ESTHER BIBLE STUDY (Part 3)
The books of Ruth and Esther are the only two Bible books named for women. Ruth was a Gentile who married a Jew, while Esther was a Jew who married a Gentile. Ruth delivered her nation through her descendants (David, and ultimately Christ), while Esther delivered her nation through personal courage and God-given wisdom, in her stand against Haman.
The book of Esther provides a classic example of the providence of God at work. And Mordecai is, in a sense, a kind of human personification of Providence. He acts behind the scenes to inform Esther, to give her wise counsel, and to prompt and prod things in the right direction.
1) Can you describe an experience you have had that may have looked like a "coincidence" (or luck) to some people, but which you believe was the hand of God at work?
2) Romans 8:29 is provides a wonderful statement about the providence of God. Please read the verse. What is God's promise?
3) To whom is the promise of Romans 8:28 made?
INSIGHT: One commentator claims that Esther is an unbeliever, perhaps based on the fact that she makes no reference to God during the events described. But God is not mentioned specifically in the book by anyone. It is more likely this is a literary device, designed by the author to suggest the Lord's hidden work on behalf of the Jews. Queen Esther's courageous actions point not only to her love for her own people, but for God as well. She comes to understand that she has been placed by Him in a key position of influence for His good purpose.
4) Some among Haman's family and Persian acquaintances know about God's promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3). What warning do they give Haman (6:13)?
INSIGHT: Esther 6:13 expresses a central truth of the book: That those who oppose Israel will not succeed. A similar truth is stated in the New Testament, with respect to the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). In the story of Esther, Haman, the enemy of God's chosen people Israel, is doomed--whether he knows it, or understands, or not. But Haman still has one thing to boost his crushed ego. Later that day he is to have another private dinner with the king and queen (6:14).
5) In all of this, Esther displays considerable courage. How would you define courage? (And does it mean having no fear? Discuss.)
6) At the second dinner, the king renews his great offer (7:2). What is Esther's startling response (7:3-4)?
INSIGHT: The king is mystified and appalled. The Jews were faithful and valued slaves throughout his empire. He says, "Who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing" (7:5)? Then the trap is sprung!
7) What is Esther's even more shocking response (7:6)?
INSIGHT: His own prime minister! The king is in a rage. It looks as though he stomps out into the garden to cool down, and to consider what to do.
8) What does the terrified Haman do at this point (7:7)?
9) When the king returns from pacing in the garden, what final misunderstanding occurs (7:8)?
10) And with what result (7:9-10)?
11) What is meant by the term "poetic justice"?
INSIGHT: Please read Psalm 7:14-16. The fate of Haman is an illustration of this. The means of destruction Haman designed for another destroys him instead.
INSIGHT: As a further act of justice, the king turns the estate of Haman over to Mordecai (8:1-2). Eventually Mordecai replaces Haman as prime minister of Persia (10:3). However, the danger still exists for all the Jews in the empire. According to Persian law, once the king passed a law it could not be revoked. However, he gave Mordecai and Esther the opportunity to write a counteracting law (8:8, 11). This new law gave the Jews the right to defend themselves on the day appointed for their destruction.
12) What happened to the Jews as a result of the new decree (9:1-2)?
13) What fact is mentioned three times regarding the Jews defense of themselves (9:10, 15, 16)?
14) If it is true that Haman was a descendant of King Agag, why is the above fact particularly fitting (I Sam. 15:3, 9)?
INSIGHT: Esther had a lot against her. She was born in captivity, far from her national home. As a young girl, she was orphaned (2:7). Even her beauty seemed a curse. Because of it she was wrenched away from the care of her protective cousin and made a part of the harem of an impetuous heathen king.
15) What great truth (or truths) do you think Esther clung to that gave her enduring faith and courage?
16) Consider again the things in life concerning things over which we have little or no control. What is the encouraging lesson of the book of Esther with regard to such things?
INSIGHT: To commemorate the Jews' deliverance, Mordecai established a two-day annual celebration (9:20-23). Called the Feast of Purim (after Pur, referring to Haman's casting of lots) it is celebrated by the Jews to this day. As part of the festivities, the book of Esther is read. Each time Haman's name is uttered, the listeners "Boo." When Mordecai's name is read, they cheer!
17) Please read Deuteronomy 31:16-18. What did God warn that He would do when Israel forsook Him to go after other gods?
(Please take a few minutes to read the article An Astonishing Discovery, found at the end of this study.)
18) As far as we know, Vashti, the queen of Persia (1:11) was a heathen woman. But God used her sense of dignity and self-respect to start a chain of events in motion to deliver His people. Explain.
19) Other examples of God's providence are scattered through the book. How many can you spot in the story of Esther?
INSIGHT: One of the greatest hymns on the providence of God is William Cowper's [pronounced Cooper's] "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," written in 1774. It says, in part: "God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform; / He plants His footsteps in the sea, / And rides upon the storm. / Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, / But trust Him for His grace; / Behind a frowning providence / He hides a smiling face."
20) What do you think the author means by "a frowning providence"?
21) Because of this, what does Cowper counsel us not to do? (And what should we do instead?)
AN ASTONISHING DISCOVERY
IN THE BOOK OF ESTHER
Many years ago, an amazing discovery was made about the book of Esther: That the author has hidden the name of God in the text in five places. He has used an acrostic to do so. An acrostic takes one letter from a series of words to spell out a secret code word. For example, if you wanted to teach that the way to true happiness in the Christian life was to put the Lord first, and others second, and yourself last, you might express that with the following acrostic: Jesus and Others and You spells JOY
The problem for the English reader is that the acrostics occur in Hebrew, and are difficult to reproduce in English. Here is a bit of a paraphrase of the key verses to show how it was done.
1) In Esther 1:20, the first acrostic spells the Lord's name backwards. "Due Respect Our Ladies shall give to their husbands both great and small." It is this discussion that eventually results in Esther replacing Vashti as queen.
2) In Esther 5:4, the second acrostic gives us the Lord's name spelled in the normal way. "Let Our Royal Dinner this day be graced by the king and Haman." This speech begins Esther's clever plot to ensnare Haman, and put the king in such a state of curiosity and anticipation that he is eager to grant her wish.
3) In Esther 5:13, the third acrostic has the Lord's name spelled backwards with the last letter of a series of words. "Yet I am saD, foR nO avaiL is all this to me." Haman's bitter words when Mordecai refuses to bow in his presence--words that lead to the construction of the gallows on which he himself will be executed!
4) In Esther 7:7, the fourth acrostic presents the name of the Lord in the normal way once more--again using the last letter of the words rather than the first. "He saw that there was eviL tO feaR determineD against him by the king." Haman's sense of doom marks this comment by the story-teller.
5) In Esther 7:5, the "I AM" name of God is found. The Hebrew word could be rendered with the English letters EHYH (pronounced hayah). The Lord told Moses that this was His name (Exod. 3:14-15). In this last acrostic, the "I AM" name of God is spelled forward, using the final letters of a series of words. "WherE dwelletH the-enemY that-daretH presume in his heart to do this thing?" Little did this heathen king know, in his question he has uttered the name of the God who has been active all along protecting His people from evil.
This is a complex design, far beyond mere coincidence. (There is actually an ancient manuscript of the Hebrew Bible that highlights the key letters in God's hidden name.) It is a creative way of illustrating an important truth. Many years before, the Lord had warned Moses that when Israel drifted away from Him He was going to hide His face from them (Deut. 31:16-18). Here the author reminds us that though God is hidden He is still active in sovereign grace on behalf of His children. God may not have been revealing His presence among His people as of old, but He was still acting to fulfil His promises to them.