Esther:  From Rags to Riches

The book of Esther is not only an adventure story, it is the Word of God. As such, it is inspired, accurate, uncomplicated, inerrant, and authoritative. It remains a monument to the Jewish spirit, forged under the pressures of foreign dominance in this post-exilic era. Chronologically, this saga fits between chapters six and seven in the book of Ezra (536-448 BC).

Babylon was defeated by Persia; thus the Jewish captives are now the property of this empire. However, many are subsequently released into the general population. Esther, an orphan, is in Persia because her family had previously been captives in Babylon, she is Mordecai’s uncle’s daughter, making him her older cousin. After the death of her parents, she is raised as his own daughter (2:5-7).

Some wonder why God is never named in the book of Esther. However, the absence of His name does not mean the absence of His presence. Jehovah proves to be the true King who overrides seemingly impossible circumstances. God has the power to give us favor with influential and powerful people. The writer’s focus is on the survival of God’s children. The primary point of the book is how God preserves, protects, and blesses His people even in hostile environments.

This Bible book teaches us God is always in control. The writing style is rapid, dramatic, and didactic. Every incident in this narrative is contingent upon a previous event. It is a story of God’s providence, protection, and perfect timing. If Jehovah can free millions of Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, it is easy to believe He can do the same for several thousand Jews in Persia. The author makes it clear their deliverance is due to God’s sovereignty rather than human wisdom.

A brief chronology of the book is as follows:

~ King Xerxes throws an extensive six-month party.
~ He summons his wife Vashti who refuses to come.
~ She is deposed, and a beauty contest is held to replace her.
~ Esther is chosen queen, but Xerxes is not yet aware of her Jewish heritage.
~ Mordecai, her cousin, discovers a plot to assassinate the king.
~ Xerxes is warned and hangs the would-be assassins.
~ Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded but not rewarded.
~ Haman is Xerxes’ prime minister but Mordecai refuses to bow to him.
~ Haman persuades Xerxes to issue a decree that anyone who will not bow will be killed.
~ He “casts lots” (throws dice) in order to determine a good day to exterminate all Jews.
~ The specific date settled upon is less than a year away.
~ On that day everyone in the empire can kill Jews and take their possessions.
~ Mordecai learns of Haman’s plan and has the Jews fast and pray.
~ Esther is told and Mordecai urges her to inform the king.
~ She points out it is a death sentence to approach the king uninvited.
~ Mordecai encourages her to act in this opportune moment.
~ She and her maids fast and pray for three days.
~ Esther approaches the king and he shows her extreme favor.
~ She requests a banquet and wants Haman to be the guest of honor.
~ During these festivities, she asks for another banquet to which Haman is again invited.
~ Haman’s wife suggests gallows be constructed on which to hang Mordecai.
~ That night the king has insomnia and asks that some court records be read to help him fall asleep.
~ He hears Mordecai has not been rewarded for foiling the earlier assassination plot.
~ The next morning, Haman visits Xerxes and the king asks Haman how he can reward a very special person.
~ Haman believes the king is referring to him and suggests the man be dressed in regal robes, put on a royal horse, and honorably paraded throughout the city.
~ To Haman’s horror, the king agrees and orders Haman to do this to Mordecai.
~ Haman obeys.
~ Immediately following this day of humiliation, Haman is rushed into Esther’s second banquet.
~There Esther reveals to Xerxes that she is Jewish, and that Haman is the culprit who has urged the king to order the destruction of all her people in Persia.
~ Xerxes modifies his decree so that the Jews may defend themselves, resulting in the deaths of 75,000 Persians.
~ Haman pleads for his life.
~ The king orders Haman and all ten of his sons to be hung on the same gallows Haman prepared for Mordecai.
~ Mordecai is promoted and made an influential prince in Persia.
~Esther remains queen.
~ The victory feast of Purim is permanently established.

This annual Jewish festival commemorates their divine deliverance from the Persians. It is a joyous time of celebration when events in Esther come to life again. This day is filled with activities, carnivals, food, fun, and games. Many prayers of thanksgiving are offered. Generous gifts are given to various charities as God’s people remember their ancestral poverty during their exile.

These ten chapters of Esther portrays God protecting His people from powerful rulers. The Lord does this numerous times throughout the Biblical record. For example, Daniel is given special favor by King Darius. The three Hebrews who were in the furnace are soon promoted by King Nebuchadnezzar. Joseph receives grace from both Potiphar and Pharaoh. In the New Testament, Paul is delivered from the hands of Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa.

Esther quickly realizes her position demands dependence upon Jehovah. She relies on fasting and prayer for the victory rather than her own beauty and regal position. She reaches out to others for unified prayer during her crisis. The clarity and courage to act comes after intercession. Instead of remaining in her comfort zone, she perceives she is divinely placed by God in the right place at the right time. Her story parallels that of Ruth, for she is favored by someone who has no real reason to extend grace.

It is amazing how quickly a course of events can change for those God favors. Only He can turn an inevitable tragedy into an incredible triumph. The book proves God’s people are unable conquer their enemies in their own wisdom and strength. Esther’s rapid promotion can be viewed as a test of character. She remains unspoiled by her sudden ascent to the throne. God blesses her because she is humble, capable, discrete, prudent, wise, and sincere.

Esther is a woman of prayer, faith, courage, patriotism, and compassion. She is a true heroine of the Bible, exhibiting a sweet and gentle spirit throughout her story. In sharp contrast, the villainous Haman is ruined by his elevation to power. The book proves God can promote one individual while demoting another (Ps. 75:7).

The life of Haman serves as an example of how power can corrupt when in the hands of an evil person. From his character we learn the horrific result of attempting to claim honors one does not deserve. His vile plan is extensive, for he is determined to kill all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Persia. His strategy causes mass confusion and the entire city of Suza is perplexed about this terrible decree (3:15). He teaches us that hatred and resentment can consume and blind an individual. Haman’s role in this drama validates that pride and arrogance can be extremely costly.

The Lord protects His people in seemingly impossible situations. When the odds are overwhelmingly against them, He restrains their enemies. The book pictures God arranging conditions to save the Jews from certain extermination through the stamina of one individual.

God’s business is a risky business and taking chances are often required. Abraham risks everything when God tells him to leave Ur of the Chaldeans, but he becomes the father of many nations. Rebecca takes a risk when she agrees to marry a man she has never met named Isaac. Esther does not simply risk embarrassment: she risks her life. The only possible way to save her people is to put everything on the line.

God has His own stopwatch and agenda. “When the timing was absolutely perfect, God sent His Son” (Gal. 4:4-5). Esther does not waste her golden opportunity. The book of Esther proves that when the Lord places you in a unique predicament, it is for a divine purpose. The story of this brave girl encourages us to stay alert, ready to be used by God when timely circumstances arise.


Maxim of the Moment

The bankrupt man is the man who has lost his enthusiasm. - H.W. Arnold