refused, and he changed from a happy drunk to an angry drunk. All the intoxicated men came up with a plan to keep their women in their place. They would teach the women a lesson by deposing Queen Vashti and by decreeing that every man should be ruler in his household (1:9-22). Ah, how this strokes male egos, but it deepens the division between men and women. One of the sinful consequences of human rebellion against God is domestic abuse.
Apply: This is a hot topic right now. The world will try to solve it by education and making new rules. But the only real answer is in the good news of Jesus (cf. Eph 5:22-33). Husbands, do you love your wives sacrificially for their good?
B.God’s providence (sovereign rule) in Esther’s early life (2:1-7)
1.The Lord had given her beauty (2:7), so that her beauty would lead to her entry into the Persian court (2:1-5).
2.The Lord had given her a cousin, Mordecai, to care for her in her youth, after her own parents had died (2:7). As it so happened, Mordecai had a position in the Persian government, and he wisely taught her how to act (2:10). In this way she learned political savvy.
Point: God equips us for the work he calls us to do.
C.The rise of Esther (2:1-18) – This happened in the fourth year after Vashti was deposed. During this time, Persia lost a major battle against Greece. This made for an unstable political situation, but sexual lust puts aside such distractions. Xerxes was king, and he wanted to enjoy the perks of his position.
1.Esther was taken into Xerxes’ harem (2:8). Do not blame either Esther or Mordecai for this. The Persians regarded her as an object, not a person, and from their point of view, this was a great opportunity for her. But she was an oppressed woman being captured for the sexual pleasure of one man. Yes, this is a messy part of the story.
2.Esther acted wisely and pleased the official over her. She took his suggestions when it was her turn for a night with the king. In God’s providence (cf. Prov 21:1), she won the king’s favor. She continued to act wisely and attended the banquet the king gave in her honor (2:15-18).
Point: Notice the junction of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Esther had no control over what would happen to her, but she did her best in her circumstances. Both were needed.
II. God secretly works through Esther to remove the enemy of his people (2:19-7:10).
A.An assassination plot is uncovered (2:19-23)
1.In God’s providence, Mordecai was in the right place at the right time to hear about the plot against Xerxes. The Lord protected a pagan king in order to carry out his purposes through that king. Remember Rm 13:1. In addition, understand that God has many ways to keep people from sinning (cf. Gen 20:6).
2.In God’s providence, Esther was able to tell the king about the plot and she wisely gave credit to Mordecai, and his loyalty is recorded in the king’s book. But he was not rewarded at that time. This might have been disappointing to Mordecai at that time, but the Lord has his hand in all the details.
B.Haman’s rise to power
1.While we cannot be certain, it might be that Haman was a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek (1 Sm 15:20). Saul, son of Kish, had been ordered by God to destroy the Amalekites for their murderous hatred of God’s people (Ex 17:8-16; Deut 25:17-19; 1 Sm 15:2-3). If so, it provides additional insight into this event. In any case, Xerxes chose Haman to be his “prime minister”. Clearly, Haman and Mordecai did not get along, and Mordecai refused to bow down to him, as the second ruler of the kingdom. Everyone knew that Mordecai was a Jew, which made his position precarious as a member of an oppressed people group.
2.Haman could only think of revenge and bribed Xerxes to agree to his plan to destroy the Jews (3:5-15). He cast the lot (pur from which we get the word Purim). But God is in control of the casting of lots (Prov 16:33). Although the people were in confusion about the edict of genocide, Xerxes and Haman went to the palace bar to drink.
C.Esther decides to risk her life to rescue her people (4:1-17).
1.Mordecai publicly grieved over what had happened. When Esther learned of his grief, she contacted him through a eunuch who was assigned to her. He explained to Esther what needed to be done.
2.Esther knew she had a serious obstacle to overcome. Mordecai persuaded her to act, because he was confident that the Jews would be protected. So, she asks for all the Jews to fast for her. And so she decided to risk her life for her people. Her action illustrates the much greater sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Notice that God is not mentioned; neither is prayer. Yet the Lord would still act for the protection of his people.
Point: In God’s providence, people must take risks and perhaps die for the Lord’s purposes to be fulfilled.
D.God works all things together for good for the people called according to his purpose (5:1-7:10; cf. Rm 8:28).
1.Esther is received by Xerxes and wisely acts for a small favor. Now a ruler of a major empire is not naïve, but the king plays along with her feminine wiles—the thrill of the hunt.
2.Haman becomes enraged with Mordecai and plans to kill him immediately. “The one who digs a pit will fall into it” (Prov 26:27).
3.Mordecai is remembered and honored. This happens because the king could not sleep on “just the right night”. Then he is read “just the right book”. All these circumstance reveal the hand of God.
4.Esther denounces Haman to the king, who has Haman executed.
Point: God can bring swift judgment on a person (Prov 29:1).
III. God uses Esther and Mordecai to protect his people (8:1-10:3).
A.God causes Esther and Mordecai to be honored before the king.
1.Xerxes accepts Esther, though she was a Jew, and he gives her Haman’s estate, which she generously and wisely gives to Mordecai.
2.Xerxes makes Mordecai his “prime minister”, putting him in a position from which he can help the Jews. Xerxes listens to Esther’s plea for her people and lets Esther and Haman make a decree to counteract the one that Haman had talked him into.
B.God defeats the enemies of his people at the time of Purim.
1.The decree they made was not an act of cruelty. They had to be able to counteract the plans of their enemies, the terrorists of their day, point by point.
2.After the enemies are completely routed, the Feast of Purim is established as a holiday of joy, feasting, and the giving of presents. And the stage is set for Ezra to return to Jerusalem during the reign of Xerxes’ son, Artaxerxes.
Point: God works all things to fulfill his sovereign purposes (Eph 1:11).
Apply: Is God on your side? If he isn’t, you have a big share in Haman’s problem. But today there is good news! This is the day of salvation, and as Christ’s minister I invite you to receive his mercy and grace.
Ideas that by grace can change our lives:
- God equips us for the work he calls us to do
- God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are both part of his plan
- People must take risks and perhaps die for the Lord’s purposes to be fulfilled
- God can bring swift judgment on a person
- God works all things to fulfill his sovereign purposes
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.