Overview of Esther

Understanding Esther

“The Book of Esther is not simply a morality tale about a few faithful Jewish people who stand up for God in the midst of a pagan land. More fundamentally and splendidly, it is the story of God’s desire to glorify himself and make his Son beautiful in the lives of alienated, weak exiles from covenant faithfulness—like us.”— Elyse Fitzpatrick

Once upon a time . . . From Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan to Cinderella to Snow White, these famous words have plunged us into some of the most incredible, beautiful, and compelling stories ever written. While the narrative may read like a fairy tale in some respects, the Book of Esther is anything but! It’s a historical narrative that records real events in a real time in both the history of the world and the heritage of God’s people.

As we work our way through the Book of Esther, we thought it would be a good idea to provide you with some context for this incredible story. Who wrote it and when? Why was it written? What are some of the key themes in this book? So, let’s dive right in!

The Who . . .

Like many books of the Old Testament, Esther is an anonymous work, so there’s no consensus on who wrote it. Some believe the author could possibly be Mordecai, Esther’s uncle and guardian after her parents died. Others point to someone younger than Mordecai, but in a similar role. Overall, the one thing most everyone agrees on is that it was written by someone Jewish and that it was written no earlier than 470 B.C. and probably no later than 424 B.C., during the reign of Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes and the king during the time of Nehemiah.

When in History Did This Occur?

The story of Esther takes place after the Babylonian exile of the Jews—the story recorded in the Book of Daniel. In Daniel 5, we read about the end of the Babylonian Empire, which was conquered by Cryus the Great and the Medo-Persian Empire in 539 B.C. A few years later, the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem, as recorded in the Book of Ezra (537 B.C.).

Some 50+ years later, during the reign of King Ahasuerus, better known by his Greek name, Xerxes I, the king deposes his queen, Vashti, after she refused his command. This is where our story—and the story of Esther—begins, falling between the Book of Daniel (which began in 605 B.C.) and the events of Ezra and Nehemiah (which took place between 453-432 B.C.).

Who Was the Original Audience?

The Book of Esther was originally written as a historical narrative to the Jewish people in order to record the origins of the Feast of Purim. This annual festival commemorates God’s salvation of the Jewish people. In the same way Exodus tells the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people to the Promised Land and explains why Passover is celebrated, Esther tells the story of God’s deliverance from the wicked plot of Haman under the Persian Empire after the Babylonian captivity.

The name Purim—or “lots”—has a ring of irony to it, as Haman plotted to completely destroy them by casting the lot (Esther 9:24). But God had a different lot in mind for His people.

Regarding the Feast of Purim, Gospel Coalition writer Dominick Hernandez shared, “Imagine a holiday where kids dress up, wander around the neighborhood in costumes, make joyous noise, and receive sweets from all over the place. No, friends, I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about a biblical Jewish holiday that involves costumes, candy, and the reading of the Scriptures. Purim is the biblical holiday celebrated worldwide in Jewish communities on the 14th or 15th of the Hebrew month of Adar. It’s a joyous holiday on which the Jews celebrate the rescue of their people recorded in the Book of Esther.”

Major Themes

The Sovereignty of God: The mighty hand of God is ALWAYS at work in the lives of His people and in the world. Nothing that happens catches God by surprise; He ordains all things to point to Jesus, bring about the salvation of many, and to glorify Himself. In Esther, we see God use the circumstances in her life and in the lives of Xerxes, Mordecai, Vashti, and even Haman to bring about His deliverance for His people. In the same way, He uses the decisions and actions of all people then and now to work out His eternal and perfect plans and purposes. Esther shows us that we can trust in the Lord’s sovereignty because He’s lovingly in every step and over every aspect of our lives, even if we don’t necessarily see it.

The Deliverance of God: The Lord raised up Esther “for such a time as this.” In the same way, the Lord raised up Moses, Joshua, Joseph, and many others in order to deliver (rescue; salvation) His people from oppression, danger, and destruction. And in each of those cases, it was all meant to point us to the ultimate and final deliverance that comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord, who redeems, restores, and rescues all people who would put their faith in Him!

The Justice of God: In Psalm 37:12–13 (NIV), King David says, “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” And indeed, the day of Haman would come. The Book of Esther shows us vividly that although it sometimes seems the wicked, unjust, cruel, evil, oppressive, and greedy keep getting away with things, that their bad deeds go unpunished and their wickedness rewarded, the day of reckoning will always come. Whether in this life or the next, the wicked will receive their due and the proud will be humbled while those who are saved, who have been given the right to be called children of God, who suffer for His name, who endure trials and tribulations, will be lifted up in glory with Christ!

Of Note

The Scepter: Throughout this book, we see the scepter of the king mentioned. This is of vital importance both to this story and to the greater story being told. You see, in order to come into the presence of the king and enter his throne room without being put to death, the king had to extend his golden scepter to you. In both cases where Esther came to the king’s throne room, she was running the risk he wouldn’t extend his scepter and she would be put to death. But she found favor in his eyes and he was pleased to speak with her.

And here’s the greater narrative at play: Because of Jesus, you have a King who eternally extends His scepter to you. You can always come into His presence without fear or hesitation, knowing He ALWAYS regards you with favor, is ALWAYS pleased with you, and is ALWAYS delighted to speak with you! You never have to worry that He’ll cast you out of His presence or that you’ll incur His wrath.

For Such a Time as This: Have you’ve ever asked yourself, “Where is God in this situation? Why does He allow injustice and exploitation to occur?” In reality, what we should be asking is, “Where was I? Why am I sitting by and doing nothing while injustice and exploitation take place around me when I’ve been commanded to advocate and fight?” God has ordained us to be His ambassadors, to stand up against such things in His Name and be used by Him in these areas, to be His instruments of justice, truth, and righteousness.

As was established above when talking about the sovereignty of God, His will and work will always come to pass, with or without us, whether we rise up or stay silent. BUT God desires to use us and include us in His work, in His purposes and plans for the redemption and salvation of many. We can be participants in His incredible work. All we need to do is trust Him and take the steps of obedience, because who knows if you’ve come to your royal position (or your position in your neighborhood, workplace, or school) for such a time as this?

It’s important to note throughout your time in this book that like Esther, God has ordained where we are and when we’re there for our good, for the work of the gospel, and for His glory.

The Star of the Story

Esther is written as a hero story, with the name Esther actually being the Persian word for “star.” However, Esther is not the star of this story . . .

Despite not being mentioned by name at all, God is the star of the story—Esther is the only book of the Bible where God is not mentioned by name. As you read through this incredible story, use your critical thinking glasses to see the hand of God at work in every word to protect His people, to save them from destruction, and to model the gospel that would be revealed and fulfilled about 475 years after Esther.

You see, Esther is a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, who came “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14 NIV) . . .

Who came “at just the right time, when we were still powerless” (Romans 5:6 NIV) . . .

Who came “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4–7 NIV).

Esther, being queen of the greatest empire in the world at the time, was willing to risk losing her throne in order to identify with her people. In the same way, Jesus, the King of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 NIV). He left His throne, willingly gave it up, and so “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV).

Do you see it? The gospel is the basis for this story of God rescuing His people, to deliver alienated, powerless exiles and adopt them into His family and make them heirs of His kingdom!

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.