Esther

This is an in-depth study on the book Esther, which develops the story of Esther living among the Persian king and how Yahweh used her to save His people. This study is 4 hours long (recorded in 2020). This is worth 1 Bible CEUs.

 

icon-pdf Esther Notes (519.16 KB)

 

Nov. 16, 2020

Esther Introduction
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42:31 min
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Esther 1:1-22
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26:15 min
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Esther 2:1-23
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34:16 min
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Nov. 23, 2020

Esther 3:1-15
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25:20 min
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Esther 4:1-5:14
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40:39 min
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Esther 6:1-7:10
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26:15 min
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Esther 8:1-10:3
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30:22 min
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The title of the book of Esther comes from the primary character in the story. It is not clear who wrote the book of Esther or when. The narrative shows the author writing as one removed from the events of the story. The book begins with the phrase “this happened during the time of Xerxes” (Esth. 1:1), suggesting it was written long after Xerxes. The linguistics suggest a later date—the late 400s or early 300s BC.[1] A Greek manuscript of the book of Esther is dated between 114 and 78 BC, which means the book of Esther had to have been written long before this and been widely accepted to have been translated into Greek.

The book of Esther is one of the most enigmatic books in the Bible, for there seems to be nothing particularly religious or Jewish about the book, unlike all the other books of the Bible. Not once is God referred to in the entire book. And though Mordecai and Esther have some good character qualities, they are not portrayed as godly people, especially Esther.[2]

First, neither of them returned to the Promised Land after the exile even though Yahweh had commanded through the prophets that all the Jews were to return to the Promised Land (Jer. 29:4-7). The First Testament consistently makes it clear that there is no blessing from Yahweh outside the Promised Land, thus the judgment of the exile.

Second, unlike all the other post-exilic books (Haggai, Zechariah, Obadiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel), Mordecai and Esther did not show any concern for Jerusalem, the temple, or the Jewish community in Israel. They were concerned about the greater Jewish community of Judah and the diaspora[3] only when they were about to be killed, and once they were delivered, they were no longer concerned. Their only agenda was to institute the festival of Purim to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews in the diaspora. Even Daniel, who lived in the diaspora[4], was focused on the return of Israel. He faced Jerusalem when he prayed (Dan. 6:10-11) and agonized over the length of their exile (Dan. 9).

Third, Mordecai told Esther to hide her Jewish identity, and Esther complied. No other Jew in the First Testament hid their identity, and this goes contrary to Yahweh’s call to them—to be a unique people who are priests to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; Ex. 19:3-6).

Fourth, unlike Daniel (Dan. 1:8), Esther was not concerned about the Mosaic Law or about being defiled in the king’s palace. She sought to win the beauty contest and to sexually please a man who was not her husband (Ex. 20:14), married a pagan (Deut. 7:1-4), and ate unclean food (Lev. 11:46-47).

Fifth, not once did either of them pray to Yahweh, mention Him, or even allude to Him. Even with the overwhelming Jewish annihilation hanging over their heads, they were not moved to cry out to Yahweh for deliverance or to seek His wisdom when dealing with the king.

Sixth, at the end of the story, Esther showed great brutality when she asked the king for a second day to massacre the enemies of the Jews even though the threat to the Jews had been eliminated.

Because of these issues, many people have struggled with why the book of Esther has been included in the Bible. Yet the nature of Mordecai and Esther’s character should not be surprising in light of all the characters of the Bible that Yahweh has used to tell His story of redemption. Every book in the Bible is filled with instances of Yahweh using flawed people in order to tell the story of humanity’s sinful and rebellious nature, and Yahweh continues to redeem them and incorporate them in the great pattern of His redemptive history. Thus, the point of the book of Esther is not the godly character and actions of these Jewish individuals but how Yahweh used them to deliver His people from the threat of annihilation.

The purpose of the book of Esther is to show that, despite the dangerous and uncertain world of the diaspora, Yahweh used the good qualities of key Jewish people in order to deliver His people from the threat of annihilation. The main focus of the story is not the Jewish characters of the story but the chaotic world of the Persian empire and the complete reversal of Haman’s edict against the Jews.

The characters of the story, with the exception of Hamon, are barely developed. The narrator does not develop the characters with their words or his own evaluation. Their motives also are never revealed. Only the actions of the characters are presented.

Yet there is a focus on the palace and world of the Persian empire. This is seen, first, with how much attention is given to the royal palace. Every scene except the two brief episodes in Haman’s home (Esth. 5:9-14; 6:12-14) and the brief account of the final victory of the Jews (Esth. 9:1-5) takes place in the Persian royal court. Second, this focus is shown in the fact that Hamon is at the center of the story. He is the only person whose motives the narrator reveals with verbal and inner dialogue, and his threat of the annihilation of the Jews is what drives the plot. All this shows that the narrator is not interested in the quality of the characters but the quality of the situation. And he does not wish to develop this quality but reveal it.[5]

The uncertainty of life for the Jews in the diaspora does not change significantly throughout the story. The climax comes when a whole series of unexplainable reversals begins to happen, pointing to Yahweh’s working behind the scenes to deliver His people. Thus, this story shows that Yahweh is able and willing to deliver His people from the uncertain, dangerous, and ungodly world they live in.

The second purpose of the book of Esther is to obligate the Jewish community to institute an annual celebration, its purpose being to memorialize the days and celebration and joy that occurred after the Jewish people were delivered from annihilation.[6] This is seen in the final chapters of the book, when both Mordecai and Esther wrote letters to the Jewish diaspora urging them to keep the festival of Purim and explaining the reason for the two different dates of the festival.

 

[1] See Karen H. Jobes. Esther, pp. 30.

[2] See Karen H. Jobes. Esther, pp. 19-20.

[3] The diaspora refers to the Jewish people who were dispersed and lived outside the Promised Land during and after the exile.

[4] The diaspora refers to the Jewish people who were dispersed and lived outside the Promised Land during and after the exile.

[5] See Frederic W. Bush. Ruth, Esther, pp. 306-307.

[6] See Frederic W. Bush. Ruth, Esther, p. 311.