The book of Esther (Esther 1)

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The unknown author of Esther appears to have been a Jew, based upon the book’s emphasis on Jewish nationalism and on the origin, observance and perpetual commemoration of the Jewish festival of Purim. Scholars infer that the author lived in a Persian city because of his knowledge of Persian customs and the book’s setting in the Persian capital of Susa. Scholars also consider the earliest date of authorship to be around 460 B.C., shortly after the narrated events occurred and before Ezra returned to Jerusalem. The latest date suggested for composition is around 350 B.C., just before Greece conquered the Persian empire in 331 B.C.

Certainly Israelites familiar with the events described in this book read it, as did contemporary Jews living in other regions and subsequent generations of Jews.

Throughout Israel’s history God protected His chosen people from all kinds of dangers. Yes, He punished them when they refused to confess their sins and honour their covenant with Him, but He was invariably also working behind the scenes, offering forgiveness and unfolding bigger plans for Israel and for all of humankind. During the reign of the Persian king Xerxes (486-465 B.C.), a generation before Ezra authored the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, God used this powerful king and several obedient believers to save Jews from extermination and to preserve the Davidic line through which the Messiah would descend.

In many respects the book of Esther reads like a fast-packed novella. As the exciting plot unfolds, godly people trust the Lord and step out in faith. As you read, try to imagine what would have happened if Haman’s plot had succeeded – to the Jews, to the line of David, to God’s promises concerning the coming Messiah. Haman’s edict constituted the last major effort the Old Testament period to destroy God’s people. Notice the multiple ironies in this story, including that of Haman’s ultimate fate. Think about the influence that two particular godly people made because they trusted and obeyed God and were sensitive to His leading. Ask yourself why the author might have deliberately refrained from making any explicit reference to God, prayer, worship or sacrifice in this book, even though God worked so mightily throughout this story.

Did you know that the Greek historian Herodotus explained that the Persians drank as they deliberated matters of state, believing that intoxication put them in closer touch with the spiritual world (Esther 1:10-12)? Did you know that the Persian practice of “hanging” was actually impalement for the purpose of public exhibition of a corpse (2:23)? Did you know that among the Persians the only thing prized more highly than a large number of sons was valour in battle (5:11)? Did you know that Persian protocol dictated that no one but the king could be left alone with a woman of the royal harem (7:7-8)? Did you know that Purim is still celebrated today? The entire book of Esther is read in the synagogue on the holiday, during which noisemakers are used. People cheer at the sound of Mordechai’s name and boo and hiss at the mention of Hama (9:29-32).


 

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