Studies in Esther Part 1

INTRODUCTION

The book of Esther is named for its primary character. Esther was an orphan, Jewish girl raised by her uncle Mordecai who rose to fame and prominence through some rather unusual means. She is really the main focus of the book. The Hebrew name of Esther is Hadassah which means myrtle. The name “Esther” is a derivation of the Persian word for star. It is commonly referred to as the volume of Esther by the Jews.



TIME


The time of the events of this book is sometime after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. This was during the time it was permitted for them to return to their homeland, although a good number of them determined not to return to Jerusalem but stay in the Persian kingdom in and around Babylon.The time was after the temple was rebuilt between 536 and 516 BC. It was sometime after that in 444 BC that the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. So, the book of Esther comes in between the rebuilding of the temple and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. During that time, the Persian empire permitted the Jews to leave, if they wanted, and go back and rebuild their city and homeland. The events of this book cover about twelve years and come in between these two major events in the history of Israel.If Ahasuerus is indeed the King Xerxes, then the book of Esther comes in between the sixth and seventh chapters of the book of Ezra. This would give reason for the ardent faith of Ezra recorded in Ezra 8:22,

For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him: but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

The Jewish people had been delivered by a great deliverance in the book of Esther, without the help of extraordinary agency. And Ezra, thinking about or wishing to go rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in his time, made this statement. It is evidence of the faith of Ezra, which is substantiated in book of Esther.

The people had come to the very brink of ruin. They were almost exterminated as a people from the face of the earth. However, God saves and delivers them. Ezra would certainly be emboldened by this great deliverance and he said, “I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers.” He said, “I could not go to the king and to the rulers of the world and seek help for the Lord’s work,” and, “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him: but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.” So, if Ezra had been preaching that God had his hand upon his people and was going to protect and deliver them and also that God was going to turn away their enemies, then it would seem that Ezra would have a lack of faith if he sought worldly help as far as the work of the Lord was concerned.


AUTHOR


The authorship of this book is uncertain. Some would attribute it to Mordecai. There is a good case for that, though that does seem unlikely. Some have attributed it to Ezra, some to Nehemiah. Some have attributed it to Jehoakim, the son of Jeshua. We do not really know the definite authorship of this book. I do not doubt that it was spoken by the Holy Spirit, but who the human penman was to write this book, I cannot be exactly sure.


AUTHENTICITY


We want to consider also the authenticity of this book and it has met with opposition and criticism. We read all the time of people who say of the Bible, “this part is not valid; this part is not authentic; this part was corrupted”. However, I believe the Word of God is complete and whole. Esther was canonized in the scriptures by the Jews and highly esteemed by them as well. The Lord, during his ministry on the earth, did not make any reference to the fact of them being in error in keeping this as a portion of the scripture. We see that also “that unto them (the Jews) were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). So it was committed to their keeping and the Jews highly esteem it.It is rejected by many because God’s name is not found in the text. There is also not a direct reference to God in this book. I know that the name has been pointed out by some to be hidden in four different places. The name “Jehovah” occurs there hidden in the acrostics in the original language. I believe in one other case the other name “I Am that I Am” appears. However, the name “God,” or any of His names in the scriptures, is not referred to in the text of this book. Many have found reason to reject it for that cause.The fact that God’s name does not occur in the text does not mean that God, His power, and His hand are not clearly seen throughout the book. I believe that it is. Asaph wrote, “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare” (Psalm 75:1). The Psalmist seemed to indicate that the works of God declare His name and declare His name to be near. Even in the observation that the human eye makes of this universe and the world we live in, the works of God are clearly seen. The works of God are very evident in the book of Esther and God can be seen working through people, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. His “wondrous works declare” His name to be near.

Though His name may not be spoken exactly in this book, there is no doubt His name is near because His wondrous works are found here. David declared, “The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands” (Psalm 9:16). One of the points about the book of Esther is that God does execute judgment upon Israel’s, and therefore His, enemies even though they would seek out many different avenues in order to persecute. They really wanted to exterminate the Jews from the face of the earth, but we see that God effected a great deliverance and He did execute judgment upon the enemies of His people.

We can also see that God, and Christ in particular, is ever the Deliverer of His people in all ages. In Acts 7, the sermon that Stephen preached before the Sanhedrin council, we see how Stephen began before Israel was a nation and showed the development, or the greater revelation that God gave of Himself to them, all the way up until the time of the revealing of His Son in the flesh. We also see that he is showing how that Christ was ever the Deliverer of His people and especially in type through Moses and David and so on, in all ages.

We see in the book a deliverance brought to the people of Israel. Can we expect that it comes from any other source than from the Christ of Israel, the Messiah, the Hope, the Blessed One? I do not have any reason to expect that their deliverance came from any other means, than directly from God. Again, we see that this is brought out in the book of Esther and makes it very plain that God is all throughout this work.


Purpose


The purpose of the book is to teach the divine providence of God. The divine providence of God is set out in a way that is so amazing in this book, because God here works in and through all the normal affairs of the earth and to turn them all to accomplish His purposes, and without the disturbance of a single natural thing. There was no great miracle that was worked here. Moses did not come and cast down his rod and it became a serpent and Moses did not come with all the plagues that came down on Egypt. Nor was there any miraculous birth or resurrection from the dead. There are no miracles recorded in this book. The main character, Esther, seems to be not necessarily of extraordinary great faith. However, God does still effect a deliverance for His people.The divine providence of God is something that is very difficult for us to get a handle on. The way that I look at the providence of God is this: You have the will of God and you have His decrees; you also have the eternal purpose of God, which I believe is eternal and immutable and a complete expression of God and His mind. I see the providence of God as the execution of God’s purpose, whether He is working directly or indirectly. Whether He is working through agency or without agency. The direct hand of God came down in the time of Moses and the Scriptures speak of the “tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). So, whether it be through agency or through the direct act of God. Whether through permission or whether through a causative effect, the providence of God is the execution of God’s will.

I want to note two quotes from Alexander Carson regarding the purpose of the book of Esther in teaching the providence of God. Alexander Carson was one who understood something of the providence of God. I know my understanding of God’s providence has been helped by the understanding that Alexander Carson had of God’s providence. He said,

The great design of this portion of the Holy Scriptures is to display the wisdom, providence, and power of God, in the preservation of His people, and in the destruction of their enemies. (Confidence in God, p. 3)

He said further about the book of Esther,

In it we see the people of God providentially brought to the very brink of ruin, and delivered without a single miracle. The means employed to effect their destruction are by Providence employed as the means of their exaltation and glory. (The History of Providence, pp. 176-177)

Here the very means the enemies of Israel used to try to effect their destruction, God used to effect their deliverance. We are given a view of the providence of God.

The Jews nationally, as they would look at the book of Esther, have reason here to take confidence in God concerning the promises of the restoration, the promises that pertain to the nation of Israel. Hosea prophesied, “Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9). This is a prophecy, and there are others, that God was going to set aside the nation of Israel. God was going to permit their dispersion, their scattering, throughout the nations of the earth for a time. Paul believed this and wrote in his epistle to the Romans,

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (Romans 11:25-27).

Paul said in the first verse of this chapter, “I say then, Hath God cast away his people?” He answers in verse 2, “God hath not cast away his people.” So, the promise to the nation of Israel is that they shall be regathered and restored. There is to be a literal restoration of Israel. They shall be brought again, although in the book of Hosea, he said they shall be called “Loammi” which means “not my people” because I am not their God.

The current situation with the nation of Israel is that they have been scattered among the nations of the earth and they have somewhat returned unto their homeland but there is a time of a future restoration when God is going to gather Israel out of the four corners of the earth. The book of Esther provides reason for confidence and reason for hope in this promise because if God would still, even though He would be in the shadows and it looks like a hands-off approach, know His people even though they were in Persia and not in their homeland and not observing the true religion and not worshiping God. God still had His eye on His people here in the book of Esther and God did not forsake them nor allow them to be destroyed from the face of the earth. If God has done this, then God will still watch over and care for His people though they be scattered. His eye is still upon them.

This book applies to all of God’s people. This book could strengthen our faith and trust in Him that is mighty to restrain the wrath of men. Asaph writes from experience, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10). It is hard for us to understand that God can direct and be praised by the wicked acts of men. We certainly see the wickedness of men in the book of Esther. We certainly see that manifested in Haman and all of his devious plots. So God overrules the wickedness of the earth to restrain the wrath of man. The wrath of man that God does permit, praises God and works to His glory. God uses it to bring about His purposes. We look at times when we have a global conflict or times of uncertainty and we do not understand how someone could be so evil and depraved to do the things that terrorists have done recently and have been doing for many years. But the Bible says, “the wrath of man shall praise thee.” God will indeed restrain the remainder of that wrath. This should strengthen our faith to really believe and trust in God who is able to overrule all the wickedness of men in order for His glory and our ultimate good as He did in Esther.

We see also that God uses the general, natural course of things to effect his purposes. God does not always work through some great sign or wonder or some great mysterious happening. We see that most often God works through the natural course of things He established when He created this earth. He “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). We might think very little of the rain or the sun. But the book of Esther is one that shows God working in the most trivial of matters on this earth to bring about His purposes. We can look at the sun and the rain as coming from God and being used by God to accomplish His purpose on this earth.

God has His way in the “whirlwind and in the storm” (Nahum 1:3). He rebukes the sea and makes it dry. The mountains quake at Him. Even in the normal course and patterns of weather that we experience on this earth God is still in control of all these things and is working through all these things in order to effect His purpose.

About Jeff Short