ESTHER BIBLE STUDY (Part 1)
The story of Esther is one of the most exciting and inspiring in all the Word of God. "Esther" (a Persian word meaning Star) is the more familiar name of a Jewish girl named Hadassah (which is Hebrew for Myrtle). The events of the book of Esther occurred between 483 and 473 BC. They actually fit historically between Chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Ezra. By that time Babylon had been taken over by the Persians. The Jews had been given permission to return to their homeland to rebuild, and thousands did so, led by a man named Zerubbabel.
However, during the 70 years of captivity many others had settled down in Babylon and preferred to stay there. The book of Esther concerns those Jews who remained in Babylon (or Persia). One of these was young Esther, an orphan whose cousin, Mordecai [MOR-da-kai], raised her as his own daughter. The king of Persia at the time was a man named Xerxes [ZERK-seez], called Ahasuerus in the King James Version.
There is a most unusual fact about the book of Esther–one which might not be noticed with a casual reading of it. God is not mentioned once in the entire book. No one is ever specifically said to be praising Him, or praying to Him. On the surface it seems like a totally secular story. This is not because the writer did not believe in God. (Quite the contrary!) He has done it by design, as a kind of literary device, suggesting a God who was hidden but at work.
When the Jews went into captivity, it was because they had turned their backs on God, and had departed from His ways. They were out of fellowship with Him. God was absent from their lives. But although this was so, the Lord had not ceased to love His people. In Esther, we see the Lord working behind the scenes to rescue them. Though His presence is not obvious, the Lord acts in a wonderful way to deliver the nation from harm.
1) What does the king of Persia do, as the story opens (1:5)?
2) On the final day of feasting, what does the drunken king command (1:10-11)?
3) What response does this receive from the queen (1:12)?
INSIGHT: The ancient Jewish Targum asserts that the king's command implied Vashti should appear unveiled before the other men, which would have been a disgrace in that culture. Her modesty, in the circumstances, was both commendable and daring.
4) How does the king feel about what Vashti has done?
5) What big problem do the Persian princes foresee with the queen's behaviour (1:16-17)?
6) What solution is suggested by the king's counselors (1:19, and 2:2-4)?
INSIGHT: Now, the scene shifts to a man named Mordecai and his young ward Hadassah (or Esther). They were Jewish slaves living right in the huge palace complex of the Persian king. Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin in Israel, and belonged to the family of Kish (2:5-7).
7) Who is a famous ancestor of Mordecai (I Sam. 9:1-2)?
INSIGHT: In the "beauty contest" to choose a new queen, Esther is taken as a possible candidate with the others (2:8). As far as we know, she had no choice in this. She was a slave.
8) Take a moment to list a few things in life over which, humanly speaking, we have little or no control.
9) Is there a helpful way, and a harmful way, to deal with the things you have listed above? Discuss.
10) What fact have Mordecai and Esther decided not to reveal (2:10)?
INSIGHT: We do not know whose idea it was for Esther to enter the contest. But Mordecai is deeply concerned about what is going to happen to her (2:11).
11) What is the result of the contest (2:17)?
INSIGHT: Please take a few minutes to read the article on A Great Bible Doctrine, at the end of this study. It is important to our understanding of the book of Esther.
12) What does Mordecai overhear at this particular time (2:21)?
13) What does Mordecai do about what he has heard (2:22)?
INSIGHT: A person with less faith and confidence than Esther had, (and less humility), might have taken personal credit for uncovering the plot, but she does not do this. She gives her uncle the credit in reporting to the king. (And God is at work!)
14) After the matter is investigated, what two things happen (2:23)?
INSIGHT: Chapter 3 opens with the king appointing a man named Haman [HAY-man] to the position of prime minister (3:1).
15) What is everyone expected to do when they see Haman coming (3:2)?
16) Who takes exception to this, and refuses to do it?
INSIGHT: We are not told why Mordecai behaved as he did. However, the secret may lie in the ancestry of the two men. Haman was an "Agagite" (3:1), which likely means he was of Amalekite descent, and related to Agag the Amalekite king. The Amalekites had attacked Israel when they first departed from Egypt (Exod. 17:8-16). That account ends with these ominous words, "The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (vs. 16).
Centuries later, King Saul, the ancestor of Mordecai, was commanded by God to annihilate the Amalekites, including Agag. But Saul disobeyed, and spared their king (I Sam. 15:1-3, 9). (Samuel finally executed Agag himself, vs. 33.) It may have been because of this ancient heritage that Haman hated the Jews, and Mordecai refused to honour Haman. When Haman learns that the man who refuses to pay homage to him is a Jew, he is filled with rage (3:5).
17) Instead of merely seeking revenge against Mordecai, what does Haman determine to do (3:6)?
INSIGHT: Like Adolf Hitler, many centuries later, Haman became a tool in the hands of Satan in his attempt to bring about the destruction of God's people Israel.
18) How does Haman set about to carry out his evil scheme (3:8)?
19) What important fact does Haman not tell the king in 3:8?
20) And how does he convince the king to do this (3:9)?
INSIGHT: This was an enormous treasure--about 375 tons of silver! According to one ancient historian, it equaled almost 70% of the king's annual revenue. Haman was expecting to gather this huge amount by plundering God's chosen people (3:13).
21) What do the king's actions in this tell us about him (3:10)?
22) What two key motivations are illustrated in this meeting of Haman and the king, motivations that can be destructive in our own lives.
A GREAT BIBLE DOCTRINE
ILLUSTRATED BY THE BOOK OF ESTHER
The great doctrine graphically illustrated by the events in Esther is that of the providence of God. The English word "providence" comes from two Latin words pro + video, meaning before seeing. It refers to someone having the foresight to provide for a future need ahead of time. Acts of Divine providence fill the Bible from end to end.
Because God is God, He sees the end from the beginning. Unlike man's limited view, His "before seeing" is perfect. He knows what our needs will be a day from now, a week from now, and even many years from now. And in wisdom and love the Lord is at work now to provide for those needs we will have in the future. That is His providence.
An acquaintance of mine had his car break down on a busy road. He was soon besieged by honking impatient drivers. But he barely had time to say, "Lord, how are you going to meet this need?" when a pickup truck stopped behind him. Two men came to see what the problem was. They had the knowledge, and the tools in their truck, to make the necessary repair. Meanwhile, the conversation revealed that the two men were Christians, and that they knew something of the providence of God. One said to the other, "Now we know why the tractor broke down today, and we had to come to town for parts."
Some might call the arrival of just the right people at the right time a "miracle." But it is not miraculous in the sense that God had to step in and contravene some law of nature. The men did not supernaturally appear out of nowhere. They were going about their business as usual. Their arrival was providential. If we had the ability, we could trace such events back through many interconnected circumstances in which God has been at work.
It is on the basis of God's providence that "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). There is a hidden Hand at work in all our affairs. In relation to the events of Esther, it was God who (providentially) gave Esther her great beauty. And through that the Lord has worked to place a clever and courageous Jewish woman on the throne of Persia. She would soon fulfil a vital role in delivering her nation from certain death. The people did not know that, but God did!