The Book of Esther in Review
What a tremendous book we have just completed! Not only is it a great story with all the drama and elements that a novel would contain, but it contains great lessons about how we should be living, conducting ourselves on the job, facing opposition, facing success, and looking ahead confidently to the future. Most importantly, it is the best “textbook” of the Scriptures about the providence of God, and how He works in the perfect way and the perfect timing to accomplish His purposes.
We began in the winter capitol of the Persian Empire, Susa, where we also concluded the story. Pride, lust, alcoholism, and the pursuit of power and dominance marked the Empire’s ruler, Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Ahasuerus sought to gain support for his campaign against Greeceand then onward into Europe. However, his foolish partying cost him his marriage, and although Queen Vashti lost her crown, she kept her dignity as she refused the king’s immoral drunken orders. God used this providentially however to begin arranging His chess pieces for what He planned to do.
When Ahasuerus attacked Greece, despite all odds being on his side, he was badly beaten and returned to Susa in shame and depression, missing the wife he had divorced. His advisors hooked onto this, and began a search for all the beautiful virgins of the land to be brought to the king so he could find a substitute for Vashti. These women were sadly taken from their homes to never return again, but to be the concubines of the king. Again God was working providentially in this, for this also allowed Esther to get into the place He had for her to make a dramatic impact for Him. She was selected by the king as Vashti’s replacement, and this would be vital in the long run.
Then entered the bad guy of the story, Haman, who was promoted far beyond his level of competence, and it all went to his head. Haman got the king to order all to bow to him, but there was one man who refused to do so, Mordecai the Jew. This refusal angered Haman so much that he not only wanted Mordecai put to death, but the entire Jewish race! He tricked Ahasuerus into ordering the death of the Jewish people, resulting in confusion throughout the city. When Mordecai read the order of the king to exterminate the Jews, he immediately went into mourning with sackcloth and ashes.
It dawned on Mordecai that perhaps God was at work through all of this, and had elevated his cousin to the place where she was “for such a time as this,” and perhaps she could convince the king to stop this slaughter. She took a bold step of faith and went before the King unbidden, yet he pardoned her rather than having her put to death for her trespass. She had an unusual request of the king, for him and Haman to come to a feast she had prepared.Ahasuerus knew something else was up, though, and that Esther wouldn’t have risked her life unless it was for a crucial reason.
Ahasuerus and Haman attended the banquet that evening, and there the king asked her what was her request. She deferred asking then, but stated that she wanted the two of them to return the next day for another banquet. It was after that the hand of providence really began working. Haman left the banquet feeling like the king of the world; but then he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate, and became furious. As he shared about this with his wife and friends, his wife suggested he have a gallows built that he could hang Mordecai on the next morning, then go on his merry way to the banquet!
Esther 6 was one of the most ironic chapters of the Bible. Ahasuerus had a case of providential insomnia, and called for a reading from the chronicles, at which time he heard about Mordecai’s having saved his life and not being honored at all. He decided to right that wrong.Haman had come early to the palace to trick the king into ordering the execution of Mordecai, but didn’t have a chance to ask. The king immediately asked him what should be done for the man he chose to honor. Thinking Ahasuerus meant him, Haman gave elaborate details of how to do so. Ahasuerus thought this was a great idea, and told Haman to go prepare these things, and do so for Mordecai! He did so, but as Mordecai returned humbly to his post, Haman ran home in grief and shame. His wife and friends told him that he was headed for a downfall as long as he opposed Mordecai. At that moment, the eunuchs came to take Haman to Esther’s banquet.
At this banquet, the king asked Esther again to tell him what was really going on. She laid it all on the line, and told the king how an evil traitor had threatened her life as well as all of her people. Ahasuerus was furious, and jumped to his feet demanding to know who would dare do this. Then the famous line: “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!” (nkjv)Ahasuerus was beside himself and stormed out to the garden, but Haman lost his mind and pled with Esther to spare him, and in the process fell on the couch she was on. Ahasuerus returned at that moment, and was shocked to see what he thought was Haman trying to rape Esther! That sealed Haman’s fate. One of the eunuchs told the king about the gallows Haman built. The king’s response: Hang him on it! Thus Haman suffered the fate he had planned for Mordecai and the Jews.
The story wasn’t over then. The evil man was gone, but his evil plot was still in place. Although he was tricked into authorizing what Haman wanted, Ahasuerus couldn’t change that edict, so he suggested they write a new law to take effect that same day. This allowed the Jews to defend themselves, and up to 75,000 allies of Haman were defeated that day in the month of Adar. This was truly a reversal of fortune for the Jews, and they at last had rest from those who had troubled them for so long.
Our story concludes with the establishment of the Feast of Purim, and how it was clarified, established, and memorialized. The book closed with a brief tribute to the impact one life can have when courageously surrendered to God and His providential purposes.
THE LESSONS OF THE BOOK OF ESTHER
Charles Swindoll stated, “Esther is a story of triumph that grew out of tragedy, ecstasy out of agony, celebration out of devastation. Yours can be the same.”[i] This book has shown us many things, including that God can use anyone for His glory that is willing to be used, that He is ultimately in control of all things in our lives, and He will work according to His foreknowledge to bring all things together in our lives for our best and His glory (Romans 8:28 ff.). The enemy may rage, but God will turn his attacks back on his own head ultimately. We need to stand strong against the three-fold enemy that directed the lives of Ahasuerus and Haman, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16, nkjv). It destroyed them both ultimately.
The impact of the lives of Mordecai and Esther is one of the most amazing aspects of this story, and it shows us that God is not limited in who He works through, nor how. In view of the world in which we live, we need more Esthers and Mordecais that will stand up and make a difference for God and His children, even if it as at their peril as these two experienced. As Mervin Breneman well observed, “God needs servants today who will speak up when his people are in danger or when injustice and corruption are rampant in society.”[ii] Esther and Mordecai were not perfect, nor were they spiritual giants when they first were brought into their place of influence. How encouraging that is for us who are not another Moses or Paul or others of their caliber, because God can work in and through us just as well. Let all of us be able to say with the beloved apostle Paul at the end of the stories of our lives,
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return.
2 Timothy 4:6–8 (nlt)
To help us all in our future studies and to also have milestone markers on which to look back, the rest of this Review contains the actual outlines of the Book of Esther that we studied, the memory verses used, and a complete bibliography of the materials used in the preparation of these lessons. May God bless and strengthen and use you for His glory, and may you often look back to the incredible Book of Esther to remember that He too has put you in the place He wants you to be, for such a time as this.
Esther 1: A Providential Divorce
V. 1–4 Pride on Display
V. 5–8 Party Hardy!
V. 9–12 Problems Sin Produces
V. 13–18 Proposing Foolish Solutions
V. 19–22 A Providential Divorce
Esther 2: True Beauty
V. 1–4 A Pleasing Plan
V. 5–9 A Providential Arrangement
V. 10–14 A Preparation Period
V. 15–18 A Pleased King
V. 19–23 A Providential Plot
Esther 3: No Compromise
V. 1–3 A Courageous Stand
V. 4–6 An Evil Reaction
V. 7–9 A Proposed Plot
V. 10–12 A Pleased Enemy
V. 13–15 A Perplexed City
Esther 4: For Such a Time as This
V. 1–4 Mourning and Sackcloth
V. 5–8 A Cry for Help
V. 8–11 Danger and Death
V. 12–14 For Such a Time as This
V. 15–17 Decision
Esther 5: An Unexpected Banquet
V. 1–2 A Bold Step of Faith
V. 3–5 An Unexpected Invitation
V. 6–8 An Unexpected Banquet
V. 9–11 A Disgruntled Braggart
V. 12–14 A Sinister Plot
Esther 6: Ironic Honor
V. 1–3 A Providential Insomnia
V. 4–6 A Providential Arrival
V. 7–9 A Providential Narcissism
V. 10–12 A Providential Irony
V. 13–14 A Providential Downfall
Esther 7: Reaping what is Sown
V. 1–2 The Generous Offer
V. 3–4 The Unexpected Revelation
V. 5–6 The Shocking Accusation
V. 7–8 The Angry Ahasuerus
V. 9–10 The Reaped Result
Esther 8: A Plan Petitioned
V. 1–3 A Bittersweet Victory
V. 4–6 A Desperate Plea
V. 7–10 A Plan Petitioned
V. 11–14 A Reversal of Fortune
V. 15–17 A Joyful Resolution
Esther 9:1–19: A Resounding Victory
V. 1–3 The Tables are Turned
V. 4–10 A Resounding Victory
V.11–13 A Finishing Touch
V. 14–16 The Final Tally
V. 17–19 A Good Day at Last
Esther 9:20-10:3: The Impact of One Life
9:20–22 The Feast of Purim Clarified
9:23–25 The Feast of Purim Established
9:26–28 The Feast of Purim Memorialized
9:29–32 The Impact of One Life: Esther
10:1–3 The Impact of One Life: Mordecai
LESSON ONE: 1 John 2:15, 16: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (nkjv)
LESSON TWO: Isaiah 43:1: But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.” (nkjv)
LESSON THREE: Esther 3:2b, 4: But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage. Now it happened, when they spoke to him daily and he would not listen to them, that they told it to Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand; for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew. (nkjv)
LESSON FOUR: Esther 4:14: For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (nkjv)
LESSON FIVE: Hebrews 11:6: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (njkv)
LESSON SIX: Proverbs 16:18: Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (nkjv)
LESSON SEVEN: Galatians 6:7-8: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (nkjv)
LESSON EIGHT: Psalm 97:11-12: Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. (nkjv)
LESSON NINE: Esther 9:1: Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them. (nkjv)
LESSON TEN: Esther 9:22: As the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor. (nkjv)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene eds., The Complete Word Study Dictionary Old Testament. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, Inc., 2003.
Baldwin, Joyce G. Esther. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984.
Breneman, Mervin. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. In E. Ray Cleneden ed., The New American Commentary, Vol. 10. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1993.
Huey, F.B. Jr., Esther. In F.E. Gaebelein ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, 1988.
Hughes, R. Kent. Disciplines of a Godly Man. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991.
Lasseigne, Jeff. Highway 66: A Unique Journey through the 66 Books of the Bible. Santa Ana: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004.
Lockyer, Herbert L. All the Kings and Queens of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 1961.
_______________. All the Men of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958.
_______________. All the Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958.
MacArthur, John ed., The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997.
Martin, John A. Esther. In J.F. Walvoord and R.B. Zuck eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament. Wheaton: Victor Books/SP Publications. 1985.
Morgan, Robert J. ed., Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations and Quotes.Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.
Prime, Derek. Unspoken Lessons about the Unseen God. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2001.
Reader’s Digest Association. Who’s Who in the Bible. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1994.
Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible; With Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version. In James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1890 Reprint.
Swindoll, Charles R. Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity. Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997.
Thomas Nelson, Publishers. The New American Standard Bible: The Open Bible Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977, 1979.
_______________. The New King James Version: The Open Bible Expanded Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Publishers, 1983, 1985.
_______________. The New Scofield Study Bible, New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Publishers, 1989.
Tyndale House Publishers Inc. Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Committed. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor
_______________. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Publishers, 1993.
Wilkinson, Bruce, and Boa, Kenneth. Talk Thru the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
Youngblood, Ronald F. ed., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Publishers, 1986, 1995.
Zodhiates, Spiros ed., The Complete Word Study Old Testament.
Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1994.
Zondervan Bible Publishers. The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1978.
Zondervan Publishing House. The Amplified Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965.
[i] Charles R. Swindoll, Esther, A Woman of Strength and Dignity (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), p. 184.
[ii] Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. In E. Ray Clendenen ed., The New American Commentary Vol. 10 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1993), p. 370.