When Life Turns Upside Down

Explore the bible Series

February 4, 2007

 

Background Passage: Esther 1:1-2:23

Lesson Passage: Esther 2:5-10, 16-17, 21-23

 

Introduction: The Book of Esther confronts serious Bible students with some significant difficulties, difficulties that this lesson outline will identify; then, as the lessons unfold, the writer will make every effort to address these problems honestly and biblically.  Here are some of the significant issues that Christians must consider.

 

  1. Some scholars, Jewish and Christian, have debated the canonicity of the Book of Esther.  The book was not included in some of the early lists of canonical books, and imposing scholars like Martin Luther expressed doubts about its canonicity. Jerome’s Septuagint dealt with this problem by including a lengthy addition to the book, an addition that made Esther more acceptable to some Christians.  However, Protestants adopted the shorter version, and the question of canonicity resurfaced.
  2. The book of Esther makes no reference to God.  Also missing are references to prayer, Mosaic religious ceremonies, or references to the Law.  In this regard the book does seem oddly out of step with the rest of Scripture.
  3. The New Testament contains no quotations or references from the Book of Esther.  Again, this is most unusual, and some have reasoned that the writers of the New Testament did not regard Esther highly.
  4. The Book of Esther describes a bloody and severe violence that the text indicates was advocated by Queen Esther (See 9:1-19).  In addition to the five hundred citizens of Susa, the Jews killed 75,000 people in the Persian provinces.  Needless to say, this kind of bloodshed causes a Twenty-First Century audience to recoil in horror: however, more careful study of the text may reveal something of the nature of this slaughter, and provide some justification for the actions taken by the Jews.

 

This brief outline does not provide an adequate forum to thoroughly address all of these problems, but serious Bile students need to have some awareness of the difficulties that Bible-believers must confront.  Again, future outlines will seek to provide some help in regard to these concerns.

 

Date and Authorship of Esther: King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) governed Persian for about twenty-two years (c.486-465 B.C.); thus the events in Esther occurred prior to the work of Ezra and Nehemiah (c. 430-400 B.C.). No one knows who wrote the book, but some have suggested that Ezra may have penned the book.  Other scholars have surmised a Post-exilic author who may have written Esther to describe the genesis of the celebration of Purim. Whoever wrote the book, he possessed an impressive knowledge of Persian history and culture; therefore, we might surmise the author was Jewish exile in Persian who had significant access to the Persian royal courts.

A final word of introduction may help with the Study of Esther.  It is, of course, true that this book does not contain any formal reference to Jehovah; however, this does not, in my judgment, preclude the spiritual usefulness of this writing.  Some years ago, I did a brief pulpit study of Esther, and I entitled the series “When God is Not Apparent.”  Sometimes, in the human affairs of God’s people, the Lord sovereignly chooses to withdraw any sensible awareness of his presence.  The Psalmist clearly experienced such times, and I suspect that most of God’s people can identify periods of their lives when it seemed that God was not on the scene. 

 

C.S. Lewis described such a period in his life in his poignant work, A Grief Observed. In the aftermath of Joy Davidman Lewis’ death, Lewis described the agonizing sense that God had abandoned him.  The English don expressed his distress as if God had closed the door of fellowship with his grieving child.  Now we know that God never truly abandons his people, but there are times when the pressure of experience seems so great that God’s children may feel abandoned.  Perhaps the book of Esther gives some insight into this dark night of the soul and the believer’s triumph as faith wins the hour.

 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                   The Decadent Feast of King Ahasuerus (1:1-22)

A.    The nature of the feast (1:1-9): Ahasuerus built an impressive reputation as powerful monarch.  He was the son of Darius I and grandson of Cyrus the Great, and he carried out successful military campaigns against the Greeks (eventually he lost a critical naval battle at Salamis).  In the third year of his reign, Xerxes authorized a great, audacious celebration for the nobles, governors, and military leaders of Persia.  The festivities lasted for months (180 days), and it culminated in an extravagant feast that lasted for a week.  The king spared no expense in showing off his wealth and power, and he sated his guests with an orgy of drunkenness.

B.     The summons of Queen Vashti (vv. 10-22): Secular histories know nothing of this woman, but, no doubt, Ahasuerus had a harem of women, and he may have chosen Vashti to appear before the drunken crowd from a large number of wives.  Whatever the case, she took offense at the prospect of appearing before this raucous crowd, and she refused to honor the king’s command.  (Some have speculated that Ahasuerus commanded her to made lewd display of her beauty, perhaps clothed only in her luxuriant crown.)  The king, incensed by her disobedience, took counsel with his wise men and deposed Vashti. The text indicated that Vashti’s actions offended the king’s pride, and he feared what his subordinate would think of his inability to command his wife.  Therefore, Ahasuerus sent a degree to all the provinces of Persia denouncing the queen’s disobedience, and demanding that all women bow to the mastery of their husbands.

 

 

 

II.                The Search for a New Queen (2:1-23)

A.    The king’s grief for Vashti (v. 1): The Book of Esther does not indicate what happened to Vashti after the king deposed her.  Some have speculated that Ahasuerus had her executed by hanging on impalement (See the similar language in 2:1 and 7:10. whatever the fate of Vashti, the king eventually regretted his actions, and he came to miss his beautiful queen.

B.     The search for a new queen (vv. 2-18): The king’s attendants counseled Ahasuerus to seek a new queen to replace Vashti, and these young men devised a plan to bring the most beautiful women in the empire to appear before the king.  A Jewish man named Mordecai lived in Susa, and he had a beautiful niece whom he has raised since the death of her parents.  Mordecai arranged for Esther to appear in the royal court for consideration as the king’s new wife.  Esther was entrusted to the care of the eunuch of the harem, a man named Hegai, and she found favor in the sight of the king’s servant.  The young girls took a year to prepare for their appearance before Xerxes, and they received the best in beauty treatments and food.  Finally, Esther appeared before the king, and he was delighted in the Jewish virgin girl.  Ahasuerus chose Esther as queen, and he gave an extravagant banquet in her honor. 

C.     Mordecai’s role in uncovering an assassination attempt (vv. 19-23): In the early months of Esther’s good fortune, Mordecai may have received an appointment as a minor official in Xerxe’s court.  The text tells us that Mordecai was near the king’s gate when he overheard a conversation about a potential assignation attempt on the king’s life. Two men, Bigthan and Teresh, had grown disaffected toward the king and plotted to take the monarch’s life.  Mordecai related the information to Esther, and she alerted the king of the plot.  The two conspirators were caught and executed.  The term “hanged on the gallows” literally means “hanged on a three.”  This phrase may not refer to hanging with a rope; rather, it may denote the common Persian practice of impalement on a stake (“tree”).