Lesson 1: Becoming Esther

Esther-background

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE BOOK OF ESTHER

I love the Book of Esther. Growing up, I heard the Bible stories just like you did. I knew who Noah was; what was Moses’ claim to fame. I could even name the 12 disciples. But what I just didn’t get out of the characters preserved in Scripture was what all those old, dead men had to do with me—this wee little girl trying to figure out life in the modern world.

Then I spent a rainy, seventh grade lunchtime in the library where I found a book that changed my life. I don’t remember the title or its author. All I remember was how much I loved it. I read it cover to cover, three times through. It was the story of a beautiful young woman; the winner of an ancient beauty contest, who became queen and saved her people.

Was I surprised when my mother told me it was based on a book of the Bible? You bet I was! For the first time in my little life, a character from the Bible came alive. I too was a young woman. I longed to be seen as beautiful; better yet, to be seen as the most beautiful young woman in the land. And to be courageous enough to save her people? Yes, I wanted to be like that, too.

Thus began an interest in other characters preserved in Scripture—even those old, dead men might have something to teach me, alive and lovely as I was. But it was the Book of Esther that drew me back again and again to the Bible. Esther’s haunting story of beauty, courage, power and faith is timeless.Despite the fact that God is not even mentioned in the book.

He may not be mentioned by name, but God is definitely present throughout the Book of Esther; just as He is present today everywhere we are. Over the years, God has called me to return to the Book of Esther for what I might learn from that beautiful young woman who lived thousands of years ago in a far off land. The reading is richer, of course when we know more about the people, the history and the society in which the events took place. So let’s summarize a few key points before we move forward.

Esther found favor

The Characters

Esther: Haddassah was Queen Esther’s Hebrew name. Esther was the name she took or was given when she became Queen. Her parents had died, leaving her cousin Mordecai to look after her.

Xerxes was the Persian King. He was known to the Hebrews as Ahasuaras. His father was King Darius the first. His mother was Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great. It was Cyrus the Great who had conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Although the Jews still living in Persia were still considered “exiles” from Israel, they remained there of their free will or due to economic, familial or hardship issues.

Vashti was King Xerxes’ first queen, deposed when she refused his summons. Most scholars infer she was royalty in her own right but disagree on her lineage. Some scholars say she considered herself to be the legitimate heir to the throne, rather than Xerxes.

Relationship between Haman and Mordecai. Mordecai was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin (a descendant of Israel’s first king, Saul). When the Jews left Egypt with Moses, the first people who attacked them were the Amalekites. God later ordered King Saul to destroy them, including their King Agag. After Saul disobeyed God and allowed King Agag to live, Samuel (who had anointed Saul) killed Agag himself, hacking him to pieces. Haman, King Xerxes’ highest official was a descendant of King Agag. Thus, Mordecai and Haman hated each other based on family and societal history.

Where in History

The events of the Book of Esther took place during the height of power of the Persian Empire. The time was between 485-435 BC, about 100 years after Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Jerusalem and took the Jews into captivity (Daniel’s time). The events occurred about 50 years after King Cyrus freed the Jews to return to Israel and about 150 years before Greek Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire.

The Books of the Old Testament are not presented in chronological order. Although the Book of Esther is the seventeenth book of the Old Testament, only portions of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi contain Old Testament history later than Esther. There were approximately 400 years between Esther and Jesus’ birth.

Esther 4 14

 The Society

The events in the Book of Esther occurred in the capital city of the Persian Empire, the location of modern day Iran. Xerxes exercised absolute, complete control over people from a variety of cultures. Both the Persian and Jewish societies were patriarchal. That meant unmarried women were the property of their fathers or the male head of house and could be married off for a bride price. Marriages were arranged by male family members, often before puberty. So Esther, a virgin, was probably quite young.

Esther would not have expected to have a say in her future. She would not have thought to defy her guardian or the empire. Her feelings of being taken into the harem would have been considered inconsequential when the Book of Esther was written. She had no choice but to obey the King’s command. Disobedience would have meant death for her and probably for Mordecai.  However, Esther was able to skillfully use the power of a male-dominated world to accomplish something still celebrated annually more than 2500 years later.

When I ventured into the writing of this book about Esther, God gave me a verse to help me focus on what we could learn.

“…and who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14).

When I mentioned this new “life verse,” my brother chuckled, saying, “What? Now you’re a queen?” Without a single thought of my own to rely on, the Holy Spirit filled my mouth with the proper response:

“No, but I’m the daughter of the King and He can use me right here and right now for His good purpose.”

That Spirit-filled proclamation led me to understand what God wanted me to share: we modern gals can learn a lot from the character and circumstances of Esther. When we do, we get a glimpse of who we might be in God’s eyes. Although this is Esther’s story, it is also ours, when we have faith like hers. At that point, we can say

“I am (like) Esther.”

Please read the Book of Esther as we study together. It’s just ten little chapters; Chapter 10 contains only three sentences. You can read it all in one sitting; but take your time and enjoy the glory and depth. We start digging in and digging deep TODAY.

Click HERE to read the entire book of Esther

For Thought and Discussion

  • Have you had a tough time relating to men and women in Scripture? Who do you most relate to? Why?
  • Is there one thing you most love about the story of Queen Esther? What is it? What might you not understand at this point?
  • Do you have a life verse? Do you live it? How might you ask God to help you live Scripture better?

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PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us Scripture to meditate on and learn from. Thank you for making us teachable, Jesus, and for not giving up on us as we stumble along in our faith. Show us how you see us as your precious daughters—daughters of the King. Amen.

Ruby Blogger Team Carol Peterson

Carol Peterson, Author, is a member of the Ruby Blogger Team and a regular contributor to the Ruby for Women as a book reviewer. You can connect with Carol on her blog, http://www.carolpetersonauthor.com

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