This week, we are commencing a series of pulpit messages on the book of Esther. The following brief introduction gives us some background information pertinent to our study of this unique book.
Until recent times, most liberal theologians had viewed the book of Esther merely as a record of Jewish history and not as part of the canon of Holy Scriptures. This is because the book does not mention God’s name nor any form of religious activities. Yet God’s providence can be clearly seen in every chapter. God rules behind the scenes in the lives of His chosen people to deliver them from their enemies.
On this issue, John Whitcomb aptly comments: “In view of the abundance of names, dates, places, and customs mentioned in the book, this is so remarkable that it places Esther into a vastly higher realm of reality than the apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit with which it is often compared. Of the book of Esther, as of all other parts of canonical Scripture, the Christian can confidently affirm: ‘Thy word is truth (Jn. 17: 17)’” (Esther: The Triumph of God’s Sovereignty).
The events in the book took place in the Persian capital of Shushan during the reign of Ahasuerus (Greek name: “Xerxes”), King of Persia who ruled from 486 – 465 BC.
Authorship and Date
It is not known who wrote the book of Esther. But some have suggested that Mordecai, a prominent figure in the book, with his first-hand knowledge of the Persian court and events, might have been the author.
Most commentators agree that the book was probably written after 465 BC. Others hold on to a later date of around 444 – 434 BC.
- The book of Esther is recorded history that is especially pertinent to the Jews. It tells of God’s sovereign rule over His people in particular, and the affairs of men in general. Moreover, it marks out the Jews as the chosen people of God and His peculiar treasure: “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people” (Deut. 7: 6-7 cf. Ps. 135: 4; Jer. 31: 35-37).
“The Book of Esther shews us the position of Israel, or, to speak more accurately, the position of the Jews, out of their own land, and looked at as under the hand of God, and as the object of His care. That He still cared for them (which this book proves to us), when they no longer held any position owned by God, and had, on their part, lost all title to His protection, is an extremely touching and important fact in the dealings of God. If, when His people are in such a state as this, God cannot reveal Himself to them – which is manifest – He yet continues to think of them. God reveals to us here, not an open interposition on His part in favour of His people, which could no longer take place, but that providential care which secured their existence and their preservation in the midst of their enemies” (John Darby’s Chapter Synopses).
- Some believe that the book also serves as a warning against anti-Semitism as the Jews come under God’s protective care.
- The book of Esther records the origin of the Feast of Purim. The Feast was instituted to commemorate the miraculous deliverance of the Jews from their enemies. Since then, the Jews have been faithfully observing this annual festival.
Brief outline (http://www.biblestudytools.com/esther/ – Slightly adapted)
I. The Feasts of Xerxes (1: 1 - 2: 18)
A. Vashti Deposed (1: 1-22)
B. Esther Made Queen (2: 1-18)
II. The Feasts of Esther (2: 19 - 7: 10)
A. Mordecai Uncovers a Plot (2: 19-23)
B. Haman’s Plot (3: 1-15)
C. Mordecai Persuades Esther to Help (4: 1-17)
D. Esther’s First Banquet: Her Request to the King (5: 1-8)
E. A Sleepless Night (5: 9 - 6: 14)
F. Esther’s Second Banquet: Haman Hanged (7: 1-10)
III. The Feasts of Purim (8 - 10)
A. The King’s Edict on Behalf of the Jews (8: 1-17)
B. The Institution of Purim (9: 1-32)
C. The Promotion of Mordecai (10: 1-3)
Let us prayerfully look forward to a time of fruitful learning from the Book of Esther. May the Lord challenge our hearts with the truths from His precious Word.