The book of Esther stands apart in the Scriptures in several ways. First, it is one of only two books named after a woman, the other being Ruth. Second, and often overlooked, is the realization that heroine of the story was never portrayed as a faithful servant of God. In fact, she committed several violations of the Mosaic Law just in this short account, yet God used her in a great way, in spite of her blatant sin. Third, and probably the most important, there is no mention of God anywhere in the book. There are several explanations that have been given for this, but it is evident that the lack of reference to God does not mean the absence of God himself. His hand is certainly visible throughout the story, as shown in the constant preservation of his people.
The writer of this book never gave his name, but it is usually attributed to Mordecai himself. The book of Esther covers about ten years (483-472 B.C.) and fits between chapters six and seven of Ezra, about 55 years after the end of Daniel.
Chapter one essentially sets the scene for the “real” story found in the rest of the book. History has definitively proven Esther’s Ahasuerus (Esther 1:1) to be the famous Xerxes (his more well-known Greek name), who ruled Persia from 486-464 B.C. He was a volatile man, whose moods swung from overly generous to unspeakably brutal. The banquet he gave “in the third year of his reign” (Esther 1:3) came at the culmination of a long time planning an attack on Greece, a premature celebration of his presumed victory, following a six-month showing off of “his royal glory and the splendor of his majestic greatness” (Esther 1:4).
On the seventh day of the banquet, during which “there were no restrictions on the drinking” (Esther 1:8), the king commanded his queen, Vashti, to make an appearance at the men’s banquet (Esther 1:9-12). There is a lot of speculation as to why she refused to appear, often based on the assumption that she was to appear nude; however, the writer did not say, so the reason she refused is less important than the fact that she did. 1
The drunken king sobered immediately, thoroughly humiliated in front of his court and enraged at his queen (Esther 1:13-22). He met with his Cabinet, the Persian “Council of Seven,” for advice. They feared that the queen’s display would incite a women’s liberation movement, leading to all the women in the kingdom openly disobeying their husbands. They recommended that the queen be stripped of her title and a new queen chosen in her place. (She was not executed, though, and exerted incredible influence years later as the queen mother in her son’s kingdom.) Additionally, the king wrote an open edict that all men should rule their own families, which was ironic, since he failed so publicly. Some estimate that the Persian Empire covered 60 different nationalities at this time, but it was intentionally not a “melting pot.” Rather than one cohesive population with one language, the Persians insisted that ethnicities remained separate, demonstrated by the command to speak their various languages at home, possibly so that any uprising would be limited to a local area or group.
- History notes that she was probably pregnant with Xerxes’ son, Artaxerxes I, at the time. Artaxerxes was the king Nehemiah served under 40 years later. ↩