The Book of Esther never once mentions the name of the Lord. It records nothing about worship, the temple, or offering sacrifices. But the Lord is clearly at work, preserving His covenant promises in the events in the account of Esther. The Book of Esther is named after its main character, Esther. Her name means “star”. No one knows for sure who wrote this book but there are scholars who believe that Mordecai was the author. He was certainly at the center of many of the events that occurred in the book. Other scholars think it may have been Ezra or Nehemiah who wrote. The events that occurred in the Book of Esther took place about the same time as those in the Book of Ezra, around 480 B.C. The date of the writing of this book is debated in many circles but it was written before the fall of Persia in 331 B.C. Persia was defeated then by the Greeks under the leadership of Alexander the Great. This book also explains how the Jews have come to celebrate the festival of Purim. It documents their survival and God’s faithfulness despite the plotting of the evil Haman and his hatred of God’s people.
This book includes no spectacular miracles, only small “coincidences” …too many in fact to have happened due to luck or chance. In Esther and Mordecai, we see how God uses ordinary people and everyday events to accomplish His redemptive purposes. The Book of Esther is an example of how God cared for His people during the most perilous years of their exile. God’s providential care in those years, when they celebrated the Feast of Purim, anticipates how God is ever caring for His people, including His most important care in sending a Savior in the person of His Son, Jesus. In this book there is much made of fasting. We have seen fasting already in the Old Testament, with the only required fast being on the Day of Atonement. This fast went from sunset to sunset…one full day. But fasting is also associated with sorrow, confession, prayer, and Jesus. Normally fasting is done with a sense of reverence and contrition but in the New Testament we see that many of the religious leaders and people of importance made a BIG show about fasting. They were not fasting so much to seek the Lord as they were seeking to be seen by as many people as possible as holy and righteous. The Pharisees fasted with great show and frequency. Jesus instructed His followers to not to tell people when they were fasting because it was intended to be a private matter be between the individual and God.
King Xerxes of Persia was the son of King Darius and the grandson of Cyrus the Great, the same Cyrus who allowed the Jewish exiles to return home to Jerusalem. The nation of Persia was roughly the same area as modern-day Iran, and it was part of the Persian Empire. This empire made major contributions to Western civilization in the areas of law, religion, and economics. The empire covered a vast area of the world, from India to modern-day Ethiopia and Sudan. The area was divided into 20 satrapies and those were further divided into 127 smaller provinces, each ruled by a governor. The big dinner/feast in Esther 1:3 included these government officials and countless other government officials and army commanders. Greek writings describe Persian kings holding elaborate feasts for as many as 15,000 people.
Susa was located in what is now southern Iran and was almost due east from the city of Babylon. Susa was the winter home for the Persian kings. King Xerxes, like his father Darius had his main royal residence in Persepolis, the capital of Persia. As we move through the Book of Esther there are many things that might be foreign to us today. In grief and sorrow many people, Jews in particular, wore sackcloth. This was a very coarsely woven fabric made out of goat’s hair, or sometimes camel hair. It was dark in color as opposed to the lighter muslin-colored garments most wore at that time. Some equate sackcloth with burlap but there are marked differences. Both are coarse materials but while sackcloth is made from coarse animal hair, burlap is usually made out of jute, flax, or hemp. Burlap was used to make sacks. Wearing sackcloth often indicated humility before God is addition to being an outward sign of grief. A person wearing sackcloth was considered unclean and would not be allowed into the temple courts or, the palace complex in Susa. We know Esther sent clothes to Mordecai when she found out he was walking throughout the city wearing sackcloth and ashes and he was camped out in front of the king’s gate. He would not be allowed past the gate wearing sackcloth. While many scholars think Esther did this act of sending clothes to Mordecai because she didn’t understand the situation, perhaps she sent them so he could change and come into the palace complex and speak with her.
The Persians were very protective of their kings and it was nearly impossible to get close to them. Their throne rooms were small and round with no corners for people to hide in and the kings were guarded 24 hours a day by men who wielded long handled axes. Anyone coming too close would be hacked to death. Living in the palace, Esther knew these things and she knew simply appearing in front of the king could get her killed, no questions asked.
The Book of Esther is not only an exciting read at the Festival of Purim, it is an account of two Jews who were willing to risk their lives to save their people. It is an account of God’s provision for His people and a reminder that He can and does use anyone to accomplish His purposes…you and I included. We also see how God uses people who do not believe in Him of share the same faith as His people. God is sovereign over everyone and everything.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W