Unknown…though he was probably a Jew (Jewish nationalism is throughout the book) who lived during the reign of Ahasuerus (this is the Hebrew form of his name…he is known to us in history as Xerxes I…the Greek form of his Persian name, 485-465 B.C.).
Somewhere around 465 B.C. The author speaks of the reign of Ahasuerus in the past tense so the book was probably written shortly after its close.
This book covers a 10-year portion (from 483-473 B.C.) of the reign of Xerxes I. These events occurred during the events of Ezra 6-7.
Historians tell us that in his third year as King of Persia, Ahasuerus finished his battle strategy for war against Greece. At that time, the Persian Empire comprised over half the then-known world (1:1-from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces). The feast found in chapter 1 of Esther was the occasion of the meeting to celebrate that strategy and prepare for war. The banquet lasted 180 days and was a time when all the princes and military leaders participated in drunken revelry. It was at this meeting that Ahasuerus called upon his queen Vashti (means “beautiful woman”) to dance before the crowd…suggesting a lewd request to display her physical beauty. Such a request offended the most sacred rules of womanhood in Oriental etiquette. She refused…the King was embarrassed and he divorced her (1:12-22). Four years later, in 479 B.C. the vast army of Ahasuerus (over 5 million men) was soundly defeated in battle by the Greek army at Salamis. Ahasuerus was devastated. It had now been four years since his divorce from Vashti. Perhaps in depression over his recent military defeat he began to long for the comforts of a queen…and sought new companionship. Esther was crowned queen of Persia in that same year.
Esther was her Persian name and meant “star”. Her Hebrew name was Hadassah and meant “myrtle”. She was raised an orphan by her cousin (2:7) Mordecai and became a Persian Queen. She was queen for 13 years…and lived well into the rule of her stepson, Artaxerxes…who allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.
The name of God is nowhere mentioned in the entire book and it is never quoted in the New Testament. However, the sovereignty and providence of God are seen throughout:
- Vashti’s dismissal
- Esther’s regal position
- Xerxes’ indebtedness to Mordecai
- the miraculous deliverance of the Jews.
One author says, “If the name of God is not here, His finger is.” (Matthew Henry; Stringfellow, p. 59)
This book explains the origin of the Feast of Purim when Jews celebrate the deliverance from Haman. The word Purim means “lot” (cf. 3:7). According to 9:17-22, Jews in the provinces celebrated their victory on the 14th day of Adar (Feb-Mar), while Jews in Susa waited until the 15th (because of what happened in v. 15). Eventually Mordecai ordered that both days should be observed annually as the Feast of Purim. Today, during the reading of the Book of Esther in a Jewish Synagogue at the Feast of Purim…
…the congregation may be found taking part in a chorus at every mention of the name of Haman, ‘May his name be blotted out,’ while boys pound stones and bits of wood on which his name is written.
What the Bible is All About, Henrietta C. Mears, p. 167
Susa (Shushan), was the winter residence of Persian kings and was located 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf.
A Change of Queens Esther 1-2
Esther 1 Vashti is Deposed as Queen
Esther 1:1-22-King Ahasuerus holds a festival that lasts for 6 months (482 B.C.). It is a celebration of his plans to invade Greece that was intended to impress his military and civil leaders. At the end of this big event he throws a party. He becomes drunk and demands that his wife, Queen Vashti, come before them to display her beauty...apparently, he was suggesting something that would to be done in a lewd, provocative manner...she refused. The king became angry and sought the advice of his counselors. They turned the incident into a matter of national crisis…if she could refuse to obey the king, then women throughout the empire would then refuse to obey their husbands. Based on their advice, he made a decree that she would never again come into his presence and sent the decree through his empire.
Esther 2 Esther is Crowned as Queen
Esther 2:1-4-When the king sobers up...he begins to miss the queen. Later, after his defeat at Plataea in 479 B.C., he is counseled to find a beautiful virgin to become his new queen.
Esther 2:5-20-There was a Jew named Mordecai who lived in Susa...he was raising his cousin, Esther (her Persian name means-star; her Hebrew name was Hadassah, it means-myrtle). She was taken into the king's custody. Mordecai told her to not reveal her nationality…that she was Jewish. Mordecai checked up on her every day. After 12 months (each concubine had to wait to be summoned by the king) she was brought before the king..."And the king loved Esther more than all the women..." (:17)...and she was made queen (479 B.C.)
Esther 2:21-23-Mordecai would stay at the king's gate in order to find out how Esther was doing. While there, he heard about an assassination plot against the king and informed Esther, who told the king. She also told the king that she had received the information from Mordecai. It was recorded in the king's diary (:23).
A Challenge of Faith Esther 3-4
Esther 3 Haman Contrives to Destroy the Jews
Esther 3:1-15-The king advances Haman to a high position and commands that all people are to bow down to him as he passes...but Mordecai refuses to do so…probably because Haman claimed some sort of divine honor (as the Persian kings commonly did; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13-14). This was reported to Haman and it filled him with rage to such a degree that he decided to destroy all of the Jews. Haman convinced the king that the Jews were a threat to his kingdom and that they should be destroyed. Haman even offered to pay the expenses for their extermination. The king issued an edict for his plan to be followed. He also told Haman that because he was using his own money to finance this action…the people (as well as their properties and possessions) now belonged to him. Haman had told the king that he would give him 10,000 talents of silver to cover the expenses. A talent weighed 58-80 pounds (cf. The Ryrie Study Bible, footnote on Esther 3:9, p. 738). Using an average of 75 pounds, this would amount to approximately 12 million ounces of silver. Today (6/1/2016), silver is priced at $15.97/ounce. That means that in today’s market the silver would be worth $191,640,000.00. Haman probably anticipated that he would recoup his expenses and much more when he took over all of the properties and possessions of the Jews after he had them killed. This took place in 474 B.C. (around 4 years after Esther had become queen). This threw the entire city of Susa into a state of confusion.
3:1 the Agagite. Possibly related to the Amalekite (1 Sam. 15:8,33). If so, Haman was a descendant of Esau, an enemy of the descendants of Isaac…
The Ryrie Study Bible, footnote on Esther 3:1, p. 738
Prayer: Father, Mordecai was totally devoted to You. He knew that he would probably face death for not bowing down to Haman…and yet, he refused to do so. Please give me that kind of devotion. Help me to be totally committed to You…no matter what the outcome will be.