During the seventy years the Jews suffered their Babylonian exile, God raised up several people to faithfully guide and direct His fallen people back to Himself. Among these were Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and a young woman named Esther. The actions and examples of these four people are worthy to be included in the Hall of Faith of Hebrews 11, yet none of them were. In fact, the only one of these four even mentioned in the New Testament is Zerubbabel, who led the initial return of some of the Jews to their homeland. Ezra became the spiritual leader of the people, and he and Nehemiah led the reconstruction of the city and the temple, and the revival of their lives to once again be who God called them to be. Yet none of this would have been possible apart from the courageous stand and intervention of the young woman Esther, who found herself in a unique place of influence with the King. The examples of Esther and her cousin Mordecai can teach us much, as can other principles we can draw from their experiences, and help us to make a difference for God in our world.
The Book of Esther
The Book of Esther is unique. It reads much like a novelette, and its story is as gripping as any novel one would read today. Unfortunately, some have wrongly concluded that Esther was just a piece of historical fiction, or because of similar names, that this was just a Jewish version of the account of Ishtar and Marduk, two Babylonian deities that were also cousins. Yet archaeological and historical evidence demonstrates that this book is historical and accurate, and despite its literary form, it follows the same pattern as other Old Testament Books. From the events of this book arose the Feast of Purim or Lots, which with Hanukkah are the only holidays established outside the Law of Moses still celebrated by the Jews. In celebrating Purim, Jews today practice tzedakah, giving gifts of fruit or sweets to another person in remembrance of Esther’s actions, reading the story or acting it out with the crowd cheering the heroes and booing the bad guys, children and even some adults dressing as the characters in the story, and enjoying feasting. This provides an important link to the historical nature of the Book of Esther if nothing else.
Esther is placed in the “Writings” section of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Five Rolls (Megillath) including Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther, and the other books are also read on various Jewish holidays. It is believed that because of concern that the book didn’t actually contain the name of God or a specifically mentioned religious purpose, some other Jewish writer added Esther 10:4-16:24 to include these elements. This section was never accepted as part of the Hebrew Bible, and is now collected in the Old Testament Apocrypha. The events of Esther took place under the reign of Xerxes 1 (Ahasuerus being a title, like Pharaoh), who reigned from 486 to about 465 BC. The story of Esther took place over about a ten year span (483 to 473 BC), and would fit historically between Ezra 6 and 7. This would mean that Esther could have lived far into the reign of Artaxerxes, her step-son, under whom Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, and might have influenced all that happened then.
What about God?
The only books of the Old Testament that do not mention the name of God are Esther and the Song of Solomon, and neither of these books is mentioned in the New Testament. Yet God’s hand of providence is more clearly evident in this book than in most others. We see in Esther that the attempt of Satan to destroy the line of the coming Messiah, begun in Genesis 3:15, is thwarted. This book teaches us much about the sovereignty of God despite mankind’s evil intentions. We also can see parallels in the story of Esther to the relationship of Christ and His children. For instance, as Jesus did, Esther put herself in a place of potential death for the people, but was approved by the King. Also, she worked as an intercessor and advocate for the people just as Christ ever lives now to intercede for us as His children. Yes, God is in the Book of Esther, as are His specific purposes for His own people, and we can learn much from examining it carefully.