The Book of Esther

Discovery for Teachers

The Book of Esther

OVERVIEW
DAYBREAK

SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Esther 1:1 through 10:3

KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

BACKGROUND

The Book of Esther is a compelling illustration of God’s providential hand at work. Although no direct mention of God occurs in the book, detail after detail reveals His sovereignty. Even though the Jewish people had been exiled from their homeland because of their disobedience to God, they were still the objects of His divine mercy while living in Persia.

The events in this book occurred over an approximate twelve-year span, beginning around 483 B.C. During this period, the Persian Empire was the largest the world had ever known. Shushan, the capital city, was the location of King Ahasuerus’ winter palace where most of the happenings in the book took place. Ahasuerus’ regime enjoyed an abundance of wealth, which he flaunted before the world to portray the empire’s strength and power. 

Chapters 1-2 record that when the king’s first wife was banished for refusing to make an appearance at the king’s banquet, Esther was chosen to be the new queen. Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah, meaning “myrtle.” Her Persian name, Esther, meant “star,” and likely was a reference to her beauty. 

Esther’s relative and guardian, Mordecai, was a Benjamite living in Shushan. Although the events of the book took place some eighty to ninety years after his great-grandparents had been brought there in captivity, he had not lost sight of his heritage or his identity as a Jew. In chapters 3-4, Mordecai refused to pay homage to Haman, the king’s prime minister. Infuriated, Haman devised a plot to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. Mordecai heard of this plan, and in the well-known words of this week’s focus verse, he challenged Esther to go before the king on behalf of her people.

Chapters 5-10 relate how Esther courageously made her petition to the king and pled for the protection of her people from Haman’s wicked devices. As a result, Haman was executed and Mordecai promoted to a position of honor. The king then issued a new decree allowing the Jewish people to defend themselves, thus preserving them from extinction and maintaining the Davidic lineage from which the Messiah would one day come.

The Jewish people celebrate this deliverance on their annual holiday of Purim. The name is the plural form of the Hebrew word pur, meaning “lot.” This two-day feast takes place on the fourteenth and fifteenth days in the Jewish month Adar, which typically occurs in February or March. It is a celebration of joy, in which special food is eaten, children dress in costumes, and the participants react loudly at the mention of Haman’s name as the entire Book of Esther is read.

SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS

1. In chapter 1, an angry King Ahasuerus asked his advisors what he should do when his queen, Vashti, refused to appear at his banquet. Memucan, one of those advisors, suggested that the queen’s refusal would incite kingdom-wide insubordination among the women, and that they would rise up against their husbands. What did Memucan recommend the king do, and what did he suggest would be the outcome? Esther 1:19-20

Memucan recommended that the king depose Vashti and put another woman in her royal position. He assumed this step would cause all women of the land to honor their husbands.

Point out to your group that neither Ahasuerus nor his advisor could have imagined that heeding this advice would ultimately save a people from extermination. However, that is exactly what happened. Vashti’s banishment set the stage for the selection of Esther as queen and the subsequent events recorded in the Book of Esther.

2. Mordecai apparently had a role in the Persian legal system, as we are told in chapter 2 that he “sat in the king’s gate.” That was where civil trials took place; individuals who sat in the gate were judges or other government officials. Verses 21-23 of chapter 2 describe an assassination plot against the king, which Moredecai overheard and reported to Esther. Esther, in turn, “made known this plot to the king,” and the assassination attempt was foiled. What can we conclude about Moredecai’s character based on his civic role and his actions after learning of the plot against the king’s life?

Your group will likely conclude that Mordecai must have been an honorable man of good character. He was also loyal and faithful, both to his Jewish heritage and to the king he served, even though that king represented a nation that had held his people in captivity.

As a follow-up question, ask your group why it is important for us to behave honorably even when circumstances are less than favorable. Discussion will revolve around the fact that people are watching our lives, and godly behavior will be most apparent in a “dark” environment. If we are faithful and honest in all we do, God can use us, even though we may be unaware of that happening. Wrap up the discussion by pointing out that in the story of Esther, after investigation found the assassination plotters to be guilty, Mordecai’s honorable action was noted in the court records (see verse 23). That may have seemed inconsequential at the time since no reward was given to Mordecai. However, that written record later had great bearing on the preservation of the Jews.

3. In Esther 3:5-6, we read of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people in revenge for Mordecai’s refusal to bow down to him — he persuaded the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all Jews on a certain date. As the Jewish people contemplated a brutal end to their lives, their families, and their nation, it no doubt seemed that Satan was in control. In our day too, it may seem at times that evil is winning the battle against righteousness. How can the account of Esther encourage us to have a different perspective?

Discussion should center on the fact that the Book of Esther proves God is always in control, even when it seems otherwise. God had a master plan to save the Jewish people, and many incidents in this account were perfectly timed to bring about that deliverance. While God’s plan was not apparent to the Jews as they looked ahead to what seemed sure destruction, little by little each piece of God’s plan came together. Today, we too can be assured that God is working in the circumstances we face, and that His plan will triumph in the end.

4. Queen Esther had a role in God’s plan, and Mordecai reminded her of that when he asked the rhetorical question of our focus verse, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” What did Mordecai want Esther to do, and why was his instruction dangerous for her? Esther 4:8-12, 16

Mordecai urged Esther to go before the king and make supplication for her people. Esther responded that to do so would put her life in danger because Persian law stated that anyone who came unsummoned into the king’s presence could face the death penalty. In addition, an appeal for her people would reveal her identity as a Jew, which could also jeopardize her safety.

Direct your group’s attention to verse 16, which reveals the most important part of the preparation Esther made for taking this life-endangering step: she asked Mordecai to gather the Jews together to fast for her. The implication was that prayer would accompany the fasting, as the two normally were practiced together in the Jewish religion. 

Point out to your students that the support of fellow believers is an invaluable resource when we face difficult challenges. Some members of your group might be willing to share accounts of times when they were supported by the prayers of other Christians.

5. After the king authorized Esther’s presence, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet rather than immediately voicing her request regarding her people. Haman was joyful when he left that banquet, no doubt elated over the honor of dining personally with the king and queen. However, his joy disappeared when Mordecai once again refused to bow to him. What words would you use to describe Haman’s mindset and attitude toward Mordecai? Esther 5:9-13

Your group will likely suggest such words as angry, bitter, indignant, vengeful, and irate to describe Haman’s attitude. He was so consumed with his hatred of Mordecai that he could hardly restrain himself. Even the prospect of another banquet with the queen and king could not soothe his outrage. 

Point out to your students that Haman seemed to have it all: money, fame, power, and position. In spite of this, the disapproval of one individual made Haman feel worthless and frustrated. This is an accurate illustration of how empty the rewards of this world are. They will never satisfy.

6. In reviewing the timing and events of chapter 6, what evidences do you see of God’s providence? Esther 6:1-2, 4, 10

Verses 1-2 indicate that on the night Haman was plotting revenge against Mordecai, King Ahasuerus could not sleep, so commanded that a book be read to him. Any of the historical records of the realm could have been chosen, but the portion selected to combat the king’s sleeplessness was the one that told how Mordecai had saved the king from assassination. 

After discovering no reward had been given Mordecai for his integrity, the king inquired, “Who is in the court?” Verse 4 indicates that Haman was there because he had come that morning to ask permission to kill Mordecai. His presence in the court at that precise time was no mere coincidence.

It was also no coincidence that when the king asked what should be done to one whom the king wished to honor, Haman assumed the honor was for himself. After providing the king with recommendations based on that assumption, verse 10 relates that Haman had to endure the ultimate humiliation of leading the man he vehemently hated through the streets of the city, proclaiming that this was how the king honored a man in whom he delighted. 

These instances, and numerous others in the Book of Esther, clearly point to the providential hand of God. Time after time, God intervened and arranged circumstances to bring about His plan.

7. Chapter 7 describes Esther’s second banquet for the king and Haman, and her courageous request on behalf of her people. What was the implication of her statement in verse 4 that selling her people into slavery would not “countervail the king’s damage”?

Esther’s statement implied that what the Jews produced as employees of the Persian empire significantly outweighed what the king could have gained by selling them into slavery. Instead, the Jews were being “sold” to destruction. Explain to your group that this was an allusion to the money Haman had offered the king to persuade him to decree the destruction of the Jews (see Esther 3:9). Esther was exposing the truth — that Haman was not a faithful servant of the king, but a man more interested in accomplishing his own desires than in obtaining any benefit to the realm.

Briefly review with your group the subsequent events of this chapter: the king’s anger at Haman’s actions, the sentence against Haman, and Haman’s execution. The first two verses of chapter 8 indicate that Haman’s property and possessions were awarded to Mordecai; it was common in that culture for the property of criminals to be confiscated. In addition, Mordecai was promoted to the highest position in the realm under the king — the same position Haman had held. Point out to your students that while we should not expect earthly rewards for being faithful to God, often He does bless us in that manner.

8. The final verse of chapter 8 relates that many of the people of the land became Jews as a result of the mighty deliverance the Jewish people experienced at the hand of God. What are some other benefits that may result from times of hardship and suffering?

Class discussion of this question will likely bring up a number of different answers, and include both personal benefits and benefits to others. These may include the following.

         • Because of our suffering, we will be able to empathize with and encourage others who are going through a similar trial.

         • The Word of God becomes increasingly precious to us, and our faith in and closeness with God grows.

         • Our perspective on what really matters is increasingly focused on eternal realities.

         • We are an example to others of God’s power and the sustaining grace that He gives to His children. Whether it is healing for the glory of God, peace in the middle of the storm, or the assurance of Heaven in the face of death, the world will take notice. 

Your students should conclude that when we go through hard times, we may impact those around us in ways we never imagined, and that impact could have eternal results.

9. When the king issued a second decree, this one allowing the Jewish people to defend themselves, the mourning of the Jews turned into joy. Why do you think Mordecai instructed the Jews in Esther 9:20-22 to commemorate their deliverance every year with an annual feast? What are some steps we can take to ensure we do not forget spiritual victories in our lives?

Mordecai no doubt instituted this commemoration because it is all too easy to forget the great victories and blessings God gives. In addition, Mordecai wanted to be sure that future generations knew of the deliverance God had granted to His people.

As your group discusses the second question, suggestions could include the following.

         • Establish a “faith shelf” and purposefully recall times the Lord has answered prayer.

         • Note answers to prayer in a notebook or diary. 

         • Testify at church and in one-on-one encounters in daily life.

         • Establish a time of regular devotions in your home.

         • Pass on stories of victories God has won for your family to the next generation.

         • Celebrate spiritual birthdays and other milestones.

Wrap up your discussion by pointing out that just as the Jews celebrate God’s deliverance on a regular basis, it will bless and encourage us to make an effort to remember God’s blessings to us as well.

CONCLUSION

Although the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, His providence and deliverance are manifested in a spectacular way. God cares about the needs of His people and He will show Himself mighty on their behalf when they walk according to His plan.