[Editor's note: Footnotes in original are omitted.]
Esther is a Jewess of the tribe of Benjamin. Her Jewish name is Hadassah (2:7).
Mordecai is also of the tribe of Benjamin (2:5). He is Esther’s foster father and cousin (2:7, 15). As he is closely connected with the harem (2:11, 19, 21), he may have been a eunuch gatekeeper. After learning of a conspiracy to kill the king, he warns the king through Esther and thus saves the king’s life (2:21-23).
Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, who is Xerxes, deposes his queen Vashti for refusing to reveal her beauty to the revelers at his royal feast (1:10-19). Vashti is disposed in 482 B.C. or 483 B.C.
Then the king orders that the fairest virgins of the land be presented to him. From them he selects his new queen (2:1-4). Esther is among those presented, and Ahasuerus picks her (2:8-18). She becomes queen of Persia in 478 B.C. or 479 B.C. He does not know that she is a Jewess (2:10, 20).
Mordecai offends Haman, the prime minister (or grand vizier), by not bowing or paying homage to him (3:2). Haman seeks the king’s permission to kill all Jews because of Mordecai’s irreverence. The king grants permission to Haman to kill them and seize their property (3:4-15). To obtain this decree, Haman offers the king a bribe of 10,000 talents (3:9), which according to some, the king refuses, but according to others, he accepts. Ahasuerus grants this decree in the twelfth year of his reign (3:10-11), five years after his marriage to Esther.
Mordecai urges Esther to intercede with the king for her people (4:7-9). Uninvited, Esther enters the king’s presence (5:1-2). She requests that the king and Haman attend a banquet, a drinking-feast, that she prepares (5:4). At the banquet she invites the king and Haman to meet the next day for another feast when she promises to reveal her request (5:7). (Between the two feasts, the king orders Haman to honor Mordecai. Mordecai is honored for earlier exposing a plot to assassinate the king [ch. 6].) As the second feast begins, she informs the king of Haman’s plot to kill the Jews and pleads for her people. Because she is a Jewess, Haman will kill her (7:3-6).
After recovering from this shocking news, Ahasuerus orders Haman hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai (7:9-10). Then he gives Mordecai Haman’s post of prime minister and Esther Haman’s wealth, who in turn gives it to Mordecai (8:1,2).
Although Esther asks the king to rescind Haman’s decree (8:5), he does not because it is irrevocable. Instead he authorized Mordecai to issue a decree in the king’s name allowing the Jews to do whatever Mordecai deems appropriate (8:8). Mordecai grants permission to the Jews to destroy, slay, and cause to perish all the people who would assault them, including women and children (8:11). (Mordecai’s decree goes beyond merely self-defense. It authorizes preempted strikes and allows Jews to initiate action [8:11, 9:2, 13].) The language of Mordecai’s decree (8:11) is almost identical to the language of Haman’s decree (3:13).
Moreover, Mordecai’s decree allows the Jews to take the property of their victims (8:11). However, they do not take the spoils (9:10, 15, 16). This decree pleases the Jews so much that they have a feast to celebrate the upcoming slaughter (8:17).
Apparently, the Persians do not interfere with the Jewish slaughter of the Gentiles since the victims are not Persians. To the contrary, Persians aid the Jews in their massacre because they feared Mordecai and the Jews (9:3). For fear of the Jews, many became Jews (8:17). These events occur in 473 B.C. or 474 B.C.
On the day that Haman had set for the roundup and execution of the Jews, the Jews in turned slaughter Haman’s family and many others. The killing lasted two days. According to the story, 800 were killed in Shushan, Susa, and 75,000 were killed in the provinces (9:6, 15, 16).
To commemorate this great Jewish victory over the Gentiles, the Jews establish the feast of Purim (9:20-32). It is on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar (February and March). Purim is a day of “feasting and joy, and of sending portions to one another, and gifts to the poor” (9:22).
According to Paton, the book is completely void of noble characters:
Xerxes is a sensual despot. E[sther], for the chance of winning wealth and power, takes her place in the herd of maidens who become concubines of the king. She wins her victories not by skill or by character, but by her beauty. She conceals her origin, is relentless toward a fallen enemy (7:8-10), secures not merely that the Jews escape from danger, but that they fall upon their enemies, slay their wives and children, and plunder their property (8:11, 9:2-10). Not satisfied with this slaughter, she asks that Haman’s ten sons may be hanged, and that the Jews may be allowed another day for killing their enemies in Susa (9:13-15). The only redeeming traits in her character are her loyalty to her people, and her bravery in attempting to save them (4:16). Mordecai sacrifices his cousin to advance his interests, advises her to conceal her religion, displays wanton insolence in his refusal to bow to Haman, and helps E[sther] in carrying out her schemes of vengeance. All this the author narrates with interest and approval. He gloats over the wealth and the triumph of his heroes, and is oblivious to their moral shortcomings.Conversely, Fausset sees Esther as a highly noble character although humanly flawed:
E[sther]’s own character is in the main attractive: dutiful to her adoptive father, and regardful of his counsels though a queen; having faith in the high destiny of her nation, and believing with Mordecai than even “if she held peace at the crisis deliverance would arise to the Jews from another place" and that providentially she had “come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (iv. 14); brave, yet not foolhardy, but fully conscious of her peril, not having received the king’s call for 30 days, with pious preparation seeking aid from above in her patriotic venture; “obtaining favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her” (ii. 15). At the same time Scripture does not hide from us the fact of her not being above the vindictiveness of the age and the country, in her requesting that Haman’s ten sons should be hanged, and a second day given the Jews to take vengeance on the enemies who had sought to kill them.Quoting McCurdy, Unger also describes Esther as a highly noble woman:
The character of Esther, as she appears in the Bible, is that of a woman of deep piety, faith, courage, patriotism, and caution, combined with resolution; a dutiful daughter to her adopted father, docile and obedient to his counsels, and anxious to share the king’s favor with him for the good of the Jewish people. That she was a virtuous woman, and, as far as her situation made it possible, a good wife to the king, her continued influence over him for so long a time warrants us to infer. There must have been a singular charm in her aspect and manners since she obtained favor in the sight of all that looked upon her (Esth. 2:15).Whereas, Fausset acknowledges Esther’s flaws, Unger does not. Whereas Fausset downplays her attributes of being a conniving, lying, deceiving, vengeful, manipulative, irreligious woman, Unger ignores them.
15. Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Handbook: An Essential Guide to Understanding the Bible (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966), p. 265.
16. Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook: An Abbreviated Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965), p. 238.
17. How, p. 305. Unger, Handbook, p. 264.
18. Halley, p. 237. Unger, Dictionary, p. 325.
19. Pfeiffer and Harrison, p. 449.
20. Halley, p. 237. Pfeiffer and Harrison, p. 455.
21. Pfeiffer and Harrison, p. 455.
22. Paton, pp. 231-232.
23. A.R Fausset, Fausset’s Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949), p. 214.
24. Unger, Dictionary, p. 325.
Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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