by Rev. Julian Duckworth
Esther is the Biblical story about an event in Persia when the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. Babylon became part of the huge Persian Empire and its king was Xerxes, called Ahasuerus in the Bible. This is around 480 BC. Xerxes’ wife, Queen Vashti, angered her husband when she refused to come at his command, to be shown off for her beauty. Xerxes banished her, and his servants suggested that many young virgins be brought before the king.
In the Jewish community, a young man called Mordecai was looking after his cousin, Esther, who was orphaned. He took her to go before the king but told her not to reveal she was a Jew. King Xerxes chose her and put the crown on her head. Mordecai overheard two guards planning to attack the king. He told Esther of this, who told the king of Mordecai’s report, and the king had the two guards hanged.
A while after this, Xerxes promoted a man called Haman to a high position which required all to bow before him. Mordecai refused and it became known to Haman that he was a Jew. Haman resolved to destroy all the Jews. During a festival called Pur – a daily casting of lots – Haman told Xerxes that in the land were people who bowed to none and that these should be destroyed. Xerxes agreed and sent orders throughout the empire.
Mordecai and all the Jews mourned their fate and lay in sackcloth and ashes. News of this came to Esther who told Mordecai that she would try to help the Jews. She told Xerxes she was preparing to hold a banquet for the king and that he should invite Haman. Haman boasted widely that he was so important that the queen had invited only himself and the king to her feast. But he still planned to hang Mordecai.
That night Xerxes asked for the scroll of honour. He asked what honour had been done to Mordecai for saving the life of the king. The servants said that no honour had been given. Xerxes told Haman to go and robe Mordecai and parade him through the city on a horse. Haman had no choice, and did this. Haman was then escorted to the feast and stood there, with the king and queen. The king asked Esther to give him a request. Esther revealed that she and her people were due to be destroyed by command. The king asked who had caused this. Esther told him that it was Haman. Xerxes told his guards to take Haman and hang him on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. And the king took off his own signet ring and gave it to Mordecai and set him over all. Moreover, with a further request from Esther, he revoked the order for the destruction of the Jews.
In commemoration of this, the Jews held the Feast of Purim which is still held today.
About the Book of Esther
One of the oddities about the book of Esther being in the Bible is that it nowhere mentions God. It is thought to have been accepted and included because of Esther’s virtue in how she acted and to remember the deliverance of the Jews and the origin of the Feast of Purim.
The Christian view of the book is that it records the continuation of the Jews as a people from Abraham through to Jesus Christ. This is of supreme importance, for had Haman succeeded, the Jews would have been destroyed and would not have returned from exile to Israel. God would not have come into the world as a Jew.
The spiritual value of the book is to see that values such as honour, integrity, the right to live, faithfulness, bravery and acknowledgement are truly of God.