Esther is one of two women in the Bible to receive a whole book dedicated to her story, and likely one of the first women who come to mind when you think of women in the Bible. The book of Esther is both an interesting story and a spiritual allegory that tells the entire story of God’s plan. The apocrypha contains additions to the book of Esther that we will also explore.
- Date and Authorship
- The Name of Esther
- The Uniqueness of Esther
- Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
- The Allegory of Esther
- Esther and Prophecy
- Esther, the Cinderella Story
- Important People
- In Popular Culture
- Other Posts Related to Esther
- References and Footnotes
Esther is one of those books that reminds us a woman can accomplish great things. Esther contains the "cinderella"-story of an orphan becoming queen and gives us the origins for the Jewish holiday of Purim. The book has actually been called into question for its inclusion in the cannon due to the facts that (i) God is never mentioned, (ii) it isn't quoted in the New Testament, and (iii) no fragments of it were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Date and Authorship
Most scholar equate the Ahasuerus who ruled Persia during the time of the book was Xerxes. This places the events of the book between 486 and 465bc. Scholars suggest that Esther 10:2 implies the king was dead at the time of authorship, though I don't know why. This would place the date of authorship after Xerxes' death in 465bc. It is much more difficult, however, to say who authored the book. Mordecai was put forth as the author by early Jewish and Christian writers, while the Jewish Talmud suggest members of the Great Synagogue wrote the book. However, scholars find it unlikely that a religious scholar would author a book with no mention of God in it. Archeology has confirmed some of the features of the Persian palace mentioned in the book; this tells us that whoever penned the text had true knowledge of the palace. The original text was written in a version of Hebrew that dates to the period after the exile.
Despite appearing in the Bible after both Ezra and Nehemiah, the events of Esther occurred between the events of Ezra 6 and 7. Esther gives a glance at what life was like for the Jews who stayed in Persia instead of returning to Jerusalem.
The Name of Esther
Esther always sounded like Easter to me, and it turns out the name Esther might actually be derived from the pagan goddess Ishtar, just like Easter. The name Esther is not her real name, but a Persian name. Her real name was Hadassah. This follows the trend of Daniel (Belshazzar), Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abendego), whose names were also changed from their original Hebrew.
I talked about the symbolism of changing someone's name by force in the post discussing Babylon's conquest of Judah, however, I think in the case of exiled Jews such as Esther, this may have been an attempt to fit it when done by Jews or a degradation of Jewish culture when done by Persians. Today, when people move to the United States from other countries, they often adopt English names. Sometimes this is done by choice and other times because people are too lazy to learn the correct pronunciation. A similar effect may have occurred in Persia. This change of names could vary from subtle pronunciation (e.g., Jorge becomes George) or a completely different name altogether. The latter usually occurs when the name is from a language vastly different from English.
The Uniqueness of Esther
Esther is a unique book in the Bible. It is one of two books that is named after and centers on a woman. It is also the only book of the Bible in which God is never mentioned (though He is mentioned in the apocryphal passages).
Some scholars believe this was done intentionally to call the readers attention to the fact that even in places where God isn't acknowledged, He is still present. When the Israelites were taken captive to Persia, they lost the Temple. Many of them probably believed they had lost their connection to God. On top of that, the ideology of the region was that gods ruled territories; they were stationary and didn't follow people.[?]
If the Israelites allowed themselves to latch on to that belief, they would have felt completely abandoned by God. However, only by the grace of God could an orphaned captive become the queen of Persia. Despite not being mentioned in the text, it is obvious that God placed Esther in this position to save the Israelites. This is the underlying message scholars believe was meant to come across, and thus, they believe the absence of references to God in the text was done on purpose.
Personally, I believe that this absence can be attributed to the position of the author in society. Unlike the other books of the Bible, Esther wasn't written by a prophet, priest, or apostle. The author was likely an ordinary citizen, like most of us. Think about a major event in your life. If you were to recount the story, would you mention God? Even though we know that God is in control, we don't alway insert references to Him when giving an account of something. Similarly, this author probably did the same. In fact, the author may not have been religious at all. We know that God can use anyone for His purpose, because He did so with Balaam (Numbers 22). Interestingly, however, the original text does contain the name of YHWH hidden as an acrostic four times (Esther 1:20; 5:413;7:7).
Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
The Allegory of Esther
Esther is such a beautiful book in the Bible. I always considered Job my favorite book, but after this read of Esther, it's definitely a contender for that top slot. There's so much to take from the book on so many levels. There's surface level lessons about doing the right thing. We can look at the book from the perspective of uplifting womankind; in the end only a woman could save the people. If we look deeper, we can see an allegory for the war in heaven. It's a short book, but it's worth slowing down and taking an extra look over.
Esther and Prophecy
One of my favorite pastors, Doug Batchelor of Amazing Facts, preached an entire sermon on the book of Esther. You can find the sermon here. In his sermon, Pastor Doug pointed out something Earth shattering about Esther that I never picked up on while reading the book. Esther is basically a symbolic parable of the gospel! That's not to say it isn't historical; many of the events in the Old Testament were symbols of what was to come. Let's talk about Esther as an allegory, because Pastor Doug isn't the only one who noticed this!
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the sevenchamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,
When you think of Revelation, you think of sevens—7 plagues, 7 churches, 7 candlesticks, 7 trumpets, etc. The number 7 appear quite frequently in prophecy, and it appears in Esther as well. It is on the seventh night that the king calls for his seven chamberlains to request the presence of Queen Vashti (Esther 1:10). The king has seven princes of Persia and Media in his presence; they are first in the kingdom (Esther 1:14). Esther is take to the king during the seventh year of his reign (Esther 2:16) and given seven maids (Esther 2:9). That's a lot of sevens...
The Christian Church of God in Australia assigns the following correlations to sevens within the allegory: the 7 chamberlains are spirits of the seven churches, the 7 princes are the prophets who saw the face of God, and the 7 maids given to Esther are the 7 eras of the church.
Pastor Doug also mentions the use of sevens in the beginning of Esther. Where the Christian Church of God does not mention the sevens related to time, Pastor Doug reminds us of the theology that the seventh millennium will be a Sabbath and represents the millennium discussed in Revelation.
I can see how the Sabbath Millennium might relate to both the the 7th day of the feast and the 7th year of Ahasuerus' reign. The Bible's timeline estimates the world to be about 6,000 years old. Based on the pattern of Sabbaths (Weekly Sabbaths, 7th Year Sabbaths, the Year of Jubilee, etc.), it stands to reason the the peaceful Millennium talked about in Revelation is the 7th Millennium, or the Sabbath Millennium. The Sabbath Millennium represents a beginning and an end: the end of Satan's rule and the beginning of everlasting peace under Jesus' reign. When Vashti didn't appear before the king on the 7th day of the feast, her reign as queen ended (no, she doesn't represent Satan, we'll get to her in a few). Esther's beginning as queen also occurs on a 7th something (this time the 7th year).
Seven Spirits of the Seven Churches
Those (prophets) who had seen the Angel of Presence (or Face of God)
Seven eras of the Church
I'm not sure if I agree with the Christian Church of God's assessment, however. I see how they made most of the connections, but they don't feel complete to me. They relate the 7 chamberlains sent to retrieve Vashti to the Spirits of the Churches discussed in Revelation 3; this seems plausible since the chamberlains are delivering a message to Vashti who represents a type of church (we'll get there in a few). The 7 princes are explicitly said to see the face of the king (Ahasuerus), which explains why we would relate this to those who are said to have seen God face to face. Yet, God appears to more than 7 people in the Bible. The Christian Church of God list the 7 prophets they associate with the princes to be Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, but what about Moses? A list of prophets without Moses seems quite incomplete. Further, if we're equating the chamberlains to the churches of the New Testament, how can we have a list of prophets without John? Not much is said about Esther's 7 maids, except that they existed, thus I'm not sure how the eras of the church relate to them.
I'm not sure if each of these has a specific symbolic meaning, or if God simply wanted to capture our attention.
Vashti is Ahasuerus' beautiful and adored queen. This gives us quite a few hints as to who Vashti represents. If Ahasuerus is an allegory for God the Father, it stands to reason that Vashti represents some form of the church. Jeremiah 6:2 defines the church as a woman and this symbolism continues with the church being referred to as the Bride of Christ in the New Testament. Vashti was favored above all the other women and considered precious in the king's sight, but when called to his presence, Vashti refused him. This is the church of the old covenant: the physical, flesh and blood nation of Israel. The Israelites continually rejected God. Israel's rejection of the Messiah, first at the cross and finally at the stoning of Stephen in Acts, ushered in a new church. The new church consists of Israelites who choose God and extends to those who were not descended from Jacob. Similarly, Vashti's public rejection of the king causes her to be banished from the king's sight and paves the way for a new queen (church).
As the one who takes Vashti's place as the new queen, we can easily see that Esther is the new church. Esther represents the Bride of Christ. She is obedient and brave. When Esther is told of the plot to kill the Jews and Mordecai tells her to approach the king, she is initially hesitant. Esther fears that she will be killed for approaching the king unsummoned, but Mordecai reminds her that she will be killed either way. The Persian law was immutable and because she was a Jew, there would be nothing the king could do to protect her (just as Nebuchadnezzar could not protect Daniel). She was one of them and bound to intercede for her people. Similarly, the church is made up of sinners; although we are saved by the grace of God, we are not safe until the end. That which non-believers do affects us. We are not to sit high and mighty from God's palace looking down on our fellow man without care. It should pain us to see suffering. We should intercede and bargain for the life of humanity, just as Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorrah, just as Esther did for the Jews. In the end, Esther is given triumph over her enemies and all the blessings of the king, just as the Bride of Christ will rule in Heaven with the Messiah.
Esther gives away Haman's character in Esther 7:6. Esther tells the king that Haman is the adversary. The word Satan in Hebrew actually means adversary! Haman held a position of great power, just beneath the king, just as Lucifer was a powerful angel. Haman is selfish and vain, so much so that when the king approaches him about rewarding someone, Haman can't fathom it being anyone other than himself. The description of what Haman wishes for is very telling. He wishes for the king's robe, the king's horse, and the king's crown. In short, he wishes to be king. Is that not what the devil wants, to be God? Haman's anger toward God's people stems solely from the fact that Mordecai will not bow to him. This is partly because Haman desires to be worshipped, just as Satan desires to be worshipped. However, it's also important to note that Haman is a descendant of Agag the Amalekite. Who is Agag? God told Saul to kill him when the Amalekites and Israelites fought, but Saul decided to do his own thing and let Agag live (see 1 Samuel 15). If that wasn't enough to cause a rift between the surviving Amalekites, like Haman, and the Jews, Mordecai's lineage suggests he is a descendant of Saul. The Israelites had the opportunity to stamp out the Amalekites (and many other pagan nations) but let them prosper instead. Similarly, mankind had the opportunity to reject Satan as the ruler of this world back in the garden. Just as the Haman spends all of his energy trying to destroy the Jews, the devil is continuously devising plans to destroy God's people. In the end, however, God always triumphs. Haman and the devil are both brought low and defeated. In both cases, their power passes to those who were obedient to God. Haman's wealth and power are given to Esther and Mordecai, just as the Earth will be taken from Satan and given to the Messiah and the church.
Mordecai is a little harder to figure out. Some scholars associate him with Jesus, while others associate him with the Holy Spirit. Those who associate him with Jesus cite renting his clothes and wearing sackcloth as representative of Jesus taking on the burden of sin and separating Himself from God. While wearing sackcloth, Mordecai could not approach the king, just as Jesus was cut off from God when He took on our sin. There is no doubt that Mordecai serves in the role of teacher or spiritual guide, the way both Jesus and the Holy Spirit do. Mordecai is the one that places Esther in the position to be chosen as queen, just as Jesus grants us permission to stand before the Father. Throughout the narrative, Mordecai gives Esther instruction. Notice that the only ideas Esther comes up with on her own are that of fasting and hosting 2 banquets before making her request. Unlike Vashti, who is content to do whatever pleases her, Esther defers to Mordecai for guidance. Similarly the Bride of Christ follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus above her own desires.
Esther, the Cinderella Story
An easier, and slightly more shallow reading of Esther is that of a Cinderella story. When I read Esther, this is always the first thing I notice. In the beginning, Esther is an orphan in a land where her people are being held captive. You can't really get any lower in status. When the king banishes his queen, all the eligible young virgins are brought in to find one suitable for the king. Does this not sound like the opening of Disney's Cinderella? Of course Disney wouldn't use the word virgin since it would require its viewers to know what sex is, but it’s only been in the recent century that eligible maiden and virgin weren't synonymous. In Cinderella, the prince has a dance with each maiden to chose a suitable queen. King Ahasuerus is a little more forward and likely sleeps with each of his options. Ahasuerus selects Esther, and although he doesn't have to scour the kingdom to find the maiden who's foot fits the glass slipper, he is unaware of her Jewish heritage and name. Seemingly overnight, Esther goes from a lowly orphan to the queen of Persia, the most powerful nation in the world!
At the core, Esther's story tells us that no matter who we are, we have a part to play and that part may be much grander than we could ever imagine. As believers, we are all destined to reign with Jesus in the new kingdom. Why shouldn't we expect him to call us to greatness on Earth as well?
Esther also reminds us that women are just as valuable to God's plan as men. Of the leading three men, none are particularly competent. The king doesn't ask for details when Haman seeks to have an entire race of people killed. How careless is that? Haman is self serving and vain. Mordecai is the best of the three, but he is unable to undo the damage he created by not bowing to Haman. Mordecai can't plead his case before the king or cause change, only Esther can. Similarly, only a woman could give birth to the Messiah, who in turn is the only one who can plead our case before God the Father.
In Popular Culture
As you finish (or start) reading the book of Esther, I leave you with one of my favorite songs: Born for This by Mandisa. The song is meant to tell Esther's point of view. Anytime I feel like I'm failing or that I don't know what I'm doing in life, I listen to this song and it inspires me.
Other Posts Related to Esther
References and Footnotes
- Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 843-846. 2014
- "The Name of Jehovah in the Book of Esther". The Companion Bible; visited April 2017
- William MacDonald. Believer's Bible Commentary, pg. 495-497. 1995
- Doug Batchelor. "The Gospel of Esther". Amazing Facts. October 2006
- Diane Flanagan. "The Story of Esther and its Meaning". Christian Churches of God. 2007
- Brandon. "Esther". The Key of David. July 2013