A classic story of good versus evil, the Book of Esther is a unique account in the Bible. It gives us a glimpse of the Jews who remained outside their homeland after the exile, particularly the Jews living in the Persian Empire.

Esther is the last of the historical books of the Old Testament and tells the story of the origins of the Jewish holiday, Purim, a celebration that is still honored today.

The structure of the book of Esther is similar to that of Ruth. God is never mentioned in the story, but this style of writing invites the reader to look for signs of God’s activity and character—and the evidence is everywhere in this story.

While some Jews did return from exile, many didn’t. The author of Esther focuses on a community of Jews living in Susa, the capital of the Persian empire.

Persian King Xerxes holds a series of feasts to display his greatness. After his queen, Vashti, refuses to attend, Xerxes banishes her and begins the search for a new wife. Esther, a Jewish woman who hides her identity, wins Xerxes’ affections and becomes his new queen.

At the same time, Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, overhears two royal guards plotting to murder the king. He warns Esther, who, in turn, informs the king. Mordecai is credited with saving the king’s life.

In chapter 3, a man named Haman becomes the most powerful official under the king. He decrees that every person must bow before him, but Mordecai doesn’t bow. Haman plots to kill every Jew in a single day and convinces the king to issue a decree to have all the Jews destroyed.

Mordecai and Esther work together to come up with a plan to save the Jewish people, but their plan goes awry when Haman runs into Mordecai and orders his execution for the following morning.

In Chapter 6, the story shifts. Xerxes remembers how Mordecai saved his life, honors Mordecai and humiliates Haman.

Esther hosts a banquet for the king and Haman, where she reveals her Jewish identity and exposes Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews living in Persia. In response, Xerxes orders Haman to be executed in Mordecai’s place.

Esther and Mordecai reverse Haman’s evil plan. Xerxes’ original decree is irreversible, but he issues a new one allowing Jews to defend themselves. The Jewish people defeat the enemies seeking to destroy them and, in celebration, establish a two-day festival, Purim, to honor the salvation of the Jews.

THEMES

God’s sovereignty: Though God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, His activity is evident throughout the story. The author uses irony and “coincidences” to show that even when He is silent, He is still at work, fighting for His people.

Faithfulness in the face of danger: Esther and Mordecai remain faithful to their beliefs and their fellow Jews, even in the face of mortal danger. It would have been easy for Mordecai to bow before Haman. It would have been much less demanding for Esther to keep her Jewish ancestry a secret, remain silent and allow the Jews to be destroyed. But Esther and Mordecai hold to their beliefs and their loyalty to their people, and risk their lives to save many.

KEY PASSAGES

Esther 4:14: “‘For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’”

Esther 9:20-22: “Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?

Despite exile, “God’s absence” and Israel’s moral compromise, God has not abandoned His promises.

Esther and Mordecai are presented as examples not of righteousness or moral excellence, but of trust and hope when their lives are on the line.

God’s verbal absence from the story emphasizes His presence in the details and events of the story. He is a God who comes down in a cloud of fire (like in Exodus) and who works behind the scenes, all to save His people from destruction.

The Book of Esther asks us to trust in God’s providence, even when we can’t see it working.