Esther

by Peter Lau
Overview

The book of Esther is set in the period after the Babylonian exile, in the capital city Susa during the reign of the Persian Empire. It was the great world empire after the Babylonian Empire (539 BC), until it fell to the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great (333 BC). The king in the Esther narrative is Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus; Esther 1:1), who reigned from 486-465 BC. He succeeded his father Darius I (reigned 522-486 BC), during whose reign the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple was completed (Haggai 2:1-9; Ezra 6:15; 516 BC). His predecessors were Cambyses II (530-522 BC) and Cyrus (559-530 BC), under whom the exiles were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (539 BC; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). Most Jews remained in the diaspora, however, including the Jewish main characters in the Esther narrative, Mordecai and Esther. The ancestors of these cousins had been deported when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1-21; Esther 2:5-6).

The plot of the book of Esther can be structured as a story of reversals. From the time of Haman's promotion (D) and edict to destroy the Jews (E), everything goes downhill. The turning point is a seemingly unremarkable event-the king can't sleep, which eventually leads to a royal procession honouring Mordecai (H). This in turn triggers a series of ″coincidental″ events, which lead to God's deliverance of the Jews and the destruction of their enemies.

The Structure of Esther

1:1-8
Greatness of Xerxes and the banquets of the Persians

2:10-20
Esther identifies as a Gentile

3:1
Elevation of Haman

3:12-15
Haman's edict to destroy the Jews

4:10-16
Mordecai-Esther exchange

5:6-8
Esther's first banquet

6:1-14
Royal Procession

7:1-6
Esther's second banquet and Xerxes-Esther Exchange

8:9-14
Mordecai's edict to save the Jews

8:15
Elevation of Mordecai

8:17
Gentiles identify as Jews

9:20-32
Banquets of the Jews

10:1-3
Greatness of Xerxes and Mordecai

Key Verse
″For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?″ -Esther 4:14

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