“The Mysterious Hand”
HOST: Michael Whitworth
The book of Esther is odd in that it no where mentions God or contains mention of worship to him through sacrifice or prayer. This has led to the book’s canonicity being hotly debated throughout the years. Does it belong in the Old Testament among other divinely inspired books? Or is it just a nice story? While the book does not explicitly mention God, it does concern itself with the survival of his people after some returned from exile. Along with Ezra-Nehemiah, it discusses how the Jew faced threats from those outside the covenant community.
The story centers around four main characters: Xerxes, king of Persia (reigned 485-465 BC); Haman, an Amalekite who has been promoted to second-in-command; Mordecai, a Jew who serves in Xerxes’ court in a lesser position; and Esther, Mordecai’s young cousin.
Ahasuerus is a Hebrew transliteration of his Persian name, while Xerxes is his Greek name. He is known to history as Xerxes I. Born in 518 B.C., Xerxes was the son of Darius. It was during his reign that Persia “won” the fierce battle against Greece at Thermopylae, which was immortalized in the movie 300. Xerxes was assassinated in 465 B.C.
The author of the book is anonymous. There is little to no speculation of who wrote it, either in ancient Jewish literature, or modern scholarship.
Date & Audience
The book claims that the story took place during the reign of Xerxes (i.e. Ahasuerus), who reigned in the early-to-mid fifth century BC. This means that the book was likely written some time after, perhaps a century or less. Obviously, the feast of Purim had become very popular among the Jews by the time the author recorded this book. The story of Esther reminded God’s people once again that they could count on the Lord to providentially protect them.
Esther & the NT
The book of Esther discusses how the Jews survived near-extinction. Beginning with Abraham, God had set a plan in motion to bring his Son into the world to redeem sinners and reconcile everyone back to God. If the Jews were exterminated, what would happen to God’s plan? Also, there is a decidedly prevalent tone of Jew vs. Gentile in the book, one that looks forward to the coming Messiah who would break down that wall (cf. Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:11-14).
Keys to Reading
- The author or narrator of Esther was a very skilled story-teller. Note the multiple examples of irony in the story.
- Haman is an Amelakite!!
- What we know about the Persian empire outside of Scripture comes mostly from the writings of Greek historians such as Herodotus. This historian confirms that character portrait of Xerxes in the story of Esther, as well as various details of court life and Persian culture.
- The story of Esther does not contain the word “God,” but he is still its chief character. In the story, we are reminded that God will:
- Punish the wicked. Throughout the story, and at several points, it seems that evil will triumph. Haman is simply too powerful to be overcome. But God works the plot so that Haman is humiliated because of his wickedness and Mordecai is exalted because of his righteousness. God has also promised us that Jesus will one day return to punish evil (2 Thess. 1:8). Such knowledge, however, should make us as fearful as it does joyful.
- Protect the righteous. The theme of providence is spread throughout Esther’s story. That she was chosen to be queen over all the other women, and that Mordecai just happened to overhear a plot on the king’s life and ingratiate himself to the crown, and that the king just happened to extend his scepter to Esther—all of this is that God works on the behalf of his people to care for them (cf. Rom. 8:28).
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