Book of Esther Overview
The Book of Esther is a short book of only six chapters that can be read in just one sitting. It is one of two books in the Bible that bears a woman's name. The other book is Ruth. Esther is one of two books where God's name is never mentioned. The other book is Song of Solomon, also known as Song of Songs.
The Book of Esther is an interesting one about the victory of the Jewish nation thanks to the brave efforts of a beautiful young woman.
Who Was Esther?
Esther is described as a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes I. Esther was not the first or only queen of Ahasuerus. He got rid of his first wife, Vashti after she refused to obey him in the presence of other kings. King Ahasuerus and the other kings were drunk at a festival. He insisted that his wife dance to show off her beauty wearing nothing but her crown in front of the drunken guests.
Vashi's refusal to do so caused her husband to replace her with another beautiful woman. Beautiful maidens gathered and were inspected to be Ahasuerus' next wife. Even though Esther was not Jewish, she was in the group and was chosen for her beauty.
Even though she was already beautiful, Esther was taken to the palace where Hegai, the eunuch prepared her for meeting the king who fell in love with her and made her queen. According to Esther 2:12b, the woman went through 12 months of preparation, “…thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women.”
Esther advanced to the highest position among the other women in the harem. She was given special foods to eat, and she had servants. Her cousin and guardian Mordecai insisted that she conceal her Jewish heritage.
The king found no fault with Esther. However, the king's chief advisor, Haman was offended by Mordecai who refused to bow to him. Therefore, he requested and received permission from the king to have all the Jews in Persia to be killed.
Mordecai tells Esther to let the king know she is Jewish and to ask him to repeal the order. Esther knew she could be put to death if she went to the king without being summoned. However, she had to try for the sake of her people. She concluded that perhaps she was in the palace at that particular time for a special reason, and no reason could be more important than saving the Jews.
It was a custom that if someone when to see the king and he did not stretch out his golden scepter, the person could be put to death. Esther told her relative to "Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).
When Esther went to see the king, he said he would give her anything she wanted. However, Esther had a plan in mind. Instead of asking her husband to repeal the order to have all the Jews killed, she went about it another way. She invited the king and Haman to a banquet the next day.
Esther told the king the whole story about Mordecai being her cousin and guardian, and she finally told him what she wanted. She asked him to revoke the order to have her people killed. The king turned the situation over to Esther and Mordecai after he remembered a good deed Mordecai had done for him much earlier to foil an assassination plot.
Because Mordecai was never rewarded, the king asked Haman how a person who did a great service to the king should be honored. Thinking the king was talking about him, Haman said the person should be made his chief advisor. However, it was Mordecai who became the king's chief advisor.
During the banquet, Esther tells the king that Haman had made the request to kill all the Jews. After hearing this, Haman threw himself at Esther's feet for mercy, but the king thought Haman was attacking her and ordered him and his family to be put to death with instructions for all Haman's possessions to go to Esther.
Haman was hanged from the 50-cubit-high gallows that he had built himself for Mordecai to be hanged on based on the advice of his wife. The bodies of Haman's ten sons were also hanged after they died in battle with the Jews.
The unusually tall gallows were located on a high hill. If Haman's plan had succeeded, he would have been able to see Mordecai's body hanging from the tall pole while he dined in the royal palace.
Haman's plan was reversed after Mordecai and Esther sent out an order in the king's name that Jews will not be killed. Instead, they could defend themselves by killing anyone who threatened them. On the same day that Haman had set for them to be killed, the Jews killed 500 people. On the next day, they killed around 75,000.
Esther's story is the basis for Purim. It is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the date Haman had ordered for the Jews to be killed. Because of Esther's plan, the Jews killed their enemies after the plan was reversed.
Purim is celebrated annually with a festival and feast in memory of the deliverance of the Jewish people. According to the Hebrew calendar, Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar.
Life Applications From the Book of Esther
Like Esther, we might be in a place where we can do the best good. Esther was where she was to save her people. She didn't know it at first, but she came to agree with Mordecai who asked her, "And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)?
Haman built tall gallows on a high hill to hang Mordecai so he could see him die while he dined. Mordecai wasn't hanged, but the king ordered Haman to be hanged on his own high gallows. The life application is that the terrible things you plan for others could eventually be your own downfall.
Mordecai had done a good deed for the king who neglected to reward him. Don't worry about it when people don't acknowledge your good deeds right away. God will allow them to remember to do so at the time when it will mean the most. And even if they never acknowledged what you do for them, God knows and will reward you Himself.