Overview of Esther
and Study of Esther 1-3
May 22nd

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Esther (Overview)

The book of Esther is the last of the books of history in the Old Testament. The events take place during the time of the exile, perhaps after the return of the first group of exiles but before the second return led by Ezra. The primary location of the story is the palace of King Xerxes in the city of Susa, the capital of Persia. The author is unknown, but may have been Ezra.

The purpose of the book is to emphasize that God is the ultimate ruler and protector. He will not let anyone wipe out his people and will intervene in whatever way necessary to ensure this objective. Those who oppose him will pay the consequences.

The central person is Esther, a Jewish woman in exile who becomes Queen of Persia, and a hero to the Jewish people. The modern people of Jewish faith continue to remember Esther and celebrate her heroics with costumes and feast during the annual festival of Purim, which takes place in February or March.

There are several additional notable features: First, the book is only one of two in the entire Bible named after a woman. The other is Ruth, which we read earlier in our study. The second notable feature is that God’s name is not mentioned once in the book, but his presence is implied. The third is that, for some reason, Esther is the only book from the Hebrew Scriptures that was not found in the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran (1). There was at least a partial version of each of the other books found on a scroll in one of caves. It's not clear why this book was not included. Maybe the scribes left it out because there was no mention of God or maybe because the annual feast of Purim had gotten out of hand (1). Regardless of the reason, the book is important for its encouragement to worship only God and to trust in him. Thus it is worthy of study.

The chapters of the book of Esther can be divided into several parts:

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

Esther 1-3 (An Unlikely Queen)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

- Esther 2:17 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

A young Jewish woman named Esther became queen of Persia after King Xerxes deposed his wife and began a search throughout the kingdom for suitable replacements, as noted in chapters 1 and 2. Esther had been adopted and raised by her cousin Mordecai, who continued to advise her throughout adulthood. One day, Mordecai overheard a plot to assassinate the king and told Queen Esther, who warned the king, saving his life.

Chapter 3 records that Haman, an Amalekite, was given the highest position of any noble, but Mordecai refused to bow to him. Consequently, Haman became angry and commanded the king to sign a decree to kill all the Jews on an appointed day. Xerxes did not realize the Queen was a Jew because she had not revealed it.

Tune in tomorrow to find out what happens to Mordecai and Haman.

Reflection and Application

This first section in Esther reminds us that each of us has a purpose planned by God. He may orchestrate events to allow us to fulfill our intended purpose, but we must take action to complete the purpose, as Mordecai did in warning the king but refusing to bow to Haman. Mordecai could have shied away from warning the king and could have given in to pressure to bow to Haman, but he did the right thing in both cases.

We face similar pressures in our era. Sometimes we are reluctant to speak up, figuring that someone else will do it or fearing retribution, but it’s important for us to be faithful to the truth. We are often called to bow down to principles other than God’s. It seems harmless at the time, and there may be grave costs for sticking with God, but that is the sacrifice we are willing to make if we decide to devote ourselves to him.

God is the only one for whom we should bow down in praise. The rest of us on earth and heaven are all equal as servants to him. Not even the mighty angels of heaven should be worshipped, as John reminded us twice in the book of Revelation, including one in the final chapter:

So if we should not bow to angels of our LORD, then we certainly should not bow down to mere men.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. In what situations have you been an unlikely winner of some type of contest or job?
    2. What are the principles that we are pressured to bow to in our culture?
    3. What is the cost of not bowing to them?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you are the only one worthy of worship. Please forgive us if we ever have forgotten that truth.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Parents who adopted children


    (1) Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984, p. 496

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Esther 4-6 (Protected Family)

    Comments and Questions
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