Esther by xU673k

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									Couples for Christ
Esther 1
November 11, 2007

Today we begin a new series on the book of Esther. Esther is a beautiful, engaging story
of romance and intrigue. It is also an inspiring story that reveals God’s sovereignty, his
control over the events of the world, his loving care for his people, and his faithfulness in
keeping his promises. I think you’re going to enjoy this series!

How many of you are familiar with the story of Esther? Who can help me
summarize the story? Lead folks through the story.

The book of Esther begins with an enormous feast, called by King Xerxes for all his
nobles and officials, lasting 180 days. Immediately after, he calls another fest, this time
lasting seven days. During this second feast, the drunken king commands his wife Vashti
to appear at the banquet so that his guests can admire her beauty. She refuses,
precipitating a national crisis which leads to her banishment from the palace.

Some years later, a search begins for a new queen. Many beautiful girls from across the
empire are brought into the Kling’s harem. One, Esther, a beautiful Jewish orphan, so
pleases King Xerxes that he makes her the queen.

Some time after Esther has become queen, her cousin Mordecai—a palace official and
the man who had raised her after the death of her parents—learns of a plot to assassinate
the king, which is foiled. Mordecai’s act of loyalty is recorded in the King’s annals but
not rewarded.

Meanwhile, the King has appointed Haman, an ambitious, self-absorbed official in his
court, to be his senior minister. The King orders all of his officials to bow down and pay
respect to Haman, but Mordecai refuses do so. This so angers Haman that he begins to
plot not only the death of Mordecai but also the destruction of the entire Jewish nation.
Haman uses the promise of an enormous gift to the King’s treasury to deceive the king
into issuing an edict condemning the Jews to death—an edict which, under the laws of
the Medes and the Persians, could not be revoked. Haman has a giant gallows
constructed at his residence specifically for the hanging of Mordecai.

When Mordecai finds out about the King’s edict, he confronts Queen Esther and urges
her to act in an attempt to save her people. While at first reluctant, she ultimately decides
to act. In his effort to persuade Esther, Mordecai challenges her by saying,

       “Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews
       will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the
       Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish.
       And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
       (Esther 4:13-14)
Esther agrees to act, and at great risk to her life, she approaches the king, inviting the
King and Haman to attend a banquet she will serve. At that banquet, when pressed by the
King to state her request, she simply invites him to attend a second banquet the next
night, also with Haman.

On the night between Esther’s banquets, the King, unable to sleep, is reading though his
annals and recalls the actions of Mordecai many years before. Discovering that he has
not honored Mordecai, he determines to do so. Seeking advice about the appropriate
honor for such a man, he summons Haman, his senior minister, who, thinking that he is
the man the king wishes to honor, conceives a lavish set of rewards. To Haman’s shame
and horror, the King accepts his advice, and tells him to carry out his advice—for the
honor of Mordecai!

The next night, at Esther’s second banquet, the King again asks her for her request. This
time, she speaks directly: “‘If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your
majesty, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request.
For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation.’”
When Xerxes asks who would do such a thing to the queen, Esther slams the door on
Haman: “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman!”

Immediately, the King sentences Haman to die—on the very gallows he has prepared for
Mordecai. And, with Mordecai’s counsel, the king issues a second edict, one that allows
the Jews to defend themselves against any attacks that might be launched against them.
The nation is preserved, and in celebration, the people held a feast, the first celebration of
what is still celebrated among the Jews as the festival of Purim.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the story in more detail. For today, let’s take a
look at the context, the themes, and some of the nuances of the book.

The first verse of Chapter 1 of Esther tells us a great deal about the context of the story:

       This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127
       provinces stretching from India to Cush. At that time King Xerxes reigned from
       his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and I the third year of his reign he gave a
       banquet for all his nobles and officials.

The story of Esther begins in 483 B.C. during the reign of the great Persian King Xerxes.
This is about 122 years after the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had first come against
Jerusalem in 605 B.C, and about 103 years after the Nebuchadnezzar had taken the Jews
from the southern Kingdom of Judah into captivity in Babylon. Some 50 years earlier, in
539 B.C., the Babylonian empire had been conquered by the Medes and the Persians
under the command of Cyrus.

The book of Esther covers roughly the same period of time documented in Biblical books
of Ezra and Nehemiah. In fact, the story of Esther falls precisely between Chapters 6 and
7 of the book of Ezra. Esther takes place about 54 years after the first of the Jewish
exiles had returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and about 25 years
before the second group returned under Ezra.

       (For Reference Only)
       536 BC - the return from Babylon to Jerusalem
       536-516 BC - the rebuilding of The Temple
       478 BC - Esther became queen of Persia
       473 BC - Esther saved the Jews from massacre
       457 BC - Ezra went from Babylon to Jerusalem
       444 BC - Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem

The Xerxes mentioned in verse 1 is Xerxes the Great, the fifth king of the Persians, who
ruled the Persian empire from 486 B.C to 465 B.C. He was the son of Darius, mentioned
in the Bible in Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah, and the father of Artaxerxes, who is also
mentioned in Ezra as well as Nehemiah. Xerxes is the Greek form of the King’s Persian
name Khshayarshan. He is also referred to in some translations by his Hebrew name,
Ahasuerus. Don’t be confused—it’s the same guy.

(This is not, however, the Ahasuerus mentioned in Daniel as the father of Darius the
Mede. Darius the Mede was the governor of Babylon under the rule of Cyrus, the first
Persian king, and not the Darius who was the father of Xerxes the Great. )

Xerxes’ empire was vast, encompassing 127 provinces, covering most of the modern
Middle East, from Ethiopia (Cush) and Egypt through Israel, Jordan, and Syria, north into
Turkey, and east into Iraq, Iran, and into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Xerxes is a figure of enormous historical importance. Do you know why? Take various
answers. Did anyone see the movie “The 300” this summer? That movie was a jazzed-up
description of the famous battle that took place in 480 B.C. at a place in Greece called
Thermopylae between the Greeks (specifically, the Athenians and the Spartans) and the
Persians under the command of… King Xerxes. Although Xerxes ultimately won the
Battle of Thermopylae, his invasion of Greece was thwarted, preserving the Greek city-
states and, many would argue, Western civilization. Almost 150 years later, the Greeks,
united under the leadership of Alexander, would defeat Xerxes’ successor Darius III,
putting an end to the Persian Empire.

Interestingly, many scholars believe that the purpose of the 180-day banquet described in
Esther chapter 1 was to plan for the invasion of Greece. The book of Esther tells us that
the banquet took place in Xerxes 3rd year, which we know to be 483 B.C.; the invasion of
Greece commenced in the next year, 482 B.C. Further, in Chapter 2 we read that Esther
first comes to Xerxes in “the seventh year” of his reign, or 479 B.C. This would have
been just after Xerxes return from Greece following the defeat of his navy at the Battle of
Salamis. So it all fits together.

The setting of Esther is the winter capital of Persian, Susa. Susa is located in the far
western part of modern-day Iran. The mention of the citadel of Susa refers to the
fortified hill (the acropolis) where the palace was located. You may recall that Susa is
the location of one of Daniel’s visions and, according to tradition, Daniel is buried in
Susa. Nehemiah also served there.

We have no idea who wrote Esther, or exactly when it was written. Some critics speculate
that the book may have been written as late as the Macabean period, the evidence is very
strong that the author was a first hand observer of the events. For example, notice the eye-
witness detail of the description of the King’s palace in Chapter 1, verses 6 through 8:

       The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white
       linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of
       gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and
       other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from
       the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality.
       By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the
       king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.

Linguistic analysis of Esther lends support to the idea of a first-hand account: the book
lacks any Greek vocabulary (which would make sense if it was written in the pre-Greek
Persian period) and is written in an earlier form of Hebrew which is most similar to that
used in the book of Chronicles. We can be confident that the book was written by a Jew
who was very knowledgeable about Persian culture and customs. Some speculate that the
book was written by Ezra; a few think it might have been written by Mordecai himself.

The author’s central purpose in writing Esther was to document the story of God’s
faithfulness in preserving the Jewish nation and giving them rest in the struggle against
their enemies. Esther documents God’s faithfulness to his promises, and his ability to
arrange people and places to insure that his will is perfectly accomplished. The book
reveals God’s work, through Mordecai and Esther, to thwart an effort to destroy the
people of God. The threat is personified in Haman, who is described as an Agagite—
perhaps a reference to King Agag of the Amalekites, whose life Saul spared in direct
disobedience to God’s teaching. In Jewish tradition, the Amalekites represent the
archetypal enemy of the Jews, so in some ways the struggle in the book of Esther against
Haman is symbolic of all struggles of the Jews against their enemies.

The author uses several interesting literary devices throughout the book. For example,
the author uses banquets as a framework for the story. The book recounts a total of 10
banquets and feasts. Three pairs of banquets are used to mark the beginning middle, and
end of the book: the two banquets of Xerxes (along with the banquet of Vashti) in
Chapter 1 mark the beginning; the two banquets prepared by Esther for Xerxes and
Maham mark the middle; and the double celebration of Purim mark the end.

The author also uses the literary device of repetition throughout the book. In addition to
the three pairs of banquets, there are two lists of the king’s servants (1:20 and 1:14); two
reports that Esther concealed her identity (2:10 and 2:12); two refusals to submit to the
king’s orders (Vashti, 1:12 and Mordecai, 3:2), two references to the irrevocability of the
law of the Persians (1:19 and 8:8); two royal edicts (3:12-14 and 8:1-13); and many
others. These repetitions serve in part to draw attention to certain important facts and
circumstance the autho wishes to emphasize.

There is at least one thing that makes the book of Esther unique among the OT books.
Can you guess what it is? God is never mentioned anywhere in the book. Nor is
prayer, worship, sacrifice, miracles, Jerusalem, the temple, or the Law. Further, as we
mentioned above, the main Jewish characters in the book—Mordecai and Esther—are
secularized and apparently irreligious, at least at the beginning. So what is this book
doing in the Bible? Why do you think it is in here? Take various answers. Although
God is not mentioned in the book, he is present on every page, orchestrating and
arranging circumstances to accomplish his purposes. God works in Esther is the same
way he works in most of history (and in most of our lives): not though dramatic
interventions and miracles, but quietly, behind the scenes, invisibly. In fact, God’s
absence from the words of the story serves to heighten his presence in the story. It as if
the author just assumes that God is in complete control to such a degree that it all would
understand his role without the need for his name to be mentioned.

Although God is not mentioned, the book clearly shows how God works through people
to accomplish his purposes. He sets the circumstances, and we take action. He prepares
and positions us, and we act. It also documents how God works in people, changing and
growing Esther from the compliant girl of Chapter 2 to the champion of Chapter 5. God
works like that in us, changing and growing us to the point where we are useful to him.

Can you think of other stories in the Bible that are similar to Esther? Who else does
God put into the palace for the benefit of his people? Moses. Joseph. Daniel.
There is some evidence that the author of Esther deliberately modeled his story after the
story of Daniel. For example, compare Esther 2:3-4

       Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all
       these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed
       under the care of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let
       beauty treatments be given to them. 4 Then let the girl who pleases the king be
       queen instead of Vashti." This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.

With Genesis 41:34-37:

       Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of
       Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of
       these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of
       Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for
       the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon
       Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine." The plan seemed
       good to Pharaoh and to all his officials.
There is at least one striking difference between the stories of Esther and those of Joseph
and Daniel, though. Both Joseph and Daniel are moral heroes who resist the temptation
to accept the culture into which they are thrust: Joseph refusing to bed his employer’s
wife and Daniel refusing to eat the special food offered by the Babylonians. In both
cases, it is the moral courage of these men that places them in a position to do God’s
work. Esther, on the other hand, hides her Jewish identity, accepting the food offered to
her when she comes to the palace, in apparent disregard for the Mosaic dietary laws. She
joins a harem and sleeps with the king before they are married, then marries him, despite
he fact that he is a gentile, also in violation of the law. And it is precisely her willingness
to do these things that puts her in the position to act to protect her people when the time is
right.

So which is it? Is Daniel our model, or Esther? Do we boldly proclaim our faith,
refusing to go along with the culture, and wait for God to raise us up to a position of
influence? Or do we go along, working inside the culture to achieve a position of
influence, which God then uses for his purposes? What do you think? Take various
answers. We’ll talk more about this conflict as we continue through the book.

Next week, Chapter 1.
Why did Queen Vashti refused to appear before the people at the great banquet (Esther
1:10-12)? While it may be that she simply had enough of a banquet that had turned into a
7-day binge (Esther 1:10), others believe that the correct translation of her refusal "to
appear wearing her royal crown" is "to appear wearing only her royal crown." This theory
would seem to be supported by the statements that the king was very drunk (Esther 1:10)
when he made the demand to "display the queen's beauty to all the people" (Esther 1:11).
If that is what happened, it would seem that the king was little more than a common fool
- a condition that The Lord capitalized on to move Esther into position to fulfill her
mission.

About Esther and Mordecai

When orphaned at a young age, Esther was raised by her older cousin, Mordecai, who
worked in the household of the Persian king (Esther 2:5-7). They apparently did not make
use of the permission granted by Cyrus for the exiles to return to Jerusalem (approximate
dates):

Mordecai. A Persian name, derived from the name of the Babylonia God Marduk.
Likely had both a Persian and a Hebrew name, like Esther, Daniel, Joseph, and others,
but we don’t know it. Interestingly, a cuneiform tablet from Borsippa near Babylon
mentions a scribe by the name of Mardukaya, and accountant or minister at the court of
Susa in the early days of the reign of Xerxes. Many scholars think it’s the same guy.

Esther is thought to be a form of the Persian word satarah, which means a star. Some,
however, think the name Esther is derived from the name of the Baylonia goddess Ishtar.
Haddassah is the Hebrew name for the myrtle, an evergreen shrub used for its violet
flowers and for making perfume.

Evidence of his “double life.” Noice wheich one we know about—his Persians name.

See note regarding Mordecai’s ancestors, page 721 of the NIV Study Bible, which
associate him with Saul, which makes the conflict with Haman more sharp.

The more we realize that there is still much more hidden, and thus reserved for the
diligent inquirer. (Would you expect anything less in the Word of God?) The entire
drama has deeper roots. Haman was a royal Amalekite, a descendant of the very king
Agag whom King Saul was supposed to have slain (1 Sam 15:1-28). If Saul had
followed his instructions, there wouldn't have been a Haman. For Saul's failure, his
kingdom was taken away.

Mordecai, too, a key benefactor in the tale, was a result of David having refused to take
vengeance upon Shimei so many years earlier.

Character studies of Esther, Haman, perhaps Mordecai, perhaps Xerxes?

								
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